As a small-business owner, you probably spend countless hours fine-tuning your product or service so it better fits the needs of your clients as well as your potential customers. That’s great, but how much time do you spend on your competition?
Compile a list of the top companies in your market and figure out where your business ranks among them. Who’s in first place? Who's struggling and on the verge of being eliminated? Who's within your reach to pass in the standings, and what will it take to get you there?
To assist you in the process, here's a list of 10 things you can do right now to get a better handle on the companies you compete against on a daily basis.
What’s their position in the marketplace?
Are they the category leader, middle of the pack or a rising star? Rank everyone, including your company, according to the metrics you deem most important. That might include overall sales, sales growth, share of market, geographic area or range, number of products or services, “buzz” and more. Researching annual reports (for public companies), looking at public records, doing Internet searches, reading industry websites and publications and keeping your ear to the ground may give you a sense of the leading competitors.
What’s the competition’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP)?
What’s the one feature or benefit they believe separates them from everyone else? Look at their website, marketing materials, advertising and social media posts to try to get a sense of their USP. Maybe their USP is amazing service, overnight delivery, low price or socially responsible business practices. Or maybe you can’t quite tell what their USP is because they’re not communicating it very well. That may be an opportunity for you to step in with a clear USP that solves prospects’ problems.
How do you position your brand against them?
Consider fine-tuning your USP so it emphasizes what your business offers that’s unique. Although you can shape your USP in reaction to your competition, I never recommend bad-mouthing them. If you’re trying to get business here, you likely don’t want to insult the client by disparaging the company they’ve been using up until now. In business, as in life, you can rarely go wrong taking the high road.
Consider calling the company’s 800-number.
- How long are you kept waiting on hold?
- What happens during hold time?
- Do you hear music (and if so, is it heavy metal, elevator music or classical)?
- If you feel the wait time is excessive, is there an option to leave a message or go to a website for faster service?
- If you get to a voicemail menu, how complex or simple is it?
- Once you do get through to a sales or customer service rep, how courteous are they? Is the staff well-informed about the company’s products and services?
- Would you buy from them based on their phone-based service?
Visit their website.
- Can you tell if they regularly update it?
- Is it wordy and busy, or streamlined and modern?
- How quick to load is their website, and how well does it work on your tablet and smartphone?
- What features and benefits of their product or service do they promote?
- What parts of the website do you like or dislike?
- Does the site target your potential customers, and if so, how good a job does it do?
- Is there a clear call to action on the home page?
- Is there a free trial or other type of discount or deal?
Selling is often all about people and relationships, after all.
- Who are the key people in their company that compete against your sales team?
- Do they have all-star salespeople whom the clients love?
- What kinds of personal connections are being built on social media?
- How do your competitors’ salespeople and execs relate to the key people in their client companies?
Check them out on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
- What kind of presence do your competitors have on social media?
- Are they really engaged with clients on social media, or constantly promoting their own accomplishments and “hard selling” their products or services?
- Does their social media account offer information of value that helps prospects or customers do something better?
In addition to following the company, consider checking out their key people’s social media accounts and posts and see what they’re saying on social media.
Consider setting up Google Alerts on each competitor company and its key people. You can set up alerts by company name, individuals’ names, keywords and more, and get them delivered as often as you like. You can also use social-specific alert tools such as Social Mention. This social media search engine searches social media, blogs and comments and provides a stream of mentions from more than 100 different social media platforms. You can search for your competitors manually or set up alerts to let you know when they are mentioned, and by whom.
Do your competitors have a blog?
- What topics do they cover?
- Do they post frequently or rarely?
- How well respected are they as experts?
- How engaged are they with the online communities where they blog?
- Do they write for print publications regularly? Print gigs may be harder to get, so this could indicate that your competition are heavy hitters in your industry.
What specific accounts or clients can you potentially convert?
Keeping up on industry gossip using social media and old-fashioned word-of-mouth may offer a sense of when clients are restless or unhappy. Investigating when their clients’ year-end occurs and how long contracts typically run may give you an idea of what times of year their clients may be more open to switching vendors. When an old contact leaves and a new one comes in, the new person may be open to exploring different suppliers.
And it can often pay to keep in close touch with your clients all the time, even when you’re in a slow phase or not actively doing work for them to make sure they’re satisfied with your product or service, and pick their brain about future goals that you might be able to help them achieve. This kind of homework may help you understand what's necessary to rise above the competition.
Read more articles on competition.
This article was originally published on January 29, 2015.