Competitive Analysis For Start-Ups
Every organization has competition. This might mean going into an industry where there are well entrenched vendors. Or changing market conditions might have opened up a new field that is resulting in a rush for a company to establish themselves as a market leader. Even if the product is blue sky and completely unique, there’s competition for budget and it’s usually only a matter of time before one of those we’re competing for budget with moves ever so slightly into our lane.
We have a thesis. We have values and a mission. So do our competitors. We don’t want to copy our competitors - but we should be aware of them and make sure to include their moves in our plans. Most companies have licensing agreements that restrict the use of their products from competitors, so here are some ways to track developments. Even if they don’t, we should probably keep out of their products.
But competitors at times uncover insights and ideas that help entire industries. Here are some ways to keep an eye on competitors, without crossing that boundary of logging into their products:
Google images. Customers often post screens from inside competitor products. We have our own design language and heavily researched UX workflows, but seeing how competitors visualize complex themes can help us better understand problem spaces we help address.
Websites. Understanding the pages on a competitors website tells us what markets they’re going after, how they’re going after them, and sometimes the names of customers they’re winning. This can also surface case studies, publicly available webinars, etc. When visiting a website, use ToR or some other tool that helps you stay anonymous as many of us use retargeting or have snippets of code that feed information back into our CRM and while we’re not doing anything wrong by viewing publicly available content, it’s best to have our browsing habits kept private.
View Page Source. The page source can tell us a lot about how competitors see the world. Pay attention to headers and any areas where there are words or phrases that aren’t displayed on the screen.
Google. It’s easy to search for terms in our industry and see who else is buying ads or getting organic search results. Don’t click on the ads but be aware.
Keywords analyzers. Keywords are out there for anywhere to see. It’s part of the money machine that is Google. We can then use tools like Google’s Auction Insights (https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/2579754?hl=en) similarweb.com, SEMrush, Ahrefs, KeywordSpy, Ubersuggest, QuickSprout, Siteliner, SpyFu, SEranking, and iSpionage to see what competitors for keywords (which aren’t always the same as competitors in our space) are doing to drive traffic and how. Note: There are a few in here because as with Alexa, they can come and go.
Sales calls. Any time a competitor comes up on a sales call, that should be logged into our CRM and we should have reports that tell us how frequently they come up. Additionally, we should track (and so know) if we won or lost deals to competitors and have won/loss calls with the customers whenever possible.
Battlecards. These are short (typically a page) cheat sheets that sellers can use to understand how to position products when competitors come up. These should include talking points we see as making our product more valuable but we should also train sellers never to use them to bad-mouth a competitor. We can simply speak to our strengths without drawing the correlation to the weaknesses of a competitor.
Crayon.co. As we scale it’s hard to consistently train teams what not to do. Crayon is a SaaS company that does much of the above for us. They aggregate information, generate battlecards, surface insights from competitive analysis and help us do so safely. Also check out Klue, ask.suzy.com, and others.
Again, we have a strategy and shouldn’t over-index on what the competition is doing. But no strategy is complete in isolation. Keeping tabs on competitors means we should have an ethical boundary and never cross it. When positioning competitive analysis within the company, it’s best to keep that to a small group and in the larger context say things like how happy you are that competitors are doing well as it helps validate the market when it comes up.
Again, no strategy is complete in isolation - but we should also not obsess about what competitors are doing. It can be a fine line!