How to start your competitor research - the product management guide

Product competitive research - the mobile spoon

As an entrepreneur or a product manager you must learn the business you're operating in and map the market pains, expectations, and trends. 

In a competitive market, you need to know what your competitors are doing. Where do they shine and which areas they are struggling with. This will help you decide on the right product strategy and identify gaps (or opportunities) in your product and go-to-market strategy. 

I wrote this short guide to help you get started with your competitor research. 

It will focus on identifying your competitors, exploring their products, and gathering the intel you need for building your market understanding. 

1. Identify main competitors 

First things first, whether you are new at your job or starting a new company, you need to identify who are you competing with, direct and indirect. 

Search your product or service category on the web and see what ads and search results come up. 

Repeat this step with different terms and keywords relevant to your business and collect the names that come up. Wrap up this step by searching each competitor separately - this will often bring up ads by additional competitors

Explore each company in depth: what’s their main message? How do they position themselves? What products do they sell? In what markets do they operate? who are their customers

When you're done, try those additional techniques to discover more competitors

  • Market research by analyst firms such as Gartner
  • - provides alternatives to existing products
  • Quora - look for previous questions that might help you find alternative solutions/vendors 
  • App Store - this is one of my favorites: if your competitors have mobile apps - check out the “You might also like” section at the bottom of their product page which usually includes similar products you didn’t hear about. This is a great way to find more similar products. 

2. Check them out on Crunchbase 

Now that you have the list, it's time to deep dive and explore each of your competitors

Crunchbase is a great place to start: who founded those companies? How much money did they raise? Did they make significant acquisitions? You can find press releases, key milestones, technology info, website traffic details, and more. 

3. Experience their product as a customer

Install your competitors’ products (if it’s mobile) and sign-up (if it’s web). 

Explore them in depth and take screenshots of every step in the way - onboarding, key modules, features, workflows, confirmation emails, push notifications, everything!

Save those screenshots in a dedicated repository that will serve you as a future reference. 

If you cannot access some of those products - search for demos on youtube. Google image search can also bring up some product screenshots.

This exercise will help you identify good practices to adopt, bad practices to avoid, strengths/weaknesses, common terminology, etc. It will also help you categorize each competitor.

If your competitors have mobile apps, check the App Store and Google Play for their ranking, downloads number, reviews, and version history: check how often do they ship a new version? How old is their app and how popular is it? 

Also, as mentioned above - make sure to check similar products by visiting the similar apps section. 

Completing this step will bring you most of the product-oriented information you need for your competitors' research. 

4. Explore your competitors' online and social activities  

Online monitoring is a common spying technique for marketers, but it can also be useful for product managers and entrepreneurs; now that you have a list of competitors - follow them on social media, watch their videos, read their blog posts, subscribe to their newsletters, and use Google Alerts to monitor them online. 

Find out where they hang out. How many followers do they have on each platform? What type of content they are publishing and what seems to be working well for them? 

Focus on how they tell their stories, present their product benefits, the content they promote, and the media they use. 

There are also plenty of marketing-oriented tools such as Brand24, SEMrush, SimilarWeb, SpyFu, BuzzSumo, and Owletter - they provide various capabilities from SEO tracking, keywords ranking, content published, emails sent, and much more. These are generally part of the marketing stack, but can also be helpful in your product research.

This article includes some good examples and useful tools for spying on your competitors on social media.

5. Track online reviews 

As a product person, you know how valuable customer feedback is. 

Luckily, there are plenty of customer review sites such as Capterra and TrustPilot that share those reviews publicly, so you can find out what your competitors’ users really think about them

What are their strengths and weaknesses? What benefits do users mostly brag about? What’s still missing that users often complain about? 

This information is definitely juicy, but it can also shed light on what's working well and what's not.

You can later use this information when you talk with potential customers or when making product decisions. 

6. Pricing and packaging

Explore your competitors’ pricing models.

What’s the cost? What’s the pricing model? What other perks are they offer? 

It’s important to know what you are competing with, and what alternatives you should consider. This exercise can also validate some of your revenue assumptions if your product is not selling yet. 

7. Technology stack

One way to figure out which software your competitors use is to use Built With, an effective tool for unveiling all technological components implemented in a website or web app. 

Another way to understand their technology stack is to explore their job listings, particularly for software development roles. You can also look for their employees on LinkedIn, where people usually mention the technologies they work with. 

8. LinkedIn 

Speaking of LinkedIn, it’s really a great place to learn so much about each competitor. 

  • Find employees and see what they’re up to
  • Learn about the culture of your competitors 
  • Estimate the size of each company, key people, and roles
  • Find former employees that could potentially give you inside information or help you in other creative ways
  • Hire former employees of your competitors - this one is like getting two for one: you get to hire someone that is experienced in your niche, and has inside information about your competitors

Wrapping up

Of course, this list is only the beginning. Next, you'll need to take your research to the next level and perform a full competitive analysis using frameworks such as SWOT to further assess your position in the market and identify risks and opportunities, but I'll leave that for another post. 

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