In the competitive startup world, companies often keep their cards close to their chest. In contrast to public companies, who need to provide detailed reports every quarter about expenses, compensation and funding, startups have no obligation to reveal financial data or future plans. This lack of transparency makes it challenging to gauge competitor status and roadmap.
Challenging, but not impossible. If you know where to look and are willing to be creative, you can get a coherent picture of competitor activity. Mine these four sources to get valuable insights about what others are up to:
#1: See what they are saying about themselves
Go to your competitor’s website. Download any brochures or white papers they offer online.
See who they are hiring. Are they looking for a VP of HR, which suggests growth in personnel, or a sudden slew of programmers, which indicates an increased focus on product development? Want hints about their geographical focus? Check out the locations of new marketing and sales positions or new offices.
Follow their social media and website channels. How do they position themselves? What product features or advantages do they highlights? Their messaging can give you a sense of their strategic direction and their unique selling points.
#2: What do their customers think?
See what case studies and logos they display on their site, then contact those companies. Hearing about the competition directly from a client can reveal a lot of information about your potential positioning.
Now is your chance! Ask your competitor’s clients detailed questions, like:
✔ How long did it take them to get up and running?
✔ What features do they use the most?
✔ What features do they wish they had?
✔ How has the product evolved over time?
✔ Do they know what developments are in the pipeline?
✔ What pain points are they still struggling with?
✔ How responsive is the company to support issues?
Let them vent about anything that is causing them frustration, or rave about what works.
#3 – See what others are saying about them
Set up Google alerts so you can stay on top of the competition’s media coverage. Track which bloggers and online publications are covering them.
Have they won any industry awards that serve as credibility builders? Are you ready to vie for those awards as well?
#4 – Where are they reaching their clients?
Discover what events and forums your competitors are using to engage with their clients, giving you insights about where you can find your target audience.
What trade shows are they attending? Check the company’s events page and go to your industry’s conferences sites – is the competition attending and/or sponsoring the show? See what their Head of Sales is posting on social media – this may tip you off to attendance as well.
What channels are they using to get their message across? Are you inundated with sponsored posts on LinkedIn? Keep an eye out for ads in industry publications – online and print. Maybe they are supplementing conventional marketing tactics with thought leadership pieces. Are they very vocal on Medium or through a company blog?
Monitor their social media activity. How often are they posting, and on which platforms – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.? Is Instagram their channel of choice? Explore which groups they have joined and see how active they are. Look at their founder’s pages and see where their opinion pieces are popping up.
Put it all together and proceed
Dig deep into the areas where you overlap and define your unique selling points. Based on your research, see if you can make minor tweaks to your product that will bring big wins. Of course, stay true to your vision and sift out any findings that would derail you from your chosen path.
This due diligence will pay off. At your next decision juncture, you’ll be able to make a choice with confidence, backed by knowledge versus intuition.
Read our white paper, “Strategy on Steroids: 5 steps to validating product-market fit” to learn more about how our lean approach can get you to market fast.
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