ParanoiaEver get the feeling that you’re being watched?

If you do, you’re not paranoid. It’s likely your competitors are watching your every move with new technology that will give you a shear wake up call.

Following the old adage of keeping your enemies closer, they’re monitoring everything – from your company’s blog articles to customer tweets about your products or services. In many cases, they’re even tracking entire company websites and receiving email alerts or phone notifications when website changes indicate you’ve entered a new market or industry, among a slew of other things. Spooky, right? No, it’s called competitive intelligence technology and it’s becoming mainstream across all markets and industries.

What Are Competitors Looking for Online?

There are a few reasons why more companies are investing in digital competitive intelligence approaches. First, competitors want to know if you’re doing better than them. Depending on your industry, they’ll look for cues that could threaten their market share. This could be your product line, promotional tactics, a new partnership or something as small as new certifications or accolades. Every company wants to be the market leader and if they’re losing their competitive edge, they’re likely to pinpoint what’s holding them back by browsing the web since almost everything ends up online anyway.

The second reason why they’d keep tabs on your company online is to differentiate themselves. There’s no competitive advantage in mimicking others, but rather in doing something unique that’s hard to replicate. Aggressive competitors monitor your website to determine if they can compete through price, service, or new technology, to name a few approaches. When monitoring your company’s website, for instance, they’re watching how you’re communicating value or claim a market position. If they find that your company and other competitors mostly use videos to generate leads, they may want to use videos in a different way or do something totally unique to stand out and take away your leads.

Thirdly, and most importantly, competitors want to predict your next move. Even the smallest bit of data published online can be the key that unlocks what’s happening behind closed doors. Some clues lie on your own website, like a job listing in a new department or a new partnership recently announced. Even employees are capable of accidentally leaving behind clues on social media. Granted companies aren’t looking to hack into your website and start spying, but they do notice breadcrumbs left around the web about your company and use them to figure out where you’re heading.

Now, how exactly are they keeping up with your company’s moves? Every industry and company will focus on different things, but here are a few areas of interest that get the attention from many competitors:

1. Your Website and Marketing Content

This is the starting point for competitors and the more obvious one for anyone savvy enough to watch the competition. They head straight to the source (your website) and audit how your company is positioning itself and communicating value to markets served. They’ll do this by analyzing all of your marketing content (blog articles, white papers, videos, and landing pages) that speak directly to prospects. Doing this also puts them in the shoes of a prospective buyer, so they can compare their marketing efforts with yours to see what they can do better or differently.

Other times, competitors are digging around your site for specific information. More than likely, they’re using tools such as competitive intelligence software to monitor prices, product updates, and even company news like new locations or quarterly earnings. It may seem trivial and even a waste of time, but with every piece of new information they gather, it’s one step closer to figuring out how your company stacks up or what your next move could be.

2. Your Customers’ Feedback

If you’re wondering what your customers are saying online, your competitors most likely know more than you think. Customers often spill the beans on how a company truly operates (no matter if it’s positive or negative). Since they aren’t discreet about offering their opinion and have firsthand experience with your business, competitors will take this into account when trying to assess what you offer and how you offer it.

Depending on your industry, competitors search for reviews in a variety of places. Online tools today can search across the web and collect chatter about your company on forums, social media, and even consumer or partner websites. Twitter has become a popular place for crisp and blunt reviews about companies in 140 characters or less. Look at the tweets below for telecommunications provider Comcast regarding their tech support and customer service practices:

Comcast’s competitors now have the upper hand on understanding how Comcast interacts with its customers and even how they train their own employees. Having this type of information serves as a guide for Comcast competitors to differentiate themselves and perhaps snap up current unhappy Comcast customers.

Recently, Comcast was under fire when a audio clip of a poor service call went viral. This shows that many aspects of a competitor’s customer experience leak online all the time. More companies are waking up to the idea that there are ways to collect this information and understand how their reputation compares to yours by gathering reviews and comments about each leak.

3. Your Hiring Strategies

It seems insignificant, but your company’s job openings and recent hires are hot spots for competitor snooping. Current job listings and tracking who’s potentially coming aboard can be strong indicators of upcoming strategies or areas of interest for your company. Think about it. When your company is looking to do something new or build on a current success, you need people with specific expertise to make it happen. Competitors are aware of that and will do the digging in order to confirm their suspicions.

Consider recent job openings and hires from technology giant Apple. In June 2014, MacRumors reported that Apple posted several job listings for Siri Language Engineers. These listings had requirements including “strong software development skills” and to be experts in a foreign language, specifically listing Japanese, Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, and Russian among others.

Additionally, Wired reported in June 2014 how Apple is building a strong team to enhance Siri. They hired a speech technology researcher and former Microsoft employee as a senior director for Siri, as well as speech researchers from Nuance (a speech recognition vendor). With this information, Apple competitors can start putting the pieces together on how Siri is developing, perhaps in time for the release of the iPhone 6 and iOS8.

What Can You Do About It?

If you aren’t already monitoring your competitors, think about this:

According to a new business concept called Speed to Intelligence, companies are becoming increasingly concerned with how quickly they can get and use competitive information to strategize and move quickly. This means your competitors want to automate how they track your every move to get ahead.

Now is the time to level the playing field, so to speak. With new competitor monitoring tools available today, they’re watching what your company is doing around the clock by receiving email alerts or notifications directly to their phone. You can also use these technologies as a guide on where to start looking for competitive information, but first assess which areas for each competitor concern you the most in order to narrow your research and start monitoring what’s online. If you are concerned about a competitor’s product development initiatives for a specific feature, for example, automate how you follow competitors on LinkedIn and other professional job sites.

If you are already monitoring your competitors…

First, give yourself a pat on the back. Second, take the time to assess and optimize how you’re currently managing this process by asking yourself these questions:

  • Is your intelligence gathering structured?
  • Do you receive automated alerts when things change online?
  • Is this process happening consistently?
  • Do you spend enough time analyzing the information you’ve gathered?

If you answered “No” for any of these, then your process isn’t as efficient as it could be. In fact, your competitors could be finding gems of insight faster than you can. There are plenty of new tools and digital approaches to automate a lot of your research tasks so you can be proactive and dig even deeper into the competition following the Speed to Intelligence concept.

Competitors are watching you this very second, but that doesn’t mean you can’t watch them to see what they’re up to. What you find may be what you need to keep up with change and potential market disruptors.

Read more:

Ways to Gather Information on Your Competitors