How much attention should be directed at your clients’ competitors? For some firms and clients, keeping tabs on specific competitor companies is critical, especially in rapidly changing industries. For others though, there’s an inherent aversion to competitive intelligence. It can feel like plagiarizing a significant portion of your marketing strategy, and honestly sometimes it feels like time that could be better spent on other things. While the importance of continuing competitive research can definitely be debated, there’s a related trend growing on the horizon that isn’t going to be ignored by anyone: Industry Intelligence.

Spending hours each month worrying about one competitor is a waste of time

One reason some people have a love/hate relationship with competitive intelligence is because it seems bizarre to be spending a significant amount of time each month looking at what competitors are doing when you could be focused on your own company and customers. To be honest, those people are right to a certain extent. It is a little crazy, and that overly complex monthly competitive report probably isn’t worth your time to read cover-to-cover. But you can’t ignore the competition completely – that’s a recipe for getting left behind.

So how much time should you be spending on your competitors each week? I recommend spending about 5 minutes on it. That’s plenty of time to breeze through all the happenings during a given week, while allowing you to flag anything that’s worthwhile.

So how much time should you be spending on your competitors each week? I recommend spending about 5 minutes on it. That’s plenty of time to breeze through all the happenings during a given week, while allowing you to flag anything that’s worthwhile.

You can ignore a competitor, but not your industry

How many times have you heard someone say “we don’t have a direct competitor” or “we don’t worry about our competitors, we worry about our customers”? To a certain extent, this mindset makes all the sense in the world. Companies should be more worried about themselves than spending hours each week worried about what their competitors are doing. The conversation changes though, when the lens shifts from competitive tracking to industry tracking, and tracking multiple companies all at once to identify and recognize patterns.

For instance, if you could get a collaborative snapshot of what your 5-10 biggest competitors were doing in 5 minutes a week, would you care? Understanding how your industry is evolving and how it’s being challenged matters significantly. And not just for marketers. Sales teams need to know what prospects are being pitched. Business development folks need to be aware of industry partnerships and marketers need to be aware of their rapidly changing surroundings. It may not matter to you that competitor X has made a change to their website, but it does matter that 80 percent of your biggest competitors are all participating in a specific event, or offering account management services, or shifting to mobile.

Tracking an industry is hard

Tracking the big stuff is easy. Odds are you’ll hear about the “big stuff” by reading news/tech blogs or perusing competitor home pages every once in a while. But what about the other 90% of industry happenings? Most websites have 50+ pages and it’s inconceivable to think that anyone has the time to view all of those pages consistently or the eye to catch all the changes happening, but that’s what’s needed.

Just like Google PPC best practices states focusing on the tail terms is what drives real value, the same principle applies to tracking industry intelligence. You might hear about a competitor changing their pricing, but what about if they remove one product feature from a pricing tier, will you catch it? What about when the same happens for competitor Y or Z. With industry intelligence, it’s the discovery and consolidation of all the little changes that shines a light on the big stuff and illuminates patterns and opportunities.

Using industry intelligence in marketing

This one is a no-brainer. Marketers and product marketers need to know what’s going on in their industry. Everything from branding, messaging, and positioning to pricing and product offerings depends on it. The hardest part for marketers these days is that they aren’t able to consolidate all of the industry updates in one place, where it’s easy to view changes, history and trends. Marketers need to work smarter in order to learn more about their industry in a fraction of the time, so that they can spend more time improving their own efforts and arming other departments with actionable intelligence each week.

Using industry insights outside of marketing

It’s obvious by now that your marketing team needs to keep tabs on what’s happening in the industry. But for your business and your clients alike, industry intelligence can give you a boost.

Here’s how:

Executive team – Most executives don’t have time for anything extra in their schedule. Spending 5 minutes a week getting a quick recap on the week in their industry is the best way to ensure execs still see everything happening around them. In addition, they can send notes to managers about anything important, from hiring to partnerships to pricing changes. Having a tight industry intelligence solution is also the best way to ensure executives have peace of mind and aren’t emailing employees in the middle of the night!

Sales – As your company grows, driving sales becomes increasingly important to keep up with expectations and forecasts. What’s the #1 reason why sales don’t close? Pushback from prospects. So often, a prospect will push back with comments about a new competitive offering or change, blindsiding sales folks and leaving them scrambling for answers. It’s critical for your sales team to know about industry happenings so they can handle any and all objections during prospecting calls. The more knowledgeable your sales team is about their industry, the more they can fight off competitors and win deals.

Account Management – To keep your customers happy, you need to know as much about their lives as you can. Whether you like it or not, that means knowing what else is out there in the industry so you can ensure that you keep their undivided attention. The worst surprise an account manager can hear from a client is that they’ve started working with a new client that offers something they didn’t know about. Your account management team should consist of the most knowledgeable industry thinkers your clients have ever met – or at least it should seem that way to them.

Business Development – Keeping track of new partnerships, competitive messaging or strategic happenings is time-consuming but critical in planning your long-term strategy. As the industry moves, BD executives need to move with it or they’re at risk.

Human Resources – Hiring is the most important aspect of a growing company, but attracting top talent is challenging. Seeing what positions other companies in your industry are hiring for can help shed light on what your candidates are considering. In addition, HR folks can monitor their hiring process against industry trends and growth rates. A candidate’s experience during the hiring phase is often the determining factor as to whether or not they decide to join you or not, and one of the easiest things you can do is to have a great initial website experience. Featuring a company video, employee testimonials, benefits and perks, live chat, and mobile functionality are all ways to stand out and offer candidates what others aren’t.

Competitive intelligence is significantly actionable when properly executed and tracked from an industry perspective. Pattern recognition, arming departments with insights and staying ahead of your industry can be the difference between success and failure. It shouldn’t be something that’s daunting, time consuming or expensive.

If you’d like to hear more about how Crayon can help you better understand the mindset and framework around industry intelligence – drop me a note at [email protected]. Or, contact my friends at Element Three. Their “Business First” take on branding and competitive research is incredible.

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Dan Slagen

Dan Slagen is an advisor and co-founder for Crayon, a competitive intelligence and visual inspiration platform that helps brands stay ahead of their competition. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Bloomberg TV, the WSJ, and Forbes, among others, Dan’s experience in transforming startup technology companies into scaleable businesses has made him an invaluable growth accelerator for many organizations, including HubSpot. Connect with Dan on LinkedIn to see more of his executive and advisory work.

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