Conducting A Competitive Analysis: A 10-Step Guide
Ever wonder how you stack up against your competition? It’s a natural question, especially for industrial and manufacturing B2Bs who operate in tight markets, where all of the key players are well-known. Understanding where you stand in your market in relation to the competition is powerful information. It tells you how you’re doing, whether you’re growing, and what portion of the market you’re taking up. It’s also a really powerful way to figure out how to strategically optimize your own business operations to position yourself higher in your own market.
Whether you’re gearing up for a new digital marketing strategy like inbound marketing, are planning to redesign your website, or are just looking for a way to get a leg up, understanding what your competition is doing is the first step to improving your own growth strategy.
So how do you figure out where you stand in the market? It’s called a competitive analysis.
What is a Competitive Analysis?
A competitive analysis is a method of strategically researching your competition, and analyzing their performance and position in the market. But, a competitive analysis does more than show you where you and your competitors stand — it’s also a powerful tool you can use to find and address gaps in the market, identify new market trends, and of course find opportunities for your company to improve marketing and sales efforts to you can perform better than your competitors.
HubSpot says that by doing a competitive analysis, “you can create solid business strategies that improve upon your competitor’s.”
Why is a B2B Competitive Analysis Important?
Competitive analysis is often talked about in regards to e-commerce and direct-to-consumer applications, but it’s equally important for B2Bs. For most B2B industries, like manufacturing companies and industrial technology providers, the market is small and competitive. Chances are you already know who your top competitors are. A competitive analysis helps you get a better picture of what you’re doing, what your competition is doing, and how you can do better.
A competitive analysis is key to strategic marketing positioning, which is essential for B2Bs. When there are only a handful of key players, your marketing and sales tactics are put under a microscope. The slightest edge over your competition can win you a huge market share in an industry that is so niche.
So, now that we know why a competitive analysis is so important, especially for B2Bs, how do you conduct one? Let’s dive in.
How to Conduct a Strategic B2B Competitive Analysis
When you start a competitive analysis, know that it is a big process. You don’t have to do the whole thing in a day. Take the time to really look into your competitors, and remember this is a learning experience.
All of the research you gather, from what your competitors are doing really well, to what they’re not doing, is useful to you. With that in mind, here are 10 steps to a successful, strategic B2B competitive analysis:
- Market Research
- Who’s In Your Market?
- Plan Your Work
- Check Out Your Competitor’s Marketing Strategy
- Check out Their Website and SEO
- Dig into their Sales Tactics
- Decide What’s Working For Them, And What’s Not
- Implement What You’ve Learned
- Save Your Research and Refer Back to It Often
- Always be Optimizing!
Even if you work in a small, competitive market, it’s worth it to do a bit of market research before you decide which competitors you’re going to analyze. There’s always the possibility that someone has shifted in the market or there’s a new player. The best way to start?
Type your broadest and most relevant keywords into a search engine.
If you’re a steel manufacturer, type that in. If you sell air compressors, type that it. Who comes up? Are they a competitor?
Make sure you’re doing both general and geographically-specific research.
It’s important to know who you’re in league with in your area, as well as who some of the national or international players might be.
Once you’ve completed some solid B2B market research, it’s time to narrow down all of the companies you’ve found into just your top competitors.
For B2Bs, we’d recommend picking your top 5 competitors.
I know a lot of other guides recommend picking 10 or more competitors to compare with, but for most niche industries, 5 is probably going to give you what you need. (You can always choose more for extra credit!)
Try to go for at least 3 direct competitors — companies that sell the same product you do to a very similar market. The other two or three can be indirect or secondary competitors — maybe they sell the same product to a different market, or they have similar solutions, but not quite the same as what you offer.
A good example here would be pre-fab cleanrooms vs. custom cleanrooms.
If you sell custom cleanrooms, you can probably learn a lot from a company that sells pre-fab cleanroom kits, but they’re not your direct competitor. They’re selling to a slightly different market that doesn’t need the high level of customizability you offer.
Alright, you’ve made it through the first big part of your competitive analysis. Now’s a good time to take a break. The next step is going to be to dive into the actual analysis part of this competitive analysis. Make sure you’ve got your coffee ready to go and somewhere to take notes.
Before you dive in, decide how you’re going to tackle this competitive analysis. You’ve got two main options:
- Run through all of these steps with all of your competitors, all at once. That means you’ll start by analyzing everyone’s marketing strategy. Then you’ll move on to everyone’s website, SEO, sales tactics, etc, all in the same order, at the same time.
- Run through each competitor individually. This means you’ll start with one competitor, move through the entire competitive analysis guide, and then start over with the next competitor.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this, it just depends on how you think best. And, if you’re working through this competitive analysis as a team, option two might be easier — just assign each team member a different competitor to analyze.
Okay, we’ve got a plan. Let’s get going:
I find it easiest to work through a competitive analysis exactly the way a lead might work through your competitor’s marketing and sales cycle.
That means looking at them like a visitor, and then diving slowly deeper into their marketing strategy, until the point you’d become a sales lead. Then, you tackle the sales portion of the competitive analysis.
That’s why we’re starting with marketing strategy first.
Do a lot of digging into your competitor’s marketing strategy. For B2Bs, this is certain to look a little different from competitor to competitor, so pay special attention to those differences. Be sure to look at everything from their social media pages and engagement to their content strategy. Here are a few questions to get you started:
How Do They Manage Their Content Strategy?
Figure out what their content strategy is.
- Are they blogging?
- If they’re not blogging, how do they get the word out?
- Do they submit to magazines or technical industry websites?
- Do they put out content, blogs, videos, infographics, ect, regularly?
- Does their content seem helpful?
- Is it true?
- How are they promoting their content?
- Is that content and content promotion getting engagement?
- If so, which platforms are most successful?
- Do they have large followings on social media?
Then, see if it’s working. As an industry expert yourself, you know if their content is actually helpful, or if it’s designed with the sole purpose of putting out company news updates and gaining search engine positioning.
Is Their Content Strategy Working?
- What gets a lot of engagement?
- Who are they speaking to with this content?
- Is the content successful in reaching that audience? Answering their questions? Solving their pain points?
- Does their content strategy go together seamlessly?
- Do they use internal linking and lead nurturing strategies that drive visitors further into their content?
- What could they be doing better?
Finally, compare that strategy to your own.
- What are they doing that’s working?
- Can you apply that to your content strategy?
- Are there gaps in their content that you can or already are filling?
- Is your content speaking to the same audience? Should it be?
The key to a successful competitive analysis is the element of critical thinking. Just because your competitor is doing something doesn’t mean you have to be.
That strategy you think is really cool is only right for you if it’s effective, and if it speaks to your audience.
If you think about the inbound marketing process, content is what draws a visitor in. Their website is the next step in that visitor’s buyer’s journey. It should be working to keep visitors on the site by offering more quality content, and converting those visitors into leads with content offers, CTAs, and landing pages.
For B2Bs, this tends to be one of the biggest pain points.
This step will give you a lot of insight into which of your competitors are really investing in digital growth, and which might still be a bit behind the times.
Analyzing a Competitor’s Website
The website portion of the competitive analysis falls into two categories — how the website itself is working, in terms of usability and lead generation, and how they’re using their website to talk about their products and solutions, specifically in regards to SEO.
Let’s start with UX and web design first:
- How does their website work?
- Is it easy to navigate?
- Do they use any creative lead capturing tactics?
- Are CTAs visible and eye-catching?
- Do they have forms for leads to fill out?
- Are there great content offers that you know target buyers would find value in?
- Is it easy to find their contact button?
- Is their website fast, responsive, and easy to look at?
Website design has a lot more to do with successful lead conversion than you’d think. A slow, non-responsive website that doesn’t look good is sure to turn visitors and leads away. Check out your competitor’s website, and think about how it stacks up against your own.
- Are there elements you wish could be incorporated onto your site?
- Are there elements to their site that you know you do better on?
- Is their website missing anything?
Once you have a solid understanding of how their website performs for the user, you can take a look at how it performs for search engines.
Analyzing a Competitor’s SEO
SEO isn’t always easy to analyze on your own, so be sure to use tools that can help you.
We love these three to help give you a clear picture of how that website is performing overall, what keywords your competitor is targeting, and how your website stacks up against them in SERPs.
SpyFu will give you a comprehensive comparison of your site against your competitors. It offers a clear analysis of what keywords that company is ranking for, what keywords its almost ranking for, and more. SpyFu will also give insight into your competition’s top paid search ads.
HubSpot’s Website Grader will give you an idea of how well that competitor’s website is performing. HubSpot can tell you how fast the site is, how many keywords it’s ranking for, and if there are any problems it the backend that might be threatening the site’s performance.
Ubersuggest is a great tool for keyword analysis. Typing in your competitor’s URL will pull up a complete list of the keywords they’re ranking for, which of their pages are driving the most traffic, and how many keywords they rank for in general. You can compare this to your own results on Ubersuggest for a clear competitive analysis.
Now That You Have the Numbers
Do a deep dive.
- What keywords does your competitor rank well for?
- Are they the same keywords you try to rank for?
- How are they managing to rank well for those keywords?
- Service Pages
- Great on and off-page SEO
- Are they ranking for any great long-tail keywords?
- What’s their average site traffic per month?
In addition to looking at straight SEO, take a hard look at how your competitor is talking about their products and services. Are they highlighting the same benefits and solutions that you are? Or have they taken a slightly different angle than your team?
If they’re using a different angle, or marketing differently than you, is it working? Are they ranking for keywords that you’d like to rank for?
Most importantly, look for gaps in their SEO, in their content, and in their marketing strategy.
Chances are, they haven’t covered every possible angle of any product or service. Maybe they’re not blogging, or maybe they’re not ranking for some keywords that you already know drive a lot of traffic.
This is probably the hardest part of any competitive analysis because there’s likely not a lot of information out there. That said, in a B2B market, you’re likely to have a slight advantage. You already know most of your competitors, and you probably already have an eye on how they’re performing, if they’ve been growing or expanding in the past year, and more.
A few ways to look into your competitor’s sales tactics include:
- Check out your own CRM. Do you have past leads or customers who said they were considering other competitors? Why did they choose you?
- See if they have a “process” page on their website. That can help you understand how they move prospects from leads to sales.
- If they’re a public company, you can find annual reports online.
- Are they scaling their company up or down? Have they been doing a lot of hiring?
- Do they have multiple locations? If so, is that helping them close more sales?
Do a little digging to see why people may have chosen your product over your competitor’s, and vice versa.
Even more importantly, look to see if their sales process matches up with their marketing process.
- Do their sales and marketing efforts seem aligned?
- Does marketing content feed seamlessly into sales content like estimate and quote requests?
- Does it seem like they’re following up with leads, or is that a pain point for customers who chose your company instead?
You’ll have to do a bit of sleuthing to dig deeply into any company’s sales process, their sales tactics, and their results, but going the extra mile can return helpful information.
The more you know about how your competitors are selling, and what’s working for them and what isn’t, the better you’ll be able to tailor your sales tactics to outperform them.
For example, let’s say they’ve been scaling up but are having trouble following up on all the leads coming in. You can optimize your sale process by making timely, helpful contact with leads a priority. The more connected you are to your prospects, the better supported they’ll feel, compared to your competitor’s sales team.
How you sell is equally important to how you market. If you can make improvements to your sales process as well as your marketing tactics according to the results you find in your competitive analysis, you’ll be able to draw in more of the qualified leads you want, and provide the nurturing sales touches those leads need to convert.
HubSpot calls this a SWOT analysis — identifying your competition’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. When you’ve figured these out, you can compare them to your own, to see where you’re crushing it in the market, and where you might have some opportunities to improve. A few questions to get you started might be:
- What is your competition’s best area? Sales, marketing, content, promotion, online engagement?
- Where are they performing better than your brand?
- What is their weakest area?
- Where are you performing better than your competitor?
- Are there any gaps in your competitor’s marketing strategy?
- Are they missing out on ideal keywords or strategic tactics?
- In what ways might you consider this competitor a threat?
- Are there opportunities in the market that your competitor has missed?
- Are there opportunities they’re capitalizing on that you are not yet?
When you have the time to sit down and list out answers to all of these questions, you’ll have a better idea of where you go next. If there are areas you’re performing well in, keep up the good work. If there are new strategies that you have yet to try, add that to your list of tactics to implement next.
Chances are, through this whole process, you’ve learned what your competitors do well, and what they don’t. Both of those categories are opportunities for you to improve.
Take what they do well, and do it better.
Take what you’re already doing really well, and keep on crushing it.
A competitive analysis works for you in a variety of ways:
- It gives you a clear picture of the current market
- It shows you upcoming market trends you can capitalize on now
- It highlights your competitors strengths and weaknesses
Use all of that information to optimize your own company’s strengths and weaknesses. If there’s something your company is really missing out on, like an optimized website, take some time to really make that your strength. If you’ve been crushing the content game, don’t stop. Make sure you keep your competitive advantage by continuing to put out excellent content regularly.
You put a ton of time into your competitive analysis. Make sure you organize that research and save it somewhere your entire team can access it. Going forward, be sure to keep checking back on your competitors and adding to that competitive analysis you’ve put together.
Just like you, your competitors are always looking for opportunities and areas to grow in the market. The good ones are going to continue optimizing and improving over time. Keep your research handy, and try to update it at least quarterly. This will help you keep an eye on how the market is moving and responding, keeping your brand as current, if not ahead of your competitors in market position.
Your company wants to keep growing. To feed that constant growth, you need a marketing and sales strategy that can keep up. That means you should always be looking critically at your marketing and sales tactics, and optimizing wherever you can.
It’s not always an easy or straightforward task, but keeping an updated competitive analysis around should help you identify key areas for improvement. Remember to capitalize on the opportunities your competition is missing out on, and work to do the things they’re doing really well, better when it’s possible.
Conducting a competitive analysis isn’t easy or fast, but it is worthwhile. If you’re struggling to dig up dirt on your competitors, we get it. There are a ton of components to a competitive analysis and it’s tough to know where to start and where to stop.
If you’ve got more questions about conducting a competitive analysis, what competitors to look at, or how to find the right information, we’re happy to help.