Geoff Anderson back in my regularly scheduled slot for the Technology Marketing Center. In the recent past I have had to do some competitive analysis, and while my case is somewhat unique, it certainly isn't uncommon. If you are in an industry that is not directly covered by one of the big analysts (Forrester, Gartner etc.) or if it is "kinda" covered, but you know that they are completely wrong, then you have to go scavenging for information. Of course, you should never do anything unethical. But, even with that limitation, there are plenty of sources of information to exploit.
First, if you are in an industry with one or more publicly traded companies, you need to become very familiar with some golden fountains of information. The SEC filings (sometimes called Edgar filings) are submitted quarterly (8k), and one big one annually(10Q). Typically they are a summary (or deeper) balance sheet, and often have some comments from the leadership team. Gold is often struck there. A statement to justify some expenditure might clue you in to a new product development effort.
Next, as part of the quarterly release of the financials, virtually all public companies host a conference call. 99.9% of the time these are recorded and you can listen to them on your computer. Usually, the introdcutory piece by the CEO and CFO are bland, but if there is a feisty analyst on the call, they often will get the CEO or CFO to divulge juicy details. Like how much revenue a specific division made, or comments on the strength of a specific segment (like Semiconductors). To enhance this, an online site called "Seeking Alpha" often posts the transcripts. If they are there, download them and pore over them.
If there are a lot of non-public companies in your market, don't give up hope. First, there are two places to get at least first order of magnitude estimates. Zoominfo is a huge database, and virtually all companies I have researched have entries in there. Sometimes, their numbers are amazingly accurate. Alas, they seem to be switching to a pay-to-play model. If you must pay for it, then the gold standard is Dunn and Bradstreet. If you are at a modestly sized organization, it is probably that your finance team or your Investor Relations team have an account. Find out and if they do, ask for some reports. I have never been told "no". If not, beg, plead, wash your boss's car, whatever it takes to get approval to purchase a subscription. The information they hold is awesome, and since the credit organizations often consult D&B, the information is thoroughly vetted.
All these can help you get a top down view. However, it is a one sided view, and often not trustworthy on its own. It is easy to fall into a false sense of security with this. You need to form a bottom's up view as well. Here you have to get crafty.
First, work you network. You probably have contacts who have been there, or compete with them in non-related industries. Reach out to them for any information. Odds are good that you have some information to barter. This is also why you should never burn bridges.
Second, scour your CRM. Look at win/loss order reports. What is the word on the street? If your sales team are not properly using the CRM to track these (and often they aren't) make it a mission to train them in the importance. Some of the best clues don't come out until you export and start doing some pivot tables. Keep hunting, there is good data in the noise.
Third, look at your own numbers. As a marketer, you had better be keeping track of your business, and your estimated market share. Build a model. Make some assumptions. Test them. Revise and test again.
Naturally, Google is your friend. There is so much information that can be unlocked if you just use the right search term. Be creative, and you will be rewarded with lots of good information. For example, if you sell to universities or government labs, your competitors bids are often public, and can be found by the bid sites. That can really help narrow down the ASP question.
Of course, if there are industry analyst reports, you should obtain them and parse that information as well.
In my case, I had exquiste knowledge of our largest competitors' business, since I spent 6 years there in a different division (left about 3 years ago). I was able to build a top down and bottom up estimate, and the shocking thing was how close those two were. It greatly increased my confidence in the model.
In summary, a key component of marketing is competitive analysis (know thy enemy), but it can be daunting to get information that you believe. Fortunately, there are several legal, ethically clean methods to get a solid competitive business analysis.
Until next time, happy marketing!