The first of a series of worked examples using secondary research to answer common questions in competitive intelligence.
A common question in any competitor analysis is how many sales people work for the competitor.
Let us take Twitter as an example and see what we can find from secondary research.
How many employees?
Searching Google for "how many employees does Twitter have" and "how many people work at Twitter" turns up the following:
- 8 in Jan 2008
- 22 at the start of 2009
- 29 in Jan 2009
- 30 in March 2009
- 69 in September 2009
- 110 at the start of 2010
- 130 in Jan 2010
- 200 in June 2010
- 350 in January 2011
- 394 in February 2011
- 400 in March 2011
- 500 in May 2011
- 648 in November 2011
- 706 in November 2011
- 900 in February 2012
- 900+ in April 2012
- 1,046 in June 2012
So how many employees work there now? Twitter's team list says 1,195; a LinkedIn search says 1,514 (the link returns different numbers depending on who clicks on it - we get 1,514); while LinkedIn directly claims that Twitter has 1,528.
That results in a chart as follows:
Most of that data looks broadly consistent, although the last data point (1,528) might be too high (some of the LinkedIn results are people who say they are at Twitter but aren't and some are algorithmic 'errors' that count people who claim Twitter skills, for example); and the 1,528 disagrees with the team count of 1,195 on Twitter's website. Let's say they have 1,400 employees.
How many sales employees?
Twitter has 148 job postings, of which 32 are in sales. So 22% are in sales. A couple of caveats. First, one job posting may be for several headcount under the same job title, but since we have no reason to assume that happens more or less for sales than other divisions, let us say that it applies the same across divisions. Secondly, 22% of job listings being in sales does not mean that 22% of the existing headcount is in sales - sales may be growing more or less quickly, or have different hiring needs. But we can take it as a starting point. 22% of 1,400 means 308 sales employees.
Searching among Twitter employees on LinkedIn for those whose job titles contain words like sales, account, advertising or business development returns 277 results.
So let's say there are 300 sales employees.
Can we triangulate? Twitter may have revenues of around $260M this year. If Twitter were as good as Google at selling ads, they could sell that much with about 150 sales people. Twitter is unlikely to be as good as the world-beating, experienced team that is Google, so they must have more than 150 sales people, and 300 looks reasonable. Higher than we might have expected, but that is a prejudice based on no data.
If this was a client project, further work could be done. The Twitter accounts of employees could be checked for information; each of the LinkedIn sales profiles would be read; more information about sales teams at Facebook or Google could be used to benchmark Twitter; and some primary research might be warranted.