Need an Easy Way to Spy on Your Small Business Competition?
For any small business owner it is helpful to know what your immediate competition is up too. Don’t think of this as something that is dishonest or shady because I am sure that your competition is constantly thinking of ways to improve their sales and customers, even it means taking some our your sales and customers away. You work hard for the same customer base in cases and an app for your smartphone called Perch has made it easy to be notified of what your competitor is doing. The app collects data from Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and conveniently shows the information in one feed on your screen.
When you competition posts a new deal on Twitter, you can counter with a better deal in a timely manner to steal customers and help protect your own business. The app also shows Yelp reviews which can be a huge benefit to find out what customers like about your competition and see if you can integrate those qualities into yours without harming your brand.
Other simple ways to keep tabs on your small business competition is to join their email marketing and SMS marketing lists. This allows you a great insight into how they market to their customers. Is there anything you should be doing that your competitor is?
Visit their business occasionally as a shopper to discover new products or changes to the physical layout that may be attraction your customers away. If this makes you uneasy, send in an employee or close friend to secret shop the store. Pay close attention to customer service as this constantly rates as a higher quality that lead people to shop at a certain business.
Google Alerts is a free service that provides email alerts of the newest Google results for your search terms. We use it to stay on top of research in Mobile Marketing and Moto Message. Use it to set up both mentions of your business but also your competition. After signing in, type in the competitors name and if they have two or more words in their name, type it in quotes: “Moto Message”
If your competitors website has a blog, subscribe to the RSS feed also to get blog updates sent directly to your email. BTW, if you have not added a blog to your website yet, you are missing out on new customers plain and simple!
When monitoring social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, don’t just look for deals but also how your competition manages their social media marketing. Look for quality over quantity and more informational posts and tweets then sales plugs. If your competition is focusing more on sales then relationship building, this is an opening for you to beat them at social media. Facebook also gives you the benefit of seeing the most popular city and age group of people who have ‘liked’ the business.
A simple method that we use daily is to simply ask your new customers. Ask them where they used to buy pizza from or get their hair cut at. Don’t be pushy but if the customer offers up why they were dissatisfied with your competition use this information to improve your business and look for short falls you may have missed.
Your suppliers can also be a huge source of information. When I was in the restaurant business, the pizza place across the street shared a beverage supplier and one food purveyor. After a free slice to the delivery driver, I would know how many cases of soda they were ordering and pounds of cheese which gave me a rough figure of how many customers they were serving a week and what the trend was over time. Since we were in a small town with no other competition, I could tailor my marketing and know pretty quickly if it was affecting their sales and in turn taking customers from them.
Giving your competition a call is also a simple way to get information. Call as a prospective customer and ask which products or services are the most popular or are there any you should avoid. Customer service people are always most helpful when giving up information to a “new” customers. I would also ask if they give discounts to special groups or non-profits to make sure your pricing is inline for these groups.
For those of you with a strong online presence and marketing strategy, you can use Open Site Explorer to find out where other websites have linked to your competition. See sites that provided a review for your competition? Get one for your own business! We like to use the site to make sure we have links coming in from the same sites as our competition to help improve our search engine rankings and stay competitive in search results.
Buy your competitors products to see how it compares to yours. What do you think their customers like about it? Is the quality as high as yours? Is this something you should add to your product line? Buying your competitions products allows to also find opportunities for new marketing. When I owned pizza restaurants, I advertised the fact that I only used garden fresh vegetables and the highest quality meats unlike the competition. I knew this to be true because once a month I would sample pizza from each place within 5 miles of all my locations.
Spying on your competition is not something to feel guilty about as one can assume they are already spying on you. A study by Digimind found that almost 80% of businesses surveyed use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to spy on their competition.
In addition to spying or keeping tabs on your competition, check in on businesses that may not be a competitor, but do a great job marketing. I constantly read other blogs and subscribe to email newsletters of companies I will probably never buy a product from, but their marketing constantly feeds me with new ideas to market our own business.
About the author
Shane has been in the restaurant business his entire life. Working as a cook in fine dinning, owning multiple pizza parlors around Boston and as a one time owner of the oldest bar in Boston, The Red Hat. Now he uses his experience to write marketing guides and articles and act as customer support liason, all in the name of helping his fellow small business owners succeed.