Quora: How do I obtain the necessary information for a B2B competitive analysis?

I answered the above question on Quora, but I thought it was worth posting the answer on my blog as well.

B2B is a broad category, so I will be providing a high-level process:

  • Start with the open web — the company website, corporate blog, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Vimeo, and SlideShare.
  • Jump to the LinkedIn and Twitter pages of key executives.
  • Continue with third-party review sites such as TrustRadius, G2 Crowd, Glass Door, and Quora. Also compare web (Alexa, SimilarWeb) and social media activity (Owler) of the company vs. its top competitors.
  • If a US public company, obtain their 10-K, 10-Q, Annual Report, Proxy, and 8-Ks. Also, review all material on their investor page and look for Fair Disclosure Earnings Transcripts (Seeking Alpha, NASDAQ), investor presentations, financial models, etc.
  • If a US or global public, analyst reports are often available subject to a one week embargo. Vendors with analyst reports include D&B Hoovers, Factiva, Zacks, FactSet, Capital IQ, and Investext. Reports with fewer than five pages tend to only look at the stock, and provide little in the way of detail. Particularly good are the Initiating Coverage reports as they often entail an overview of the business.
  • If a US or global public, review the synopsis of material events going back over a decade. Significant Developments are available from Reuters, Factiva (Reuters), D&B Hoovers (Reuters), Capital IQ, and FactSet.
  • If a European private, they are likely to have filed financials, directors, and shareholdings with a local registry. You can obtain these through D&B Hoovers, Bureau van Dijk Orbis, or local registries.
  • Major companies are profiled by MarketLine and Global Data. Check to see if they or key competitors are profiled. Industry vendors also profile companies and products within their target segments.  These profiles include SWOTs, company histories, market shares, and overviews of key products and segments.
  • Determine the firm’s list of competitors. If it is a public company they will list this in a proxy. If it is a private company, refer to Hoovers, Global Data, or Marketline.
  • If you are looking for technology employed, refer to Datanyze, HG Data, BuiltWith, DiscoverOrg, or RainKing.
  • Review all news for the company. The open web thins out quickly, so you are best off using an archival service such as Factiva or LexisNexis
  • For Intellectual Property and Legal, use LexisNexis or Westlaw. You can also search the USPTO site for trademarks and patents.
  • Check research from industry vendors. Most focus on only one or a few sectors (e.g. Gartner, Forrester, and IDC for Hardware and Software). A few provide higher level market overviews at the country or global level which include national or regional market shares, forecasts, and mini-profiles of the top 3-4 competitors in the market:
    • MarketLine (country and global)
    • Euromonitor (country or global)
    • BMI (Emerging Markets)
    • Freedonia (US)
    • IBISWorld (US, China, Australia, Global)
  • A few US industries are required to file with state or federal agencies. These include banks (FDIC), insurance (states), and nonprofits (990 forms with the IRS).
  • Larger companies file ERISA forms (5500s) annually with the Department of Labor. This filing covers benefit plans so is useful for direct research on a company and plan advisors. Judy Diamond offers a freemium service (FreeErisa) for ERISA filings.
  • If the firm has PE or VC funding, refer to Crunchbase, DataFox, Mattermark, PrivCo, or other vendors that collect this detail. Crunchbase and Owler provide this information for free.
  • Setup news alerts on the company and competitor you are evaluating. This can be done via Owler, Contify, InsideView, D&B Hoovers, Factiva, and LexisNexis.
  • Obtain a credit report (D&B, Experian, or local credit company if overseas)
  • Research the company family tree and review major subsidiaries and recent acquisitions. Global Family Trees are available from D&B Hoovers, Bureau van Dijk, and InsideView (parents and subs only). Public companies also list their subsidiaries in their 10-K (Note 21).
  • M&A research can be performed with Zephyr (Bureau van Dijk), Mattermark, FactSet, Capital IQ, and other vendors.

This is a quick overview for secondary research.  For primary research, reach out to customers, partners, and former employees.  They can be identified via Case Studies (generally fans so don’t be overly reliant on them), customer references on site, TrustRadius, G2 Crowd.  Former employees can be determined via LinkedIn.  Partners are generally listed on the company website.

One area that is particularly difficult to obtain is pricing data.  Some B2Bs are transparent while others publish virtually no details, particularly if they have complex product lines and pricing.  Don’t be surprised if you find little in this area beyond “Pricing begins in the five digits” for many vendors.  Pricing details may require primary research and this will provide data points, but not full price lists.

If you are performing regular competitive analysis work, consider joining SCIP (Strategic & Competitive Intelligence Professionals).

Feel free to add additional tips in the comments.

 

Data Science and Competitive Advantage

GlassDoor Tech Salaries

Social media job site Glassdoor recently published its second annual ranking of the top jobs in America and, of the top twenty-five jobs, ten were in technology.  The top ranked position was data scientist which jumped from ninth last year.  Other high ranked positions were Solutions Architect (#3), Mobile Developer (#5), and Product Manager (#8).  Glassdoor bases their rankings on three variables: the number of job openings, salary, and career opportunities rating.

The Median Base Salary for a data scientist is $116,840.  Other tech base salaries can be seen in the above graphic.

When Network World interviewed data scientists about their position, they noted the pleasure of discovery as a key benefit.  A common complaint amongst data scientists was the headache involved with data preparation.  “At times, munging [parsing] through data can get tedious,” said data scientist Jeff Baumes at Kitware. “The worst times are when I realize the quality, quantity, or other aspect of the data simply prevents me from gaining the level of insight that I hoped to gain from the data.”

The McKinsey Global Institute found there is a growing shortage of analytics talent in the United States.  By 2018, they projected a shortfall of 140,000 to 180,000 professionals with analytical expertise.  They also projected a deficit of 1.5 million analytics trained managers and analysts.

Data scientist talent acquisition and retention are a significant problem for organizations, particularly amongst firms looking to initially establish data science capabilities.  In an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, Ransbotham, Kiron and Kirk Prentice found that 55% of analytically challenged firms had a problem recruiting and retaining analytical talent while firms described as innovators had much less difficulty.  Only 29% of innovators reported difficulty recruiting with 24% reporting difficulty retaining.  Innovators also are much more confident that they have the appropriate skill levels in house.  While 74% of Innovators believe they have hired the appropriate analytics talent, only 17% of the analytically challenged felt the same.

One advantage of partnering with sales predictive analytics companies such as Lattice Engines or Leadspace is the ability to bypass hiring of in-house data scientists and instead work with their resources and tools.  While it is still important to understand the results and train staff in data interpretation, much of the complexity is removed.

Furthermore, the strategic advantage accruing to analytics capabilities is declining as more firms develop such capabilities.  In 2012, 67% of surveyed respondents believed analytics capabilities conveyed a strategic advantage.  By 2014, the percentage had dropped to 61%.  The authors posited two reasons for the decline: an increase in the number of firms investing in analytics and a difficulty in converting analytical insights into business action.  Half the respondents noted difficulty in translating insight to action.

“Technology is no longer the main barrier to creating business value from data: The bigger barrier is a shortage of appropriate skills,” said Ransbotham et al.  “Companies with appropriate analytical skills are far more likely to say that analytics is creating a competitive advantage in their organization than are other organizations.”