One core aspect of the product and marketing role is to get insight on the competitive landscape. Apart from what you can find from their websites, you will want to dig deeper, and gain understanding of their business.

Fortunately, there are several sources to go to. Some of these are free, and some are not, but if you can get access to these, I highly recommend taking full advantage.

Dunn and Bradstreet – This is the gold standard.  It is not cheap, but if you have an investor relations group, odds are good that you have access to D&B.  It is worth the effort to get to this source.  Far more information on even small and early stage companies, as well as the best information on privately held firms.  I doubt I could justify the cost if I worked someplace without a subscription, but it really helps pave the path, and fill in blanks.

Edgar Filings – SEC 10K and 8K filings are gold.  If you are researching a public company, you should be reading their SEC filings as they are made available.  Of course, you need to know how to read a balance statement, and decode their language.  Almost as good is the annual report.  Usually this is put in the best light, but often some boasting will lead to information that a company probably didn’t intend to let out.

Quarterly conference calls – Again a vehicle for investigating public companies.  The investor calls are often gold.  Not so much the prepared statements, but the analyst Q&A sessions often will lead into topics the executives would prefer to not discuss.  Listen in live, but also listen to the recordings.  Additionally, Seeking Alpha often has transcripts of the calls available.  I often use them while listening to the recording to improve my comprehension.  You will learn to love the analysts who challenge assumptions, and get the executives to divulge details that they would rather keep quiet or hidden.

Get the products in house – If you are in a market where gear or software is sold on the open market, get examples and poke at it.  DO NOT BREAK license agreements (reverse engineering, decompiling etc), but do poke at it hard.  You can rest assured that your competitors do it with your product offerings.  This can be a challenge for a small organization, as the cost to establish a true competitive analysis lab can be high, but it is a worthy endeavor.

Industry Analysts – These are the Gartner’s and Forrester’s of the world.  They often have good summaries of markets and industries that have thumbnail overviews of competitors.  There are also have reports, and other helpful industry information available for a fee.  However, I rank them this low on the list of activities because they are expensive.  If you are not a subscriber, the cost of the point reports will be a huge burden on your budget.  Additionally, if you are in a market or segment that isn’t covered, then their information is not too useful.

Industry analysts – the others:  There is a huge body of reports out there, some being iSuppli teardowns, to industry overviews.  These can be excellent, but often are rehashed versions of other material, and if you have been in the industry a while, you probably know more than the reports will tell you.  Of course, your milage may vary, and I have bought some reports that were outstanding and reasonably priced.

Targeted investigation – This is paying a 3rd party to perform research for you.  Expensive, but it can be worth it.  If you are in an industry that isn’t directly covered by a heavy, this might be the only way to get independently verified market data.  This is a last resort, due to the cost and the heavy investment of time and effort.  Typically you can’t just ask them to research a market, but instead you need to be highly engaged to get good results.

Summarizing, competitive analysis is more art than science.  It is detective work, and your ability to gather and collate information, sorting the chaff from the grain will be essential.  The information is out there, but you can’t expect to have it hand fed to you.  What is your favorite source?

It pains me to remove Zoominfo from this post. Alas, they appear to have pivoted again, and are looking to provide more of a marketing and sales focused service. No longer is it good for competitive digging. Progress, I guess.


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