After all, who doesn’t enjoy watching a James Bond or Sydney Bristow kick butt as they go after the bad guys and save the world?
Of course, before any of that action can take place, there’s a lot of research done to find out exactly who the bad guys are. That’s where a team of investigators and agents come in who don’t get to take part in the car chases or gunplay, but whose roles are just as important.
Business is not a game of good guys and bad guys, but the spying metaphor is still reasonably apt because you need to know who you’re up against before you can be a real competitor in your area or industry.
So with that in mind, here are 7 ways to figure out who you’re up against so you can “spy” on the right businesses and keep pace with your competitors.
1. Do a web search
When’s the last time you searched on Google, Bing, or Yahoo! for your business? Perhaps today is a good time to do it again. Put your website’s keywords into your preferred search engine and see who shows up. Make sure you’re including your town name or metro area so you can learn about local competitors.
2. Monitor social media
When people tweet about your industry or area of business, which businesses do they mention? Who are the people who engage in these discussions? If you don’t know what’s being said, and who is saying it, then you can’t know what you’re up against. To keep tabs on the chatter, we suggest creating a Twitter list or starting a topic feed in your social media monitoring tool of choice (we like HootSuite). Start with your keywords; search for those words and phrases and you’ll start to see what the buzz is. Be sure to include your competitors’ names, the name(s) of their products, and any hashtags they’re using, once you know them.
3. Conduct a survey
As with most things, you won’t know until you ask. In your next related survey, or when new customers subscribe to your email list, ask who else your customers do business with. You don’t have to give them any ideas or suggestions; just leave the question open-ended.
4. Set up a Google Alert
Among the helpful tools that Google offers is Google Alerts, which allows you to enter a few keywords (are you picking up on a trend here?) and get news articles, blog posts, and other information emailed to you. This allows you to know not only who your competitors are, but what they’re up to.
5. Attend an industry event
Attending the trade shows, conferences, and other events in your industry is a great way to see your competitors in action, and to meet them in person. Sometimes the events will list attendees on their website; other times they include attendee lists in welcome packets. But you can walk the tradeshow floor, introduce yourself, collect business cards, and take notes to remember who you’ve seen.
6. Check with your vendors
If you outsource anything, whether it’s product supply or social media assistance, you could ask your vendors and suppliers for information. Not specifics, of course, but it’s possible that questions about shared challenges or workload could reveal a name or two that you may not have heard before.
7. Ask friends and family
Where do the people you know go to purchase similar products and services to the ones you offer? Of course, they’ll be biased toward you, but maybe they’ll be able to name other businesses you aren’t aware of.
The more you know
Knowing who your competition is can help you gauge where to devote resources and inform a strategy to further differentiate yourself. But you can’t do all that if you don’t know who you’re up against.
What methods have you used to figure out who your competition is? Share your experiences in the comments section below.