Last week we suggested that marketers and small business owners should secret shop their own companies to experience things the way their customers do.

But don’t stop there! Secret shop your whole industry.

When you become your competitor’s customer you can learn a lot about how they do business. And that’s your goal, to learn as much as you can.

In order to do that, you should start with their online presence and advertising. Search for them, find out how they communicate with prospective customers. If they have a sales team, talk to them.

Make sure you keep detailed notes. You are looking for the good and the bad alike. Note what they do well (things you might “copy”) and the things they do poorly (areas you “win” on).

Find out what the buying experience is like. Can you complete your purchase online or do you need to do it by phone or in person? How helpful are the people you speak with? The information on their website?

After purchase, actually use the product or service. See how it makes you feel, how easy it is to figure out and use. Does it solve the problem they told you it would? Does it make your life better in some way?

Then contact their customer service department. How easy is it to get someone to respond to your inquiry? How well do they treat you? Do they have the authority necessary to solve complex problems or the product knowledge to answer detailed questions?

Shop all your competitors. And when you’re done, compile a report and showcase your findings to your team. Explain what you learned, the good and the bad, and use it to make your own company better. That might be through new processes, better systems, coaching and training, or new messaging to highlight the key things your company truly does better than anyone else.