Product Managers Who Spy On The Competition

by drjim on April 7, 2014

Product managers need to know how to spy on the competition

Product managers need to know how to spy on the competition
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What do your customers think about your product? Do they like it better than your competition’s product? Did you do a good job when you created your product development definition? Would it be helpful to you to know more about your competition’s product? I’m willing to bet that the answer to this question is “yes”. Now the big questions is just exactly how can a product manager go about getting the competitive intelligence about a competitor that you need?

Know Your Competition

This seems like a silly step, right? Don’t we all just automatically know who our product’s competition is? Well, the answer is often no – we think that we do, but we really don’t. When was the last time that you sat down and really took a look at your market in order to fully understand who you are competing with? Get good at doing this and you’ll have something to add to your product manager resume.

All too often, your product is competing against other firms that you may not even be aware of. The best way to determine who your real competition is can be to talk with your customers. Find out who they were considering before they selected your product. This will provide you with a true list of who you are up against.

Sometimes the greatest competition that you are facing may be what is called an indirect competitive threat. This is the type of product or service that generally falls outside of what a product manager considers to be your competition. A great example of this would the case of the soft drink Pepsi which we all knows competes with Coke, but which it turns out also competes with water.

Know Your Product

Just as awkward as the question about who your competition is, it turns out that there is a question that is even more awkward. What makes your product so special? What are your product’s strengths?

It turns out that it’s going to do you no good to collect competitive intelligence about your competition if you don’t know what your product does well. What the information that you’ll be collecting is designed to do is to expose your competition’s weaknesses against your strengths. However, if you don’t know what you are good at, then you’re not going to be able to do this.

Ultimately this is all going to go back to the strategy that your company is pursuing for your product. Do you know what this is? You’re going to have to. One of the things that your competitive intelligence gathering efforts are going to have to reveal is your competition’s strategy. In order to understand how to compete with them, you’ll have to understand your own strategy.

It’s All About (Former) Employees

This is where things can get a bit dicey, but some of your best competitive information will probably come from your competitor’s former employees. This means that you need to establish a system to collect the information about their former employer that they are willing to share with you.

The first way to get information about your competition from former employees is to take a look at the resumes that your company is receiving for your open positions from people who have worked for other firms. Take a look at what projects they worked on, what their accomplishments were, and the dates that they did the work. This may reveal to you future products that have not yet been introduced.

Your next step in the competitive information collection process will be to participate in the interviews with people who have worked for your competition. Please be very careful to not cause them to violate any nondisclosure agreements. You’ll want to see if you can do some probing in order to learn things about the culture at your competitor and why this person decided to leave. This is all good information for you to have!

What All Of This Means For You

Our customers always have choices when they are looking for a way to solve a problem. We hope that they’ll choose our product, but there is always the possibility that they’ll decide to go with one of our competitor’s products. In order to prevent this from happening, it’s a product manager’s job to find out as much about his or her competition as possible. Even if this isn’t part of your product manager job description, it is something that you’ll have to get good at.

Knowing your competition starts with making sure that you know just exactly who your competition is. Next, you need to understand what all of your customer’s options are for solving their problem. Knowing what strengths your product has will help you to understand exactly who your completion is. Finally, some of the best competitive intelligence will come from your competition’s former employees.

If this was a perfect world, our products would have no competition. However, it’s not and they do. This means that part of your job as a product manager is to find out everything that you can about your competition in order to make sure that customers select your product over theirs. Take the time to do this correctly and you’ll be ahead of the game.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What percentage of a product manager’s time should be spent researching the competition

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So just exactly what does it take to successfully launch a product? In my product management consulting work, I’ve had a chance to work with a number of companies that had arrived at the product launch stage filled with nervous anticipation. They had already done a lot of work (and spend a lot of money) and now all they had to do was launch the thing and the money would come rolling in…

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sanjay May 7, 2014 at 7:15 am

I have a different opinion on it, I would say, don’t worry about the competitors but follow your customers. What your customers want is the simple feature you should have in your product, it really doesn’t matter if your competitors are working on sending someone to Mars.

Cheers
Sanjay

Reply

drjim May 9, 2014 at 6:59 am

Sanjay: I like your thinking. You are probably correct — time spent watching what your competition is doing is time that you’re not spending with your customers. However, your management will probably ask you what your competition is doing so you probably have to at least spend some time watching them…

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