Generally speaking, I think that the best approach to competition is to ignore it.  Instead of fretting about what others are doing, if you just focus on delighting your customers and exceeding their needs then you’ll thrive commercially.  That said, having an eye the competition is a useful check to ensure that you’re keeping pace with the market and not missing a trick.

And you know what, it’s amazingly easy to secure the inside track.  Here are eight free sources of competitor information for those operating in B2B markets:

  1. Companies House.  Most companies in the UK choose to register as a Limited Liability Company with Companies House.  Amongst other benefits, this limits the personal liability of the company’s shareholders for any debts.  However, if shareholders aren’t going to be liable for the debts, then its only fair that potential customers or suppliers can judge whether the company itself is stable or about to go under.  So the trade-off is that the company needs to make certain pieces of financial information publicly available so that others can judge their health. That can be a goldmine for competitor research, sometimes detailing turnover, profit, number of employees, sources of sales and more.  Search for your competitors’ financial filings here
  2. Investor relations.  If a competitor is publicly listed on a stock exchange, they disclose even more information.  Some of this is a regulatory requirement, but a lot is shared voluntarily to give their shareholders confidence in the management’s strategy.  Often the Annual Report will include details of how the market is structured, sources of sales, company strategy, risks faced and more.  If you dig deeper into their investor relations website you’ll find even juicier information in company presentations to analysts.  So if your competitors are on the stock market, then have a good rummage around the Investor Relations section of their website
  3. Competition and Markets Authority.  Any merger or acquisition which might significantly reduce competition in a market is referred to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for investigation.  The CMA’s report on this investigation reveals a wealth of information on which they’ve based their decision, all of which can provide useful insights into your competitors.  Search the CMA’s report archives here
  4. Review sites.  Consumer markets have all manner of forums like Trustpilot and Trip Advisor where you can analyse competitor performance.  But in B2B markets this kind of customer review information isn’t usually available.  However, employees of competitors are more open to airing their dirty laundry in public.  Check out what they say about their employer on Glassdoor
  5. Competitor sales and marketing material.  Your competitors, just like you, need to promote their products and in making their case they need to reveal details of product functionality, price, key USPs and more.  So keep an eye on trade press and competitor websites to see what you can glean.  Sign up for their newsletters so they unintentionally keep you posted.  Or better still, become a customer so that you have full visibility of all of their market facing communications
  6. Your staff.  Many B2B markets are close-knit, with people moving between competing businesses.  So when a new employee joins,  pick their brains on life at the competition and their thoughts on how you could catch an edge
  7. Their staff.  Most B2B industries have regular trade events.  Not only will visiting these allow you to see competitor sales and marketing techniques first hand, by making friends with competitor employees you might just get the inside track
  8. Your customers.  Your customers may also be customers of your competitors.  So if the relationship is good, why not ask them to share thoughts on how you compare to the competition and key lessons they’d take from each experience

So there we have it, eight free sources when conducting competitor research.  Happy hunting!

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About Andrew

Andrew has specialised in B2B research for over a decade and co-founded Circle Research in 2006. He is a columnist for B2B Marketing Magazine, a regular contributor to Research Live and frequent speaker at leading events such as the B2B Leaders Forum, Customer Experience Live and the Social Media World Forum. Andrew is a Chartered Member of the MRS, teaches the MRS B2B research course and holds an MA in Psychology from Aberdeen University alongside an MSc in Marketing from Strathclyde University.

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