How Smart Product Managers Track Competitors
October 31, 2017

How Smart Product Managers Track Competitors

by Brian de Haaff

There is a plague infiltrating your office. Sales? Already infected. Most of the other teams are sick now too. The symptoms make people act lifeless — paranoid thinking and nonsensical talk. You might even hear folks muttering, “We are behind.”

This plague is your key competitor — slowly sucking the life-force from your team.

Here is the worst part — the infected wound was self-inflicted. You only have yourself to blame. Because it is not what the competitor is doing that is causing the damage to the team. Rather, it is the time everyone is spending obsessing over what other companies are doing. This is misplaced energy. Why?

Because your competitor will never buy anything from you — customers will. So only customers are worthy of your all-consuming thoughts.

Of course, you cannot completely ignore the competition. But you need to track it in a way that is free of the sick obsession. You need an approach that requires little effort yet maintains clarity on what the rest of the market is doing.

Your goal is not to record your competitor’s every little move. Rather, it is to collect key information that will help you understand why a customer might choose them over you. You can store this intel in a tool like Aha! that your team has access to so you can reference it when needed.

You will want to capture the basics, such as product lines, pricing, revenue, total employees, and customer count. But there is more you can do to stave off the obsession — assign competitor updates to one person to present to the team on a quarterly basis. Then the entire group will not feel the need to constantly stalk and get sucked into the sickness again.

Here is what we suggest product managers use to track competitors quarterly in an objective way:

Mission: What are they aiming to achieve?
While it is impossible to really know a competitor’s end goals, it is possible to write down what you think their vision is for their product or portfolio. Use everything you understand about your market and their place within it to capture this high-level statement.

Customers: Who are the products really intended for?
Try to understand your competitor’s ideal customer. You can do this by assessing customer reviews, LinkedIn groups related to your competitor’s industry, and other online forums to discover patterns — likes, dislikes, goals for using the product. And if possible, talk to your own customers to understand why they did or did not try the competitor’s product.

Positioning: Where does your competitor see their role within your shared market?
Review the competitor’s marketing messages — both on the company website and on external ones. You may also want to subscribe to any recurring newsletters. Take note of how they describe what they do, any major releases and launches, and the pricing (i.e. budget or premium brand).

Strengths: What drives the competitor and what do they excel at?
Stay on top of the latest news to discover your competitor’s strengths. Read published articles as well as reports from industry analysts. Google alerts related to the company can be helpful. Also, consider the insight and experience that the founders and the executive board bring to the company.

Challenges: What do their customers struggle with and what is the product lacking?
If your competitor is a software company, they likely offer an online product tour or demo. Try it out so you can put yourself in the customer’s shoes and understand what it is like to use the product, as well as what it might be lacking.

Sentiment: What are customers and the market saying about your competition?
Online reviews and customer stories about interactions can help determine the level of satisfaction, loyalty, and engagement that surrounds the product. Online listening and brand tracking tools can be helpful to aggregate what people say (good and bad) about their experiences.

There is no way around it — your competitors are a consideration. But this is just one data point to use when you set your own strategy and roadmap.

So, do not let the actions of others infect your thinking — even if the rest of your company is obsessed. Collect only the essential data. And with each new piece of information you learn, ask yourself, “How will this help me better understand my customer?”

And remember — your real competition is the problem you are trying to solve for your customer. Nothing else is worthy of your obsession.

How do you track competitors without losing your mind?

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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