I have written before about the importance of using the competitive intelligence you gather for decision-making support.
Today I’ll focus on creating a solid competitor profile—the basic elements of a good CI report. This is information that experienced CI researchers will routinely attempt to discover and include in their reports.
Exercise caution and judgment as to how you obtain competitor information. You want your competitor profiles to be accurate, trustworthy and insightful, but not to include proprietary information.
What a competitor profile should include
The basics of the company or firm itself
Of course, all competitor profiles will contain the name of the organization, the headquarters or main office address, any international or satellite locations, primary contact information and website URLs.
This may include information like the following:
- Number of employees
- Revenue and other financial information
- How the company is structured—public or private, partnership or corporation
A competitor’s financial profile is crucial information. What are their key assets and liabilities? What is the overall financial status—flush with cash, buried in debt, on the brink of bankruptcy? Could the organization be on the acquiring side, or an acquisition target?
Management and other key people
Executive leadership encompassing at least the C-suite and board of directors, but heads of business lines and relevant departments or divisions may also be desirable.
You also want key personnel; in law, that would be the firm’s top attorneys. In business, it could be engineers, sales people or other individuals with high-value, mission-critical roles. Learn about recent key hires and in the case of law, monitor lateral attorney moves.
Knowing this information can help you assess the skills and capabilities your competitors have and what they may lack to determine how you stack up to them. Is there any area you can capitalize on that they don’t have, or areas you can improve upon?
Today, information on key people can be gleaned from social media and their activity on networks like LinkedIn and Twitter. In addition, press releases and media coverage are also critical resources for information on management and key personnel.
Products and services
A thorough description of all the products and services offered, or you may choose to narrow this down to specific, relevant offerings, especially in the case of large, diverse enterprises.
Product and service development plans
Along with current products and services, it’s valuable to monitor future offerings. Where is the organization going, and how might future plans encroach upon your existing business or future plans? What products and services are under development? What kinds of research are they performing?
Often new products and services come via acquisition, which can be one of the fastest and most profound ways to change the competitive landscape. Competitor profiles are most valuable when they include an up-to-date analysis of this possibility.
Sales and marketing information
How does the organization get their products and services to market? Direct sales and business development, through various resellers or distribution channels, or some combination? And it’s important to include both “bricks and mortar” as well as online efforts.
Do they target specific market segments and, if so, how are they defined? Other important marketing considerations include branding and advertising. What is the organization’s key messages and selling propositions? What differentiates them and sets them apart? In law firm profiles, understanding positioning can help determine how your firm can be listed higher in directories based on reputation and skills.
Sales and revenue performance and trends are also useful: Have sales increased, decreased or remained flat over time?
SWOT and other competitive analysis
The purpose of the CI profile is to deliver enough data for competitive analysis—for example, a SWOT analysis—Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. With a sound competitor profile, you will have the information and rationale to understand implications, limitations and advantages to support your decisions and actions. Analysis can be used tactically—to create better sales proposals or ad campaigns—as well as strategically to identify new markets, acquisitions or new products and services.
These are a few of the points that should be included in a competitor profile, and there is more information to gain so you can have better knowledge of your competition and how their business could affect your business.
Two most critical factors of competitor profiles
- You must discover and monitor the right information and ensure that it’s current and accurate.
- This information must be put to use, meaning decision makers must have access in a usable format and your culture must be supportive of using it, even if it means going against the grain. In fact, a good profile should also negate any false and dangerous assumptions you’ve been making about a competitor.
Assessing how you stack up and where you fit in the competitive landscape has become a crucial step for business success. New offerings, mergers and acquisitions, advancing technology, globalization—all these factors can and do change rapidly and lack of preparation leaves you vulnerable.
Your business or law firm can use the information gained in a CI profile to determine how to best place your capabilities and offerings above the competition in the markets you serve.