Go Ahead, Spy On Your Rivals: Six Smart Ways To Get a Leg Up On Your Competition

By Hailey Lynne McKeefry, VARBusiness

4:13 PM EST Fri., Oct. 05, 2001


What you don't know will hurt you. More to the point, you can never lose sight of what your competition is up to. An economy that has hit the brakes has made making business mistakes even more potentially deadly.


"When growth slows down, the sins of any company's operation tend to be laid bare for all eyes," says Rick Mills, CEO of Sarcom, a professional service organization in Columbus, Ohio. "We have a basic philosophy of studying other businesses and the industry to stay on top of the game."


By and large, keep attune to the marketplace and you'll be able to formulate a business plan that incorporates your business savvy with the best of your competitors'. Here are six ways to learn from your rivals.


1. Put Someone In Charge.

Information is often most valuable when it's strategically collected and evaluated. For example, Greenwood Village, Colo.-based Ciber has hired a competitive intelligence officer, while Burlington, Vt.-based IDX Systems has a market research division that focuses on competitive issues. By taking a more sophisticated, focused approach, integrators can spot technology and business trends more readily and put anecdotal information to better use.


2. Get Out There.

Even as budgets tighten, don't neglect industry symposiums and trade shows. Such forums can be excellent for getting a close look at technologies, business methods or new practices that the competition is championing or that potential customers are looking for.


3. Read, Read, Read.

Trade journals, newsletters and online information also offer a look at the competition. The key to success is using that information in ways that let you do business better. "I subscribe to a bunch of periodical. They talk about who is laying people off, which gives us information [on where] to go out and recruit," says Joe Mancuso, COO at Ciber. "Often, we will find out who has landed a large engagement so we can sell those clients peripheral services."


4. Get a Product Perspective.

 Every company wants to create products and services that are unique. However, monitoring the competition can let you know whether you're in line with the direction of the marketplace.


5. Leverage a Variety of People.

Don't overlook partners who have a close eye on a particular vertical market or technology. A partner might be able to provide the most up-to-date information on customer expectations about, for example, service-level agreements or monitoring technologies.


Customers also can be the most fruitful source of information on what others are offering. "Our customers share with us where the competition is, what proposals they might be responding to, and information on quality, delivery and price," Mancuso says. "They are more than willing to tell you if you need to think outside the box on pricing structure or offerings when you are bidding against the competition. They are looking for every opportunity to cut costs, so they want to help you give them the best offer."


6. Learn What Makes Employees Tick.

 Know what the competition is offering their own staffs in terms of benefits and salary, as well as what experience levels are required for different job classifications. Newly hired employees can be good sources of information about what benefits are being offered elsewhere. And headhunters will often provide insights about what competing companies might be offering.

Copyright 2000 CMP Media Inc. All rights reserved.



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