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.

 

MarketLine Advantage Research Database

MarketLine, formerly known as DataMonitor, is expanding the content and functionality of its MarketLine Advantage research database.  The service is designed for management consultants, investment bankers, trade agencies, lawyers, and academic research.  While its company and industry content has long been licensed by the sales intelligence vendors, the additional datasets found in Advantage provide only limited incremental value to sales teams.

MarketLine is expanding profile coverage of both companies and industries, but not expanding the licensed dataset it makes available to sales intelligence vendors such as Factiva, Bureau van Dijk, LexisNexis, and Avention.  Industry coverage has roughly doubled to 6,000 country/industry pairs.  For company intelligence, they are trebling the number of company profiles to at least 100,000 firms; likewise, the number of company profiles with SWOTs is quadrupling to 12,000.

Company profiles are available in multiple formats and can be selected at the table or chart level.  Thus, users can perform a one-click export of a company or industry table to PowerPoint, Word, PDF or Excel files.  Unfortunately, company and industry news is maintained separately from company and industry profiles; thus, users cannot create a unified report containing editorial research plus news.  This lack of unification adds to the search and export work of researchers.

Marketline is one of the few vendors that provides global and regional industry research across a broad set of industries.  Most vendors focus on a subset of countries (e.g. emerging markets, United States) or industries (e.g. Consumer Products).  MarketLine publishes industry research at the country, regional, and global level allowing users to compare the same industry in different countries or many industries within a country.  This ability to compare across countries and industries – with standard terminology, methodology, industry definition, and economic assumptions – assists with market entry analysis, whether it is researching new sectors or researching new countries.  It also helps sector-focused sales reps adjust their messaging and targeting across markets.  Furthermore, by including Five Forces Analyses and the top company profiles for each country, it is possible to determine whether new companies should be added to your ABM target list as well as assess potential obstacles when entering a new market.

MarketLine Industry Research provides a half dozen Spider Charts (The Five Forces Summary with sub-category detail) along with short explanations of each sub-category.
MarketLine Industry Research provides a half dozen Spider Charts (The Five Forces Summary with sub-category detail) along with short explanations of each sub-category.

Because MarketLine research covers so many regional / industry pairs, the reports should not be considered detailed industry research.  Industry specialists generally write technically oriented reports on specific industry topics.  Instead, the focus is on market size, key segments, current trends, top competitors, and market growth projections.  MarketLine focuses on actionable information that can be understood by industry generalists and researchers operating across many industries.

MarketLine also offers a set of country profiles which assist with market entry decisions and help users develop a basic understanding of local dynamics and risks.  Country profiles utilize a PESTLE framework.

Each of the major profile categories contains a standard Competitive Intelligence / Strategy tool employed by B schools and analysts:

  • SWOT – Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat analysis looks at a company versus its competitors and the overall market.  Thus, opportunities might include emerging technologies or newly opened markets while threats cover exogenous variables such as government regulation, market substitutes, and competitor actions.
  • Five Forces – This industry tool was developed by Michael Porter and covers Buyer Power, Supplier Power, New Entrants, Threat of Substitutes, and Degree of Rivalry.  Within each of these elements, a set of sub-topics is covered.  The Five Forces analysis is discussed at the sub-section level and displayed as a spider web graph.
  • PESTLE — Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental analyses for 150 countries.

Other MarketLine Advantage datasets include:

  • Deal profiles spanning venture capital, private equity, mergers & acquisitions, partnerships, private placements, and joint ventures.  Deal profiles are generally available within one business day of the transaction announcement.  The deals database is screenable and goes back at least three years.
  • Country and city demographic datasets gathered from governmental resources (e.g. OECD, Eurostat, CDC) covering 750 macroeconomic and demographic variables.  Launched just a few months ago, the cities database covers approximately 2,000 global metropolises and can assist with initial planning intelligence for locating international offices and projecting which regions are poised for rapid growth.  Multiple visual formats are supported including bar, line, and pie charts.  The datasets are exportable at the field and location level, allowing users to build custom datasets.
  • Company News written by MarketLine’s analysts.  MarketLine reports on 11,000 companies with 60,000 articles per annum.  The current archive exceeds 300,000 articles.
  • Market Data Analytics for major consumer product categories including food, drink, and personal care products.
  • Company and investment prospecting.

The Home Page is a bit flat with no dynamic content.  Users are presented a single Google-style search bar along with database browsing options.  This format is in line with a reference service, but the layout indicates a lack of personalization for frequent researchers.  This is a missed opportunity.  Frequent users should be able to track specific companies, industries, and countries with homepage and email alerts.  These alerts could cover both company news and updates to key reports.

The MarketLine Advantage Homepage focuses on quick search but lacks dynamic content.
The MarketLine Advantage Homepage focuses on quick search but lacks dynamic content.

MarketLine Advantage customers benefit from access to MarketLine’s team of 178 researchers that conduct both primary and secondary research.  Users may pose questions to the researchers subject to a 24 hour SLA.  Other benefits of directly licensing the Advantage service is data currency (aggregators generally receive monthly report updates), broader content sets, custom screening tools, and the ability to quickly export report sections in multiple formats.

MarketLine Advantage is sold on a named user basis with annual subscriptions subject to volume pricing.  Users have unlimited access to reports, datasets, and downloading.  Pricing for MarketLine Advantage was not disclosed.  When MarketLine Industry reports are sold on the GlobalData store, they are priced at $350 for single user access to a report, $700 for a site license, and $1,050 for an enterprise license.

Advantage is available via web and mobile browsers but the service lacks CRM connectors and mobile apps.

First Research: Plain English Industry Primers

FR

I’ve long respected the First Research industry overviews assembled by Dun & Bradstreet.  While most industry research runs from complex to arcane, First Research reports serve as industry primers providing plain English overviews of an industry.  If you were to read the report for your own industry, you would probably find it useful only for new hire training.

And that is the beauty of the reports.  They are for novices lacking an understanding of an industry which makes them perfect for territory sales reps or relationship managers.  In fact, they were originally designed for relationship managers at banks before First Research realized that sales reps were equally in need of their research.  If your job requires you to interact with individuals across many industries, then First Research may be the perfect resource for “getting up to speed” on an industry.  They can also be valuable for job hunters looking for a basic set of questions to ask about an industry.

Content includes an Industry Overview containing the following sub-sections:

  • Competitive Landscape
  • Products & Operations
  • Technology
  • Sales & Marketing
  • Finance & Working Capital
  • Regulation
  • International Insights
  • Regional Highlights
  • Human Resources

along with these additional sections:

  • News and Social (FirstRain)
  • Quarterly Industry Update
  • Industry Forecast
  • Industry Growth Rating (High, medium or low)
  • Industry Indicators
  • Company Information
  • Critical Issues
  • Business Challenges
  • Business Trends
  • Industry Opportunities
  • Executive Insights and Questions
  • Financial Information
  • Call Prep Questions ƒ Websites & Acronyms

First Research contains several sections of Q&A content including Call Prep Questions and Executive Insights which are questions specific to C-level executives.  Sometimes in life, you need to “fake it until you make it” (i.e. develop expertise) and First Research is designed for this purpose.

Through an OEM deal with FirstRain, high-precision industry news is included in the service along with FirstRain topic tagging and visual tools.  FirstRain content includes Latest News, Top Business Tweets, Management Changes, Event Timeline, Industry Health Indicators, Analyst Commentary, and Recent Transactions.  FirstRain does not archive this content but provides six months of open web news links.

FR News
FirstRain industry news is OEM’d within First Research reports providing six months of news, business tweets, an event timeline, analyst commentary, health indicators, transactions, and management changes.

First Research covers over 500 US and 35 Canadian industries spanning 1,000 NAICS codes.  While the reports are US-centric, they have recently begun adding international sections to the reports.  As a bonus, the product includes regional reports for US states, the District of Colombia, and Canadian provinces.  Country briefs are also available.

Other tools include a set of sales and marketing templates providing examples of how to use First Research content in various scenarios and an industry prospector tool for assisting with market development planning.

First Research reports are available as a standalone offering or integrated into the Hoover’s database, D&B360 CRM connectors, and the D&B Direct API.  A subset of the content is also being delivered via Data.com.  For library patrons, Dun & Bradstreet has partnered with Mergent to deliver the reports as a standalone offering or integrated into some of their products such as Mergent Intellect.

First Research should be viewed as industry insights for non-experts.  You won’t find depth on key trends or issues, but the service is easily accessible and walks the user through industry basics.  You generally don’t find industry news or Q&A sections in other industry services.

If you are looking for more advanced cross-industry research, you can step up to

  • MarketLine (global and regional research)
  • Euromonitor (global and regional research)
  • IBISWorld (US, Australian, Chinese, and global research)
  • Freedonia (US)
  • BMI (emerging markets)
  • EMD (emerging markets).

These services provide more complex reports while retaining readability.  While you won’t find as much handholding (e.g. Q&A sections), you will find broader industry trend and forecast content along with profiles of the top three or four competitors in the market.  As many are globally focused, they may be better sources for international market entry decisions.

You can find a full review of First Research at FreePint (Note: I am a contributor to FreePint, but the review was written by a different author)