Going Beyond Google

Competitive intelligence is about getting answers to the important questions: How quickly is our competitor’s revenue growing? What’s the rate of adoption for its new product? What are its B2B prices? Do they discount to get a sale? If so, how much? What features will be in its next version? Is it going to buy another company or get bought? You may be able to answer some of these questions just by asking around, either your company’s sales team or your competitors’ partners or customers. Increasingly, though, you can use the web to find quantitative answers to your important questions. The web is full of sites that can help you search for competitive intelligence, including LinkedIn. You might think of LinkedIn as little more than a site that houses your digital résumé–to be visited every so often as you ponder a change in employment. But LinkedIn is, quite simply, the world’s largest database of business information. A common intelligence question is: How is the competitor staffed? This could include the percentages of people that are in sales, marketing or research and development, or how many are located in the United States or other select countries. By searching for a company on LinkedIn, you can instantly see how many people at that company have LinkedIn profiles. If the company is similar to yours, you can extrapolate how many total people it employs. For example, let’s say LinkedIn shows 4,500 people at your company. You know that your company actually employs 6,000 people, meaning that your actual employee count is 133 percent of the LinkedIn number. Now let’s say LinkedIn shows 2,000 people working for a competitor that is similar to your company (in the same industry, U.S.-based, etc.). Using the same ratio, you could estimate that the competitor really has close to 2,700 employees. You can drill down and use this same technique to estimate how many salespeople it has, how many people it employs in the New York area or to answer a number of questions about the organization. You might also want to identify its top customers or estimate its revenue for a certain region. You can often find this information by searching these profiles for the presence of “$”—that’s right, a dollar sign. Salespeople and business people often talk about their responsibilities or achievements with statements like "achieved $X million in revenue in X region." A search for a “$” retrieves those kinds of facts. Finally, for a look at what products the competitor is developing, view the profiles of its engineering people. See what they’re excited to be working on, as this can reveal details that the company hasn’t yet officially disclosed. To learn more about other websites that can help your company gather competitive intelligence, read the full article by Scott Swigart in the latest edition of Pragmatic Marketer.

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