Tapping Competitors’ Customers For Real Market Insight
Here’s one piece of advice that’s always true: Don’t believe everything you read online, especially when it comes to your competition.
Building a product or service that competes with yours can take time, money, and expertise… or simply a head of marketing that is, let us say, ‘morally flexible.’
In a world of ‘ready, fire, aim,’ we’ve seen many companies launch functionality, technology, and expertise that are still very much… ahem… ‘in process.’
It’s easy to understand why this might happen. Sending out a press release announcing new technology or services is much easier than building and delivering those offerings in the real world.
But this is not just about playing make-believe or rogue marketers creating offerings from whole cloth.
Truth, Marketing, and Embarrassment
Sometimes, firms disappoint clients when it’s clear they announced an offering the company doesn’t have and cannot provide anytime soon. That results in lost sales, low retention rates, and a bad reputation.
Most of the time, firms leverage marketing content and communications to drive demand and sales to get a head start on selling an offering that they expect to release sometime in the future.
In some cases, advance sales are critical to developing the product already sold to make it into the product that clients thought they bought in the first place.
This questionable activity has become so common in the business-to-business technology space it’s considered something of a best practice; as entrepreneur and venture capitalist Reid Hoffman once said: “If you aren’t embarrassed by the first version of your product, you shipped too late.”
To be sure, this makes assessing the true competitive landscape especially challenging.
The Right People Asking The Right Questions
Managers often scour competitor websites and review industry and analyst reports.
While these efforts provide valuable insights, the best competitive information comes from customers.
To get at true, competitive insights you need to make sure that you’re talking to customers, and asking them the right questions, such as:
- What are the key sources of value that the offering provides to customers?
- How do your company and your competitors measure up against these dimensions?
- What are the factors that drive customers to buy your product or service?
- What are the key attributes or features that are in the consideration set?
- What product or service do your competitors provide clients, and how does it contrast with the marketing materials?
The questions are not all that complicated, but it isn’t always easy to get the answers.
Customers might hesitate to engage in direct conversations with competing vendors.
Fortunately, these customers become much more open when dealing with third parties.
The Topline Way
Topline approaches competitive analysis projects with a multi-pronged approach to identifying competitor’s customers and getting their insights. This can include:
- Social media and online research
- Competitors’ references (case studies)
- Online surveys
- Your own sales experience (lost deals)
Once the competitor’s customers are identified, the veteran business detectives at Topline Strategy have the experience to get these customers to open up in interviews, revealing context missing from traditional surveys.
In our calls, competitor customers often become enthusiastic storytellers, delving into their product journey, discussing past solutions they’ve used, and recounting the intricate narratives of transitioning to a new product, at times due to professional shifts or company changes.
This storytelling dynamic unveils a layer of insight that’s often elusive within direct vendor interactions.
Closing The Reality Gap
These vivid narratives are more than mere anecdotes; they are invaluable assets for your product and sales teams.
As the custodians of future innovations, the product team can glean precious insights into the features, services, and experiences that resonate most with customers, strategically emphasizing these in future product iterations. This real-world intelligence serves as a compass guiding the team toward creating solutions that genuinely address market needs.
On the sales front, this treasure trove of competitor insights can provide a competitive edge. Armed with this knowledge, your salespeople can strategically guide clients to ask hard questions in future RFPs, revealing the gaps between marketing dreams and product realities.
This foresight equips your sales team to provide the guidance your potential clients deserve, cultivating trust and solidifying your position as a reliable partner… and planting landmines for competitors selling products that fall short of the promises made in the marketing materials.
Want to learn more about how competitor customers can help you shape your product and marketing?