A competitor profile is typically based on both secondary (mainly online) and primary (mainly interview) sources.
Primary competitive intelligence is not something that companies can do for themselves. Respondents are less likely to engage in conversation if the interviewer works directly for a competitor of the company being researched. Employees may not have the skills or flexibility to navigate such research sensitively, ensuring that the target company does not discover they are being profiled (however standard the research, it is preferable to be discreet). Not least, carrying out such research directly is probably against most companies' policies.
Secondary research, however, is a much more viable option. We may tell you there is an art to secondary research, and that we who are ordained brethren of the Order of Competitive Intelligence can Google in ways that mere mortals cannot comprehend, but in reality, anyone can do enough secondary research to significantly improve their understanding of a competitor.
For example, when analyzing a B2B software company, working methodically through these sources will do wonders for one's wisdom:
- Start with the competitor's website. What claims do they make? Are there product videos? How does their industry content reveal areas of focus?
- Social media: browse through the last 1-2 years of tweets and Facebook posts. Browse through the list of their Twitter followers. Hidden in the large volume of content will be clues about key customers, channel partners, events attended.
- Uploaded content: search on YouTube for product videos and for whether the competitor themselves has a channel. Similarly on Slideshare, a good source for pitch decks and presentations from events attended.
- For publicly traded companies, the SEC website (for 10-Ks and 10-Qs) and SeekingAlpha's earnings call transcripts are an essential first port of call.
- LinkedIn and Indeed's resume search have limited but high quality information about company structures and occasional nuggets such as sales quotas.
- TrustRadius, and to a lesser extent similar sites such as G2crowd, have product reviews that can enhance the product information gained from a competitor's website and demos on YouTube.
- Looking through previous versions of the competitor's website on Wayback Machine can reveal shifts in the go to market pitch, and occasionally unearth a since-withdrawn pricing page.
There are many more secondary sources, but the ones listed here will go a long way towards having a deeper understanding of a competitor.
On a similar note, see our free resource, 6 Esential Sources to Use For a Competitor Profile.