Quora: How do I find a company’s top competitors?

The following is a post I wrote on Quora.

There are a couple of ways.

  • If a US public company, look at its 10-K (annual report). Firms generally discuss their competitors. You can locate the 10-K on a company’s investor site, through sales intelligence vendors, or free Edgar sites.
  • If a private company, look at Owler, a free site (See below). This is crowdsourced so may include firms that aren’t true competitors.
Owler competitor lists are gathered through social voting.
  • Look at sales intelligence services such as D&B Hoovers or InsideView. Hoover’s competitors are editorially generated and include top three flags (see below)
D&B Hoover’s competitor lists are gathered by a team of researchers.
  • Within IT, look at Forrester Wave reports. Another option is technology category searches in PE/VC databases such as DataFox, Crunchbase, Pitchbook, or CB Insights. Keep in mind that companies within the same segment may not be competitors, but partners, customers, etc.
  • Many industries have industry specific market research that includes competitors. A few general market research firms also provide competitors (e.g. MarketLine, Euromonitor, Global Data, and Freedonia). Top Competitors are also available in IBISWorld, Vertical IQ, and First Research.
  • Zoominfo and a few other vendors identify similar companies based upon proximity in articles. This finds competitors, but also customers and partners so should be carefully reviewed.
  • For new technologies or industries, D&B Hoovers offers Conceptual Search which identify companies associated with key phrases (e.g. Marcellus Shale, Obamacare). This is more of an associated companies list and will identify firms in a topical ecosystem. For example, “Harry Potter” identifies studios, publishers, toy makers, theme parks, and thematic tours. (See example below of conceptual search on Marcellus Shale). Conceptual Search lists may be refined by standard prospecting filters such as industry, geography, and size.
D&B Hoover’s Conceptual Search looks for companies associated with specific phrases.
  • If none of these work, use peer list searches (industry code lists) or keyword searches in sales intelligence vendors. If cost is a concern, go to your public library and see if they have ReferenceUSA, AtoZDatabases, or Mergent Online. Each of these allows you to build peer lists based on industry codes, company size, and geography. If you need help, ask for the business or reference librarian to assist.

LinkedIn Premium Insights: Hiring & Employment Analytics

LinkedIn announced immediate availability of a set of company insight analytics to its premium products including Sales Navigator, Business Plus, and Talent Solutions.  The new reports provide company employment intelligence from the LinkedIn database which competing sales intelligence vendors would be hard pressed to replicate.

Product leader and strategist Megan Kamil blogged, “The use cases for these insights are limitless. From the market research associate gathering relevant information on key market and competitive landscapes to the investment professional trying to uncover the next ‘hot’ company, this information will be valuable to any business professional.”

The new Total Employee count provides a two-year graph of LinkedIn employment trends.  The trend data can be quite useful for evaluating a company’s recent trajectory.  LinkedIn also provides the average tenure.  Low tenure needs to be interpreted carefully as it could be a sign of either rapid growth or an unhappy workforce.  Had they also included an employee churn rate this issue would be clarified.

LinkedIn Total Employee Count provides two years of data, growth rate, and average tenure.
LinkedIn Total Employee Count provides two years of data, growth rate, and average tenure.

While employee counts are available in other services, the LinkedIn data is likely to be more accurate for companies with a high percentage of professionals.  Firms with a high percentage of blue collar, seasonal, or part-time workers are more likely to be undercounted.  Be aware, though, that larger companies often appear as multiple companies (e.g. overseas subs, major divisions, or acquired companies) in LinkedIn, so they could also be subject to an undercount.

Also quite useful is employment by job function as it allows sales reps and analysts to evaluate where the bulk of employment is within an organization and how it is shifting.  This information is particularly valuable at startups as it provides an indicator of product maturity.  For example, a firm that is engineering focused with few sales and marketing positions may be pre-revenue.

LinkedIn Employee Distribution by Function provides insights into the relative size of departments over two years.
LinkedIn Employee Distribution by Function provides insights into the relative size of departments over two years.

However, if sales and marketing functions spiked last quarter, the firm may be readying a product launch.  Such a shift can be detected in the New Hires report.


New Hires shows overall hiring trends with a focus on senior management.
New Hires shows overall hiring trends with a focus on senior management.

The other two new reports are Notable Alumni and Total Job Openings.  Alumni may be useful for tracking former execs at a long-standing client to their new place of employment.  Such tracking may find new startups not on a sales reps’ radar along with potential connections or talking points.

Total Job openings are displayed by month and broken out by function and seniority.

Total Job Openings details monthly open positions for two years and current openings by function and level.
Total Job Openings details monthly open positions for two years and current openings by function and level.

LinkedIn is beginning to leverage its 433 million profiles to provide unique insights for its premium services.  A logical next step for them to take would be predictive modeling based upon their executive data.  For example, an analysis of the hiring ramp at retail and logistics companies in November provides insights into how optimistic the industry is about the upcoming holiday season.  Similarly, unannounced layoffs at companies just before the quarter ends might be picked up well before public companies announce their earnings.  As LinkedIn also has a large dataset of hiring data, the firm could also begin providing insights on the open positions at companies.  Unfortunately, the Job Openings report does not link to position details or allow for prior period analysis.

“This is just the beginning of the deeper, more advanced company insights we aim to deliver as part of our Premium experience on LinkedIn,” said Kamil.

If Microsoft is to obtain a strong ROI on its pending LinkedIn acquisition, it needs LinkedIn to more broadly develop analytics and tools which leverage the unique LinkedIn crowdsourced dataset.  Imagine the value to sales and risk departments (e.g. credit, purchasing) of providing hiring trends over time and by position within Microsoft Dynamics.

One firm that is already providing hiring data analytics in their sales service is CB Insights for Sales which uses the Indeed hiring database for its reports.  Users see a report similar to the LinkedIn Total Job Openings report, can view the open positions by function and level for current and prior periods, and drill down to both open and closed positions.  Thus, a sales rep could view the required skillset for the new VP of Product or CMO to better understand her mandate.

CB Insights for Sales: Strong New Sales Intelligence Offering

I was given a demo of the new CB Insights for Sales product a few weeks ago and found it to be a very well developed Sales Intelligence 1.0 solution.  CB Insights has focused on PE/VC investor services to date, so their sales product is weighted towards emerging companies looking to grow rapidly.  This is both a strength and a weakness as they have rich information around these growth companies, but they have little information on companies that have not been involved in the private equity or venture capital markets.

Note: CB Insights is a separate company from CrunchBase.

The sales rep, Victor, was generally knowledgeable about the product even though it had just launched.  This is a good omen for the product as it signals investment in both product training for a new user segment (sales) and engagement on the part of their salesforce.  Overall, the released product is relatively mature compared to most version 1.0 sales intelligence offerings.

Other good signs: Beta customers include Gartner and Marketo, and the company just announced a $10 million Series A.  CB Insights has 325 customers for their analytics offering and VC database.  The New York City-based firm grew from 24 to 61 employees over the past year with plans to have seventy staff by the end of this year and double that by this time next year.

CB Insights for Sales focuses on three goals: sales targeting, deep research for account planning, and prioritizing outreach.  Prioritization is done via their proprietary Mosaic Scores and identifying similar companies to a seed client list.  They recommend at least 25 firms for this list, though a broader set is preferable.  The system continues to customize prioritization based upon thumbs up/down icon selects on proposed leads as well as flagging companies as actual leads.  The lead proposal system is similar to LinkedIn’s with it displaying a few at a time and replacing leads as they are accepted or rejected.  The goal is to force decisions from sales reps, but it hides potentially more valuable leads by limiting the set to a few at a time.

CB Insights Mosaic Score
CB Insights Mosaic Score

Mosaic is their private company health score.   The Mosaic model is based upon their three M’s with users shown each of these sub-scores along with recent changes:

  • Momentum – Measures the individual performance of a company relative to itself and peers using signals from social media, news sentiment, mobile & web traffic/usage, hiring, customer and partner signings
  • Market – Quantifies the health (or lack thereof) of the industry in which a company participates based on funding, deals, hiring activity, industry sentiment, and exit activity among other factors
  • Money – Assesses the financial strength and financial viability of a company based on financing history, burn rate and investor quality.

Mosaic Scores are also available for comparing companies and prospecting selects.

For companies engaged in consultative sales at high growth firms, there is much to like about this product.  The UI is graphical and well laid out, though a bit crowded due to the breadth of content.  Content includes funding histories (e.g. investors, rounds, acquisitions), similar companies, executives, business descriptions, tech stack, social media metrics, and jobs data.  I was impressed by their jobs page which included historical job posting volumes and open postings by job function and level.  They also noted job competencies providing a deeper view of company requirements for executive recruiters and IT consultancies.  While other sales intelligence services offer job postings, this was the first service I’ve seen which provides actionable insights around the job postings to assist with account planning.

The company also provides a set of social media metrics for Facebook, Twitter, web traffic, news mentions, and sentiment analysis.

CB Insights Technology Tab Displays Vendors by Category.
CB Insights’ Tech Stack tab displays software by category.

The Tech Stack is a mined set of platform information similar to HG Data’s offering.  At the moment, though, the data is only available within the Tech Stack tab and not available as screening variables.  Nevertheless, it indicated a desire to bring in additional content sets beyond their traditional funding focus.

The executive data is a bit wanting.  A five seat license only displays 5,000 executives with contact data per year.  Execs were broken down by employees and directors.  When I viewed the execs of a company I knew well, however, I spotted many execs that were no longer with the firm including some that have been gone for several years.  Other problems included the CEO being listed twice due to name variations and a president that has never been affiliated with the company.  These types of errors are a common problem amongst sales intelligence vendors that aggregate contacts from multiple executive sources.  While a contact aggregation strategy provides a deeper set of contacts, it also greatly increases the number of former and incorrect executive listings.  InsideView and Avention, two vendors that also aggregate their executives, have worked to limit these issues through the use of editors combined with customer feedback, email validation, and executive change news monitoring.

Their database covers the PE/VC space including seed rounds and angel investments.  They also capture global funding data, investors, and M&A activity going back to 2000.  Thus, the database provides deep intelligence around rapidly growing companies in the US and overseas.  Nevertheless, there will be significant gaps.  Bootstrapped private companies do not appear nor do subsidiaries unless they were acquired.  They also have limited information around public companies unless they IPO’d in the past decade or have made significant investments and acquisitions.

Curiously, they have two company profiles for firms that are also investors.  Thus, Uber appears as both a company with significant funding history and as an acquirer and investor in other firms.  From a sales rep’s perspective, this split makes little sense and increases the likelihood that the rep will miss critical sales intelligence.

Company and executive screening is supported with a deep set of funding and deal variables along with basic firmographics and Boolean keyword searching.  The system supports a proprietary industry structure so SIC and NAICS are not available.  Also missing are job function and job level screening along with location variables such as county, MSA, and ZIP radius.

CB Insights offers a Salesforce.com connector which displays their content within account records.  Sales reps can send leads from the browser service to SFDC or perform “stare and compare” updates.  Along with basic firmographics, the uploaded records contain business descriptions and funding details.  According to Victor, CB Insights updates the records within SFDC on a near real-time basis with their database.

The service is rather expensive, beginning at $18,000 per year.  CB Insights can probably sustain this pricing when selling research tools to institutional investors, but the price point is several-fold above that of established sales intelligence competitors.  If the sales product is to gain market traction, they will likely have to adjust the price downwards.

While there is no doubt that this is a new product which will require additional fit and finish work along with ongoing development, CB Insights for Sales is a significant product launch with some unique features. The Mosaic Scores assist with comparing companies and qualifying leads while the Jobs and Tech Stack tabs indicate a company looking for new ways to add value to their clients.

Nevertheless, there are some significant gaps including family tree linkage, sales triggers, and public company data which they will need to address if they hope to expand the product beyond targeting strategic sales teams focused on high growth companies.

Although CB Insights for Sales is not included in my 2015 Field Guide for Sales Intelligence Vendors, I anticipate it will be in my 2016 edition as it smooths out some of its rough edges and folds in additional datasets.

Plus, you have to love a company that lives by the mantra “eat. sleep. data.” and launches Ava, the Introductions Bot.

CB Insights Team
CB Insights Team