To gain a competitive edge and create sustainable revenue, businesses should conduct a thorough competitive analysis. This involves identifying competitors by product line or service and market segment, assessing their market share, strengths and weaknesses, and any barriers to entry. It is also important to consider Porter's Five Forces, including the level of competition, threat of new competitors or services, and impact of suppliers and customers on price. If you’re thinking about starting a new business or want to improve your existing one, then you need to understand how to conduct a competitive analysis. Evaluating your competition is a great way to find opportunities for your business to differentiate itself. So, how do you evaluate your competition? What Is A Competitive Analysis? A competitive analysis is a great place to start when differentiating your small business from competitors. This analysis aims to measure and evaluate your competition based on categories like product or service offerings, pricing, market share, marketing, advertising, company culture, customer response, and other relevant factors. For instance, if you were opening a pizzeria in town, you would look at what other restaurants selling pizza are doing. How much are they charging? How many offer Chicago deep dish, New York-style, or gluten-free options? What’s the customer feedback online, positive and negative? Through your analysis, you may discover that no local restaurants offer vegetarian pizzas, but feedback online suggests there is demand for it. Using this insight, you might decide to add vegetarian pizza to your menu. Measuring your competition will provide more insight into their strengths and weaknesses as well as the consumer market, which will allow you to identify opportunities to develop differentiation strategies. How To Conduct A Competitive Analysis Much like a professional sports team watching tape and preparing for an upcoming game, your small business can—and should—analyze competitors and develop strategies based on that information. Below are eight easy steps to help you get started with conducting a competitive analysis. 1. Identify Your Competition Before you can analyze competitors, you need to know who they are. Build a list of your competition and categorize them as: Direct competitors - Direct competitors are businesses offering the same goods or services as you are. If you’re starting a laundromat, for example, it would be the other self-service laundry businesses in your area. Indirect competitors - Indirect competitors are companies that offer different products or services, but target the same customer need. For instance, if you own an Italian restaurant, a Peruvian restaurant would be considered an indirect competitor. They don’t offer Italian food, but they are restaurants targeting customers looking to dine out, which could potentially impact the success of your business. CompetitorTypeDistance (Miles)Pete's PizzaDirect Competitor0.5Papa John'sDirect Competitor1Pizza HutDirect Competitor2.3Jersey Mike's SubsIndirect Competitor0.1McDonald'sIndirect Competitor0.3Buffalo Wild WingsIndirect Competitor0.45Slice of Heaven Pizzeria (Competitive Analysis) 2. Determine Products and Services That Your Competition Offers To conduct a comprehensive competitor analysis, choose five to 10 competitors with similar product or service offerings and business models. Select a mix of direct and indirect competitors to understand how new markets may affect your company. Including both startup and seasoned competitors will also diversify your analysis. Conduct a Google or Amazon search for your product or service, and pay special attention to those who rank in the top results of your search—those companies are likely your competitors. For startups or niche markets, it may be necessary to dig a little deeper to identify direct competitors. 3. Look at Your Competitors’ Pricing and Perks To conduct a thorough product analysis, compare your products’ features to your competitors'. This comparison should break down each feature, including: price, service offered, age of audience served, number of features, style and design, ease of use, type and number of warranties, customer support offered, and product quality. To streamline the analysis, consider listing only the most important features, such as cost, product benefits, and ease of use. By understanding your competitors' strengths and weaknesses in each feature, you’re better equipped to develop a strategy to differentiate your product and create a competitive advantage. 4. Research Your Competitors’ Sales Tactics To conduct a comprehensive competitor analysis, businesses should consider various aspects, such as: pricing, distribution and delivery strategies, market share, new products or services, highest-spending customers, after-sales support quality, and sales and marketing channels used. In addition, you should gather information about your competition’s sales process, channels, locations, expansion plans, partner programs, and revenues. This will help you understand how competitive their sales process is and how to prepare your sales reps for the final buy stage. For public companies, annual reports can provide some of this information, but you may need to do some sleuthing for private businesses. Additionally, search through your CRM (customer relationship management) to find out what made customers choose your product or service over others and implement a system to record this information in the future. By asking open-ended questions, you can gain honest feedback about what customers find appealing about your brand and what might be turning them away. 5. Determine Key Metrics and Compare The next step involves defining what metrics you find important to compare your competition against. The information you find important will often depend on the industry within which you operate, but it should aim to answer critical questions that will help you differentiate your business. For example: Market share - Using any available information and your best estimate, what percent of the market do you and your competition hold? Offerings within categories - You can get more granular within each category and list out all the available services or products they offer. Home goods businesses often offer candles, but what are the available scents? Accessibility options - What methods do they make available for receiving the goods or services? This might include in-store only for brick-and-mortar businesses, at-home delivery options for ecommerce competitors, virtual or in-person options for service-based businesses, or a combination of options. Delivery fees - If they deliver the goods to the customer, what do they charge? Delivery timelines - Do they specify how long it takes to receive the products or complete the service? Can you track down information from reviews or past customers? CompetitorTypeDistance (Miles)Average Price (Individual)Average Price (Family)Pizza (Y/N)# of Pizza OptionsDelivery? (Y/N)Average Ticket Time (Mins)Pete's PizzaDirect Competitor0.5$9.99$24.99Y7N45Papa John'sDirect Competitor1$7.99$19.99Y15Y15Pizza HutDirect Competitor2.3$7.99$19.99Y15Y20Jersey Mike's SubsIndirect Competitor0.1$7.50$21.99N0N10McDonald'sIndirect Competitor0.3$5.99$14.99N0N5Buffalo Wild WingsIndirect Competitor0.45$11.99$29.99N0N30Slice of Heaven Pizzeria (Competitive Analysis) You now need to collect information from your competitors with the key metrics in mind. Some of the questions will be easier to answer than others (i.e., what goods or services do they offer?), but you should strive to find the answers to all the metrics you labeled as important. It’s also worth including other details that you find through this discovery process that you didn’t identify as important originally. For example, are your competitors minority-owned businesses? If you’re a woman or person of color (POC), this could be a differentiator that you may not have considered. When you’re measuring your competition, consider using Excel or Google Sheets to store this data into a spreadsheet so you can compare and analyze the information more clearly in future steps. You will also want to revert back to this data in future evaluations, so making it accessible and editable is important. 6. Measure Your Own Business To this point, you’ve identified your competitors, selected the important metrics, and measured your competition. Now, you need to perform the same evaluation of your own business. Because you have unfettered access to your own business, you should be able to answer all the questions accurately. It’s important to be honest and unbiased in this stage, even if you don’t love the findings. Distance (Miles)Average Price (Individual)Average Price (Family)# of Pizza OptionsDelivery? (Y) %Average Ticket Time (Mins)Average Delivery Time (Mins)Slice of Heaven Pizzeria-$7.50$18.9510N30N/ADirect Competitors1.27$8.66$21.661266%2738Indirect Competitors0.28$8.49$22.3200%150Average Competitor0.775$8.58$21.99633.33%2138 7. Analyze Your Competition’s Marketing Strategy To analyze your competitors' marketing efforts, dig deeper using a product features matrix. Areas to analyze include social media, website copy, paid ads, press releases, and product copy. To gain a deeper understanding of their marketing strategies, consider the story they're trying to tell, the value they bring to their customers, their company mission, and brand voice. You can also identify your competitors' target demographic by referencing their customer base and testimonials, which can help you build your own customer personas and better understand their marketing tactics. By analyzing your competitors' marketing efforts, you can identify gaps in the market and develop a strategy that makes your brand unique. 8. Clean and Organize the Data Data alone can be messy and hard to glean information from, so take time to clean the data you’ve collected before you try to interpret it. Make sure you use the same format, remove missing fields, and consolidate redundancies. For example, if you couldn’t find a delivery timeline for one of your competitors, it may have been input as 0, which could also mean sameday. This error could drive down the average and misrepresent that competitor. CompetitorTypeAverage Delivery Time (Mins)Pete's PizzaDirect Competitor0Papa John'sDirect Competitor30Pizza HutDirect Competitor45Jersey Mike's SubsIndirect Competitor0McDonald'sIndirect Competitor0Buffalo Wild WingsIndirect Competitor0Slice of Heaven Pizzeria (Competitive Analysis) Average Delivery Time (Mins)Slice of Heaven PizzeriaN/ADirect Competitors25Indirect Competitors0Average Competitor13 If you replace the 0 with N/A, the average will be based on the competitors that actually offer delivery. Average Delivery Time (Mins)Slice of Heaven PizzeriaN/ADirect Competitors25Indirect Competitors0Average Competitor13 You may also want to create separate fields to make filtering and comparing your findings easier. In a previous example, we mentioned the variety of candles available at most home goods stores. Instead of comparing each literal fragrance type, you could create a new field that counts how many variations of candles are available. This new numbered field is easier data to work with. Your analysis is only as good as the data used, so take time to carefully validate and clean the information before you begin analyzing it. With the data collected and cleaned, it’s now time to begin pulling out the important findings from your research and organizing the information in a way that’s easier to digest. There are several different ways to approach organizing competitor data, and there is value to each. Rather than telling you the best way to display your findings, consider some of the methods below and which might work best for your data set. Rankings - A simple ranking of your results for each metric is a great place to start when evaluating you and your competitors. With the candles example above, you may find that some stores have less than 10 variations, while others have 100 or more. Ranking based on that field will indicate where you fall in relation to the rest of your competition. CompetitorTypeAverage Price (Individual)Average Price (Family)McDonald'sIndirect Competitor$5.99$14.99Slice of Heaven Pizzeria-$7.50$18.95Papa John'sDirect Competitor$7.99$19.99Pizza HutDirect Competitor$7.99$19.99Jersey Mike's SubsIndirect Competitor$7.50$21.99Pete's PizzaDirect Competitor$9.99$24.99Buffalo Wild WingsIndirect Competitor$11.99$29.99Rankings by Price Averages - Finding the competitor average can offer more perspective on how you compare for that metric. For example, if the average price to clean a pool in your market is $100 a month, you can see whether you are below, above, or in-line with the average price. CompetitorAverage Price (Individual)Average Price (Family)Slice of Heaven Pizzeria$7.50$18.95Direct Competitors$8.66$21.66Average Competitor$8.58$21.99Indirect Competitors$8.49$22.32 Extremes - Looking at the best and worst results for a metric can provide another valuable finding in a competitive analysis. If you want to start a consulting business, which of your competitors has the most and least amount of experience? How do you compare? CompetitorAverage Price (Individual)Average Price (Family)Lowest Competitor (McDonald's)$5.99$14.99Slice of Heaven Pizzeria$7.50$18.95Highest Competitor (Buffalo Wild Wings)$11.99$29.99Price Extremes Graphs/Charts - Visualizing data can make it much easier to understand what you’re looking at. Instead of a huge set of numbers, try organizing it into a graph or chart to make comparing easier. For example, putting market share into a pie chart makes it easier to see how you and your competition compare. 8. Review, Drill Down, and Flag Findings for Additional Research With your data collected, cleaned, and organized, you’ll now be able to dive further into your findings. This is your opportunity to take an unbiased look at where you rank compared to your competition. If you discover something interesting, take time to drill down into that data and consider conducting additional research. For example, if you run a gym, your data might include hours of operations. If you drill down further into this, you might discover that only one of your competitors has classes between 5 and 6 in the morning while all the other gyms don’t have organized classes until after 7am. This could be a finding worth exploring further and, upon additional research, might reveal that those classes are always filled, while the other gyms’ morning classes are not. To illustrate the point further, let’s continue with the Slice of Heaven Pizzeria example that we’ve used throughout. Slice of Heaven’s average price for individuals ($7.50) and families ($18.95) are well below the average prices of its competitors. CompetitorAverage Price (Individual)Average Price (Family)Slice of Heaven Pizzeria$7.50$18.95Direct Competitors$8.66$21.66Average Competitor$8.58$21.99Indirect Competitors$8.49$22.99 If we dive deeper, we find that Slice of Heaven’s number of pizza options (10) and average ticket times (30 minutes) are both better than the most expensive direct competitor (Pete’s Pizza), which is also the closest in proximity. CompetitorDistance (Miles)Average Price (Individual)Average Price (Family)# of Pizza OptionsAverage Ticket Time (Mins)Pete's Pizza0.5$9.99$24.99745Slice of Heaven Pizzeria-$7.50$18.951030 With this information in mind, Slice of Heaven may want to consider raising their prices. 9. Perform a SWOT Analysis to Summarize Your Findings The final step in the competitive analysis process is to summarize your findings. By this point, you should have found several takeaways and important pieces of information that can help guide your decision-making. To make it easier for you to revert back later on, put those thoughts into a summarized report or SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. A SWOT analysis is a strategic planning exercise that requires mapping out your business’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Given the information you’ve collected by this step, you should have ample resources to build a thorough SWOT analysis measuring your business compared to your competition and the market. The goal of this final step is to provide yourself with a resource that you can use to make better strategic decisions moving forward. For example, if you were the gym owner from the previous example, you may see opening a 5am class as an opportunity based on the success of your competition, which could guide you to offering 5am classes at your gym. Don't Just Analyze, Take Action A competitive analysis is the first step in learning how to compete on Main Street, but it doesn’t stop there. The goal of analyzing your competition is not merely to see how you rank, but to provide you with actionable insight to guide your strategic decision-making. Actionable insight requires, well, action.