When it’s time to develop or update your firm’s marketing strategy, performing a competitive analysis is a great place to start.

Knowing what your competitors are doing can help inform your firm’s next steps and arm you with a lot of great intel – information such as their target audience, areas of focus, and overall priorities. There are a few key steps that can set your firm up for success when conducting a competitive analysis.

Identify your competitors

There are a number of ways for firms to determine who their fiercest competitors are, and which ones are worth analyzing. The first method is to survey internal teams. Who is your firm consistently pit against when RFPs (request for proposals) are sent? Which firms do colleagues notice have a presence at industry events? Checking in with those areas of the business that are closest to clients and prospective clients can help you home in on the best firms to analyze.

Surveying or interviewing clients directly presents another opportunity to identify competitors. Who are clients going to when they aren’t engaging with your firm? It may be helpful to hire a neutral party to assist with this form of data collection. Some clients or prospective clients may feel more comfortable speaking with an outside party who can ask the challenging questions to gather sentiments about your firm as well as provide anonymity if requested. Consider conducting this exercise every few years. It’s always great to maintain a pulse on the market and acknowledge new emerging players in your space.

Assemble a team

Depending on the scale of this initiative, it’s important to have the right team in place. With all of the activity and busyness the day to day can bring, a team can help you prioritize efforts. Consider assigning roles and responsibilities to different team members to split up the research. Then schedule check-ins to maintain the momentum along the way.

Determine your methods

The key to any research is to come up with a game plan at the start. It provides the team with both direction and a place to return to when the research starts getting into the weeds. There are numerous trails to follow, but remember that it’s easy to get off track and to wind up on other paths. From the beginning, know which intel, aligned with your firm’s strategy, would be most valuable to uncover and focus your efforts there. Consider using a mix of searches through databases, press releases, news articles, and the websites of your competitors as well to find insights.

Analyze your findings and interpret the results

After compiling all of the research, it’s time to analyze the findings. Look for the points of differentiation between your company and those of your competitors, as well as the points of similarity. It’s important to know both what makes your firm unique and what the essentials, or non-negotiables for your industry, and firm, are. These are the competencies and basic services your firm needs to offer at a baseline—that are expectations of clients—before thinking about your niche offerings. Pull out the insights that could most impact business strategy, and work with your team and partners to interpret what these results could mean.

Consider points of comparison

Finding the right metrics to measure success is a crucial step. No matter what your competitors are doing, it’s essential to see how that looks in relation to your work—meaning you’ll need a way of comparing one effort against another. Consumption, engagement and conversion metrics are among the potential categories to establish your benchmarks and the areas to track. There are many tools available that can assist in pulling social media and website metrics of competitors. Your team can also look to press mentions and the type of content competitors are producing to inform your analysis.

Next steps

Once you have analyzed and interpreted the results of a competitive analysis, it’s important to determine action items. What do you do with this information? The competitive analysis can help a firm evaluate priorities and measure how it stacks up against its competitors. These insights often will lead a firm to edit their messaging, develop new and engaging content, or redesign their website—among other initiatives.