When you’re looking into the viability of a business, you need to prove you know what’s going on in the market. One of the most common ways to do this is a competitive analysis, but what exactly does this report achieve? It’s designed to assess and let you really understand who you’re competing with in a market, the value they provide for the customers, and give you a strong base for understanding their strengths and weaknesses. Once you know all this, you can reflect on how your company fits into the market, and use it to build a strategy on where you need to go. If you’ve never done this kind of analysis before, or are just starting a new venture, take this course and learn everything you need to know about starting your first business.
A competitive analysis is critical to your strategy because once you understand the playing field, you can line up exactly what it is your target customers value, and knock the competition out of the park. The trouble is that many entrepreneurs and business owners, don’t do this very well at all. Their business is their “baby” and they can often find it hard to take a step back, and analyse what is actually going on in the market. The key to doing a competitive analysis well is to ensure you’re always objective in your writing, and you spend the time to do thorough research into every aspect of your business. This goes without saying for your entire business plan! Study this quick course and discover how to make a stronger (and more concise) business plan today.
A Typical Competitive Analysis Covers These Topics:
- A list of the main competitors you face in your industry (or niche)
- A summary of all of their products or services
- An analysis of all of the strengths and weaknesses of your competition (and your own company)
- An overview of the strategies being used by the competition to achieve their objectives
- An overview of the market, and projections for the future
When you’re putting together the list of your competition, there will be a couple that immediately come to mind as the chief competitors – the guys you do battle with on a daily basis. What you also need to spend time researching is all of the other companies that are impacting your market share. Even the little guys that may only indirectly compete with your products, or are targeting the same customers with products that can replace what you’re selling. Get a picture of the entire market and also identify companies that have an incentive to enter your market in the upcoming 12 months. Once you have all this together you can prioritize the list by ranking the competitors that will prove the greatest challenge.
Example: The main competitors in the industry are all small to medium sized players that have an established presence in the market. The major threat comes from Company ABC because they’re best positioned to compete and have the largest market share (at 20%). Our competitors we need to pay the most attention to are Company ABC, Company 2 and Company 3, because they are all growing their market share year on year, and at a faster rate than our own. In addition, Company 3 recently bought out Company XYZ which will allow them to add in a range of customizable products that we currently cannot offer to our own customer base…
Next, you need to look into the details of your competitors’ products and services. Think specifically in terms of the features, value provided to customers and how exactly they are being sold. This course is fantastic for using the information you gather to set your prices effectively. In your research consider competitors marketing plans, and what strategies they have in place to get their name out. If you have access to customer satisfaction surveys from independent research groups they are a great help in getting impartial information. Reach out to your customers and ask them for frank feedback, or employ your sales force to gather more information – they’re a wonderful source when you want to learn about how your customers are doing business. In the same theme you shouldn’t forget to include details on how your competitors are marketing and distributing their products. Include information on product quality, and find out how they are both staffed and are operating (when you can).
Example: The closest resemblance to our own product comes from Company 2, because their scale of operation and sales force is similar to our own. Unfortunately the product that is best positioned in the market is that from Company ABC, who also are very present on both TV and internet marketing, hold the largest market share and have had the best year on year growth. Customers have commented that the durability of our product could be improved when compared to others in the industry, and the issue was raised that both Company ABC and Company 3 both have a much larger presence (and regular interaction) with our customer base in face to face meetings…
Strengths and Weaknesses
Be very objective as you put together the strengths and weaknesses of your competition. The report you’re building is useless if you have bias in your judgment and allow your own belief in your products to cloud reality. Think about their products as if you actually work for the competitor, and discover what makes them so great. Is it the quality, or the cost to manufacture? Are they more user-friendly, or do they have fantastic design? If they’re growing rapidly, is there a particular product or service that’s key to their growth? Finding all of this is quite easy with the internet, and your first place to start should be their website, and any product review sites you can find. But don’t stop here. Make some calls, talk to journalists, consultants and major players in the industry. You’re looking for gold nuggets of information about what your customers want, so you can start providing it. If you’re looking for more inspiration check out this recent post on innovation and start making progress today! Inspiration is often easier to find than you think, as most people will be happy to share their opinion with you.
Example: Company ABC is leading the pack thanks largely to the success they have had in producing a high quality product and pricing it at a cost below our own to manufacture. Their weakness is in mass producing their products, which doesn’t allow for any customization as all have been sourced out of China. Company 3 is known for having the best sales force, but their products are not considered at the same level as our own, despite having a more flexible range. Company 2 is largely relying on the success of Product X which accounts for the majority of their business, and shows little signs of branching out into new research and development…
By staying current with press releases and advertising, you’ll likely have already developed a “feel” for how your competitors want to be portrayed. If you can get a hold of their quarterly or annual reports these offer a fantastic source of information, but it’s not going to be the entire picture. Consider asking the journalists and consultants what they think about your competitors to get a more complete idea. Reaching out to customers of your competition is a wonderful way to get additional insight if you can get a hold of them, and your sales team are the ones who will be able to point you in the right direction. You can learn more about how to interview customers and get honest feedback in this course. It will take a bit of legwork to form a complete picture of your competitors strategy and objectives, but focus on the facts, be persistent and do the research and you’ll soon have a very good idea of how they work.
Example: It’s clear that Company ABC are following a cost reduction exercise as they continue to outsource both their manufacturing to China and have undergone a recent redundancy program here in the United States. This could indicate an upcoming price war, as they are reducing their cost to manufacture (per unit) through aggressive off-shoring tactics. Company 3 is investing heavy locally, and are positioning themselves as the “go-to” choice for products manufactures in the United States. They offer considerable flexibility in their product design and configuration, and are able to get a premium from the market (albeit a smaller subsection) that are happy to pay for this. Company 2 are seemingly not doing much at all, rather clinging to the success of a single product and have no obvious development plans for future product roll outs…
Finally, you need a view of the market. Study the trends and figure out what the actual customers for your products are looking for. If the demand is growing there are probably going to be plenty of customers around. On the flip side, a flat or declining market will see fierce competition. This is not a good market to be in, as everyone scrambles to win (or maintain) market share. Focus on any niches that might be developing, and make sure you’re targeting what it is customer’s actually want. By the time you get to this stage of the analysis you’re going to have more than enough information to measure and determine a future outlook from the trends.
Example: The shift in the industry seems to be effectively dividing the market in two. There is a large number (majority) that are seeking cost effective options, and Company ABC is positioning itself for fierce competition. Company 3 has an altogether different view of the market, and are targeting a subset that have more disposable income, and are willing to pay a premium for locally manufactured goods, for customers seeking a higher level of flexibility. Company 2 is sitting between the two, not effectively positioned for attracting either market, but still maintaining a reasonable market share (12%). As both markets are growing, they are both attractive for us to be in, but our current operational setup means we are more able to compete in the niche that’s developing for customers seeking solutions, not just off the shelf products. Our go to market strategy is…
Take all of these examples and use them to help get yourself started on your own competitive analysis. Once you put it all together you’ll have learned a lot about your particular industry, and the players that are operating within it. Use the information to ensure you’re creating the right products, and reaching the right customers, and your business will be a success.