White Hat competitive intelligence is a skill every product manager should have in their toolbox. There is no excuse for not leveraging competitive intelligence that is freely available on the Internet. Building a baseline competitive intelligence profile takes less than 30 minutes. Facts like these can help separate the myth from reality of a competitor’s true capabilities.
There are seven broad categories of competitive intelligence product managers can find on the Internet. They are free and legally accessed, you have to know where to find them.
If your competitor is a public company, they are required to disclose an absolute ton of information. Do you know you can download a public company’s financial statements in Excel files for free? Public companies file detailed statements with the SEC after the end of every quarter (10-Q) and fiscal year (10-K). Here’s a link to Facebook’s financial statements in Excel from their latest quarterly report. You can see that total revenues in the first quarter increased over $3 billion, but they generated almost 79% less cash ($1 billion vs $4 billion) than in the first quarter from the year before.
In a typical 10-K report you can find information like financial statements, business strategy overviews, product portfolio overviews, competitive landscapes, headcount, major customers, litigation, properties, executive compensation, goodwill writeoffs, and management’s discussion and analysis of changes in their business performance. It is a goldmine waiting to be exploited.
You do not have to be an accountant to understand what is in these documents. Check out Why Product Managers Need to be Able to Read 10-K Filings to learn the basics.
Unfortunately not all of your competitors are public companies. There are two main tactics you can use to find the revenues of a competitor that is a private company.
The first technique is to use a couple of free websites. Owler.com. Owler has over 5 million profiles of private and public companies. Owler provides information about company leadership, headcount, estimated/actual revenues, competitors and competitor headcount/revenue, recent news, and snapshots of websites. For example, here is Owler’s overview of Stripe:
Crunchbase is another great resource. Cruncbase profiles provide information about headquarters, founders, social media feeds, acquisitions, Funding Rounds, Investors, Mobile App Metrics by Apptopia, Company Tech Stack by Siftery, Website Tech Stack by BuiltWith, Web Traffic by SimilarWeb, Employee Interest Signals by Bombora, Competitors & Revenue by Owler.com, and recent press, twitter feeds, etc. Here is a list of the acquisitions Stripe has completed:
While Owler and Crunchbase are great resources sometimes they get private company revenues wrong. Another technique you can use is headcount proxy. Companis that are in the same industry tend to have similar financial metrics. One of the most common metrics is revenue/headcount – in other words how much revenue is generated for each employee.
Companies that are in the same industry tend to have similar ratios of revenue/headcount and operating income/headcount. You can examine the filings of public companies to determine a range of revenue/headcount ratios and then apply that to the competitor you are studying. In every 10-K Annual Report there is a section that lists the total number of employees. Divide that into the reported revenue to get revenue/headcount ratio. Consider the following table:
To estimate the revenue for the private company, find the total employee count (LinkedIn, Owler, or Crunchbase) and apply the Revenue/Headcount ratio from your analysis . You can use the ratios for private competitors reported by Owler or Crunchbase.
Is it ‘David vs Goliath’ in your market? Understanding competitor headcount and organizational structure can help product managers assess the real capabilities of their competitors. 10-K statements for public companies will provide total headcount. For private companies, Owler and Crunchbase often provide basic headcount information. LinkedIn is the best free resource however. Use LinkedIn’s basic search function to find information about a specific competitor. For example here is an example for Slack:
How many product managers work at Slack? 58. Create this search query with criteria Slack as current company and Product Manager in title and this is what you’d get:
You can drill into specific profiles to see the typical background, experience, and credentials of anyone. You can build a rough org chart by using the search capability to identify executives. Then search on the basic department name to get a rough idea of the departmental headcount. Remember to use the LinkedIn ‘private mode’. You don’t want your competitors to know you been poking around their organization.
It can be helpful to know who a competitor’s investors are and when was the last funding round. Crunchbase provides the best summary for venture backed companies. If it has been more than two years since a company raised money you can assume either that a) they have become at cash flow breakeven or b) they are headed for trouble. If you want to geek out check out D filings with the SEC. Here’s a D filing for DefenseStorm, a venture backed managed security firm some friends of mine invested in.
Competitor’s websites are the best source of information about their product portfolio. For example here’s a snippet from Salesforce.com’s website:
Many SaaS companies list their base pricing and packaging as well. Here’s a top level look at Salesforce pricing:
User generated content is critical in today’s marketplace. There are three major sources that provide user reviews and assessments. Capterra is one of the oldest sites available. Software Advice is another. G2 Crowd is the newest site. Negative reviews on these sites can serve as convenient hand grenades your sales force. They can use them to cast some doubts on your competition. Here’s an example of a slack review from G2Crowd:
There are over 16,900 reviews of Slack on G2Crowd.
Analyst reports like Gartner Group Magic Quadrants or Forrester Wave reports are usually only available to subscribers. Companies do pay Gartner for permission to reprint reports. Simply Google “Gartner Magic Quadrant Market Name” and you will be surprised what you find. For example, when you Google Gartner Magic Quadrant Field Service Management you will find at least ten vendors that will provide you a reprint in exchange for an email address.
SimilarWeb.com. SimilarWeb provides a wealth of stats about your competitor’s web presence. It includes traffic statistics like monthly visits, visitor geography, traffic sources, referring sites, search, organic keywords, paid keywords, social traffic. Here is the SimilarWeb profile for Fieldedge. They also offer a free Firefox Add on that summarizes much of the same information.
Firefox Lightbeam Add on. Lightbeam is an add-on for Firefox that displays third party tracking cookies placed on the user’s computer while visiting various websites. It displays a graph of the interactions and connections of sites visited and the tracking sites to which they provide information. You can use this information to discover what marketing technologies your competitors are using like SalesForce, HubSpot, SalesLoft, etc. It gives you an idea of how sophisticated or unsophisticated their web based demand generation programs are. For example. Here is a LightBeam summary for Slack.com. Each triangle represents a tracking technology they use. You can see that they use Pardot:
The amount of free information about competitors is staggering. Product managers would be remiss in not taking advantage of it. Open source competitive information provides a baseline that product managers can build on.
Also published on Medium.