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.

Owler Pro

Owler promises 60 second access to the platform with one-click Salesforce permissioning.
Owler promises 60 second access to the platform with one-click Salesforce permissioning.

Sales and competitive intelligence vendor Owler is readying to launch Owler Pro, its first end-user premium service.  Pro reads the open Leads, Accounts, and Opportunities in Salesforce and begins delivering automated alerts to sales reps.  Owler Pro supports single-click sign-on so no Salesforce admin support is required.  The service is currently in beta test and includes a redesign of their Instant Insights email alert design.

“In short, it’s an ad-free, streamlined way for Saleforce.com users to automatically sync their active opportunities with Owler, and auto-follow those companies on Owler. So, a sales person’s Daily Snapshot will always be relevant to the deals they are currently working on.”


Owler CEO Tim Harsch

The service is designed for sales reps, but Owler plans to support competitive intelligence analysts, marketing professionals, and senior level executives in the future.

Owler Pro, which is expected to launch in mid to late February, is priced at $12.99 per month or $119.88 annually.  During the beta, users receive one free month, but they are undecided on whether that offer will continue following general user rollout.

The premium service also alerts on a broader set of topics.  While the free version focuses on M&A activity, funding events, and exec changes, the Pro edition adds an additional dozen triggers:

  • Product Launches
  • Joint Ventures
  • Partnerships
  • Awards
  • New Offices
  • IPO Announcements (a precursor to the closing of the actual funding)
  • Record Earnings
  • Earnings Announcements
  • Restructuring
  • Key Employee Departures
  • Key Employee Hires (in addition to primary leadership which are included in the free version)
  • Layoffs

According Harsch, the goal is to “arm sales reps with sales triggers.”

Owler also recently rolled out a Lightning Data solution which performs a monthly match and append against Salesforce Accounts.  36 fields are supported including the top three competitors and social media links.  The service is priced at $25 per user per month for all users in the instance.

The Lightning Data solution includes a free self-assessment report which analyzes Owler’s match and append rate against Salesforce Accounts and includes segmentation data.

Owler has 2 ½ million active users, up from 1.1 million a year ago.  Nearly half of users are located in the Sales or Marketing department and forty percent are directors or above.  An additional 17% describe themselves as Analysts, Consultants, or Specialists.

Owler user base demographics
Owler user base demographics

Owler is also available through its API partners including CrunchBase, SalesLoft, SugarCRM, and Salesforce Lightning Data.

Owler collects data on over 11 million companies including four million full profiles.

CrunchBase Launches Marketplace Partner Ecosystem

SimilarWeb Web Traffic Analysis within Crunchbase Pro.
SimilarWeb Web Traffic Analysis within Crunchbase Pro.

Crunchbase unveiled their long-planned Crunchbase Marketplace partner ecosystem.  Crunchbase signaled plans for the ecosystem a year ago when it announced an $18 million funding round.  Partner datasets are available via an “app store” connected to their subscription Crunchbase Pro data service.

“We see this as the next step in building the master database for companies online. We don’t feel like a single company can go out and get all the information that there is to get, which is why we have decided to partner.”

  • Crunchbase CEO Jager McConnell

Crunchbase has signed 13 data partners: SimilarWeb, Apptopia, BuiltWith, Siftery, IPqwery, Bombora, Owler, Financial Content, TradingView, Enigma, Wayback Machine, Aberdeen, and Wikipedia.  The span of partners is fairly broad and includes technographics, intent data, web traffic, app installs, government filings, and stock quotes.

The following datasets are live:

  • Crunchbase Pro – Funding data available for $29 / user / month
  • SimilarWeb – Web traffic and engagement (free)
  • Siftery – Tech Stack data for $49 / user / month
  • BuiltWith – Tech Stack data for $49 / user / month
  • Apptopia – Mobile app analytics for $49 / user / month

“We’re super excited about these partnerships because they are bringing up a ton of new data that we’ve never seen before,” McConnell added. “We think this is the first time that someone has taken all this data and put it all into one place. Looking further out we think that all enterprise software will be built on large data sets, and we think that we can be the trusted source for all that company information on the internet.”

Crunchbase is looking to increase the number of registered and Pro users on its site, so only registered users will have access to the marketplace.  Last year, Crunchbase had 40 million unique users, many of whom were anonymous.

Current licensors of third-party datasets do not have free access to the content via the Marketplace.  However, Crunchbase is evaluating a voucher system for dual licensors.

Crunchbase said it is unsure whether the current $49 per month fee will be modified.  For example, they are open to building solution bundles by function which support multiple datasets.  However, such a model has yet to be explored.  They are also considering a freemium model with in-app purchases of additional data beyond a limited number of free records.

Crunchbase will continue to focus on its strength: – the collection of funding data.  “Logo, name, address, funding, founding and investor data: we’ll always own that node,” McConnell told TechCrunch. “This is the reason why most come to us today and we don’t want to jeopardize this.”

Crunchbase would like to build out to one hundred partners over the next year.

Owler Pro Coming Soon

Q1 2019 Update: This product never launched. A different product called Owler Pro is currently in beta test.


Owler is now promoting its first paid service, Owler Pro, which will be launching in a few months.  Owler Pro is priced at $9.99 / month but will be discounted to $4.99 / month for the first 1,000 users (lifetime guaranteed pricing).  The service is offering the following additional features:

  1. Go straight to article, bypassing the Event Page.
  2. Skip Owler recommended content such as competitors of your followed companies
  3. Follow groups of companies
  4. Customize the displayed instant insights (event triggers)
  5. Ad free

As I haven’t seen advertising on Owler, I’m assuming that the free version will become a sponsored platform.  Most of these features are fairly insignificant, but at $4.99 per month the pricing is reasonable to prevent advertising and avoid the Event Page click-through.

Subscriptions are available from the following landing page.

If you haven’t checked out Owler, the free service provides company profiles, M&A and Funding histories, competitor lists, event alerts, and user-based surveys.

Owler Pro Features

Unique Company Identifiers

Amazon Family Tree (Source: D&B Hoovers)
Amazon Family Tree (Source: D&B Hoovers)

Associating company records with a common identifier is critical for Account Based Marketing as well as other sales and marketing methodologies.  Lacking a common identifier makes it difficult to

  • De-duplicate company records
  • Associate subsidiaries and branches with headquarters
  • Perform both real-time and batch data enrichment of firmographic, technographic, and social links.
  • Associate company news and sales triggers to key accounts.
  • Tie together company records across multiple platforms.
  • Assess the risk (e.g. credit, supplier, reputational) associated with a business.

The importance of a “unique identifier” was discussed by Owler CEO Jim Fowler in the Harvard Business Review:

The best way to keep data clean is to use a globally known, unique identifier, or a “data backbone.” My company prefers to use URLs as identifiers. They’re free, globally recognizable, high-quality data points that enable you to efficiently gather information on a business’s industry, online activities, and functionality. For example, Cisco is a company that also goes by Cisco Systems, Inc. and Cisco Precision Tools. If sales containers required users to type in one unique URL, http://www.cisco.com/ for all those different branches, it’d be much more difficult to create duplicate accounts, which helps keep data clean. Perhaps more important, URLs facilitate communication between people, systems, and even departments. Whether it’s the customer relationship management platforms used by sales teams, enterprise resource planning software used by purchasing teams, or the account-based marketing technology employed by marketing teams, the business intelligence platform can recognize a unique URL and attach it to clean, usable data. Unique identifiers let you know you’re pulling from the sources and contacts you’ve intended to track.

I agree with 90% of what Fowler states, but disagree with his recommendation that URLs are the best unique identifier for his “data backbone”.  There are a number of reasons that URLs fall short:

  • URLs are not persistent.  If a company is acquired or renames itself, the old identifier (URL) is not retained.  This creates a potential disconnect between the old and new name.
  • URLs have a many-to-one mapping which treats most subsidiary and branch locations the same as the headquarters.  For some companies, mashing together all locations into a single record may be sufficient, but it is a highly flawed approach as it loses much of the nuance concerning companies that operate across multiple sectors and countries (e.g. General Electric).  It also makes it very difficult for sales reps to sell deeper into an organization which lacks linkage data.
  • Conversely, companies with multiple URLs are not tied together.  This could happen due to differing country identifiers (e.g. .UK, .FR), division names, brand names, and subsidiaries.  Each of these scenarios treats companies as a separate business.  Amazon has many distinct businesses including Amazon Web Services (aws.amazon.com), Zappos (www.zappos.com), Alexa Internet (www.alexa.com) Audible (www.audible.com), Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com), and soon Whole Foods (www.wholefoods.com).  URLs do not provide a consistent data backbone when subsidiaries, acquisitions, and branches have different domains.
  • When a division or facility is divested, there is no way to determine which locations have been spun off.
  • Franchises are treated as part of the parent company when they are separate legal entities.
  • Not all companies have websites.
  • URLs can be sold.  They can also be reused if a company goes out of business or abandons a URL.

Finally, business decisions related to logistics, credit, supplier risk, and financing need to understand the underlying structure of companies.  It is not just marketing and sales that are impacted by standardizing on a non-persistent, quasi-unique identifier.

I would therefore recommend looking at credit data companies as a better source of unique identifiers.  Companies such as Dun & Bradstreet, Experian, Equifax, and Infogroup all offer location level detail and linkage associated with unique identifiers that have been developed over multiple decades.  They offer sophisticated entity matching and enrichment tools such as Dun & Bradstreet’s Optimizer service. Furthermore, these firms support multiple functions across the organization helping assist with cross-platform entity linking and on-demand decisioning.

Outreach Sales Intelligence Tiles

Outreach Sales Tiles Account Overviews
Outreach Sales Tiles Account Overviews

Account Based Sales Development (ABSD) vendor Outreach, rolled out its latest capability, Sales Intelligence Tiles, which displays account intelligence from Owler, Twitter, and MapBox alongside account information from Salesforce and Outreach.

Three tile formats are supported

  • Engagement insights: a combination of insightful information including company news, local time and historical interactions with prospect/account to ensure the communication is effective
  • Prospect overview: everything from historical Outreach & Salesforce activity to custom fields
  • Account overview: displays account firmographics and prospect information

Users can customize the layouts to better meet their informational needs.  Tiles may be moved and resized.  Additional enhancements will roll out in the next few months including “partner integrations, new tiles, design updates, and new suggested layouts.”  Layouts may be shared with co-workers.  Other partners include DiscoverOrg, Datanyze, DocSend, and Sendgrid.

Outreach’s internal research found that reps saved five hours a week by leveraging tile insights.

Outreach recently began a beta program for their Chrome Extension which they call Window Mode. “This new experience is unlike any other chrome extension,” said Product Marketing Manager Rachel Siegel.  “It removes the extension from on top of your window and creates a separate window that snaps perfectly to the side of your browser. The experience is lightning fast and immediately responsive to what you’re doing in the moment.  Many of you likely switch through a number of different browser tabs as your job. Window Mode keeps up with your pace. You’ll find that it’s faster and immediately responsive to what you’re doing in the moment.”

Selling is hard – we know it’s more difficult than ever to connect with prospects and keep them engaged throughout the sales cycle.  Sales technology has failed to deliver for reps, largely because it focuses on logging data and reporting on pipeline rather than helping reps to execute more of the right selling activities. Ultimately sales reps spend hours laboring on menial tasks. This has to stop. We’re on a mission to empower sales teams to more efficiently and effectively engage with prospects so they can predictability achieve revenue goals.

  • Outreach CEO Manny Medina

Outreach received a $30 million Round C a few weeks ago and continues to invest in tools for sales reps that assist them across the customer lifecycle.  This vision goes beyond outbound communication unification and includes sales intelligence, recommendations, and workflow simplification.

“Outreach continues to tirelessly deliver the capabilities that solve business challenges,” blogged Siegel yesterday.  “No longer are we solely investing in making SDRs and hunters efficient, we’re turning our eyes deeper into the customer lifecycle.  At Outreach we see a future where every sales organization has a platform that helps their reps build a pipeline and closes that pipeline faster and more efficiently than ever before. The future is a platform that acts like a sales assistant, suggesting meeting times, entering data, creating action items, suggesting which personas to engage at what points in the deal cycle, and more.”

Outreach is unveiling its roadmap at their Unleash conference in Sonoma, CA this week.