How to Spy on Your Competitors' Customers (And Use What They Tell You to Increase Sales)

February 12, 2018 Stewart Dunlop

It’s a simple truth: The more you know about your target consumer, the better you’ll be able to provide for their needs.

And, of course, the better your ability to provide for your customers’ needs, the more successful your business will ultimately become.

But, if you’re just getting your business started – or you’re just beginning to dive into a new industry – you might not know all that much about your target customers in the first place.

That’s okay; your competitors do.

Now, it’s highly doubtful that competing companies in your industry are just going to share this customer-related knowledge and information with you out of the goodness of their hearts; they are your competition, after all.

Luckily, there are a number of ways you can dig up this information on your own – all while your competition remains none the wiser.

(Note: Before we go any further, we need to make clear that the tactics we’ll be discussing throughout this article are completely lawful and ethical. Blackhat tactics of any kind never get you anywhere.)

What Info Should You Be Looking For?

Before we discuss how and where to find the consumer information that will prove valuable to your company, we need to clarify exactly what that information is, and why it’s so valuable in the first place.

Essentially, the customer data you’ll be looking for will fall into one of three categories:

  • Demographic/Geographic data: This refers to the “on paper” information about your customers, such as their age, gender, location, occupation, and level of education.
  • Psychographic data: This data includes your customers’ interests, attitudes, and opinions that guide the way in which they live their lives.
  • Behavioral data: This data refers specifically to the way in which your customers act as consumers (e.g., whether they shop online or in-person, how often they shop, etc.).
  • Technographics: This refers to a company’s real-time technology choices and buying habits

After collecting this information, you’ll be much more equipped to create richly-detailed customer personas and segments – in turn making it easier to tailor your offers and marketing initiatives to the individuals who fit into these categories perfectly.

3 Ways to “Spy” On Your Competitors’ Customers (And Use What They Tell You to Increase Sales)

Okay, so we keep using the word “spy” as we talk about digging up information on your target customers. 

But you’re not really going to be spying on anyone. 

The truth is, the information you’ll be looking for is already “out there.” You just need to know where to find it and what to do with it when you have it.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at three ways in which you can uncover this valuable information on your target customers.

Public Records

As discussed above, a lot of the information for which you’ll be looking is readily available for anyone who wants to check it out (e.g., you).

Your first order of business should be to check out press releases and other primary documentation your competitors have published. For major companies, you can typically conduct a Google search for terms such as “[company name] press release” to discover a treasure trove of recently-released company news and updates. 


(Source / Caption: Major companies make this information plainly available for public use.)

Many of the documents within the search results will almost certainly contain information regarding the company’s current and future customer-facing campaigns and initiatives. Additionally, these documents will often provide insight into the reasoning behind the company’s plans, including information regarding current industry trends.

After you’ve dug around on your competitors’ sites for press releases and related documentation, you can then head over to sites that curate these documents from around your industry for some supplemental information. Sites such as PR.com and PRWeb publish press releases from companies in almost any industry you can think of, allowing you to collect data not just on your competitors, but also on companies within ancillary industries that go hand-in-hand with your own. 

The information you glean from these documents can be used in a couple ways.

For one, you can review past initiatives your competitors have undertaken and the results these companies experienced from putting the initiatives into practice. If the results were positive, you can look to see how you might implement something similar within your own company (while not copying your competitors directly, of course). If the results weren’t so great, you can learn what not to do and also look for ways to improve upon your competitor’s failed campaign.

Additionally, as you look to see where your competitors are heading in the near future, you can look for openings in terms of customer needs that your competition may be ignoring or neglecting, allowing you to focus heavily on filling these gaps in the months to come.

Before we move on, it’s important to point out that the data you collect through these methods will likely be either completely objective (e.g., industry metrics) or subjective to your competitors (e.g., projected trends as predicted by a separate company). Because of this, you’ll need to look past the “on paper” data you uncover and take the time to consider the implications this information has on your own company moving forward.

Public Forums

In the section above, we focused mainly on gathering information relating to your industry’s clientele as it appears through the eyes of your competitors.

While this information can certainly help you learn a good amount about your potential customers, it can also be – as we alluded to before – a bit speculative. Because of this, you’ll also want to dig into information provided directly by your target consumers, as well. 

As we said earlier, a lot of this information is readily available via discussions and conversations on public forums. However, to uncover even more valuable first-hand information from your competitors’ customers, you’ll need to be a bit proactive in seeking it out, as well.

The forums we’ll be discussing exist on- and offline. Let’s take a look at each separately.

Online Forums

The various online forums that exist on the Internet might be the absolute best resources you have at your disposal for learning about your target customers.

Your first stop should be the various social media pages, blogs, and other such channels owned and operated by your competitors. These platforms are typically chock full of questions, comments, problems, and suggestions posted by followers of the company.

In the screenshot above, we see a rather straightforward example of the type of info you can glean by visiting your competitors’ social media pages. From the simple comment left under the initial post, it’s immediately apparent that some of Hubspot’s followers are small business owners looking for a cost-effective CRM to help them grow.

While sometimes the information provided by individuals on these platforms merely scratches the surface of a given topic, other times such threads can allow you to dig deep into the needs of your potential customers – without even interacting with them at all. Case in point, scroll down to the comment section of this post and notice how much discussion each post generates. 

(Also note that Neville Medhora, the owner of the site, frequently jumps into these discussions to respond and facilitate additional discussion. For our purposes, this works out perfectly!)

You’ll also want to take note of how a company’s followers react to and engage with announcements the company makes via these channels. For one thing, you’ll likely be able to glean similar information from these announcements as you would from the aforementioned press conferences. In addition to this, though, you’ll also be able to view the immediate reaction fans have to said announcements – whether positive or negative.

One last section of the web to check out is the realm of third-party forums relating to your industry. 

Sites like Reddit and Quora are incredible repositories for knowledge and information about, well, pretty much anything and everything. On channels such as these, you’ll easily find consumers who fit your target personas asking questions about products and services within your industry and discover ways in which your competitors are responding to such inquiries. 

By checking out these third-party forums in addition to company-operated platforms, you stand to learn more about all of your potential customers within your industry – not just about fans of a specific brand.

Offline Forums

While “lurking” on the web can certainly enable to you turn up a ton of information about your competitors and their customers, you should also take advantage of any physical forums relating to your industry that take place from time to time.

Typically, such forums come in the form of trade shows, conferences, and the like. Because such events are developed with specific purposes in mind, you can rest assured that you’ll be able to glean a lot from the audience members in attendance.

For one, you’ll certainly be able to learn a lot about your competitors, as well as your industry as a whole, by listening to the numerous speeches and presentations that will take place throughout the event. Additionally, as these presentations are typically followed up with a Q&A style forum, you’ll also be able to discover some additional information about your target customers in a more structured setting.

Aside from the formal presentations, you can also do some “spy” work by joining in the more off-the-cuff conversations that will undoubtedly occur between sessions. During these moments, your target consumers will likely be speaking more candidly and freely about their needs and expectations from providers in your industry – which is exactly the kind of information you’re looking for.

Whether digging into on- or offline forums, the main thing to keep in mind is to always pay attention. No matter how innocuous or mundane a consumer’s comment or question may seem, it could potentially lead you to a major breakthrough if analyzed from the right perspective. 

Using Tools and Technology

So far, the “spy” methods we’ve discussed have required a good amount of reconnaissance-style surveillance of your competitors and their customers. 

But there’s one part of the equation we’ve neglected to mention thus far:

The tools of the trade.

(Every good spy relies on technology in some way or another, right?)

While not meant to replace the tactics mentioned above, the following tools can definitely help you dig up information and data to supplement that which you were able to discover while “in the field” on your own.

Datanyze Insider Chrome Extension

The Datanyze Insider Chrome extension allows you to collect a ton of information regarding your competitors with the click of a button. This information includes the company’s revenue, names of partner companies, and – most important for our purposes – its social media pages and Alexa ranking.

While Datanyze Insider is typically used by B2B companies while prospecting for new clients, we can use it to quickly discover other areas of the web in which a given competitor is present (e.g., which social media platforms they’re active on, etc.). We can then quickly head over to these areas of the web to begin our next recon mission.

Google Alerts

Google Alerts sends you a notification via email whenever a specific term is used anywhere on the web. 


Within seconds of signing up for alerts for the term “e-commerce,” this showed up in my inbox.

For our purposes, you might choose to be alerted when your company, your competitors’ companies, or your industry as a whole is mentioned. You’ll also want to brainstorm a variety of terms and jargon used by people within your industry, and add these as well. 

Not only can Google Alerts help you keep abreast of trending topics in real-time, but you can also use it to dig deeper into the information within the “mention,” as well. For example, the Forbes article I was directed to in the screenshot above included a number of links to e-commerce-related statistics and other data; if I were so inclined, I could easily slide down the rabbit hole of resources provided – and learn a ton in the process.

Google Keyword Planner

Keyword Planner, another tool from Google, allows you to uncover keyword metrics (such as the number of times a given search term is used each month), and also to discover new keywords related to one you already use. 

Though this tool is typically used for SEO purposes, you can use it to identify other relevant terms your target consumers use when searching for the term you specified. This can provide insight into the way in which your industry’s customers think when in “browsing mode” or when searching for a specific solution.

Not only can Keyword Planner help you think like your target customers, but in doing so, you’ll also be able to create a copy with your target customers in mind. In turn, this will increase the chances that your marketing campaigns will resonate heavily with your intended target.

Ahrefs

Perhaps one of the sneakier tools of the bunch, Ahrefs allows you to discover data and information regarding which sites are linking to your competitors’ pages.

By discovering this information, you’ll, in turn, be able to discover a number of websites that focus on your industry. As we spoke about earlier, you can then check out recent articles and posts from these sites, as well as the comments within these posts, to gain insight into current trends within the industry.

Wrapping Up

Even the greenest of fledgling entrepreneurs understand the importance of learning as much as possible about their customers. 

But, of course, when you’re just getting your business moving, you might not have many customers to learn from. In this case, your best course of action is to use the information that’s already out there – that your competitors and their customers have made free to the public – to your advantage. 

By knowing where to look for this information and understanding how to use it to improve the services you provide, you’ll be able to start out on the path toward becoming a major player in your industry.

Featured image: Color Double Exposure Businessman Observing with Binoculars by Phat1978 Shutterstock

About the Author

Stewart Dunlop

Stewart is the Marketing & Outreach Manager at Fieldboom.com. Create beautiful smart forms, quizzes & surveys in minutes.

Visit Website More Content by Stewart Dunlop

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