We created Jessle to assist with monitoring our competitors. The driver behind this was being fed up with hearing about awesome features our competitors released, from customers who were defecting to them or customers we were demonstrating the product to. If we had known about those sooner, we would have likely got the development team to build these before our customers defected. Some of these features would have taken a matter of days to build.
The biggest kicker was not seeing the amount of success our biggest competitor was getting by changing their market position and marketing strategy on Social Media sites such as Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, if we had seen the trend sooner though, we may have chosen a marketer over another coder. A mistake we will hopefully not make again.
After getting frustrated with not knowing this information, we began periodically checking on our competitors. We would ‘Like’ them on Facebook, ‘Follow’ them on Twitter, ‘Connect’ on LinkedIn and sign up to their newsletters. I would even go one step further and check weekly on the website and blog of my competitors. This was a good start but also got tedious having to regularly check on webpages to see what had changed. It certainly required a lot of taking screenshots.
Keeping tabs on our competitors did allow us to start seeing a trend over time, most importantly in how they positioned their product. We could see they had started to go more upmarket, after higher value contracts than targeting the SMB side of the business. It was eye-opening to us seeing how much success they appeared to be having with the changes they were making and we could clearly see how what we were working on was being left behind. If we hadn’t been monitoring them, we would have been oblivious to this.
Knowing the success our competitors were having by the change in direction caused us internally to take a moment and reflect on what we were doing, and where we actually want to be.
We asked ourselves the following questions:
We first looked at if we wanted to follow suit, and tried to determine what that may look like. As we had noticed too late the success they were having from this shift, we could tell that we were being left behind on features and our competitor was now 10 times our size, around 150 staff. To put it into perspective, they had 100 sales and marketers, we had 1. Safe to say, our attention was in the wrong place. It would be very hard for us to try to beat them in that space when they have been able to get such a head start.
Secondly, we looked at pivoting slightly into space they are leaving behind. We were not aware of any other real competition in that area. It certainly piqued our interest not having to worry about competition for a while and focusing attention on annual contract values of 1k-2k than going after 50k-100k contracts we could not compete on. Our company also fit this style better, we were not a completely professional company. We were fun and a little manic.
Finally, we looked at continuing our “one-size-fits” approach. Which was generic marketing material about managing your web estate, but not really targeting any specific customer and seeing what came along. We thought we were doing “ok” by this but hadn’t really got any traction. A few years on, we can now see how silly this was, yet at the time it felt like a good idea.
We decided that whilst in the future we wanted to target the enterprise market, as our competitors were heading upmarket, this will leave a gap that could be filled nicely in the SMB sector. Over the course of a few months, we created a slick signup process, changed the messaging and branding on our website, decided on our cold outreach campaigns, selected a keyword strategy and Facebook Ad campaign we wished to utilize and began going all-in on the SMB market. We had a short period with great success in this area gaining hundreds of customers.
After changing the market position, we felt no longer in direct competition with our original competitor, therefore stopped looking at them. This was no longer relevant, right? How wrong we were. They had found the perfect market fit in the perfect sector. They were adding hundreds more stuff at an incredible pace. Whilst we were adding around another 10 staff in that same period. We hadn’t realized this as we stopped bothering to notice. Again we found ourselves questioning why they were getting such great success but we were not. In this same period, several new competitors were starting out in the SMB sector that we were not even aware of. Again, this came back to bite us when customers were leaving us to go move to those businesses. Sometimes because they were cheaper and sometimes because they had some new functionality that we didn’t.
Monitoring your competitors can help keep your business informed of what your competitors’ marketing strategy is, and how well it is working for them. This can allow you to draw comparisons to your own business to figure out if you really have the correct market fit for your product and your strategy. You can get ahead of new competitors entering the market by knowing about them soon enough and you can help influence business decisions on what that next hire should be.
Simply put, not knowing what your competition is doing, or when new competitors are entering your market could catch your business off guard and cause it to lose out on existing and potential customers. If only we had learned this sooner at my original company, I believe we would have found our market fit faster, with fewer sleepless nights and most importantly, made a load more money!