Best Practices

State of Ingenuity SourceLink: "Spy on Your Competition…Legally"

Published May 28, 2013

Small business owners typically do not have large budgets (or time) to conduct extensive competitive research. However, there are several easy, inexpensive, effective, and legal ways to “spy” on your competitors. Here are ten:

  1. If a competitor has a physical location, visit it in order to experience their product, service, and/or shopping experience from the viewpoint of your target customer.
  2. Visit competitors’ booths at a tradeshow. Collect their marketing materials and inquire about pricing. Attending tradeshows is also a great way to stay in tune to industry trends.
  3. Buy your competitor’s product or service. This will give you firsthand knowledge of the quality of the product or service and enable you to make an honest assessment of how your product or service stacks up.
  4. Call your competitor. Ask a salesperson questions to determine how your competitor positions and markets its product. Pay attention to the benefits and features they promote and how they communicate their brand image.
  5. Visit your competitors’ websites regularly. Competitor websites can help you identify new competitive products and services while monitoring their pricing and branding strategies.
  6. Sign up for newsletters and mail promotions to receive updates on marketing campaigns and pricing strategies.
  7. “Stalk” your competitors on social media. Watch how your competitors interact with their customers. Listen to what customers are saying in order to identify competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.
  8. Tools such as can show you how customers are finding your competitors online. Identify keywords that your target market is using, and use this information to improve your search engine optimization (SEO).
  9. Use Google Alerts to monitor competitive activities by setting up customized searches for your competitors and keywords specific to your business/industry.
  10. If you are in a technology or innovation-driven industry, search patent and copyright records to identify new products that competitors may be launching. If you are developing new products, you should be conducting patent searches anyway to identify potential infringement issues.

Effective competitive research can give you a better understanding of your competitors and your target customers. A greater understanding of your competitors can help you better position your business and potentially avoid mistakes that your competitors have already made. Your research should be an ongoing process in order to keep your business a step ahead of the competition.

Content created by Ryan Pingel, State of Ingenuity SourceLink.
State of Ingenuity SourceLink is a proud affiliate of US SourceLink, America's largest resource network for entrepreneurs.