Staying ahead in business requires that you keep tabs on what your competition is doing.  Not only will you be in better position to anticipate changes in the market, you won’t get blindsided. For example, if you are planning to announce a major new product or service offering, you don’t want to be preempted by a competitive one. Even if you can’t change the timing of your announcement, knowing what the competition is doing helps you better position your offering.

Some of the things you especially want to stay on top of regarding your competitors include:

  • What are the comparative strengths and weaknesses of your competitors?
  • How do they position themselves and what are their brand messages?
  • How do their customers or clients compare to yours? Are they targeting groups that might be relevant to your business?
  • Are your competitors expanding or shifting their products or services to provide a more comprehensive offering or reach new customers?
  • How do they price their products and services?
  • Where is their growth coming from?
  • How well are they perceived by the marketplace?

Considering all the things on your plate, you may feel there’s little time left to monitor the competition. Competitive analysis doesn’t have to take a lot of time, though. There are some fairly simple things you can do to gather competitive information – some that even can be part of your daily routine.

Google Alerts: One of the easiest ways to track your competition – as well as developments in your industry– is through Google alerts. Set key words or phrases about your marketplace and competition. When Google finds those terms in a web page, news article or blog, it sends you an email notification and a link. You also should set a Google alert on your own company to find out what others are saying about you.

Tune into social media: Social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can tell you what your competitors are doing. You easily search these sites to find out about competitive offerings, partnerships and marketing initiatives. Also track social media review sites like Yelp to find out what customers and clients are saying about your competition.

Sign up for a newsletter: If your competitor has a newsletter, sign up to receive it.

Check out website: Checking your competitor’s website periodically is a good way to keep up with major developments.

Conduct a survey: You can do this formally with the help of an outside research firm or informally by asking prospects what they know and how they view your competition when you are in new business meetings.

Attend trade shows: Even if you aren’t exhibiting, attend a trade show where your competition is. At the booth, check out new offerings, observe interactions with booth attendees and pick up literature. Conferences and industry association meetings also are good way to learn about the competition.

These are simple and cost effective ways to keep tabs on the competition. Markets move fast and you need to know what’s coming down the pike that could significantly alter your opportunity.