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

December 23, 2019 Stewart Dunlop

It's a universal truth across marketing and sales: The more you know about your ideal customers, the more effective your messaging will be and the more likely you are to close deals.

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 OK; your competitors do.

Sure, it’s unlikely that competing companies in your industry will share their customer intelligence with you; they are your professional nemeses, after all.

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

(Note: The ideas we’ll be discussing throughout this article are completely lawful and ethical. Unethical tactics, such as stealing client lists or even taking off your name badge at a conference to avoid detection, won't get you far and may damage your company's reputation.)

What Info Should You Look 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 and geographic data: This is information such as customer 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 to what actions customers take (e.g., whether they shop online or in person, how often they click a button, and what device they use to go on the web).
  • Technographics: This refers to a company’s real-time technology choices and buying habits

After collecting this information, you’ll be better able 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.

Three Ways to 'Spy' On Your Competitors' Clients 

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 the info and what to do with it.

Let’s take a look at three approaches to unearth this valuable information about your target customers.

1. Public Records

Your first step is 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.)

You can also seek our press room pages on corporate sites.

Many of these documents will contain information regarding the competitor's current and future customer-facing campaigns and initiatives. Additionally, these materials 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, head over to sites that curate these items from 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 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.

  • You can review past initiatives your competitors have undertaken and the results these companies experienced. If the results were positive, you can look to see how you might carry out something similar within your own company (while not copying your competitors directly). 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 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 surface data you uncover and take the time to consider the implications this information has on your own company moving forward.

2. Public Forums

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

While this information can help you learn about potential customers, it can also be speculative. Because of this, you’ll also want to dig into information provided directly by your target clients, as well. 

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 seek it out.

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

Online Forums

Various online forums might be the absolute best resources to learn about your target customers.

Your first stop should be 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 touches upon 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. 

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 find similar information from these announcements as you would from the aforementioned press releases. In addition, you’ll also be able to view the immediate reaction followers 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 pretty much anything. On channels such as these, you’ll find customers 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 of potential customers.

Offline Forums

While “lurking” on the web can certainly turn up information about your competitors and their customers, you should also take advantage of in-person gatherings relating to your industry.

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’ll be able to glean a lot from the audience members in attendance.

Conference sessions are a good starting point. You'll learn plenty about your competitors there, and because these presentations typically include audience Q&A, you’ll also be able to discover 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 off-the-cuff conversations that occur between sessions. During these moments, your target consumers will likely speak 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 online 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. 

3. 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.

Google Alerts

Google Alerts sends you a notification via email whenever a specific term comes up in web content.


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. Be wary of terms that are too generic, however, or you'll end up with a lot of useless results.

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 so inclined, I could easily slide down the rabbit hole of resources provided – and learn a ton in the process.

It's easy to set up a Google alert; check out the instructions here.

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 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 keywords your target consumers use when searching for the term you specified. This information can provide insight into the way in which your industry’s customers think when in “browsing mode” or when searching for a specific product.

You need a Google Ads account to use Keyword Planner.

Ahrefs

Another useful product is Ahrefs (pronounced "H-refs"), which allows you to discover data regarding which sites are linking to your competitors’ pages.

With 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.

Wrapping Up

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

However, 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 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.

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