Data is all around us, and you’d be a fool to ignore it, no matter what your business does. If you’re involved in a start-up, there really is no excuse these days for not doing your research – both early on and more importantly in an on-going manner – and it doesn’t just mean market research. It also means research into what your competitors are doing in your field already – we’re talking competitive intelligence.
First of all, the bare financials. Luckily a number of online tools exist that allow you to search the official records of companies that are held at companies house. Not only can you check out the company’s most recent financial results but you can also get a real insight into the business and the people behind it. Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer by making sure you’re up to speed with their latest position so that you can adjust yourself accordingly, if required.
Competitive intelligence also means knowing everything about your competitors’ products and services and what differences there are between your offering and theirs. Customers are going to spot if your services are priced differently from your competitors so you must be ready to answer their questions and justify your service offering and pricing structure in comparison to other providers.
Having a good handle on what your competitors are up is also great for spotting potential gaps in the market. There might be a reason why there is a gap but if you can identify it and research it, you might find have found yourself a great opportunity. Competitive intelligence is therefore also vital in terms of understanding your market so that you are not always reacting to events but you are identifying risks and opportunities before they are obvious to everyone in your industry. Having that edge, and the ability to anticipate rather than react, is vital if you want to be better and more profitable than those around you.
If you are serious about competitive intelligence, you must make sure you go about it legally and ethically. As mentioned, financial records are in the public domain and you can either analyze competitors yourself, as long as your staff have been trained in what is and isn’t acceptable, or you can go to a competitive intelligence agency, but do make sure they are suitably accredited – you don’t want to venture down the path of industrial espionage by mistake.
Competitive intelligence as a practice is essential in the modern business world. Remember, chances are your competitors will be doing it as well so you don’t want to be left behind, particularly at the difficult start-up phase of your business.