5 unexpected insights you can learn from competitor research

You can’t see the road ahead if you’re too focused on the rearview mirror. When it comes to learning from competitor research, many businesses adopt a “keep your eyes on your own paper” mentality.

Yet, we all know we can’t exist (or thrive) in an echo chamber. There are many valuable lessons your competitors can teach you. It’s not about letting competition derail your focus or dictate your company direction. One-upmanship is a surefire recipe for disaster and it’s a far better strategy to focus on what you do best.

But if you aren’t popping your head up every so often to look around, you might miss out on valuable insights and lessons from the competition. Here are five surprising insights you can learn from competitor research.

1. How to better serve your customers

At the end of the day, success is always, ALWAYS about who can serve the customers’ needs the best. The first lesson comes from looking at your own customers. Why did they choose you above the competition? If you can’t pinpoint the reason organically, don’t be afraid to ask! One-question micro surveys are becoming more and more common. They don’t feel intrusive but give great insight into your customers’ mindset.

Look at the customer experience your competition is offering as well—both online and offline. How are their customer reviews? What are they doing to walk their customers through the sales pipeline, wow them, and keep them coming back for more? Don’t mimic your competition but learn from them and discover what about their customer experience is working (and what you could do better).

2. Your own unique strengths

If your competition is big, your small company offers personalized experience. If your competition is innovative and trendy, you’re classic and reliable. Look at your competition and discover what’s unique about your company. How do you differ from your peers and how can you turn those differences into strengths?

Check out customer reviews and feedback. Look at their hiring practices and team positions they’re working to fill. Create a SWOT analysis to assess your own Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Don’t one-up the competition or attempt to outdo them at what they do well. Focus on your unique strengths and bypass them instead. It’s always easier to forge a different path than attempting to outrun someone on the same trail.

3. Gaps in the market

Create a gap analysis of your company’s performance and where you would like to be. Then look at your competitors and the market and do the same. Where are the customers who aren’t being served by you OR your competitors? What customer needs aren’t being met? Can you target this segment?

How do you find out the market gaps? Listen to your competition and learn from competitor research. When you attend an industry event, visit their booth. Listen to their presentation. Talk to your shared suppliers. In which areas do you overlap and which areas leave a big hole? Start finding ways to fill that niche.

4. How to boost your web presence

Your competitors can show you what you need to do to boost your web presence. Look at their social media posts. Visit their website. Search for them regularly. Pay attention to the online activities they do well and again, draw ideas from the gaps in their web presence.

Competitor search rankings (SERP) and analytics on keyword use can give you a huge insight into your competition’s online persona. If you share a common target audience, look at what’s clicking (and getting clicks). Do your competitors regularly update their blog? Does their team share informative video tutorials on social media? Are the CEO’s insightful posts the hot-tip on LinkedIn? Learn what’s working for them and then do your own unique version.

5. What mistakes you can avoid

It’s easy to learn from what your competition is doing right, but there are plenty of valuable lessons to extract from competition when situations go wrong. Typically, when one industry member runs into trouble, it’s a signal for their peers to start putting their ducks in a row. Fast growing startups looked at Uber’s missteps last year, and quickly tightened up their best practices.

Keep an eye on the press and buzz for your entire industry and your competition. Set up a Google Alert for news about your company, and also set one Google Alert up for each of your peers so you’re the first to know. When you see a horror story, use it as a cautionary tale. Don’t simply think, “thank goodness it’s not us,” but ensure there’s no way it could become you in the future.

You can learn some very valuable lessons from looking at your competition. Keep your eyes on the horizon but take off your blinders so you can see the 360-degree view. Don’t seek to compete with your peers. Instead, learn from them so you become even stronger.

If you aren’t selling, do you need a secure site?

Need A Secure Site

 

You may have heard about TLS or “Transport Layer Security” (also commonly referred to as SSL), a security protocol that ensures communications between your website and server are encrypted and can’t be intercepted. With big companies reporting data breaches seemingly daily (everyone from Facebook to Target to Verizon at this point), it’s no wonder your customers are increasingly concerned their sensitive data is secure.

But if you’re not really selling directly through your website, do you need to go HTTPS? The short answer is YES. Here’s why…

Why you need a secure site

It’s no secret Google has made security a top priority over the past several years. Part of this process includes a focus on making sure websites accessed through Google (so, pretty much all websites) are secure. Thus, in 2014, Google introduced an initiative called “HTTPS Everywhere.”

While this HTTPS protocol isn’t mandatory (yet), not going HTTPS will increasingly affect your customers’ ability to gain access to and interact with your website.

If your site doesn’t have a TSL/SSL certificate installed, your customers may receive a warning, letting them know your site isn’t secure. This will come in the form of a notice (a red triangle with an exclamation point) in the URL bar as they search, if they use the popular Chrome browser. Since Chrome users account for 53.9% of the browser market worldwide with 2 billion installs, chances are high your customers are using it as their primary window to the web. While they can still access your site, the warning is certainly off-putting, causing your prospects to navigate away from your site before you’ve even had a chance to impress them.

The decision to add TLS to your site is one to undertake with care. While it’s not a major site overhaul, it IS a process that requires IT expertise and careful implementation, especially when handling sensitive information.

Does every business need a secure site?

If you sell products and take credit card information on your site, then you absolutely need to move to HTTPS ASAP. You may not need it for all pages on your site, however. You could simply opt to install a security certificate for your storefront and checkout. If you use a third-party payment processor (like PayPal, Square or Cash App) you may not require TLS as urgently, since you aren’t directly accessing customer’s payment information, but it should still be a priority.

Other times you need a secure site? If your website requires membership access. For example, if customers subscribe or log in to their accounts with a username and password. You also need to keep customer data safe if they’re including any sort of personal information on your site. This might include photos, reviews, reservations, endorsements, their business name, GPS location…or any other personal data you might be storing on your site.

The only time an SSL/TLS is optional is if your website is a straightforward, information-only site. Do customers simply visit your site to read your blog? Do they only access your site to find information about your services and hours? In this case, the security protocol is optional for the time being. However, due to the increasing chance of your readership encountering a browser or security software warning and the fact that HTTPS protocol will soon be required by Google and other entities, we still recommended moving to HTTPS.

The positives of using a security certificate on your website include:

  • Protecting customers’ sensitive data
  • Reassuring customers that your site is safe (no warning on Chrome or elsewhere)
  • Your business appears up-to-date and tech-savvy

How painful is the switch to HTTPS?

In most cases, making the switch to HTTPS and installing the security certificate is relatively painless. There are steps your webmaster should take to properly implement HTTPS, including setting up proper redirects (301s) and canonicals, ensuring all of your internal links transition, protecting social sharing data (if needed), and more.

These aren’t challenging problems for an experienced web developer but there are enough variables that implementation should be handled by a trained expert to save you headaches and heartaches down the road.

To make the switch, you’re looking at a small yearly cost to purchase the certificate (typically under $100, depending on the size of your business site). Plus the cost for an experienced webmaster to spend a few hours setting up and ensuing the site transition was successful. Be aware there can be issues that could arise during the switch, but for the most part, it’s a relatively easy project for a trained expert.

At the end of the day, updating your site to an HTTPS probably won’t make a huge difference in your search traffic or customer response—right now. Your biggest draw, as always, comes from great, relevant, customer-centric, regularly updated content.

However, providing customers with the peace of mind that comes from a secure, certified site is worth the effort. Beginning June 2018, Google will mark all HTTP sites as “not secure” with the release of Chrome 68. If you’re looking for motivation to transition your site, now’s the time. Keep your customers data secure and the internet safer for all!

Speed up your sales cycle

Speed Up 1200x628

 

If you align your sales and marketing teams, they become an unstoppable force. Marketing influences how people think and feel, building and nurturing relationships—and relationships drive sales. Period. Your sales team spends 80% of their time with the 20% of the customers who are ready to listen. Your marketing team, on the other hand, spends their time building and nurturing that other 80% of your customer base—getting them ready to open up.

If sales are the finish line, marketing is the marathon. Many forget marketing is a long-game strategy. In fact, only 15% of businesses see their marketing teams as primary revenue drivers and yet, without your marketing team, you’re losing the opportunity to influence and grow potential customers into loyal fans and advocates of your brand. It’s all about building long-term relationships.

Smart business owners understand it’s vital to align marketing and sales strategies so both teams understand their objectives and keep each other apprised on initiatives. Both teams should work together to connect with and benefit the customer. Here’s how…

Step 1: Build a Unified Team Culture

Sales and marketing can’t exist as two separate or misaligned entities. While for many small businesses they’re interconnected pieces of the same department, sales and marketing might still often feel like two separate teams playing different games.

It’s important to align marketing and sales teams so they’re working together to speed up the sales cycle. This starts from the beginning. From the moment you onboard a new team member, they should be immersed in your company culture. Take time in your hiring process to discover team members who aren’t only right for the task at hand, but the right fit for the company. Seek team players who are passionate about seeing things from the customer’s perspective.

Encourage everyone to have a good time and get to know each other. Don’t underestimate the importance of office get-togethers and activities. Your sales team needs the valuable information only the marketing team can provide. Your marketing team needs to understand the goals of the sales team, so they’re driving toward the right outcome. Sales teams share customer pain points with marketing, the marketing team address those pain points to drive sales.

Help your team build solid connections. Like those motivational posters say: it’s all about teamwork.

Step 2: Solidify Your Marketing-to-Sales Information Pipeline

Formalize and solidify your marketing-to-sales handoff process. Only 24% of companies formalize their marketing-sales handoffs, but companies who establish clear, shared responsibilities between marketing and sales see strong improvements in their inbound ROI.

This sales-marketing misalignment almost always comes from a lack of communication. Nearly half of sales professionals name “communication breakdown” as a huge problem between sales and marketing teams. Provide plenty of opportunities for teams to share and exchange info—conducting a monthly standing meeting is a great way for teams to keep each other in the loop.

Remember sales is all about closing the deal and getting to the finish line. Marketing is the marathon: walking through customer strategy in their shoes—cozying up and getting to know them well; delving into the mind of your customer. Your marketing team understands the demographics of your customer base: who they are and what they need. They understand how to influence the way they think, and how to nurture the relationship (thus, speeding up the sales cycle). Can you think of anything more vital for your sales team to know?

Step 3: Create Opportunities to Listen & Work Together

In one survey of over 1,000 U.S. sales and marketing specialists, two-thirds of salespeople believed marketers were wasting their time. With awareness building, promotion and branding activities, of course it’s important to keep an eye on your bottom line. But marketing tactics aren’t just in place to give everyone “warm feel-good fuzzies.” Sales-team buy-in comes when they realize the value of marketing. Customers who aren’t ready for cold calls, may still listen to marketing. Marketing is all about building long-term customer relationships—opening the customer up to listen to sales. This value should be clear to your sales team.

Bring your sales and marketing teams together on every project, right from the get-go to foster strong communication. Marketing can help sales build their customer relationships. Your sales team has valuable insights from their customer interactions on the front lines. Coordinate your campaigns with your sales team and ensure they’re aware of every promotion and special offer so they can sweeten the pot. Your marketing team should help your sales team look GOOD to the customer. Give them what they need to know.

At the end of the day, when you align marketing and sales, they’re both about building relationships to speed up your sales cycle. Both teams support and work together with the customer in mind to ensure you’re always headed toward the right target. It’s a relationship of reciprocity. Keep your teams aligned and cohesive for great returns.

Great Content: The cure for the engineer’s marketing allergy

Content Allergy

How to speak that engineer marketing language

The first rule of marketing is know your audience. Find out what they want. Connect with them and show them how you will solve their problem like no one else. Reach your audience on a personal level. Get in their head.

Yet, for right-brained marketing creatives, getting inside the head of analytical engineers is like getting in the head of a calculator: challenging to impossible. To market to engineers, you must think like an engineer and speak their language. This leaves some marketers at a loss, running with fluffy, feel-good messages that ultimately fall flat or come off as less-than-credible.

When selling your technical product, your customer’s engineering team is comprised of critical decision influencers if not THE prime decision maker. No matter who ultimately ends up pulling the trigger, you need the engineers to buy-in if you want to grow your sales. Engineers play a vital role in the sales process—you’ve got to reach, connect and influence them to close the deal.

So, how the heck do you speak to engineers on their level? What makes an engineer tick?

Inside the head of an engineer

Engineers really are a different breed. The usual stereotype of a stubborn, analytical introvert probably comes to mind. While this picture may hold a grain of truth in certain cases, it’s important to let go of stereotypes and understand what really appeals to the mind (and heart) of an engineer.

You see, engineers undergo an extremely rigorous academic curriculum and their jobs demand they pay strong attention to detail. The adage “measure twice, cut once” refers to this trait. Engineers are even more valuable to their organizations for how they think, just as much as the skills they bring to the table.

But despite this specific way of detailed thinking, most engineers are extremely humble and even insecure about what they don’t know. Most are also self-aware enough to realize how much they don’t know. Engineers primarily rely on their own perspectives to make decisions, but they also know there is likely someone outside their immediate area of expertise (read: knowledgeable salesperson) who will further educate them about a product. That’s where YOU come in.

Appealing to engineers is key to marketing in the technical world

It’s the rigorous attention to detail and calculated decision-making that makes engineers so valuable during their company’s purchasing process. While typically not the final decision maker, 69% of engineers provide input into the buying decision, making a huge impact when it comes to closing a sale.

Clearly, winning this group of influencers for a technical product purchase is critical. But how do you market to engineers?

Being measured decision makers means engineers are naturally skeptical. They’re taught to question every message they hear and compare it with their own experience and knowledge. This careful way of thinking leads to innovation and progress—where engineers really excel!

Because of their skepticism, traditional marketing and advertising are unlikely to work with this consumer group. They rely on their acquired method of thinking, research and judgment to filter out irrelevant preliminary options before calling in the expert. Engineers don’t commit to buy until they’re completely comfortable with their understanding of a product. To appeal to technical experts, marketing itself must adapt and offer what the engineer craves the most: information-packed, relevant content.

The 2017 Smart Marketing for Engineers Research Report sheds light on engineers’ methods of learning about a product. Over 90% of engineers said they’re more likely to partner with a vendor who produces new and current content. Why? Because engineers love to be informed.

They want to learn before they commit to the purchase.

This means engineers do their research. They spend time reading up on your product, knowing the specs and compatibility with current equipment and understanding exactly how it works, often BEFORE they’re in your purview. If an engineer contacts you? Well, you know he or she has already done their homework.

Where do engineers go to research before they buy? The top 5 sources they turn to are:

Content Source % Surveyed Engineers’ Usage
Search Engines 43%
Supplier/vendor websites 37%
Online technical and trade publications 29%
Trade Shows 28%
Printed technical and trade publications 27%

From the table above, it’s clear that engineers prefer easy-to-access, powerful, informative technical information. Furthermore, 3 of the top 5 content sources are digital, signaling that engineers value convenience and expedience in accessing information.

After consuming enough content to provide sufficient confidence in the final few options, an engineer is happy to engage with a product expert. Though confident in their ability to sift the product offerings down, they seek affirmation to ensure the recommendation or purchase is the best choice. If they receive this validation, the salesperson will gain the engineer’s unwavering brand loyalty. Backed by individual research and external validation, engineers see no sensible need to conduct the exhaustive research effort again. When they’re ready to buy, they don’t hesitate.

When engineers are presented with direct, succinct and logical information, they’re ready to buy and the confidence they need to converge on a buying decision increases dramatically.

Valuable Content Chart

Engineers are willing to spend time reading mid- to long-form content, like case studies, e-books, books and whitepapers. How-to videos are also a great way to appeal to engineers, especially for those engineers between 25 and 35 years old.

Driven by logic, engineers use the power of information to educate themselves about a buying decision. Due to their pragmatic method of thinking, the input provided by engineers is sought out and highly valued by final decision maker. Developing marketing strategies to target this unique influential group is critical to success. If you want to sell a technical product, you should be marketing to engineers.

Engineers want and expect informative content. The data shows investing in well-researched, carefully crafted, long-form content has a high likelihood of return when targeted at engineers. Instead of traditional marketing methods with flash, humor and emotional appeals, engineers need a more technical marketing meal.

Engineers also tend to stick with solutions that work. Rather than reinventing the wheel, they’re busy working bigger and better inventions. For you, this means that when you’ve won over an engineer, you’ve got a customer who will stick with you for the long haul. Business owners are smart to reach out to this technical audience to win the race for their initial and repeated brand loyalty.

So, the real question is:

How much informative and educational content is your company providing to appeal to your engineering targets? Time to get started creating better content for engineers. First step, develop your content marketing strategy. Let’s chat

Motivational Monday: Outsmart Your Competition

Analyze, Learn, Grow

“Successful people never worry about what other people are doing. Instead, they analyze, learn and grow.” —Cultivate Communications

When you were in elementary school, did you ever try to look at your neighbor’s paper? Were you ever (way too) concerned about what your peers were doing, instead of focusing on your own work?

Unfortunately, some of us never got over the need to constantly compare ourselves to others. But you’re all grown up now, so you have a choice: you can constantly worry about the competition and how they’re doing, or you can learn from your competition, then focus on the road before you and successfully navigate from your own lane. It’s not easy (especially when your competition wins an award or shows up in a great news story).

Yes, know your industry and understand what’s happening around you. But instead of copying or constantly comparing, peek over and learn from your competitor’s mistakes. Constantly comparing ourselves to those around us won’t help us be innovative or the best. However, awareness, knowledge, and analysis of your competition helps level the playing field.

When you’re feeling hyper-focused on dissecting your competition, it might be time to take a healthy step back…

First, focus on your customers. How do you help your customers solve problems? What are you bringing to your customers that no one else can deliver? How do your customers feel about your products and services? What is your brand story and why does it resonate with your prospects? What values do your customers associate with your business?

Next, focus on your business. Your business is unique! Just as each person is unique, there’s literally no other business or organization exactly like you. (Cool, hey?) Understand what makes you special and play off your strengths. Keep an eye on your analytics; keep your project plan strong and your goals ambitious. Present your story to your customers with more authority than the competition and stop worrying about what everyone else is doing, already!

Learn about your competitor and analyze their mistakes to keep your business on the forefront of innovation in your industry. Don’t worry when you think they’re outperforming you. Instead, arm yourself with knowledge, focus on your customers and your business, and power through with smarts, strength and determination.

To discover new ways to celebrate your unique business while outshining the competition, follow Cultivate on LinkedIn or subscribe below to receive Motivational Monday updates in your inbox each week.

 

Get Motivated Every Monday!

Marketing creativity is the ability to tap into our mental pool of resources — knowledge, information, insight, stats, examples — and combine them in unique ways. The larger the library of creative building blocks, the more visionary your ideas will grow to be.

Motivate your mind. Subscribe now to get full Motivational Mondays posts in your inbox every Monday morning:

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

divider