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6 Tips for Product Managers on Competitive Intelligence

Eric Boduch // October 13, 2015

There’s no doubt that gathering competitive information is challenging for any product manager, particularly if your competitors are small private companies or you have no budget. You may have already done the obvious – scoured the competitor’s website, signed up for Google Alerts or a newswire, attended a webinar and possibly purchased the competitor’s product. You have exhausted these ideas – now what?

Here are some proven methods I gathered over 15 years in the field that are sure to work for you.

1. Find friendly customers

The best way to gather competitive insights is by talking to folks in your market segment who just bought your product. Try to catch them immediately after the evaluation stage, not months later, otherwise you could get outdated information. Don’t preface the discussion with the customer as a ‘Win/Loss Analysis’ this may not get the candid intelligence you want. If you have a prospect that decided to purchase the competitor’s product and you’re still on great speaking terms, then by all means tap into this resource for feedback.

2. Network with competitors

As strange as this may sound, networking with competitors is a great source of information. In most cases, nobody wants to talk about their company, but they are more than happy to share information (or rumors) about a mutual competitor. One of the best places to network is at tradeshows, when perusing a competitor’s booth is tolerated on the last day or hours of the show. Hopefully, you can exchange some giveaways for competitive literature, business cards and intel. Creating this level of rapport is not easy, start by offering what you know, even if it is public and hopefully this jumpstarts an information exchange. If you have no tradeshow budget, join a relevant Linkedin Group. Group members can generally contact each other directly without having to be introduced.

3. Build a strong relationship with Sales and Customer Success

As a product manager you should already have a tight relationship with Sales, Integration teams, and any group in a customer facing role. Leverage this relationship by having them funnel competitor anecdotes and insights to you for distribution inside your company. One great way to do this is by creating a competitive Wiki; the information is readily available to colleagues and can be updated easily. In my experience, Sales folks don’t have time to update a Wiki but will happily forward competitive intelligence. The more often that I updated the Wiki, the more likely Sales was willing to volunteer information.

4. Contact bloggers and industry trade magazine authors

The proliferation of user-generated content and “community” sites online has provided a boom for competitive intelligence. Nowadays, blogs can be generated by customers in user groups or even competitor employees. I have had the most success contacting bloggers and authors of niche publications, many of whom, consider themselves industry thought leaders. These folks often share information one-on-one that they normally wouldn’t distribute to a wide audience because they can’t validate the intel.

5. Review competitors’ job postings

You can get some great insights on strategy and roadmap by checking out the job openings on competitors’ websites. For example, if you see a ton of mobile designer (UX) positions this could mean that your competitor is changing their roadmap to be more mobile centric. Likewise, take a look at bios of recent management hires. The bios in the management section often highlight a key skill that can allude to a product strategy.

6. Search Google Images and YouTube

Instead of the usual Google web search, try searching for your competitor in Google Images and on YouTube. Buried in the search results are presentations, screenshots, recorded webinars and other goodies that someone has inadvertently posted and forgotten to remove.

Keeping tabs on the competition can be a full-time job. As a product manager, your job is to position your product to win against your competitors in scenarios where you are both chasing the same customer. These tips will give you enough competitive info to make sure your product is positively differentiated and positioned for success.

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