Starting and growing a business doesn’t happen without information. As an investigator who wants to dominate his or her chosen field, you need to know who your competitors are what the market is like and where the opportunities lie; you must have the answers to questions like:
- Who are your primary competitors?
- What customer needs and preferences are you competing to meet?
- What are the similarities and differences between their services and yours?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of their products and services?
- How do their prices compare to yours?
- How should you plan to compete: Offer better quality services, lower prices, more support, and / or easier access to services?
- How are you uniquely suited to compete against them in your marketplace?
In a sales-hungry, crowded marketplace like the private investigation and security industries, information is power, and the best-informed competitor often lands the lion’s share of clients. If your company doesn’t have a competitive intelligence system in place, get one. Simply put, competitive intelligence is gathering and analyzing information about your competitors for the benefit of your own business development. Data on pricing strategies, customer service and marketing tactics can all be studied to sharpen your business tactics.
Even if your competitors do not know you yet, you need to know where your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses lie and be able to identify the opportunities and targets in your chosen marketplace. Through the use of competitive intelligence you will obtain a clear picture of the difference between the way you and your competitors are conducting business with the ultimate goal of doing everything better than the competition.
Top business owners from all aspects of commerce gather intelligence on their competitors, their industry, and especially, themselves. As more business are competing for a shrinking market the competition is getting smarter and evolving every day; the only way you are going to know how you measure up to them is by actively engaging in regular intelligence gathering efforts.
Here are seven ways that you can start gathering intelligence on your competitors today:
- Phone your competitors. Focus on the personality and attitude of the person who answers the phone. See how you are treated on the phone. If they are warmer and friendlier than the person who answers your phone, make some immediate changes.
- Visit your competitors where possible. You or a trusted colleague should visit your place as a potential client might and then personally visit your competitors.
- Request information, a price list and a brochure. See how your request is fulfilled, concentrating on speed and follow-up. See how your information request is processed, how long it takes to get back to you and whether or not there is any follow-up after the request. Then, if you have people working for you, call your own company and request the same information. Again, since they probably already know the sound of your voice, engage a friend to help you spy on yourself. Are you treated as well as your competitors treated you? Is your information request processed as well and as fast? Is your follow-up better than your competitor’s follow-up? Do you handle requests as professionally as your competition?
- Review your competitors’ websites. Are they out performing you in the search engines? Why? Who is linking to them and what keywords and phrases have they targeted. Is their site easy to use? Are they paying for advertising?
- Order something from your competitors and buy something from yourself. Do it by phone, mail, on the web and in person. Keep an eye out for the strengths and weaknesses in the entire process. If your competitors are doing anything better than you, make the required changes so that you are doing everything better than they are.
- Talk to your competitor’s clients. Has a marketing prospect ever told you that they already use a different agency? How did you reply to them? Did you just say “OK, well if anything ever changes give me a call.” or did you turn it into an intelligence gathering opportunity? I always ask questions like, “Wow, that’s great… what is that you like so much about them? How did you meet? What’s his or her name? How can I get a hold of them, too? I now go looking for my competitor’s clients because I can get a better understanding of what strategies they employed to acquire the client and what clients value the most when purchasing investigative services.
- Compare everything. Look through the eyes of your prospect and compare services, pricing, packaging, employees, quality, delivery and attitude. Who would you buy from and why? Successful agencies know that they compete on many levels and must be the superior service provider in all aspects. Only unflinching and honest intelligence gathering will give you effective feedback on how you are doing.
Most small-business owners are not prepared to face up to the awful truths about their own companies- especially because we work so hard on them; oftentimes they become our identity. The truth though is that there is a very slim chance that we are doing everything better than our competitors. Instead of feeling badly about the idea that we are not better than everyone else we should feel great about our efforts because we can learn from them and make the necessary improvements. Knowledge is power.
Competitive intelligence is not cheating, stealing or engaging in sabotage. It is, however, observing keenly, with an open mind and being committed to improving upon our shortcomings and seizing the opportunities we find. Competitive intelligence is both inexpensive and informative but it is not a secret; keep in mind that business information is more plentiful than ever today and that your competitors are probably reading articles just like this one too.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
– Sun Tzu