What Is Your Competitor Up To? Obvious and Little-known Research Techniques
Become a Customer—a Regular Secret Shopper
One way to find out if a company is doing badly is to order product on a regular basis. Is fulfillment fast? How good are the customer service reps when you call or e-mail? Are returns handled promptly, or is the experience aggravating? If everything is irritatingly s-l-o-w, chances are the guy is saving money on customer service, which could be an indication of trouble.
Once you’re a customer, you’ll start receiving promotions via mail, e-mail and phone. Save these. If you see the same promotion coming in over and over again, it’s obviously working and making money. In the immortal words of Dorothy Kerr, former circulation director of US News & World Report, “Steal smart.”
Surf the Internet
The Web is rife with information about your competitors. Use Google, Find Articles and LexisNexis. Download stories, press releases and articles and add them to your files.
Unhappy customers can let fly on the Internet. This past July 5, the Washington Post’s Kim Hart wrote a story titled, “Angry Customers Use Web to Shame Firms: Blogs, Videos Are Tools of Retribution.” Cited were two appalling stories that were all over the Internet like a cheap suit last week—the tale of the AOL member who wasn’t allowed to cancel service and the Comcast repair man who fell asleep on a customer’s couch.
Also check out [yourcompetitorsname]sucks.com or sux.com. You might discover what the other guy is doing wrong and how you can steal his customers by doing the opposite. Another site is www.epinions.com, which reproduces consumer comments—both positive and negative.
One high-energy direct marketer used the Internet to land new clients for his agency. First, he would hit the Web sites of competing agencies, all of which proudly listed their roster of clients. He would then visit the clients’ Web sites—for which the agency was presumably responsible. This was followed by a call to the company CEO with a low-key offer to come by and chat. It generally got him an appointment. (Many CEOs use Frank Watts’ rule to always see a salesperson once.) At the meeting, this agency CEO would start with the “Aw, shucks ...” approach. “Gee, I’m not sure I have anything to bring to the table, but here are my thoughts.”