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.

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.

Using Sales Intelligence Services to Prepare for Sales Interviews

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

  1. 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?);
  2. Reviewing corporate SWOTs (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).
  3. Researching the firm’s competition
  4. 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

S-2_BusinessBrowser_CompanyProfile
Avention OneSource Business Browser provides a broad set of company and industry intelligence including family trees, executive profiles,  competitors, financials and filings, company news, SWOTs, analyst reports, earnings call transcripts, and industry research.

“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.

Happy Job Hunting.