Sales is a competitive field. Reps on the same teams compete, companies compete, products compete -- even customers compete against each other. It’s one big competition, really.
And while a missed sale might come down to what an individual rep is doing wrong, other times it can be chalked up to what the competition is doing right.
So what are the most effective ways to study and learn from your competition?
There are a few different options, and depending on how much time you have during the day, one might be better than the other. Here are three methods of researching your competition, accompanied by an explanation of how to get the most out of each.
1) Social Media and Search
If you aren’t sure who your competitors are, a quick Google search can change that. For example, realtors can identify their competitors by searching “Realtors [location]” in Google and perusing the results.
You can also use LinkedIn’s advanced search for this purpose. Learn more about the ins and outs of advanced search here.
For Facebook and Instagram, monitor your competitor’s pages. Spend a few minutes studying what they are posting every week.
On Facebook, look to see if they’re sharing a story. Several businesses use the platform for this very reason. For example, they might showcase employees working with the Mom and Pop stores of the neighborhood. From a sales perspective, this lets you know who a competitor is going after. If you notice constant interactions with Mom and Pop businesses, they’re targeting the small businesses of the market. That’s where they want to dominate. In order to compete against this company, you have to either try your hand at selling to the same small businesses they are going after in a different way, or pursue medium to large businesses.
With Instagram, the main thing to watch is who the company is interacting with and the type of language they are using. Similar to Facebook, if you notice a ton of photos of small businesses, or flyers about a Saturday Sidewalk Sale, you can determine that this company is targeting the small business market. That’s clearly who they want to appeal to, and who they want to interact with.
On Twitter, take advantage of lists to keep tabs on your competition.
To set up a list, head to a competitor’s profile. Once there, click on the “settings” button, and choose the option “add or remove from lists.” Finally, set up a list titled “competitors,” set it to private, and then add your rival.
Here’s what salespeople can learn from Twitter lists:
What’s being said about your brand and your competitor’s brand. Not just what they’re saying, but what everyone else is saying. Twitter is a tremendous platform for sharing an opinion and by reading replies and mentions, sales reps can see where their competition is struggling and how they can improve.
Who your competitors are interacting with. What kind of users are they tweeting to? What’s the language they're using to interact with these accounts? With this information in mind, you can shape your own differentiated message to prospects accordingly.
The broader company strategy. Twitter is the most popular network of the big three social platforms, and is where a company can promote their content in large amounts. By reading along and keeping up-to-date you can learn about your competitor's goals and what strategy they are using to get there.
Chances are, your customers became intimately acquainted with your competitors during their buying process. So why not ask them for their opinion?
Client feedback can take anywhere from a day to several months to gather, but it’s always worth it. Customers are the heart of your business, and gaining input from them can help business leaders dictate which direction your company heads in.
There are three primary ways to gather input from customers: surveys, events, and direct interviews.
The key to a great customer survey is to offer a reward for participation, and avoid questions that take longer than 10 minutes to answer. This is your chance to get the information that matters to you. If your physical therapy practice isn’t attracting new customers, ask questions about your marketing, strategy, and what other practices are doing better. Remember, today’s average attention span is about eight seconds, so make your questions quick. You’ll not only learn a lot about your competitors, you’ll learn about what parts of your strategy are working.
Alternatively, you could host an event. Invite customers and folks from the area to learn about your company, and what you’re trying to do. Offer free food and beverages, and ask them for their observations about your market and competitors, and their thoughts on how you can improve. Maybe you can find out why someone in your neighborhood decided to use X real estate firm versus yours. An added bonus: You can advertise your company, and potentially source new leads.
Finally, you can hold one-on-one interviews with customers and prospects. Next time you sell your product, ask your new customer why they chose your service over another competitor. And in the event you lose a customer, don’t give up -- follow up. Inquire about what they liked about your competitor and what made them leave.
The best part about using advertising for competitive research is that it’s easily found. Study your advertising versus your competitor’s advertising. Are they sharing case studies or testimonials? What type of language and imagery do their ads use? What type of “feel” and brand identity are they going for? By analyzing your competitors’ positioning, you’ll be able to adjust yours accordingly.
It’s also important to look at the advertising channels your competition is using. Are they advertising primarily online or are they spending money on TV ads? Do you notice promoted campaigns on social media or flyers at coffee shops? Use this knowledge to inform your own marketing and advertising strategies.
Learning from your competition is critical. It doesn’t matter if you work for a new business or a seasoned company; the competition is part of what’s going to determine your success.
The other part is you. How do you adapt? How do you counter? Social media, customers, and advertising are three easy ways to learn about your competition, and discover how to gain the edge.
Originally published Nov 6, 2015 7:30:00 AM, updated April 18 2019