Competitive Intelligence - Part II: Business Research
After learning what we can from our competitor’s website, our next step is to research their business itself. In this lesson we will help you find answers to questions about company size, hiring focus, funding, locations, domains (and lead gen strategy), and a few details specific to public companies.
History & Location
Despite the above statement to the contrary, we are not quite done looking at our competitor’s website. If you are trying to figure out how long a company has been in business, the ‘About’ (or ‘Company’) page is a good place to check.
The same is true for locations. For companies with one main headquarters, that location is usually mentioned on the ‘About’ or ‘Contact’ page. For companies with multiple locations, like retail or restaurant chains, their website will usually have a ‘Locations’ page with a list or search options.
For companies that don’t provide much location information, a Google search is never a bad place to start, and company directories like CrunchBase, Hoovers, or even LinkedIn may have the answer.
Not surprisingly, LinkedIn is a great place to start researching a business. Most companies have at least a basic profile on LinkedIn, and employee count is one of the basic required fields when you claim your company. When you visit a company profile, the size range (ex. 51-200) is listed at the top right under the company name and industry category.
LinkedIn is also a good place to check out the jobs a company has posted. However, if you do not see any jobs posted there, Indeed.com is your best bet to find them. Search for the company name without a location to bring up a nationwide list of postings.
Why look at job postings? A company’s open positions provide insight into a number of areas:
General indication of growth (lots of jobs) or lack thereof (very few)
Locations being targeted for expansion
Their software/hardware stack and scale of engineering team
Size and direction of their marketing team (e.g. hiring junior content people? Probably planning to get into content marketing)
Sales strategy (inbound, outside, call center, etc.)
For checking into domain registration information, DomainTools.com is an excellent choice. Just search for your competitor’s domain and you will be able to see how long it has been registered (important for domain authority), who registered it, which registrar they use, and quite a bit of other server and site related information.
One very interesting thing that can be done with registration information is a reverse whois lookup. Once you know who registered a domain, you can search for that person’s name and get back a list of all the other domains they are associated with (note that domain privacy services can sometimes make this difficult).
DomainTools will usually tell you if they have found any associated domains, but they charge a fee to get the data in the report. If you would like to save $199, you can copy the domain registrant’s name or email address and head over to http://viewdns.info/reversewhois/ to get the same information for free.
Looking through the other domains a company owns can uncover side projects, auxiliary brands, marketing initiatives, and things like microsites they are using for lead generation.
Some companies will publicly announce funding rounds, but others are less vocal. Privately held companies, at least in the US, have fewer disclosure requirements than public companies, which means it can sometimes be difficult to find financial data.
Sites like CrunchBase.com or Angel.co tend to be good sources for this kind of information, although they generally focus more on the tech sector so data may be spotty in other areas. Beyond the investment info, CrunchBase will also list founders, executive officers, headquarters location, and founding date if they have it.
If you need to get really serious about your funding research, paid services like CB Insights will generally provide a bit more accurate, up to date, and detailed information. CB Insights offers a trial which will allow you to do a fair amount of research for free.
CB Insights will, in some cases, have information about private funding rounds, as well as acquisitions or mergers. Looking at funding and acquisition history can give you an idea about your competitors’ future direction.
If your competition is publicly traded you can get quite a bit of information by looking them up on Yahoo (or Google) Finance. Beyond their current trading value and related news mentions, you will be able to look at analyst opinions and, most importantly, their SEC Filings.
The legally required quarterly (10-Q) and annual (10-K) reports may disclose all sorts of useful information. Internet companies, like LinkedIn for example, routinely disclose things like their membership numbers, site traffic, revenue by sales source and business line, and business acquisitions. That information can help give you a good idea as to which parts of their business are working, and how well.
Still searching for answers?
Quora.com is another great resource for competitive information. You need to have a free account to use it, but you can often find some very detailed answers concerning things like company size, funding, marketing strategy, and products if you are willing to do a little searching. And if nothing is coming up, you can always post a question of your own.