Understanding Your Company’s Competitive Landscape

By Marc J. Schiller

“You’ve got to know the business.” We have all heard that rhetoric a thousand times. Every IT pro gets the fact that to be relevant, and to solve the real issues of the business, they need to understand the essence of the business with which they work. The problem, of course, is how to build that business knowledge and understanding. The truth is that while we all know that this is an essential element of IT professional success, most IT pros don’t know how to tackle this undertaking. That’s not surprising. It’s not like you were ever taught how to do it. Or how about this crazy idea… you were given a comprehensive orientation on your company and all of its functions so that you could do the best job possible serving the interests of your employer. Oh, I see you didn’t get one of those either.

Now that we agree that attaining a solid understanding of your business is hardly a “gimme,” let’s move out of the realm of generic advice.

I’d like to introduce you to a method for developing a particularly important dimension of business understanding: the competitive landscape profile. This business knowledge is extremely important to the success of your career and the success of IT at your company.

What’s a Competitive Landscape Profile?

In short, the competitive landscape profile is a clear and articulately written presentation of your company’s products and services and how they compare to those of your competition. This profile includes:

·         the main products and services of your company and those of your competitors

·         annual sales figures for each of your products or services and those of your main competitors

·         market share levels, if such information is available

·         and, most importantly, the advantages and disadvantages of your company’s products versus those of your competitors.

The basic facts and figures are critical for understanding the competitive landscape. They tell you where your company stands in the overall market, and you begin to understand how you compete in terms of basic factors like price, quality and service.

The advantages and disadvantages of your company’s products and services will help you identify and focus your efforts on building IT solutions that directly support your company’s competitive challenge.

At this point, I usually hear, “Great, Marc, but how do I figure all this out? Especially since you tell me you want real details, not vague generalities.” Fortunately, gathering this information involves three simple steps. 

Step 1: Collect Internal Resources

Start by gathering the internally developed material of your company and competitors from Websites, annual reports, product brochures, investor packages and so on.

Subscribe to the newsletters and social media feeds of your company (you’d be shocked how few people do this) and those of your leading competitors.

These sources provide basic facts, but they are most valuable because they clue you into the stories that each company wants its target market to hear.

Step 2: Investigate Third-Party Resources

Now you’re ready for more objective information. That means it’s time for some research, starting with the obvious comprehensive search engine expeditions followed by targeted third-party sources.

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