Understanding Your Company's Competitive Landscape
Creating a competitive landscape profile is extremely important to the success of your career and the success of IT at your company.
A whole industry of third-party business information research and corporate analysis exists. From major investment banks and brokerage house publications to specialized Websites like Hoovers.com, Yahoo Finance and finance.google.com, many excellent and free research facilities are available. (For example, Hoovers provides a company’s top three competitors in its free search results.) Even if your company is a small player in a large industry, you can learn a great deal by reading up on your supersized competitors.
Another excellent third-party resource is trade publications. They provide a lot of insider information and resources that you would be hard pressed to find on your own. For example, if you are in the pharmaceutical or medical device industry, Med Ad News regularly provides information on revenue, market share and product launches across the entire industry. All of this is incredibly valuable information for understanding the competitive landscape.
Be aware of the key publications for your industry. If you’re unsure what they are, take a walk by the executive offices and see what’s sitting on the coffee tables outside the senior execs’ offices, or do a Web search using the name of your industry and keywords like “magazine,” “newsletter,” “publications” and “news.”
Step 3: Verify and Validate
Once you’ve done your basic homework, you need to make sure you’ve got it right. There may be missing information or misinterpretations. You may have been led astray by competitors’ materials. It is time to verify and validate your information, which means you need to talk to the folks in marketing or sales.
A business colleague should be able to verify your information and findings. An added bonus is they might also point you to some information resources you may have been unaware of.
Some people find it hard to start a conversation with colleagues from other parts of the business. If you’re not sure how to get started, think about who you know in marketing or sales that seems approachable. You aren’t looking for a big sit-down meeting “to understand the business.” That will probably fall flat.
Instead, try a casual conversation at the proverbial water cooler. Or stop by a business colleague’s table at lunch and ask one (and only one) open-ended question, something like “Is it true that we are number three in the XYZ market? I came across this data and some other info about our company, and we are planning to use it in our yearly planning. I hope you might be able to quickly validate it for me.”
This technique always works. You either get an appointment with this person or are sent to another person, with their blessing, to get the answers. Either way, you win.
The competitive landscape is constantly shifting, so you can’t just do a “one and done” effort for the next three years. You have to keep your knowledge current and fresh.
Over time, as your knowledge broadens and deepens, you will become attuned to subtle changes in the business landscape as they are happening. You will be able to dialogue with the business in real time about the opportunities you see for IT to impact the competitive positioning of your company. And that will make you a tremendously valuable asset to your company.
About the Author
Marc J. Schiller has spent more than two decades teaching IT strategy and leadership to the world’s top companies around the globe. Through online courses, speaking engagements and corporate consulting, his company educates IT pros at all levels how to be more effective, influential and successful in their IT careers. Get access to free videos and a free excerpt from his book, The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders, at www.marcjschiller.com/resources.