competitive intelligence tools, market research

Best Tools For Competitive Intelligence

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could always be on top of what your competition is up to without making this your full-time job?

There are many online tools available in 2018 that can help you achieve exactly that.

For the purposes of this post, I will omit all the context about competitive intelligence — what it is, why it’s important, how to do it systematically and how to make it actionable. Instead, I will simply list useful tools and apps and provide brief descriptions.

Let’s dive right in!

Listen to Their Customers

  • B2B software companies: Capterra and G2Crowd reviews
  • E-commerce companies: Amazon reviews and Google Shopping reviews
  • Mobile apps: reviews on iTunes and on Google Play marketplaces
  • Reviews on social media platforms: read comments on ProductHunt, search Twitter for the responses to the company, look at comments on their Facebook page
  • Other categories: try searching directly for “company name reviews” or “product category reviews”

Listen to Their Employees

  • Do people enjoy working there or are they leaving in droves — Glassdoor.com

Review Their Funding and Investors

See Whom They Are Hiring And Where

Automatically Receive News About Your Competitors

Stay on Top of Company Announcements

  • Subscribe to their email newsletter(s)
  • Subscribe to their blogs and press releases

Detailed Analysis

  • Watch, read or listen to interviews with their CEOs or key executives.
  • If your competitors are public, review their S-10, 10-Q or 10-K reports on sec.gov. Insights to expect: financial metrics, market intelligence, future plans, etc.
  • “Mystery shopping”. Sign up for product trials or product demos to learn more about their products. Visit their stores and talk to their salespeople.
  • Do your own qualitative research. Not only talk to your customers but to customers of competing products too — so that you could learn about their strengths and weaknesses.

Other Tools

  • Review their traffic — Similarweb
  • Review company profiles — Owler
  • Understand their content strategy — BuzzSumo
  • Review their SEO rankings and PPC strategy — SpyFu
  • Get notified when their website is updated — Visualping

Consider Purchasing Research Reports

Browse reports published by these companies:

Obvious But Sometimes Overlooked

  • Corporate website and blog.
  • Social media: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Leverage Your Colleagues

  • Create a slack channel for competitive intelligence. Post big news and encourage all customer-facing teams to do the same, so nothing important goes unnoticed.

Let me know if I left anything out!

How to Find Your Ideal Customers

Trying to market your product without knowing whom you should market to is like walking blindfolded. You might still end up in the right place. But it’s not very likely.

Any Customers Vs. Ideal Customers

A new startup might try anything to get its first customers. At this exploration stage, you cast the net wide. You approach different individuals and companies and do whatever it takes. Any customer is a great customer.

But as the company grows, it learns that not all customers are created equal. Some are easier to acquire. Others benefit more from the product and are easier to retain. Yet others are easier to expand and upsell to.

This raises a question. How do you know who is your primary target audience?

At an early stage, you “just know” your ideal customer. Your ideal customer profile is whoever was willing to buy your first product or sign an agreement before you even developed a prototype.

Of course, you can always stop here.

But if you’re planning to become a world-class company, you might need to take it to another level and make sure that your marketing is also world-class. All top technology–, and more narrowly, Software as a Service (SaaS) companies have a very clear understanding of their ideal customer profile. Even though this post will be particularly relevant to this type of companies, the general principles can be applied to any industries.

A side-note on terminology: terms such as “ideal customer profile” and “target audience” are often used interchangeably. “Buyer Persona” is another similar term that emphasizes the focus on individuals – as opposed to companies.

Why Define Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

An ideal customer is a customer that is more likely to like your product and pay for it. Knowing your ICP should help you grow revenue while investing less. This higher return on investment is achieved through better targeting among other things.

Imagine, you sell software that helps cities analyze traffic patterns and make better urban planning decisions. You could place a TV commercial and hope that the right people will see it. This would be utterly inefficient.

Alternatively, you could identify a subset of cities that are most likely to adopt this type of software, then identify the right officials who are most likely to be decision makers and target them with a proposal that addresses their specific pains and explains how your product can alleviate them. Needless to say, this would be infinitely more effective.

And, by the way, customers will also appreciate this targeted approach. See “Principles of Ethical Marketing” for more on this.

If you need more reasons:

Ideal Customer Profile benefits: marketing targets, sales enablement, customer-centric products

How to Develop ICP

The approach will depend on a number of things:

  • Company size and stage
  • Available resources
  • Available data

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market differentiation

How to Develop and Validate a Value Proposition (Product Positioning)

If I asked you these questions right now, would you be able to answer them?

  • What does your company do?
  • What product does your company sell and how is it different from the competition?
  • Whom is this product for?

Seriously, stop reading right now and try to answer these questions aloud or in your head.

Can you answer these questions in 1-3 sentences and in a clear way that wouldn’t invite follow-up questions from an average customer?

Can everyone in your organization?

What is a Value Proposition?

A value proposition is simply a way to connect a product offering with customer needs in a clear way. It should resonate with customers and would motivate them to try or buy your product. Essentially, the value proposition is synonymous with unique selling proposition and product positioning.

In order to find its product-market fit, startups need to come up with value proposition statements for its products. At first, you start with a hypothesis or a guess if you will.

This hypothesis then needs to be validated with customers and refined as the product evolves and as the company acquires more knowledge about the market and customers.

A validated value proposition statement is the ultimate outcome of finding the product-market fit. This statement should encapsulate key insights you’ve gathered about customers, as well as unique product strengths.

Do You Need One?

If you don’t have one, you’re shooting in the dark. If you have one but it’s not validated, you might be deluding yourself.

Here are some practical benefits of developing a value proposition:

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