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EVERY Department Needs To Know Something About 'Who You Are Up Against'

Competitive Affairs' Wide Ranging Impacts

Every day, people in many departments across nearly all organizations are concerned with questions and issues that require understanding their competitive environment.

See specific examples in Executive Leadership, Marketing, Sales, Product Development (including R&D), Community Leadership (i.e., government affairs, investor relations, campaign management, public affairs, fund raising, public relations, community relations), Purchasing, Finance and Legal, and Human Resources.

Executive Leadership

  • Corporate Planning and Strategy : How do you monitor and understand the key elements of your competitive market (competitors, major customers, suppliers, potential entrants, substitute providers, partners, government regulators, unions, and all other groups that can have a clear influence on the success of your company)? What aspects of each of these groups are evaluated regularly and how is that information factored into strategic planning?
  • Organizational Core Competencies : What are the most important organizational capabilities critical to the success of your company in the competitive market? What are your company's strengths and weaknesses in each, compared to your main competitors strengths and weaknesses in each?
  • Effective Management : How do you gather and communicate information to align employees' vision and activities to reach organizational goals? How do you retain knowledge in your organization, including getting the most value out of it and ensuring that knowledge held by key employees isn't lost when they leave the company? Do you have information sharing methods to help you get a better understanding of what employees see and do every day and how your organization is doing on the tactical front-line?
  • Other Issues : see the following lists to discover a range of competitive affairs issues of interest.


  • SWOT Analysis for Marketing Strategy : What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for your competitors and how do the situation(s) of your competitors impact your strategy?
  • Identifying Target Markets : What target markets are your competitors pursuing for specific products or services (e.g., evaluate use of promotional venues, ad placement and messages, etc.)? Which target markets appear to be saturated and which ones present an opportunity for you?
  • Differentiation for Company, Product and Service Branding : How is your company distinctly different from your competitors? Are you using this actual differentiation in your company's branding efforts? What products or services compete with yours and how are they distinctly different? Does this difference matter to your customers and, if so, are you taking advantage of that distinction?
  • Sales Support : What products or services compete with yours? How are your Sales people using this information with prospects to engage in competitive sales? Are they able to effectively emphasize your strengths and competitors' weaknesses?
  • Marketing Communications : What messages do your prospective customers see daily that influence their opinion of your company (from competitors, industry issues, media coverage, etc.) and affect the believability of your own MarCom messages? How could your messages be modified to be more effective?
  • Word of Mouth Marketing via Employees : Are your employees given sufficient information so they become informal promoters of why your products or services are better than your competitors? This will also help them become unofficial spokespeople (over the backyard fence, at baseball games and dinner parties, etc.) to make the best use of word of mouth' opportunities to promote your company.


  • Why should I buy from you and not your competitor?  Do Sales people have useful information to effectively answer this question asked by information-savvy customers (business and consumer)? Do Sales people use competitive selling techniques, proven to be the most effective ways to sell?
  • Increase Sales Effectiveness : Do Sales people know which specific products or services compete directly with yours? Are they on their own to try to stay current (versus receiving a large Sales binder twice a year)? How are your Sales people using this information with prospects to engage in competitive selling? Are they able to effectively emphasize your strengths and your competitors' weaknesses?
  • Planting and Navigating Sales Landmines : Based on what you know about your competitors' product or service weaknesses (features, pricing, shipping delays, return rates, customer complaints, etc.), do your Sales people frequently plant landmines' when talking with prospective customers to sway the sale in your direction? Based on what you know about your own product or service weaknesses relative to your competitors, do your Sales people have good answers in hand to respond to 'landmines' planted by a competitor?
  •  Reduce the Cost of Sales: Based on knowledge of your product or services strengths and weaknesses relative to competitors', and combined with an understanding of the preferences of prospects, which customers are most likely to buy your products or services? Do your Sales people have a way to know when not to waste time and money going after business that they aren't likely to win?

Product Development (and R&D)

  • Trends Inside (& Outside) the Industry : What areas of research and product or service development are your competitors or potential market entrants involved in? How will this likely affect a variety of areas such as the strength of company strategies (yours and theirs), mix of products or services, customer reaction (or public opinion), potential target markets, etc.?
  • Developing Distinct Products or Services : What products or services are offered in the market now that your prospects see as direct alternatives to your product or service (competitors and substitutes)? What customer needs or desires are not being met by any of these and how can you use this as a product development opportunity for creating clear differentiation and a distinct competitive advantage?
  • Being First to Market : What products or services are being developed by your competitors or potential entrants to your market? Are they threats to your ability to get the financial and competitive advantages from being first to market' with your own newly developed products or services?
  • Protection of Intellectual Property : How are you deliberately tracking your competitors or potential entrants in your market who may be infringing on your company's patents, trademarks or other intellectual assets?

Community Leadership (Government Relations, Investor Relations, Fundraising, Public Relations, Campaign Management, Community Relations, Public Affairs, etc.)

  • Know Your Community Audience : To ensure that external communications and related strategic planning is effective, do you know who the primary decision-making groups or influential individuals in the community' are (at all levels important to your company)? Do you keep on top of basic information about them: the key players in each group, their agenda and hot buttons, their allies and opponents, common interests you share with them, where you disagree, etc.
  • Relationship Management : How does your company ensure that it has good working relationships with influential groups or individuals at every level important to your company (local, state, national, international)? How do you manage these relationships to ensure that when there is staff turnover, your company doesn't lose these connections, 'institutional memory' and key community information?
  • Right Hand Knows What the Left Hand is Doing : How is community-based information about public trends, influential groups, key people, history of certain issues, political and public sensitivities, etc. collected? Do you share it among leaders and staff in a variety of departments inside your company to maximize your company's ability to assess effectiveness in using one consistent voice in all external communication, such as media, mailers, courtroom, community meetings, etc.?


  • Supplier Contracting : What do you know about key suppliers to your company (other companies they supply, cost structures, pricing, production times, personalities of key negotiators, turn-around times, customer service availability, reliability, location, contract requirements, etc.)? How do the specific attributes of products and services of key suppliers compare to each other? Are you using that information to strengthen your negotiating position and overall strategic management of key supplier relationships?
  • Effective Supply Chain Management : What other suppliers are available in your market that present either opportunities or threats to your effective supply chain management? Which suppliers are working with your competitors and under what arrangements? Do those arrangements with your competitors give them a competitive advantage that your company must overcome?

Finance and Legal

  • Due Diligence for Mergers, Alliances, Acquisitions, etc: How does your company gather and use internal and external information about potential partners to determine whether they are a good fit with your company's strategies and goals? What questions are asked about these companies in your competitive market? Where are the answers most likely found? What are the most common challenges, pitfalls, blind sides, etc., in the due diligence process and how does your company manage them?
  • Risk Management : What are the external trends and issues that pose potential risk to your company, products or services? What competitive market forces (competitors, government regulators, unions, activist groups, suppliers, etc.) are likely to have the greatest impact on your industry and your company? How does your company regularly track these groups or forces then deliberately factor information from their activities into your risk management strategies and tactics?
  • Legal Actions and Impact on Your Company :  When your company goes to court or participates in other legal proceedings (aspects of which are often open to the public), how does your legal team routinely factor into their impact analysis an assessment of how key groups in the external competitive market could react (either in harmful or helpful ways to your company)? How is this competitive market information factored into your company's legal strategies?

Human Resources

  • Employee Orientation: How do you get new employees up to speed' about the products, services, divisions, locations and other aspects of your own organization so they understand their role in the big picture of what your company is up against and trying to accomplish? Do employees understand the difference between public information and company information that should not be given out because of its competitive or proprietary nature?
  • Hiring and Retaining Good People : How do you ensure that the benefits and salaries that your company offers are attractive when compared to your competitors (e.g., in your industry, outside your industry but trying to hire from the same local labor pool, etc.)? Are you using information about your strengths and their weaknesses to strengthen your negotiating position and reduce the time lag to hire the top candidates?
  • Labor Relations : What do you know about the unions that have organized your employees (size, other companies and industries they've organized, hot buttons, top priorities, weak spots, underlying agendas, personalities of key negotiators, likely strategies and tactics, key community allies for you and/or for the union, etc.) and are you using that information to strengthen your negotiating position and overall strategic management of labor issues?
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