Going Beyond Google
Competitive intelligence is about getting answers to the important questions: How quickly is our competitor’s revenue growing? What’s the rate of adoption for its new product? What are its B2B prices? Do they discount to get a sale? If so, how much? What features will be in its next version? Is it going to buy another company or get bought?
You may be able to answer some of these questions just by asking around either your company’s sales team or your competitors’ partners or customers. Increasingly, though, you can use the web to find quantitative answers to your important questions. The web is full of sites that can help you search for competitive intelligence. This article will walk you through the top few.
You might think of LinkedIn as little more than a site that houses your digital résumé—to be visited every so often, as you ponder a change in employment. But LinkedIn is, quite simply, the world’s largest database of business information.
A common intelligence question is: How is the competitor staffed? This could include the percentages of people that are in sales, marketing or research and development, or how many are located in the United States or other select countries.
By searching for a company on LinkedIn, you can instantly see how many people at that company have LinkedIn profiles. If the company is similar to yours, you can extrapolate how many total people it employs. For example, let’s say LinkedIn shows 4,500 people at your company. You know that your company actually employs 6,000 people, meaning that your actual employee count is 133 percent of the LinkedIn number. Now let’s say LinkedIn shows 2,000 people working for a competitor that is similar to your company (in the same industry, U.S.-based, etc.). Using the same ratio, you could estimate that the competitor really has close to 2,700 employees.
You can drill down and use this same technique to estimate how many salespeople it has, how many people it employs in the New York area or to answer a number of questions about the organization.
You might also want to identify its top customers or estimate its revenue for a certain region. You can often find this information by searching these profiles for the presence of “$”—that’s right, a dollar sign. Salespeople and businesspeople often talk about their responsibilities or achievements with statements like “achieved $X million in revenue in X region.” A search for a “$” retrieves those kinds of facts.
Finally, for a look at what products the competitor is developing, view the profiles of its engineering people. See what they’re excited to be working on, as this can reveal details that the company hasn’t yet officially disclosed.
Another key area you can search is job postings. After all, companies don’t do things; people in companies do things. If a company wants to do something new, they probably need to bring on new staff to do so. As a result, job postings are a leading indicator of where a company is heading.
A few years ago, we were interested in which U.S. cell phone carriers would embrace Android-based phones. We searched job postings on Indeed.com for each carrier. Sure enough, one of them began advertising for engineers and other people with Android experience. We also monitored LinkedIn and saw a similar increase in the number of people working at that company who listed Android in their profiles. Six months later, that carrier blitzed the airwaves with its Android campaign.
You can do the same thing in your industry. Is the competitor going to build Windows 8 applications, or are they staying focused on the iPad? Just ask Indeed.com how many open job postings there are for each.
You can also use Indeed.com to find your competitors’ customers. Let’s say a competitor sells the ACME 3000 widget. If you search for that product on Indeed, you will find companies saying that candidates need experience with the ACME 3000. Their only reason for making this a requirement would be that they use that technology.
Also, remember the job posting itself. Job postings, especially for senior positions, often describe in detail the importance of a particular position to the company. We have read job postings that state things like: “You will be heading up the new XYZ Division, one of only two new strategic divisions that will propel the business to $1 billion in revenue.” If you’re a competitor, is that important? I think so.
Another top site that we check for nearly every analysis is Slideshare. It is often referred to as the YouTube of PowerPoint for its similarly easy-to-use interface for uploading presentation files. And because companies speak in PowerPoint, that is a very good thing. If you want to come up to speed on a trend, industry or competitor, just enter a search term and you will see all presentations that include that term.
How valuable can a slide presentation be? On Slideshare, we have found product roadmap presentations and investor-relation presentations that give detailed breakdowns of business units, growth, strategies and more.
And when you can’t find everything you’re looking for on the web and need to interview people to get important intelligence, presentations are gold for finding these experts—and they usually even contain contact information.
More, More, More and Less
That’s three sites that we use constantly for competitive intelligence, but there are literally hundreds more that we use at least occasionally. These great tools include Quora.com (a question-and-answer site), Archive.org (an Internet library) and Glassdoor.com (a job and career community). At some point, the problem switches from lack of information to too much information.
A million points of data won’t spontaneously combust into an insight without some analytical rigor. As you start playing with sites like these, it’s easy to be blinded by the data and lose sight of why you went looking to begin with. Determine what questions you have about your competitors, as well as how the answers to those questions would affect your decisions, and you’ll have a good idea of where to focus your efforts online.
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