Thursday, November 1, 2012

Understanding your competitors' decision makers

Derek Johnson recently wrote about 6 ways to monitor your competition online. I encourage you to read all six of his tips, but in this post I'll concentrate on his final tip.

Understand the people behind the scenes. Figure out everything about the people that you are up against. Learn what makes them tick....

Johnson then goes on to provide some suggestions about how to monitor the competition.

Of course, the first step is to identify exactly who the key players are at your competitor. Sometimes it's very easy to know who's running the company; at other times it may be more difficult. Private companies are sometimes tight-lipped about who is actually calling the shots. When you have a division of a multinational firm, it's sometimes hard to figure out who is running the division. But it can be done.

Once you know who you want to track, Johnson suggests some ways to track them. In the ideal world, of course, your competitor's CEO would post something like this:

We are about to submit our proposal for the North Dakota widget deal, with a price of $35 million. We're prepared to go down to $30 million if the customer requests a best and final offer.

No sane CEO would do that. But sometimes our propensity to share will cause us to reveal more than we want to reveal. (This is why I do not discuss the proposals on which I'm currently working, for example.) Here's an example:

Getting ready for my trip to Bismarck, North Dakota!

This piece of data, in and of itself, means nothing. But why is your competitor going to Bismarck? Does he or she have family in Bismarck? Does he or she have a customer in Bismarck?

Do YOU have a customer in Bismarck?

You can see how this information could be valuable. Once I wanted to know whether a particular employee of a competitor was going to attend a particular event. (I won't discuss why I wanted to know this information; let's just say that this particular employee's attendance or non-attendance could potentially be significant.) This employee would post travel information on a particular social media site, and while there was no record of the employee going to that particular city, I could see that the employee was going to be in that part of the country at that time. Valuable information.

Of course, there's always the possibility that someone could post misinformation. I'd say more about it, but I'm preparing for a trip. By the time you read this post, I'll be on my way to Beijing...

(For those who are not in my industry, I should note that my particular product is subject to United States government export controls, and certain of our product lines cannot be sold in China.)
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