Developing the right positioning and messaging strategy goes beyond knowing what your business and service’s strengths and benefits are. You also need to have an in-depth understanding of other players in your space and how you stack up. Competitor research is how you get to that point and should be an essential component of your go-to-market strategy.
With effective competitor research, you should be able to see both how your SaaS product and your marketing approach compare to competitors. It’s not only a question of if your offering has features that will make you stand out, but of if your messaging will differentiate you from the noise. Your customer service, for example, may be the best in your industry, but if all of your competition frequently speaks to the power of their customer service, your claims to the same effect will likely get lost in the crowd.
To be sure you are spending time looking into the right aspects of each company (and not wasting effort on unimportant ones), we’ll walk through here the core points to investigate when researching each of your competitors. Before you get started on your own research, be sure to download our template below, which lays out a framework for noting and organizing your findings.
Where do I start my competitive analysis?
The first step when conducting this research should, of course, be selecting your closest, most relevant competitors. To start, try to select fewer than 15—preferably fewer than 10. Not only do you not want to spend unnecessary time looking into every other company that a potential customer might choose, but the more competitors you introduce into your research, the less focused it will become. Try to look only at your direct competitors, those that your audience is regularly choosing instead of you, and who are operating generally within the same features and benefits set.
After you have your selection of businesses, it's time to start working down the line, looking to these core attributes for each:
- Company overview
- Positioning vectors
- Product directory ratings and reviews
- Value propositions
The first step in your competitor research is the simplest. Look to competitors’ LinkedIn and home pages to determine some quick facts about them:
- How long have they been around?
- How big is their team?
- How does the brand look and feel?
- How do they summarize what they do in a tagline?
Positioning vectors are the axes by which to compare you to competitors. At the end of this exercise, you’ll want to have found a pair of vectors that place you at the top of the pack.
Once you’ve picked two or three vectors with which you believe you will rank the highest, assign your competitors a 1-10 rank for each of the axes. If you’ve chosen the right positioning vectors, you’ll have the highest ranking for at least two of them.
The first set of vectors you choose will often not be the ones you end up with. If you find during your research that the vectors you selected are not framing you as the no. 1 choice, keep applying new ones until you find the right set for you.
Product director ratings and reviews
Sites like Capterra and G2 will be frequent stops for your audience once they reach the decision stage of their buyer’s journey and are selecting between your service and similar options. Researching your and your competitors’ presence on these sites will both give you a good sense of which of these sites are important in your industry and of how people generally regard your competitors’ services.
If most of your competitors are receiving dozens of positive reviews on these sites, you’ll want to make a concerted effort to boost your presence on them so that potential customers are not dissuaded by your star rating.
Pricing will either be the simplest or most difficult part of your competitor research. If you are operating in an industry with services that are, on average, low-cost, you’ll likely find that almost all of your competitors have pricing pages available on their site. In industries with high contract values and custom, enterprise pricing models, your chances of finding publicly available pricing are low.
If you cannot find pricing on competitors’ sites, look to product directories or any forums and industry groups where your audience may be discussing competitors’ products. Often you’ll find consumers discussing services with specific references to pricing.
If all else fails, mystery shopping—in which you approach your competitors as a customer looking for pricing information—is another common approach.
Who does your competition think is the best audience for their product?
When looking into your competitors’ audience, you’ll want to observe what segment they are positioning themselves towards. Company size, industry, and persona are all relevant here. Select your industry’s primary audiences and then see how often these same audiences pop up amongst each of your competitors’ sites.
Knowing who your audience is targeting is a good way to gauge which areas of your total addressable market (TAM) are already being addressed and where there are gaps. Approaching a commonly targeted audience comes with some assurance that the audience is interested in and knows of the general solution you are offering, but it may be difficult to carve out a space for yourself with all of the close competition. If you decide to instead aim towards a more niche audience, you may have an easier time establishing yourself, but you’ll need to first speak with people in that audience to gauge whether there is indeed a need and desire in that specific group.
Value propositions are the core benefits that your competitors lay claim to. These are the key elements that separate a business from its competitors. Observe which three to four core points each of your competitors is emphasizing about their offering and which they believe are most important for proving their value and distinguishing them.
Features are an essential part of competitor research, but at the same time, their importance is often over-valued. Many B2B SaaS companies will begin and end their competitor research with a comparison of product features. While this will give you insight into what advantages your product has or where it is lacking in comparison to others, it won’t give you any insight into how they are positioning themselves.
You may have a truly unique offering from a features perspective, but you also need to understand how to make your messaging and positioning stand out from the noise.
Thus, while you are creating a feature grid comparing you and your competitors by which common features you do and do not have, simply keep in mind that the features you have that differentiate you are only able to do so when you can properly frame them. When writing about each feature in the future, be sure to think about them in terms of the pain-claim-gain framework.
In this section, you will want to create a feature grid of the main benefits advertised by your competitors. While features are the means by which a person will solve their problem, the benefits of the solution are the end results and solutions they are hoping to achieve.
Once you have a list of the most common benefits discussed by your competitors, look again at each competitor’s site to mark who is speaking to those benefits, which benefits are the most commonly touted, and which benefits are not commonly mentioned. Use this to then find gaps in the messaging of your competitors: Find those benefits that you can lay claim to that others are rarely, if ever, advertising and carve out a positioning niche for yourself through them.
Nailing down your competitive advantage
With all of the findings you’ve collected, take a moment to note down the core pieces of your offering and positioning that will give you the edge over each competitor. You’ll likely continue to reference your competitor research when developing and readjusting your marketing strategy, and this will serve as your main, quick reference point when revisiting it. It is also a great exercise for collecting your thoughts on the competitor and finding the best way to frame yourself when comparing your company to theirs.
Not every element of your competitor research will be immediately useful to you, but it should serve as a constant reference point for you whenever you are creating messaging guides, building branding, or otherwise developing your go-to-market strategy. You need to be an expert on what your audience is seeing when searching for a product like yours and have an understanding of what your competitors are doing to position themselves as the top choice.