What should you include in a B2B competitive analysis? A traditional competitive analysis includes your competition’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threads (SWOT). With so much data to collect and analyze, and with industries changing so rapidly, B2B market research can quickly get overwhelming. Focusing on the right areas can be the difference between drowning in information overload, and identifying the difficulties or opportunities you need to address.
Here’s what I recommend for conducting your B2B competitive analysis, based on 10+ years of helping B2B companies establish competitive advantage.
The Basic Questions of B2B Competitive Analysis
In order to conduct a B2B competitive analysis, you first need to identify your competitors (I know – shocking!). These aren’t merely companies trying to sell the same things you are, but specific companies comparable to you in terms of price point, quality, region, or array of services and products. When you look at sales notes and documentation, which companies are you up against or losing to most often? Don’t go by your gut or past realities, but what today’s data tells you. If you’re like most B2B industries, your competition is increasing and changing all the time. You have to stay informed and agile. Try to answer these questions about your competitors with as much evidence as possible:
- What do they do well?
- What do they do not so well?
- What are their opportunities?
- What are their threats?
They look like such small, unassuming questions, but the answers should be extensive and thorough—and often hard to get. What’s the best way to track them down? You could call your B2B competition up and ask them, but I’m going to hazard a guess that you won’t get too far that way. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can B2B competitive intelligence:
Sources for B2B Market Research
Your Own B2B Customer Data
Your customer relationship management (CRM) system should be set up to provide both individual and big-picture data about your B2B customers. Reading salespeople’s notes and looking at buying history can help you identify where you’re losing business and where that business might have gone. As Forrester’s Amy Hayes recommends,
Work with sales and marketing operations teams to mine information from the organization’s sales force automation system and marketing automation platform for historical sales, win-loss data and buyer persona behavior and preferences.
Sales Promotion and Incentive Program Data
If you have sales promotion or incentive program data, you can use these as a source of even more B2B customer data. Did one of your customers participate with zeal in your past promotions or earn a ton of incentive rewards, only to be mysteriously absent from the latest promotions? Hmm, something’s afoot! Give them a call to catch up and see if they’re happy with your partnership or if they’ve caught a case of wandering eyes.
Honed Google skills are still a great way to build B2B competitive intelligence. Explore your competition’s online presence and messaging. Search for your competitor’s name in forums, social media groups, and other sources where B2B buyers in your industry seek advice. Search for “top companies” lists related to your industry. Don’t forget to use “incognito” mode on your web browser so Google doesn’t use your search history to determine which results to show you. This should give you a clear, objective picture of what B2B buyers see when they’re in the market for your products/services.
News and Press Releases
Track news and press releases through sites like PRNewswire or Business Wire. Through these, you can find newsworthy B2B competitive intelligence such as product changes, mergers, acquisitions, and other announcements. If you search for past releases, you could spot trends or even make some predictions about what their next moves will be. Are they partnering with a company that could lead to them having much larger R&D or marketing and sales funds? Did they acquire a specialized company that will add a new technology or service to their offerings? Using Google Alerts to track mentions of your competitors’ names or products will help you jump on news and press releases as soon as they’re live.
Competitors’ case studies and promoted channel partners are a valuable source of B2B competitive intelligence, but you should also look for companies boasting about their partnership with your competition. This can often be a way to find out what’s in their tech stack. What tech do they use for marketing automation, CRM, product inventory, channel management, sales enablement, incentive programs, or live chat? What are the advantages they have over you by using this technology?
Newsletter and Social Subscriptions
Subscribe to your competition’s newsletters and social media feeds. Doing this, you can often get information about new products and services, updates to their offerings, mergers and acquisitions, or other announcements you might have otherwise missed. You can also get an idea of what their relationship with their customers is like. Do their followers engage with them? Are those engagements meaningful or fleeting likes? Do they respond to complaints?
Gather and analyze B2B intent data to get insights about leads and accounts in your database who are showing intent to buy, based on search terms they’re using. Companies like Bombora, ZoomInfo, and Terminus provide B2B intent data tools to see if/when members of your CRM database are searching for your competitors or the products/services you offer.
Use online search tools to determine which search terms bring people to your competition’s website. The more these terms resemble the product/service selection you offer, the more likely they are to be a competitive threat.
Look into their employment and job title activity on LinkedIn, Indeed, or the careers/jobs section of their corporate website. These types of changes can give you clues about weaknesses they’re addressing by hiring more hands-on deck, creating new roles, or restructuring.
Pair data-based B2B market research with other observations about your competition’s brand messaging and values. Data is essential to your B2B competitive analysis, but don’t overlook those intangible, emotional, or humanitarian qualities that could be one your competition’s biggest strengths. It’s increasingly important to B2B buyers that they work with companies whose values match their own.
A B2B competitive analysis will never be a straight-forward, infallible view of your competitors. It’s a matter of making the best decisions you can based on the information you’re able to gather and analyze. With new technologies, trends in markets, channel influencers, and global situations changing swiftly, channel disruption is the norm. But by keeping your ear to the ground, you can understand where you stand against your competition and hone unique channel sales and marketing strategies that give you an edge.