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Competitor overviews play a central role in any Competitive Intelligence (CI) strategy. At Cipher, we’ve built competitor overviews across virtually every industry, and we include similar elements in every competitor overview we deliver to our clients. 

Put simply, a competitor overview is a detailed analysis of a direct competitor. This differs from a competitive analysis, which looks at multiple competitors at once. A competitor overview explores all relevant areas of your competitor’s business, and helps you build a comprehensive understanding of that competitor. This enables you to make better strategic decisions for your own business. 

A great competitor overview tells a holistic story of a company, outlining their core competencies, business model, and growth strategies. The analysis is built on a foundation of solid research that makes use of a variety of sources, and competitive insights should be presented in a clear, actionable way. 

By the time you’ve built a complete competitor overview, you’ll have significantly more clarity in terms of how you can effectively compete against your competition in the marketplace.

So, with that said, what should you include in a competitive overview?

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Product or Service Overview

In some instances, your biggest competitor might offer a product or service that directly competes with your own offering, but most of the time, it’s not quite as simple as that. You might be in direct or indirect competition with your main competitor. They might offer products that provide some of the functionality yours do, but not all. And they might offer products that you don’t. 

The level of complexity here means it’s necessary to undertake a deeper analysis of each of your competitor's product or service lines. Specifically, this means understanding who the customers are, what they use the product for, and what their general sentiment is towards the competitor's product. Additionally, it’s important to look at more quantitative information, including pricing strategy and technical performance. 

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Internal Value Chain

Now that you understand what products or services your competitor is offering, start to build an outline of how they bring this to their target market. 

If your competitor sells a tangible physical product, analyze their value chain. Investigate where they procure their raw materials, how and where they manufacture their products, and the channels they use to bring them to market. 

If your competitor’s key offerings are service-based, understand how they are creating value within their company. To build a strong business, companies usually need some kind of secret sauce: a proprietary technology or core competency that unlocks greater value for their target customer. This will differ from business to business; for some it will be software, for others it may be a team of highly qualified consultants.

Leadership & Corporate Structure

Compile profiles of the key personnel and executive leadership at your competitor. By understanding their backgrounds, skills, and expertise, you’ll get a clearer picture of the strategic direction of the company. Be sure to look out for new hires, particularly those in prominent leadership positions, as this can be an indicator of changing priorities. 

In addition to leadership, glean insight from the global footprint of your competitors. Understand what markets they’re operating in, and track any movements into new regions. 

It’s also worth analyzing how your competitor allocates human capital amongst different departments. For example, a hiring spree in R&D may indicate a focus on innovation, whereas rising headcounts in sales and marketing might point to a more aggressive commercial strategy.

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Customers & Distribution Channels

Build an analysis of your competitor’s customers. Ideally, you will understand how many customers they have, how much those customers pay, and how quickly your competitor is adding new customers. 

In doing this portion of the analysis, you should also investigate your competitor's marketing strategy and how they iare attracting new customers. For example, they might distribute their product or service through a reseller network or partner organizations, or they may rely heavily on an internal sales team to recruit new customers. 

By understanding the customer journey of your competitors’ customers, you can learn how you might interrupt this journey. With that knowledge, engage potential customers to purchase products or services from your company instead.

Financial Results & Position

By this point in your competitor overview, you should have compiled a relatively comprehensive picture of your competitor’s main business activities. To contextualize this and quantify the results of their strategies, analyze their recent financial performance.

If your competitor is a public company, this is a relatively simple process. Consult their quarterly financial filings and dissect the information presented in these documents. The more detail, the better. Ideally, you should dig deep on their revenue and profit make up, paying particular attention to any detailed breakdowns that are available. Example breakdowns might include revenue and profit by business line, region, or customer.

For private companies, this type of analysis is a little more challenging, but it’s still possible to build very detailed snapshots of your competitor’s financial position. You might consider their funding status, key investors, and growth rate as valuable insights. Also, take note of any major investments announced by your competitor. These may indicate a significant shift in your competitors' strategy.

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Classic Competitor Overview Frameworks

Make use of tried-and-tested frameworks like Porter’s 5 Forces, SWOT Analysis, and the Business Model Canvas to conceptualize your competitor’s business in a way that is easy for everyone to digest. A competitor overview makes use of a high volume of data. It’s often a good idea to distill some of the key insights down to a high-level framework that can be used by senior leaders.

Related: 5 Important Components to a Competitor Analysis Framework

Porter’s 5 Forces

Porter’s 5 Forces is a competitive framework that measures the competitive potential of a company. The forces are:

  1. Competitive Rivalry
  2. Supplier Power
  3. Buyer Power
  4. Threat of Substitution
  5. Threat of New Entrants

Each of these have a direct impact on your competitor’s position in the market, and taking the time to map your findings into this framework will provide invaluable insights.

SWOT Analysis

Another framework to incorporate is a SWOT Analysis. An acronym, SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The framework helps paint a comprehensive picture of a competitor’s business by considering their internal strengths and weaknesses, as well as exploring the potential impact of external opportunities and threats to their business. 

Business Model Canvas

The business model canvas is a well-known framework that examines the nine key building blocks of any business model. For the purposes of competitor overviews, the framework captures a valuable summary of a competitor’s external dependencies. This includes details on the competitor’s suppliers, customers, and partners.

Conducting a Competitor Overview

If you don’t know where to start, building a competitor overview can be a daunting task. But by conducting thorough analysis in all of the areas outlined here, you’ll be well on your way to building a comprehensive competitor overview that will add significant value to your business.

Download the Competitor Overview Template and get started today, or read the Complete Guide on Building a Competitor Analysis today..