3 Easy Ways to Keep Tabs on Your Competitors

By Janine Popick

As much as it sucks to hear that a customer or potential customer chose to do business with someone else, competition is a good thing. It keeps you on your toes and motivates you to continue innovating, creating and pushing through new ideas.

Knowing what your competitors are doing is a great way not only to gain insight into their strengths, weaknesses and potential threats to your business, but also to help you uncover new opportunities. For example, if you find that a competitor isn’t doing much to target an industry vertical that you think has potential, then it might be a good time to capture that audience.

How do you know what your competitors are doing, planning to do and – maybe most importantly – not doing? Here are three simple ways to monitor your competition.

How to Monitor Your Competition

1. Set up Google Alerts

Years ago, I first set up a Google Alert to check up on what people were saying online about my marketing software company, VerticalResponse. Once or twice per day I received an email with a list of articles that mentioned my company and the corresponding URLs, and I was able to jump in and respond if needed. Then I started to wonder what people were saying about email marketing and also our competitors, so I included them in my free Google Alerts, too.

Google Alerts notifies you every time your competitor is mentioned online, including news articles, press releases they’ve sent out, blog posts, discussions, and/or videos. You can choose what to monitor – everything, or just news, or just blogs, etc. You can select how often you want to get the emailed alerts – as it happens, once a day or once a week. Best of all, it’s totally free.

2. Monitor your competitors on social media

There’s nothing wrong with “liking” your competitors on Facebook, connecting with them on LinkedIn and/or following them on Twitter. Many companies release special deals only on social media, or offer sneak peeks before they release something new into the wild.

If you don’t get their updates, you’ll be in the dark. You can also see how they get their fans and followers to interact with them, what types of content they’re sharing, and you may even get inspired. Or, if they tried something on social media that didn’t work so well, you’ll know what to avoid.

There are several social media management platforms out there that do monitoring. You type in the terms you want to search for and you’ll get all the posts and tweets within a certain timeframe that match your search. If you’re already using a social media management or monitoring tool, simply add your competitors’ profiles or keywords.

3. Subscribe to competitor email newsletters and offers

Chances are good that your competitors have an email newsletter sign-up form on their website and/or Facebook page. Why haven’t you signed up? You’ll get to know what types of information they’re communicating to customers and prospects.

A good way to receive a competitor’s non-newsletter emails – such as their signup, purchase confirmation, shipping or other transactional messages – is to sign up for a free trial, or to make a small purchase so that you’ll get classified in their CRM system as a new customer. (Many companies send new or existing customers different content than they do to potential customers.)

Be aware though, that some savvy companies “blacklist” email addresses coming from their competitors – so it might be a good time to dust off that old Gmail address.

Receiving emails from your competitors can help you see things from the perspective of a customer. It’s always interesting to consider a point of view or positioning that may be different or even similar to your own.

Knowing what your competitors are doing is essential to growing your business, but it shouldn’t be a daunting task. Carving out a few minutes per day is usually all you need to stay in the know. What do you do to keep an eye on your competition?

Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse, a provider of self-service email, social and event marketing solutions for small businesses. Connect with her on Twitter at @janinepopick.

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