Monday, March 12, 2018

8 Ways to Legally Snoop on Competitors

Understanding competitors and their products can mean the difference between success and failure. In-depth competitor research is critical to know how your products and services stack up in the marketplace – if they are cheaper or more expensive, inferior or superior in certain ways. Knowledge of competitors’ strengths and weaknesses reveals where your company can carve out a niche and thrive.
You don’t need to hack their computers or peer through their office windows with a telescope to find competitors’ inside information. Plenty of competitive intelligence is publicly available and can be acquired through legitimate means.  Your competitors are probably doing it.

The Wealth of Website Information

Examine their websites. That means more than just skimming their home page. Note the specific features or benefits they promote and monitor any changes they make over time. Shifts in language or website organization can reveal new strategies or products in the works.
You can find hidden pages with Google searches such as: “filetype: doc site: companyname.” Change the file type to .pdf, .xls, or .ppt to turn up data or presentations. Competitors often post documents online, thinking no one will find it if they don’t link to it.
A tool such as SimilarWeb reports basic information on competitors’ websites, such as traffic per month, average visit duration, bounce rate, and pages per visit, says Eleonora Zolotaryova, content marketer at Serpstat. While the figures mean little in isolation, you can gain insights by comparing them to data of other websites in the niche, including other competitors. If you notice a sharp increase in a competitor’s website traffic, you can attempt to mimic their SEO tactics. Serpstat can compile more detailed research such as referring domains, the quality of inbound links, and top keywords.
Visit competitors’ social media profiles. Competitors’ social media posts can reveal their thoughts on what works or doesn’t. Marketing expert Sujan Patelrecalls in Entrepreneur recalls that a competitor shared a post on Facebook on why pay-per-click advertising was not effective. The information allowed him to save valuable resources by avoiding a fruitless strategy.
Read customer reviews. Reviews on Amazon, Google business listings, Yelp, Facebook and other platforms show useful information. Five-star reviews show what a competitor does well; one-star reviews reveal what competitors do poorly. Their responses to poor and mediocre reviews can hint at their strategies.
Sign up for their mailing lists. They’ll send you their promotions to review and their press releases that will inform you of their latest activities. Plus, you’ll get an up-close look at their language. Your company and competitors may seem similar on the surface, but an inside look at their promotions may show startling differences, Patel says.
Try their products. If your budget and the level of transparency permit it, testing their products can bring eye-opening results. Products may seem the same based on marketing materials, but you can find major differences by trying them yourself. “We might still offer the same basic functionality, but because I took the time to fully understand my competitors’ products, I was able to find my own niche to carve out in the marketplace,” he says.
Attend trade shows. Stand near competitors’ booths at a busy time when it’s easy to blend in with the crowd and eavesdrop on what they tell prospects, suggests Seena Sharp of Sharp Market Intelligence. New initiatives often are announced at shows, salespeople may reveal details. Your PR people can attend the press announcements by competitors at trade shows.
Play secret shopper. Visit their stores, if they have them. Notice if employees are responsive, if facilities are clean, and if shelves are well-stocked. Call to ask about their products to evaluate customer service, advises Sean Campbell, principal at Cascade Insights.

Snooping on Competitors with Social Media Monitoring & Measurement

Ongoing monitoring and measurement of news and social media probably offers the richest competitive intelligence.
News monitoring finds corporate and brand announcements by competitors. Social media listening exposes what consumers are saying about competitors and their products, and what they like and dislike about them, including possible customer service issues. Your organization can exploit their weaknesses and copy their strengths. The most valuable nuggets of competitive intelligence usually come from looking beyond the numbers and seeking insights from the content. To find those insights, organizations need knowledgeable staff members or a third-party service to review media mentions.
Social media monitoring and measurement can track trends in engagement levels, follower numbers, product messaging and other metrics. Some monitoring services can complete a sentiment analysis which rates brand mentions on a positive to negative scale. You can learn about competitors’ audience profiles by analyzing people who mention competitors, which help better define your own target audience.
You can learn about the competitors’ media relations strategies by monitoring online news outlets for mentions of their brand names and products. Unfavorable articles that report customer complaints, issues with regulators, or concerns of investors can indicate opportunities for your own organization. Media measurement can compare their PR performance to yours through metrics like share of voice and indicate how to improve your PR.
Bottom Line: Conducting competitive intelligence can produce a wealth of information that can be invaluable for developing your company’s products and crafting PR and marketing strategies. Spying legally on competitors may be easier and less costly than many believe, especially in the use of media monitoring services.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Cold calling is joining the ranks of 8-track tape players and Palm Pilots: It’s clunky, it’s outdated, and it’s ready to be put out to pasture. Ten years ago, reaching a prospect was possible after 3.68 cold calls.
Now? That number of attempts has jumped up to eight. Is it any surprise that 44 percent of salespeople surveyed admit to calling it quits after the first unsuccessful follow-up call?
Prospects in 2017 are used to self-service options and finding business partners via thought leadership or email campaigns, not unsolicited phone calls. In fact, these calls may actually hurt your chances as much as help them. Even cold calling’s champions report a conversion rate that hovers around 2 percent.
But cold calling’s fall from grace doesn’t mean your sales team is done for. There are far better ways to generate qualified leads and grow your business. Here are five of them:
  1. Develop a well-crafted, personalized email campaign.
Your emails need to speak the language of their recipients, whether that means lacing your content with academic prose or writing in an informal style that features slang, emojis, and GIFs. The core information of your email doesn’t have to change; it’s the delivery mechanism — based on the readers’ personalities — that makes the difference.
Sapper Consulting, for example, is a lead generation company that specializes in crafting personalized emails that build relationships and, ultimately, create qualified leads. Sapper’s senior director of content, Ryan Myers, says, “Our firm sends thousands of emails per week on behalf of clients. It would be easy for them to sound and feel automated, but they don’t. Segmenting recipients by industry and title helps us speak to readers’ individual concerns and challenges.”
  1. Implement an effective content strategy.
Outbound marketing tactics (like cold calling) are vestiges of a different era; now inbound marketing reigns supreme. And any good inbound marketing strategy relies, above all, on compelling content. This content can take a variety of forms: guest articles, blog content, informative whitepapers — the list goes on.
Inbound strategies are also cost-effective. Search Engine Journal found that inbound leads are 60 percent less expensive than outbound leads. Content series that draw your company’s target audiences in and keep them coming back to learn more are great conversion tools, especially when they involve strategic calls to action and landing pages to entice your readers to stay in touch and learn even more.
  1. Optimize your web presence.
It’s not enough to simply have a website anymore. Every business has a website and (most likely) at least three social media accounts. What matters is that the online experience your business delivers be memorable, intuitive, and consistent across channels. Your site should make it easy for visitors to access the array of content your team is developing.
Prioritize your homepage, in particular. Cisco subsidiary TANDBERG, a teleconferencing company, added a subtle call to action to its homepage and saw a 50 percent boost in lead generation. Visitors finding your page via social media, search engines, or other sites will first interact with your homepage, so make sure the style and messaging are appealing.
  1. Boost your search rankings.
An SEO strategy is shifting from a nice-to-have to a must-have. This long-term tactic is one of the best ways to ensure that your company is consistently found by the right audience. Whether you hire an in-house team to focus on boosting search rankings or outsource this effort, identify the keywords that make your business stand out.
Keywords aren’t the only way to implement SEO practices. You should also ensure that your URLs are formatted properly, your content has unique titles (featuring your long-tail keyword phrases), and your images load quickly.
  1. Make a social media splash.
Social media channels are a useful way to interact with prospects and customers regardless of industry, but different channels are more effective for different demographics. For companies seeking Millennial customers, Snapchat and Instagram campaigns are likely to catch prospects’ eyes. Snapchat’s use in marketing efforts has grown by leaps and bounds (for both B2B and B2C companies) since 2014, so if you’re seeking younger customers, link your Snapchat account to your other social media platforms.
Other platforms may not offer as much flair as Snapchat, but they can still help you grow your audience. One such platform is LinkedIn, which is a great place to gain qualified leads. B2B marketers are especially likely to see success on this channel, as it has a higher concentration of business users than other social media sites. In fact, 80 percent of social media-based B2B leads come from LinkedIn.
As technology evolves and customer preferences change, sales and marketing teams are having to follow suit to keep up. While previously favored techniques like cold calling are dying out, these five lead generation tactics are just getting started.