Small and Medium Sized Businesses – Developing Your Market Intelligence

Nearly every industry is signifcantly more competitive today that it was only a few years ago. Many companies focus on doing their thing a little bit faster or better than they did last year. But in today’s hyper-competitive environment that may not always be enough. We believe that there are three pillars of Business Intelligence that are given short shrift by many companies, and by ignoring these options, they put their company’s future in peril. The three pillars of Market Intelligence are Competitive Intelligence, Secondary Market Intelligence (syndicated or research that can be found or purchased on an given industry) and Primary Market Research – which is conducting research that is specifically designed to answer the questions that your business is grappling with – and that your competitors should never see (because it’s proprietary information).

COMPETITOR ASSESSMENT

It’s important to do a basic SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) on each of your key competitors to understand their positions in the market relative to that of your own company (financial position, apparent growth directions, likely profit margins and the threats that their business is facing). There are companies that specialize in gathering competitive information, and it’s pretty common to spend a couple of months and several thousand dollars to get a report on a number of key competitors. However, because the number of competitors is often very small, it’s often possible to do some gumshoeing on your own. When does your competitor open for business, when do they close, how many customers do they get in the morning, afternoon an evening, and how much does it look like they’re buying? Go in and ask them about their best selling product, buy one and see what they’ve got. You can also do a lot of this research via the web, or by the phone. Look at the city records to see who owns the land, have a realtor friend estimate what the rent would be like on that size building in that part of town. Look at the equipment they have, and the stock that that they carry, count the number of employees. You can probably do a pretty good job of estimating their revenue and even projecting their profit. It’s a good businessperson who has an idea of how their business stacks up.

SECONDARY MARKET RESEARCH

These are the companies that make their money by keeping tabs on the industry overall and try to understand which major competitors are doing well and which are in bad shape. Many can approximate market shares by talking to companies that provide raw goods or by talking to the channels that these companies sell through. Some of these analysts will estimate whether the overall business is growing or shrinking and are brave enough to project these numbers out for several years. The types of companies that track these industries include International Data Corporation, Dataquest, and don’t forget industry groups. Many of these reports are combined at one wonderful website that can help you quickly find reports on every industry under the sun – Market Research. This is probably the fastest place to find quality information on your industry overall, although it’s not free, unfortunately.

PRIMARY MARKET RESARCH

Once you know about your industry, you may decide that you’d like to know more about the specific products or services that you’re developing. Or maybe you just want to find out what kinds of customers are purchasing your products, how happy they are with them, or what their likelihood is of buying another product from you in the future. That’s where Primary Market Research comes in. Primary research entails a couple of dozen different methods of getting customers feedback, depending on what access they have to technology, where they are located in the world, the sensitivity of the topic and whether you think that group synergy would get you a better answer than you would by speaking to a customer one at a time. There are also a few unique methods to probe on other areas, for example there is “lost customer” research, which finds customers that purchased another company’s products and then probing on why they didn’t go with your products.

Anyway there are a number of ways to get at most any type of business issue that you have. Together these techniques can help a savvy business manager to ensure that they keep a finger on the puse of the market in which they operate – and thereby keeping their positiion in that market safer!