5 Tactics to Scout Your Competition Like a Pro

by Bill Burnham | August 17, 2018

In sports, competition is a given. The best coaches and athletes spend an extraordinary amount of time studying their competitors. Game film is studied endlessly to learn the other team’s tendencies, their strengths and weaknesses. Self-scouting is done to determine what they do and do not do well.  New plays are developed that the competition hasn’t seen before. Game plans are built to avoid the opponent’s strengths and exploit its weaknesses.

Most of the time, everything else being equal, the best prepared team will win.

By contrast most business owners cringe at the idea of competition. Competition is seen as a threat to their success, which in one respect it is. However, the existence of competitors also means there is a market for your goods or services. So I say instead of fearing the competition, let’s embrace it and learn from the pros how to best prepare to beat the competition.

Business owners often get caught up in the day-to-day tasks of running the business and lose sight of the competition. Studying competitors, finding their weaknesses and implementing plans to exploit them takes time, but if done consistently it will pay big dividends.

Here’s a list of tactics which can be used to gather information as you develop your plan of attack:

  1. Shop: As a small business owner I would occasionally use the service of my competitors. It was a great way for me to see how they treated their customers, what level of quality they delivered, how they handled problems, how busy they were and what they charged.
  1. Read: Subscribing to and actually reading trade magazines is a great way to pick up information. You may discover something new that your competitors have yet to catch on to. Getting on your competitor’s mailing lists is a great way to find out what they are up to as well. Local newspapers are another great source of information.
  2. Network: Getting out and talking with the competition will do wonders. Invariably if you let them talk they will tell you all the great things they are doing. Given enough time they may actually start sharing some of their struggles. Just be quiet and listen.
  1. Survey: Ask your customers what they like or dislike about doing business with you. Ask the same question about your competition. You can do this by email or snail mail with a simple questionnaire that offers some sort of incentive for a response.
  1. Talk: The next time a salesman or supplier stops in, quiz them on what’s going on in the industry. What are your competitors up to? What are they planning?  What’s selling, and who’s buying it? It never hurts to ask. Chances are good you’ll pick up some valuable information.

Scouting is a continuous process. New information is coming in all the time and adjustments should be made as things change, but if done consistently it will help you remain one step ahead of the competition.

  • Bill Burnham

    Florida SBDC at USF, Tampa

    Specialty: Accounting, Finance, Business Planning, Growth Acceleration

    Bill Burnham is a lifelong resident of the Tampa Bay area. He is a graduate of the University of South Florida where he majored in accounting. He obtained his master’s degree in business administration from The Florida Institute of Technology. Burnham has 25 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies, nearly 20 of those years in management positions. During that time he managed more than 200 employees and spent time in accounting, finance, manufacturing, production control and strategic planning. He managed government contract budgets in excess of $50 million dollars and operating budgets of more than $25 million dollars. He prepared analysis for potential acquisitions, proposals for government contracts and conducted company-wide training programs on several different topics. Complementing his large company background, Burnham also has 15 years of experience as a small business owner in industries as diverse as dry cleaning and home health care. In addition to those endeavors he has also worked as a business broker and business valuator performing valuations and selling business throughout the state of Florida. He has hands on knowledge in business planning, budgeting, forecasting, profit and loss management, cash management, business sales, business valuation and franchise operations. Burnham is also a Certified LIvePlan Expert Advisor, QuickBooks certified, Strategic Management Performance Systems certified, and a Profit Mastery Facilitator.