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.
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)
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.
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.
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, 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 Insights, BuiltWith, DiscoverOrg, or RainKing. [DiscoverOrg, RainKing, and Datanyze have all been acquired by ZoomInfo]
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:
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, Demandbase Sales Cloud (FKA 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).
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.
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.
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.
Update: Avention was acquired by Dun & Bradstreet and Business Browser was renamed D&B Business Browser. The blog is no longer available online.
Avention recently published an excellent blog by Jay Webb, President of the J. David Group, concerning preparing for sales interviews. His firm specializes in placing sales reps at technology companies. Webb marveled at the frequent lack of preparation by job candidates who fail to understand the company, its industry, and the individuals conducting the interviews. They often make silly mistakes like saying they are looking to work for a smaller company when they are interviewing for positions at larger organizations.
Webb emphasized the value of preparing technology sales candidates for interviews and noted six areas of focus beginning with the product. He observed that candidates often fail to sign up for software trials. Not only are they not researching the products they are looking to sell, but they are failing to show interest to the sales and marketing departments at the company where they are interviewing. Of course, not all technology companies have software trials, but there are still webinars, white papers, and other tools for researching the product and demonstrating interest to the firm.
Other preparation steps include
Researching both the organizational structure of the company (who reports to whom) and corporate family tree structures (how big is the company? What other industries is it involved in? Does it have additional offices in other cities or countries?);
Reviewing corporate SWOTs (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).
Researching the firm’s competition
Understanding the firm’s industry
“In [staffing] sales we use tools such as Avention (OneSource for those who remember that name) to do account research. Turning that idea on its head, I am able to provide candidates with a report containing the relevant information they need, gain a little more control over the process, and save time so I can work more deals,” blogged Webb
“If I can deliver better prepared candidates, I stand a better chance of winning,” wrote Webb. “Additionally, if my candidate is that prepared, they draw from the higher end of the salary range, which means more commission for me. What’s more, when a candidate is that attractive, hiring managers move very quickly for fear of losing them to their competitors. More sales, higher value, and faster close. That’s pretty easy math.”
In short, every sales rep should view the job interview as if they are a strategic sales rep preparing for their top client. Why would any sales director hire you if you are unprepared for a critical meeting?
Of course, not every candidate has access to Avention products, but there are company resources available for job preparation through academic and public libraries. On college campuses, look for OneSource Business Browser, Bureau van Dijk Orbis, Capital IQ Academic, LexisNexis Academic, Factiva, or Mergent products.
At public libraries, you should check out ReferenceUSA, Mergent, or AtoZ Databases for company research.
I would also look at Owler and CrunchBase for free online research. Both provide company overviews, funding data, and news alerts. Of course, company websites, LinkedIn, and social media should also be reviewed.
For industry research, check out Plunkett Almanacs, First Research, IBIS World, MarketLine, Freedonia, Euromonitor, Mergent Intellect, or Business Browser’s industry module.