Over the years I’ve given sales training for the young and old, online and offline. Here are a handful of tips for getting to know your competition intimately.
This article was originally written several years back for the blog of a consultancy I once ran called Honest Online (yes, the irony of that business name and the content of this article is not lost on me).
To date, I’ve easily sold over a million dollars of online solutions and have worked with brands you know and love (or hate). In 2018 I decided to do a little housekeeping and merge any relevant posts from old projects into Hobo with a Laptop before closing them down completely.
Some of these suggestions for sales professionals just starting their career are downright creepy (and perfectly legal), but as any wet-behind-the-ears “new bread” sales person will know –the “what have you done for me lately” “always be closing” “deliver big and deliver often” creed that comes with the job can do one’s head in. Every edge helps.
Sales is a tough, dirty racket and the content of this post is the product of my own early-twenties experience sweating under some real big swinging.. well, you get the idea. The kind of people in these videos.
Cast aside the insanity and ego of your peers in the sales department; any edge that a struggling business development suit can get their hands on could be the difference between paying rent and filling out unemployment benefits papers, so read carefully.
However, above all; don’t become one of the guys in these videos. A highly competitive sales gig is enough to drive anyone to drinking, or worse.
If you’re a startup, new business, small business –chances are, your competitors know something you don’t. Tear the lid off it.
1. BE THEIR CUSTOMER
The best way to get to know your competition is to be their prospective customer. Visit their office, listen to their pitch, pick up their marketing materials, get a price list, and perhaps even buy from them. While you’re there, observe customer traffic, and count cars in their parking lot. Who’s buying, and who’s leaving empty handed?
2. SPEAK WITH THEIR CUSTOMERS
It’s easy to discover what customers like or dislike about your competition: Just ask. It’s quite possible you have someone in your network or working with you already that has a line in on a customer of a competitor. Who knows, if you learn how their customers decide between one vendor or another, it might lead to a new client relationship, too.
3. BUY A BUSINESS CREDIT REPORT
Determine your credit position relative to your competition, and obtain valuable business intelligence by ordering a business credit report from Experian. You can order a business credit report online for as little as $8.00 last time I checked.
And of course if they are publicly traded, pick up a copy of their annual report.
4. EXPLORE CENSUS DATA
In Canada, you can view financial data based on industry averages with the SME Benchmarking Tool, and a whole lot more over at canadabusiness.ca.
5. BUY A MAILING LIST OR DIRECTORY
Any business development representative worth their salary at your company has probably already sourced some lists, so be sure to ask them first. If you don’t have a sales team, try searching the web for any online directories, or mailing list sellers.
HACK: If you or your staff are a little computer savvy, it’s possible to rip online directories in their entirety using WordPress and a plugin called WP All Import.
6. TRADE SHOWS, CONFERENCES, CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Your typical chamber of commerce or trade show / conference organizer is usually willing to provide a list of all vendors for free, or for pay. Even easier yet; trade shows have maps available at the door to help you navigate all of the vendors present, and every vendor is listed on the back, complete with contact information.
If you work for a web design or SEO company be wary of the folks that run the group; in my younger days I’d encountered plenty of self-proclaimed networking guru “connectors” that tried to coral a free website redesign out of me by implying it would be good for the company and lead to a few lucrative introductions and referrals “down the road”. This is especially true if you’re young and haven’t been around the block yet.
7. SHAKE THEIR WEBSITE AND SEE WHAT FALLS OUT
I’m not talking about the obvious; If you’re reading this I am already assuming you’ve sought out your competitors websites and reviewed them. And you probably did it through the front door.
The reality is that your company, as well as your competitors, probably have valuable information neatly hidden away on the server their website resides on. It’s not difficult to acquire financial data, meeting presentations, and so on by doing a site scrape of your competitors website or using Google Advanced Search, and it’s perfectly legal.
8. USE LINKED IN
This one’s a no-brainer, as much as it might seem like a plug for the very platform you likely found this article, it isn’t. Sometimes the best way to learn about your competition is through observing the people who run a particular company, or their employees.
When a Linked In user lists a company in their employment history, it creates a dynamic link that you can click to see other employees who work for the same company. If your competitor is savvy, they may also have created a company page. This is great for comparing the skill sets of your employees to those of your competitors’ employees, what their turnover is like, and who they’re connected to.
Of course, seeing what your competition is up to on their own blog and other social channels such as YouTube, Twitter, Linked In, Facebook, Instagram are a good idea, too.
New Facebook advertising rules allow you to view all the ads a brand has put out; a lot can be learned on aggregate information.