Understand your competitors
How to do competitor research
Try to find out as much as you can about your competitors. Look for articles or adverts in the trade press or mainstream publications. Read their marketing literature. Check their entries in directories and phone books. If they are an online business, ask for a trial of their service.
If your competitor is a public company, read a copy of their annual report. Limited companies have to lodge their accounts with Companies House.
Go to exhibitions
At exhibitions and trade fairs check which of your competitors are also exhibiting. Look at their stands and promotional activities. Note how busy they are and who visits them.
Look at competitors' websites. Find out how they compare to yours. Check the site to see if you could improve on it for your own website. Is the information easy to find?
Business websites often give much information that businesses haven't traditionally revealed - from the history of the company to biographies of the staff. They may provide case studieson customer success stories.
Sign up to your competitors email newsletters to keep track of their business news like new customers or product launches.
Use a search engine to track down similar products. Find out who else offers them and how they go about it.
Organisations and reference sources
Find information on competitors using:
- your trade or professional association, if applicable
- the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce
- directories and survey reports in any business reference library
- market research and market reports
What they're planning to do
Try to go beyond what's happening now by investigating your competitors' business strategies, for example:
- what types of customer they're targeting
- what new products they're developing
- what financial resources they have
Talk to your competitors
You can learn about your competitors by getting to know them. Phone them to ask for a copy of their brochure or get one of your staff or a friend to pick up their marketing literature.
You could ask for a price list or enquire what an off-the-shelf item might cost and if there's a discount for volume. This will give you an idea at which point a competitor will discount and at what volume.
Phone and face-to-face contacts will also give you an idea of the style of the company, the quality of their literature and the initial impressions they make on customers.
It's also likely you'll meet competitors at social and business events. Talk to them. Be friendly - they're competitors not enemies. You'll probably share common problems. You'll get a better idea of them - and you might need each other one day, for example in collaborating to grow a new market for a new product.
At the same time, make sure that you are competing fairly and do not behave in an anti-competitive fashion. Fixing prices or agreeing not to compete is illegal. This includes activities with a price-fixing effect, such as discussing your pricing plans with competitors.
Listen to your customers and suppliers
Make the most of contacts with your customers. Ask which of your competitors they buy from and how you compare. Use your judgement with any information they volunteer. For instance, when customers say your prices are higher than the competition they may just be trying to negotiate a better deal.
Use meetings with your suppliers to ask what their other customers are doing. They may not tell you everything you want to know, but they may have something useful to say.