Knowing what your competitors are doing is an integral part of running a successful business. It helps with both product and market development and helps define that all important question about what is unique in your offering.
Few companies however dedicate enough resource to this mission and of those who do, even fewer do it really well. One cost-effective way of gathering market intelligence is by attending an industry conference or trade expo, where many of those who also have a stake in your market are most likely to be.
Some things you may want to know include (but are not limited to):
- Who is doing what and when, where, how and why?
- Any new technologies on offer?
- How are competitors marketing themselves?
- Who is going up and who is falling?
- Who is allying with whom?
Once you have researched and settled on a conference or expo that most aligns with your strategic objectives, here is how to go about intelligence gathering:
1. Before the show
Plan your visit – Who is exhibiting and why? What does this say about their current market position? Are they new entrants or small companies that have grown or looking to grow? Are any of the companies you are interested in running presentations, demos or workshops? What questions can you ask and what should you be looking out for?
2. During the show
Go with other information collectors so you can confer after the show. Avoid sitting alone but join groups that are already chatting and see what you can pick from their conversations during the show, at the social events and even back at the official hotel. Note that senior company managers offend attend on the first day so make sure you are there to observe dynamics and hear what they have to say. On the final day, you may find more junior staff manning the stands who my be willing to divulge more about the company (dependent of course on how much the know).
3. After the show
Write a report on what was learned including any recommendations for your company and pass it on to those who need it. Confer with the other attendees. Are your experiences paralleled by theirs, or are they different? If so, why? Combine the knowledge gained and ensure that it is used to build up your overall competitive knowledge, so that all who need the intelligence have access to it.
Also remember that other companies may be observing yours too, so don’t forget to brief your representatives on the limits of what they can reveal.
A final note on ethics
If it is unethical, including mis-representing yourself, don’t do it. If also in doubt, don’t do it.
In fact, being honest about who you are with open-ended questions can sometimes even lead to more information as sales people often love boasting about how much better they are doing than the competition.