There are few industries more competitive than the SaaS and tech start-up industries. To increase your chances of being successful and achieving your objectives in this competitive line of business, you have to be constantly innovating and improving the way you do business. If you’re not constantly evolving, you’ll be left behind by your competitors.

Every company is trying to steal market share from each other, and there is very little room for error. If you make a mistake, your competitors will be quick to take advantage of it. And since technologies, the economic landscape, and a lot of other external factors shift a lot and at a rapid pace, your competition can change overnight. That’s why you kind of have to be prepared for anything if you want to thrive in this industry.

But let’s start with the basics of competitive intelligence.

What Is Competitive Intelligence?

Competitive intelligence (CI) is the process of gathering, analyzing, and reporting information about your competitors and their activities. This information can help you better understand your competition, what they are doing, and how they are doing it. With this knowledge, you can make highly informed decisions about your own business and operations.

Competitive intelligence is also a tool that can make a huge difference when creating and designing strategies, tactics, actions, campaigns, product roadmaps, and other product-related actions to counter the activities of your competitors. Most times, to get noticed, you must be different from everyone else in your market. Otherwise, potential customers will have a hard time choosing you over competitors, or it will be simply a matter of who got to them first or who spent the most money on ads.

When it comes to demand generation, lead generation, and sales, through a good competitive intelligence process, you can discover opportunities and create the right marketing funnels, sales funnels, and workflows, creating the right top-of-the-funnel (ToFU) lead magnet materials, processes, scripts, omnichannel sequences, lists, ads, and landing pages. All these focus on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of your marketing and sales operations and decreasing the friction through the funnel from unaware prospects to paying clients.

What Is A Competitive Landscape?

The competitive landscape is a term used to describe the environment and market ecosystem in which a company operates. The competitive landscape takes into consideration not only indirect competitors, but also partners, suppliers, prospects, leads, clients, and so on.

What Is the Role of Competitive Intelligence Research?

You probably already know that competitive intelligence research and competition research are extremely important processes for any SaaS & tech start-up marketing, sales, or business development team. When done correctly, they can improve your results, workflows, and conversion rates. Competitive intelligence can help you with:

  • Spotting gaps in the market;
  • Staying ahead of your competitors;
  • Improving your SaaS, products, and/or services;
  • Meeting demand and price accordingly;
  • Making more informed data-based decisions;
  • Supporting your sales & business development teams;

Done correctly, competitive intelligence empowers everyone inside an organization to make better data-based decisions and also execute responsibilities more effectively.

Please note that competitive intelligence should not be confused with market research. The main difference between the two is that while market research focuses on a specific target market, competitive intelligence has a broader focus.

How Can I Start Building a Competitive Intelligence Program To Support The Business Strategy?

By definition, competitive intelligence research ethically takes actionable information from diverse sources to help make business decisions. This means that it’s not about copying what your competitor is doing, but rather understanding their strategies so that you can create your own. Here are some steps you can take to start building a competitive intelligence program:

1. Define Your Goals And Objectives

The first step is to define your goals and objectives. What do you want to achieve with your competitive intelligence program? Do you want to improve your marketing strategies, or do you want to gain a better understanding of your competition? Once you have defined your goals, you can start to gather the information you need to achieve them.

2. Identify Your Competitors

The next step is to identify your competitors. Who are they, and what are they doing? This information will be important in helping you understand your competitive landscape and develop strategies to stay ahead of the competition.

3. Create Competitive Intelligence Touchpoints And Research Points

Now that you know who your competitors are and what they’re doing, you need to create competitive intelligence touchpoints and research points. These are the places where you will collect information about your competitors. Some examples of touch points and research points include:

External Sources of Market Information

  • Website updates
  • Press releases
  • Social media
  • Review sites

Updates on the company’s websites, media releases, interviews, or podcasts they were invited to can offer a lot of market intelligence. What competitors put on their websites or in media outlets tells us a lot about what they want the market to think of them. The same thinking applies to social media, where the changes in the strategy or the preparation for a new positioning, new features, or lines of business can be seen in real-time.

Internal Sources

  • Sales meetings and sales calls
  • Data from CRM
  • Emails
  • Internal instant messaging tools

One of the best internal sources is the sales team, from where you can discover the most common objections and how the SDRs, sales reps, or account managers handle the objections). Combined with historical data from the CRM (like win rates or conversion rates between each marketing funnel or sales funnel stage), this provides a quantitative dimension of your business, processes, bottlenecks, and how you’re doing compared to industry benchmarks. In addition, emails and instant messaging conversations provide the qualitative lens you need.

Moreover, this is the stage where it is important to choose the right competitive intelligence tools. Some of them can be automated completely, like data mining, data collection from multiple sources, tracking competitors’ online presence, gathering data, and getting macroeconomic data. Others can be done with tools, and some must be done manually, for example, finding the insights, and designing the competitive strategy.

Get An Executive Sponsor And Identify Your Initial Stakeholders And Partners In The Company

The next step is to find an executive sponsor inside the organization. This is someone who believes in the importance of competitive intelligence and will support your program. Having an executive sponsor will give you the resources and budget you need to be successful.

After you have found the executive sponsor, it is essential to identify your initial stakeholders and partners. These are the people in the company who will be involved in your competitive intelligence program and will help you achieve your goals.

Some examples of stakeholders and partners include:

  • Marketing team
  • Product leads
  • Sales & Customer Success team
  • Support team

Set Up The Structure, Process, And Competitive Intelligence Best Practices

Now that you have your goals, touchpoints, research points, and executive sponsor, you can start to set up the structure and process for your competitive intelligence program.

There are a few different ways to do this, but one of the usual solutions is to create a cross-functional team. This team should include people from various departments who can offer different perspectives on the competitive landscape.

Another solution is to hire external vendors or consultants to help you with your competitive intelligence. This can be a great option if you don’t have the internal resources to do it. While in the beginning this might look a bit more expensive, due to the experience, processes, and teams, the deployment will actually be faster, better, and cheaper in the long term.

Capitalize On Quick Wins

Once you have set up your structure and process, it is important to capitalize on quick wins. Quick wins are low-hanging fruit that you can use to show the value of your competitive intelligence efforts.

Some examples of quick wins include:

– Identifying new features or products that your competitors are launching

– Tracking price changes

– Monitoring social media conversations

– Analyzing and mapping the sales process of your competitors (what they say, how they say it, what their marketing funnels, sales funnels, and key messages are, what calls to action they use, etc)

– Analyzing and mapping the onboarding sequences (the process of creating a free account, onboarding emails, FAQs, Learning center, etc)

These quick wins will help you show the value quickly and onboard more stakeholders and partners to help you with the much-needed resources.

Learn, Improve, and Iterate.

Finally, it is important to learn from your competitive intelligence efforts and iterate on them. This means that you should be constantly looking for ways to improve your process and structure.

Some ways to do this include:

– Regularly reviewing your process and making changes where needed

– Constantly benchmarking yourself against the industry

– Asking for feedback from your stakeholders and partners

By constantly iterating on your process, you will be able to improve the quality and quantity of your competitive intelligence efforts, hence the quality of the findings, insights, and, most importantly, the quality of the output.

If you are serious about your competition intelligence, these are some great questions you want to get answers to when you are doing your market intelligence and competition research:

1. What is our competitor’s strategy and how can we apply our findings to improve our strategies, make smarter business decisions, create better marketing funnels, create better outreach campaigns, create better demand generation campaigns, or design more “downloadable” lead magnets?

2. What have they already done in terms of product or feature news, social media, webinars, media, marketing, client acquisitions, etc.?

3. Where might they head next if they were continuing that strategy, and how might I get ahead of it?

4. Which actionable insights can I transfer to the internal marketing and sales teams to improve business strategy?

Competitive Intelligence Is A Process, Not A One-Time Event

Once you have set up your structure and process, it is important to remember that competitive intelligence is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. This means that you need to continuously monitor the competitive landscape and adjust your strategy accordingly.

After talking with hundreds of SaaS & tech start-up people, from CEOs, CTOs, founders, and investors to marketing specialists, SDRs, and customer success representatives, we discovered that a lot of start-ups do their competition research, market research, and competitive intelligence early in the process, when the idea is mapped, the MVP is created, and at any other very important moment in the life of a start-up (like pivoting or launching a new product), but once the product development starts, the competition research gets deprioritized.

However, staying ahead of other businesses that are competing for the same customers’ attention requires an ongoing effort. This way, when they zig, you can zag and make sure you get the most out of your marketing budget.

That’s why we created Competitive Intelligence as a Service, handmade, delivered monthly or quarterly with insights and recommendations, developed specifically for SaaS & tech companies. We are trying to make the lives of founders and management teams better and easier so they can focus on working on the product and their businesses, while also keeping in touch with what the competition does.