For the entrepreneur looking to enter (and hopefully disrupt) a specific industry, there’s a lot to know and learn.
Perhaps most importantly, you need to quickly determine the needs of your target consumers, and figure out exactly what your competition is doing to meet them. This will enable you to emulate the strategies and tactics that have already proven to be effective, and allow you to identify – and capitalize on – gaps in service on the part of your competition.
Aside from the actual product or service you offer, you also want to ensure your sales process is optimized – both in terms of your industry’s standards and your target customers’ expectations. In this article, we’ll take a look at how you can analyze the quality of your competition’s sales process and, in doing so, ensure you meet the needs of your prospective customers at every step of their buyer’s journey.
How to Analyze and Reverse-Engineer Your Competition’s Sales Processes
While the soup-to-nuts sales process, depending on who you ask, involves anywhere from five to eight steps, for our purposes we’re going to break it down into three overarching stages:
- Pre-Purchase Initiatives
- Point-of-Sale Processes
- Post-Purchase Initiatives
For each of these stages, we’ll discuss the essential questions you’ll want to ask about your competitors, and explain some of the best ways to go about discovering the answers to these questions.
Let’s get started.
Analyzing Your Competition’s Pre-Purchase Processes
The initial stage of the sales process revolves around discovering new leads and doing whatever it takes to get them to become paying customers. The most effective ways of doing so, of course, vary widely depending on the industry your company operates in. That being said, let’s run through some of the main questions you’ll want to ask about your competition’s pre-purchase strategies.
You’ll first want to ask yourself: “Where are my competitors advertising?” Tools such as AdBeat and WhatRunsWhere can help you gain valuable insight into your competition’s advertising strategies and provide you with potential channels to begin advertising your own brand. Additionally, such tools can also help you determine how much money to invest in a specific advertising channel, so as to get the most bang for your buck from every ad campaign you run.
Along with this, you’ll also want to determine what keywords your competitors are targeting, both for PPC and SEO purposes. Tools like SEMrush and iSpionage can help you determine the value of a given keyword (both short- and long-tail) – information that can serve a variety of purposes. For one thing, you’ll gain a better understanding of the search terms your target audience uses when searching for products or services similar to your own. Additionally, you’ll be able to gauge how much money and/or effort you’ll need to expend in order to overtake the search engine ranking for a given term.
Another important piece of information to dig up is which online channels and platforms your competitors (and their customers) are active on. Despite the ubiquity of social media, not every type of consumer is active on every platform; you don’t want to waste time and money creating a company profile on platforms that your target consumers don’t use. Using tools like Open Social Buzz allows you to quickly see which social media platforms competing companies use to generate engagement among their customer base.
In addition to using tools to uncover this information, you can also do a bit of manual research into your competitors’ lead generating processes on your own. Check their website for the presence of a blog, newsletter offering, and other educational resources that aim to nurture leads through the sales funnel. Go a step further and check out the quality of this material, as well as the level of engagement (i.e., likes, shares, and comments) this content generates; this will help you gain a much clearer understanding of the type of content your target audience wants to see.
The quantitative and qualitative information you gather throughout this process will help you understand two main things:
- What, exactly, gets your target customer to “bite”
- What your competition is (and is not) doing to make this happen
With this information on hand, you’ll be in prime position to dive into your industry and begin growing a following almost immediately.
Analyzing Your Competition’s Sales and Delivery Processes
As you probably know, the logistical aspects of the sales process can be a determining factor in whether a prospect converts to a paying customer, or defects to a competing brand. With this in mind, you want to have a pretty good idea of what your competition’s sales and delivery processes look like. Some of the questions you want to answer are:
- What purchasing options do your competitors offer?
- How do your competitors’ prices compare with one another?
- How do your competitors’ deliver their products or services?
- What added costs are involved?
- What is the return policy of your competition?
Most of this information should be readily available on your competitors’ websites. To begin analyzing this information, you may want to organize your findings on a spreadsheet – in turn allowing you to easily compare each piece of data accordingly. This can help you gain an understanding of the “average” offering of companies within your industry.
However, as you’ll likely have gathered this information from your competitors’ websites, it may be a bit skewed in favor of the companies in question. To get a truer sense of how these processes play out in the real world, you’ll want to find out what your competition’s customers have to say about their experiences with these companies.
Essentially, there are two main ways to dig up this information: check out the company’s social media pages, or consult a third-party business review website, such as MyThreeCents. While either method is likely to turn up a wide spectrum of customer comments, complaints, and more, for our purposes you’ll want to focus specifically on those dealing with pricing, delivery, and return policies.
Of these two options, you stand to gain much more by focusing on platforms managed by your competitors, for a couple reasons. For one thing, this will allow you to gain insight into how these companies manage complaints and other issues (more on this in a bit). Secondly, as these reviews are posted via social media, they likely aren’t anonymous. This makes it possible for you to contact the reviewer directly to learn more about the issue they had with a competing company – and learn more about their needs as a consumer in the process.
As we alluded to earlier, your prospective customers will often end up doing business with the brand that provides them the most streamlined and comfortable experience throughout the purchasing process. By analyzing the good and the bad regarding your competition’s fulfillment processes, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to make your prospective customers more than happy to give you their hard-earned cash.
Analyzing Your Competition’s Post-Purchase Processes
“Success” for a company isn’t simply in making a sale; it’s in helping the customer who made a purchase achieve their desired goals. That said, you want to pay close attention to how your competition treats their customers after they’ve sold them their goods or services. Again, this is a spot in which you can gain a ton of ground by going the extra mile for your customers.
As we mentioned above, you’ll want to pay close attention to reviews and comments left by your competitors’ customers on their social media pages and similar platforms. For our current purposes, you’ll also want to see how your competitors respond to these comments, as well. This will give you a good idea of the quality of support your competition provides your target audience – and allow you to determine how you might be able to go a step further to help them.
But let’s also backtrack a bit, and focus on how your competitors offer support to customers even if they don’t specifically ask for help. You’ll likely be able to find information regarding customer support on your competitors’ websites, including customer service numbers and email addresses, chatbots, and more.
Again, look for gaps to fill. If your competitors only offer email and phone support, consider providing a live chat option (in addition to the other options). If they aren’t responsive on Twitter – but you know your target audience is active on the channel – make this a priority for your brand. Whatever you can do to improve your prospective customers’ potential experiences with your brand, do it.
One last thing you need to consider is how your competition goes about onboarding their new customers. Typically, this information won’t exactly be publicly available, though, so you’re going to have to go about digging it up a different way: becoming your competitor’s customer. Not only will this allow you to engage directly with your competitors’ products or services, but it will also give you access to the behind-the-scenes support they offer their paying customers, as well. (Of course, you want to stay laser-focused on looking for holes to fill within your own service while going through the onboarding process. And, if you notice any such gaps…well…keep it to yourself!)
Like we said in the intro, you don’t need to completely reinvent the wheel in order to disrupt your chosen industry; you simply need to provide value to your target customers in a way that your competitors don’t.
Rather than taking wild guesses as to how to “one-up” the competition, it’s much more beneficial to invest the necessary time, money, and energy into truly understanding how your competitors operate – and how their customers feel about the service they receive. With this knowledge in hand, you’ll be able to approach your business goals in a strategic manner – all but ensuring success for your company.
To explore the key building blocks you need for a Best-in-Class commerce infrastructure, check out this research brief by Aberdeen’s Omer Minkara.
Stewart Dunlop is the marketing & outreach manager at Fieldboom.