Conducting Competitor Research
in a Corporate Environment
You are assigned to conduct a Competitive Research study on a competitor or group of competitors. The objective is to assess how they compare against your company in terms of product development, financial stability, sales and marketing strategies and tactics, reputation, employee churn, and any other relevant data category.
Secondary Research: Publicly Available Information
You may start off by collecting publicly available information on your selected targets:
- Press releases
- Annual and Quarterly reports (you may use these to see how the company’s fortunes and strategies change over time
- News articles, including industry magazine
- Want ads (what positions, how many, where, why)
- Minutes of meetings
- CEO biographies (What they did in the past, they may do in the future)
- Financial statements
Investigative Work: Interviews
Your next step is to interview people who may have some inside information on the company. This is where your networking skills are put to work. These individuals include:
- Former employees of the competitor(s)
- Current and former clients of the competitor
- Your company’s clients
- Your frontline staff: sales and customer service representatives
- Your Human Resources department (They may have received résumés from current employees of the targeted competitor(s), and you may want to know what positions they currently have and what they applied for)
- Legal department
Approaching the Competitors
The final step, if necessary, is to approach the competitor(s). One way is to conduct a mystery shop. This entails the recruiting, hiring, training, and debriefing of mystery shoppers.
- Ensure that shoppers know the industry or, better yet, actually work in the industry you are researching;
- The shoppers must fit the profile (job title, level of seniority, experience, etc.) of staff who would normally engage in the process of purchasing or greenlighting the product or service that is being researched;
- It would be beneficial for the shoppers to have had experience doing similar mystery shops in the past; and
- Compensation must be in accordance to the value of the effort/risks made by the shoppers and the importance of data being gathered.
- The shoppers need to be familiar with the list of questions that need to be answered, and to ensure that the shop has a natural flow from one topic to the next;
- It may be useful to prepare and rehearse answers to possible objections that the shoppers may confront so that they will respond calmly without losing their composure or focus;
- In a B2B environment, it is likely that social media may be used to verify the identity of the shoppers. Accordingly, the shoppers must 1) be comfortable with having their social media profiles verified and 2) ensure that their profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook are up-to-date; and
- Deliverables: the mystery shoppers must be able to provide the deliverables, whether it is a survey of questions or an audio-visual recording.
- Mystery shoppers should be prepared to undergo a briefing of their findings. This will focus not only on the information they gathered, but also any unexpected insights or behaviours they may have noticed during the shop. This can provide a more nuanced understanding of their experience.
- If necessary, the shoppers should be prepared to either do a follow-up mystery shop or make requests for further information.
This is a brief discussion on conducting Competitor Research in a B2B environment.
I welcome any comments or questions on the topic and can be contacted at the coordinates listed below.