When clients ask us to analyze their own business
We sometimes get asked by clients whether we can conduct ‘competitor’ analysis of their own business. Why do clients ask for this, when they already know their own business?
It can be useful alongside analysis of competitors, as it provides a like-for-like comparison for competitive benchmarking, conducted by the same research vendor.
Although some data would be already known to the client (e.g. their revenues), some parts of a typical competitor profile (e.g. why prospects buy their products) provide new information to the client.
It allows clients to calibrate the competitor research. Competitive intelligence is never perfect, and by identifying the biases in a profile of themselves, clients can adjust for similar flaws in the competitor research, that otherwise would go unnoticed. This is not to say that clients mistrust the accuracy of the competitor profiles. If clients think there are minor inaccuracies in our research, we resolve those together. If clients think there are major errors, they will find another vendor, not waste their energy and budget trying to prove anything.
Invariably, we decline such requests. The reasons are as follows:
Researching our own clients starts to cloud the question of whose side we are on. For example, we say that we do not work for two competitors, and that we do not use anything we may know about a client for another project, and that we do not reuse third party data that a client may share (e.g. Gartner reports). This is all true and it is important that clients have no doubts about the hard line between researching competitors and not researching our clients. If we start researching our clients, albeit at their own request, we may start chipping away at the clarity of that separation.
How much real value could we deliver? For topics like revenues, pricing, features, roadmap etc. – the client already knows this about themselves. Sections like ‘customer perception’ are good as part of a broader competitor profile, but they are not in themselves very deep. The former are the difficult areas that a competitive intelligence agency does best. For the latter, companies have many choices, such as surveys, win/loss analysis or asking clients themselves.
It is not in the spirit of the game for your target to know that you are researching them. Potential sources might be on their guard. If nothing else, this undermines the like-for-like comparison between a genuine competitor profile and analyzing our own clients.
A successful research project might mean that some client employees provide us with information. This might lead to awkward internal conversations, and there is no benefit for us in being involved in such complications. Penetration testing may be useful, but it is not something that we do.
We will not be free to be draw relevant conclusions. It is one thing saying that a competitor has been slow to deliver their product roadmap, but another thing to say that about our own client when the product leader is part of the audience.
We may not be as motivated as with a real competitor profile, even subconsciously – in the same way that a friendly sports game is never as intense as a real one. We would know that the client already had most of the answers.
In the pursuit of a simple life, we have made it a rule never to analyze our own clients.