Five questions you need to ask.

The economy is turbulent and unpredictable. Margins are being squeezed. Performance pressure is up. It’s easy to see why so many companies are simply too busy for strategy. It is, however, vital. And one critical part of it is getting to know and understand the competition.

Here are five questions you need to ask if you’re intent on getting, and staying, ahead in 2017:

  1. Who are they really?

At Chapman Consulting, we’re often surprised to discover that some clients are unable to identify, with real conviction, their main competitor. When pushed, they often point to the most obvious candidate – when others may be far more significant. For instance, two electricians in the same street may consider each other to be main rivals. In reality, however, they are both likely to be losing most business to a large out-of-town wholesaler.

  1. What do you know about them?

Knowing your competition by name is simply the first step. You also need to know what they offer, who their customers are, their values, price points, reputation and much more. With this knowledge, you are well placed to tactically position your brand in its current market, or even explore different sectors altogether.

Further, knowing and understanding your strengths and weaknesses compared with your competitor set, you can tailor your marketing and business development activity in a way that takes full advantage of your core strengths.

You never know where you might find a nugget of information that will help you strategise more effectively.

  1. How can you find out about them?

There are many ways to learn more about your competitors. The simplest is web research. It’s incredible the amount of information you can find from simply Googling a company and browsing their website.

And be proactive. If appropriate, visit a competitor’s store to assess their presentation and management style. Call and request brochures to get a feel for their front-of-house style. Even speak to mutual suppliers about past experiences. You never know where you might find a nugget of information that will help you strategise more effectively.

  1. What and how do they communicate?

Tracking the competitions’ marketing and communications activity can be extremely telling. That way, you can learn about new product and services as well as potential new markets. Insights on the style and regularity of their corporate communications can also prove highly valuable.

Checking trade publications, subscribing to competitor newsletters and following them on social media are all great ways to keep an eye on what’s going on.

  1. What do I do with all this information?

Analysis is key here. Categorise your findings into learnings about your competitors:

  • What are they doing better than you?
  • What are you doing better than them?
  • What are you doing the same?
  • Are there any gaps in which you could move?

By taking this approach and striving to exploit any gaps while addressing weaknesses, you will be much better prepared for whatever move your competitors may make.