Whatever sector you operate in, whatever service you provide, you will always have competitors. Want to find out who these companies are? Read on for our tried and tested methods.Identifying your competition isn’t as easy as it sounds. Modern customers are now spoilt for choice due to a range of alternative organisations and services – many of which might require considerable research to identify.

Take the average local bookshop as an example. In the past, these stores would have identified their competitors by simply seeing what was nearby. These days however, they have to compete with giants such as Amazon and other retailers which happen to have a book section. Next, changing reader habits mean the Ebook and audio markets are worth considering. Furthermore, there’s every possibility that pirates will illegally leak a book online. Alternatively, an author may publish his or her works through their own website – cutting out the bookshop entirely.

The market has now changed with companies having to fight both direct and indirect competitors. The former competes through offering the same or similar products, whereas the latter concentrates on the same market by fulfilling the customer’s needs.

One example of this can be seen in the automotive sector. Car manufacturers, such as BMW and Audi, are direct competitors because they’re persuading people to buy their vehicles. However, trains and other forms of public transport indirectly compete because they cater to the customer’s need for transportation.

Truthfully, competitors are everywhere – and identifying them can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are a few methods you can employ to identify them.

A sign saying 'any questions?'

1. Ask your customers

Your customers are never passive and will probably scout around for new bargains. Consequently, you can ask them about the choices motivating their opinions. You can do this in one of two ways:

With a new customer

When a new customer uses your company, ask them what inspired that choice as well as what separated you from other organisations. It’s then a simple question of asking who these competitors are.

With a current customer

Customers enjoy being listened to and sending out periodic surveys asking for improvement suggestions are often treated favourably. In this questionnaire, you can ask such questions as ‘Is there anything other companies do which we should?’

This provides useful corporate insights and sheds light on activities competitors are doing to entice your audience.

2. Post a job advert

It’s worth noting that you should only post a job advert if you’re honestly advertising a vacancy. Otherwise, your business could be accused of promoting fake news. Still, Candidates will often happily discuss where their next interview is and other locations they’re interested in. Furthermore, their past employment history can be used to identify your competition. If you hire these individuals, they can also provide insights into other firms.

3. Set up alerts and conduct trend analysis

Use a service such as Talkwalker to set up alerts (delivered to your inbox) related to your industry. Those organisations which are then covering the matter will appear in these updates. While this can identify new actions taken by competitors, it is also useful for identifying relevant trade publications and opportunities to liaise with journalists.

Similarly, Twitter can be used to highlight groups using related trends and topics.

A group of people applauding

4. Visit a conference or trade show

Whatever industry you operate in, trade shows and conferences can be a great opportunity to learn new skills. They also put you in a room with representatives from competing organisations. While mingling is very much a ‘direct’ way to understand the organisations you’re working against, conferences frequently contain the latest developments occurring in your industry.

If one of these developments circumvents or provides a new way to deal with a customer’s problem, then that becomes an indirect competitor. This also gives you advanced warning to adjust your services accordingly.

5. Identify your customer’s problems

Your customers will always come to you for a reason. In our case, it’s usually because they want to grow their business, reach new customers, and increase profits.

For example, if I wanted to grow my customer base, I’d consider everything from advertising in newspapers to taking out billboard space. Therefore, by helping clients reach new customers, we are indirectly competing with every other related opportunity in Manchester.

Trade publications can also be a great opportunity to understand the issues facing your customers. While you should also attempt to get your services featured, particular attention should be paid to the adverts.

These contain solutions to the problems your customers might be facing. For example, in a marketing publication, I’d expect to see adverts for outsourcing tools and programmes to make managers’ jobs easier. These might be indirect competitors which should be monitored and investigated further.

Although this may seem daunting, if you know the problems your customer faces, you can work to provide the best solution.

Google map of London

Bonus: Use local map listings and ‘near me’ searches

Using a search engine to identify competitors can certainly identify some companies to keep an eye on. However, this is a pretty common technique which definitely isn’t news. Instead, consider using Google Maps to identify companies which don’t have much of an online presence.

As an example, the next time you walk through a town centre, keep an eye out for barbers. These small buildings are often pretty numerous and have little online presence. Therefore, they often cannot be identified through traditional ‘Googling’. However, chances are, they will show up on Google Maps.

Customers often choose a barber based on proximity and this is where Google Maps comes into play. Alternatively, they might use a voice assistant to identify the closest ‘barber to me’. Consequently, these methods should be considered when investigating the competition. You never know, your closest rival could be just down the road.

We’ve identified our competitors – now what?

Identifying your competitors is all well and good, but now you need to do something about it. Initially, use alerts to monitor the actions these organisations are taking and, eventually, identify what makes you special – otherwise known as your unique selling point (USP).

Your USP sets you apart from the competition. In a world of overwhelming choice, you must offer something which others do not. For example, when choosing a streaming provider, customers often choose between Netflix, Now TV, and Amazon TV. Disney Plus will soon enter the scene and the organisation is already offering several USPs in the form of exclusive program rights and television series.

In this case, that might be enough to persuade customers to switch.