7 Tips for Competitive Intelligence Benchmarking

You know measurement is important. It’s the best way to understand how well you’re succeeding in meeting your goals across departments—from marketing, to sales, to overall profits. But the analytics your various tools and products produce only provide a partial story of how you’re doing. They don’t supply the context you need to perform a thorough analysis of how your progress.

For that, you need some understanding of how your competitors are doing as well. Knowing how much traffic your website receives in a month tells you something. Knowing how that number compares to what other companies in your industry see makes that data much more useful and illustrative.

 

How to Create Competitive Intelligence Benchmarks

Competitive intelligence benchmarking is the process of learning as much as you can about your competitors’ results, in order to gain a more useful understanding of your own analytics. But creating competitive intelligence benchmarks isn’t straightforward.

While you can collect data about your own performance from the various tools you use, a good chunk of the analytics your competitors collect isn’t publicly available. You can’t just pull up their Google Analytics account to see their traffic numbers and website behavior—that’s only available to internal contacts at the company (as it should be, you wouldn’t want them accessing yours either.)

But while you will face limitations in what you can access, you may be surprised by how much competitive information is out there available to those who know where to look.

1. Clarify your goals.

Before you dive into the research phase, start with your primary goals. What are the main business objectives you want to reach? Are you aiming for big and fast growth, or still working to carve out an initial space in your industry?

Thinking about where you are now versus where you want to be will help you better select which competitors to include in your benchmarking. And documenting your top goals will clarify which metrics you should give the most attention to.

For best results, bring stakeholders from different departments into this conversation. You want the full view of the company’s current status and aspirations when considering what to work toward. By incorporating insights from employees that bring different perspectives, you’ll better craft a strategy for benchmarking that contains all the information you most need.

2. Determine what benchmarks to create.

A benefit of starting with your goals is that it makes this step much easier. Create a list of the main key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with the objectives you established, This is your starting point for determining what competitive benchmarks to seek out. You may not be able to find accurate competitive data for every KPI on your list, but you can likely find some information on industry norms.

3. Create a plan.

People are busy balancing a lot of tasks, if you want this one to get done, you need to make a clear plan for when and how that will happen. Break down the work of creating competitive benchmarks into steps, and determine who at your company to put in charge of each one. Create a clear timeline with deadlines assigned to each associated task—and make sure it’s practical. Talk to the people who are assigned the work to confirm what schedule makes sense for them.

Use this stage to figure out what processes you’ll use to search for and collect the competitive intelligence you gather. While Google searches and a spreadsheet can accomplish a fair amount here, most businesses will benefit from looking into competitive intelligence (CI) products that streamline the process of finding competitor data, and help you pull insights from it that are hard to accomplish from manual analysis alone. Investing in a CI product will also be a boon to the people tasked with doing the work. It will increase efficiency and speed things up immensely, making it easier for employees to fit the work of benchmarking in alongside their other responsibilities.

4. Identify the top competitors to include in your benchmarking.

If you opted for a CI product, many of them provide features to help with this part. But even without one, you can pretty easily identify some of the main other companies working in your industry. Consider product competitors first. Start with those that are close in size and market share to yours. But also consider the biggest players in the field, so you understand what it’s possible to accomplish in the industry; and the smaller, newer players, so you’re not overlooking companies that may grow in influence.

In addition to product competitors, you may want to identify your top content competitors. If you’re prioritizing search engine optimization, social media, and pay-per-click (PPC) in your marketing, then understanding which entities are covering the same topic areas as you is worthwhile, even if they don’t sell the same type of product. You may find that different companies or organizations excel in different content channels, so recognizing who your top competitors are for each can be valuable.

5. Find what public and third-party data you can.

This is the part where you may need to get a little creative, but you can turn to a few main sources here to collect data:

  • Your competitive analysis tool – if you invested in one, start here. Most CI products will automate the process of scouring the web to collect data about your competitors across the different channels they use (website, email, social media, and ads). You can save yourself a lot of work by using the information a good CI product delivers.
  • SEO research or tools – A lot of SEO data is public. You can see who’s ranking first for a search term by doing a search. Although, be aware that search results vary based on factors like geographic location. An SEO tool can automate the data collection process for this, and get data that’s more useful than the personalized search results you see on your own.
  • Social analysis -A lot of social media data is also public. You can see follower counts by simply looking up your competitor on each platform, and find engagement rates for individual updates they’ve shared as well. As with the other categories on this list, it’s possible to collect a lot of data manually, but it’s much faster with a tool that automates the process and presents key insights to you.
  • Google estimates -You can’t learn exactly how much traffic a competitor is earning from their PPC ads or search rankings, but you can get a good guess by looking at the estimates Google provides. Google’s research tools show how much traffic is common for particular keywords, as well as how click rates vary based on different ad locations. That can give you an idea of how much traffic they may be gaining from their organic and ad placements.
  • Third-party research – A lot of the competitor information that lives locked away in their various marketing products and analytics tools aren’t as inaccessible as they seem. You may not be able to find out exactly what click-through rates are for Acme Crop on a typical email, but you can likely find anonymized data that reveals what’s typical for your industry.Once you’ve identified specific KPIs you want to create competitive benchmarks for, do some Googling for the specific type of data you want. To give you an idea of what kind of information you can find, some benchmark research widely available includes:
    Email marketing benchmarks – broken down by industry and including data like open rates and click-through rates.
    Call to action (CTA) click-through rate data – an analysis of what’s normal in a click-through rate, also broken down by industry.
    Google Ads benchmark data – a report that looks at benchmarks for PPC data such as clicks and cost per ad, also broken down by industry.

Supplement the data you find in your research with the information you gather from reports like these. Ultimately, you’ll end up with a lot of useful competitive intelligence.

6. Perform a competitive analysis of each competitor.

Seek out the data you’ve identified in the last step for each competitor on your list. Figure out a good process for collecting the data into one place, so it’s easy to analyze. Your CI product may help with this, if it provides reports or an intuitive dashboard with data visualization.

Once you’ve collected data for a specific competitor, you can put it against your own to see how you compare to them specifically. This will help you understand who your closest competitors are, and which ones are aspirational.

7. Find averages.

A big goal of benchmarking is gaining an idea of what’s normal. Take the data you found across competitors and work out the averages for each specific benchmark you’ve tracked. This will help you more squarely determine where your results fall on the scale of what’s typical in your industry for each KPI.

But do keep in mind that averages flatten all the context you’ve collected. You may have some significant outliers in your industry. If one large company dominates and gets far higher results than everyone else, that’s worth considering when looking at the numbers. Your averages may be more useful if you leave them out of the calculations.

 

Use Benchmarks in Crafting Your Goals

All this work pays off in helping your team develop realistic goals for each year and quarter. You can likely put together both aspirational goals—the numbers you’d really like to hit—along with your realistic goals that fall more closely in line with what your research shows is typical for businesses like yours. Having that context ensures you don’t force your sales and marketing teams to try to meet impossible standards, and can make more accurate predictions for what to expect in months to come.

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