Gathering Competitive Intelligence For Small Businesses

SMEs account for 99.9% of the UK’s business landscape. Yet 20% of small businesses fail within the first year. By the end of year three, that figure is 30%. After five years, it’s 50%. And by the end of 10 years, it’s 70%. 

One of the reasons for that challenge is the competitiveness of their market. 53% of small businesses describe their market as highly competitive. While 57% say they compete against both large and small competitors.

Competitors have the potential to pose a threat to your revenue and, ultimately, your survival. 

competitive intelligence for small businesses

Introduction To Competitive Intelligence For Small Businesses

If you’re unaware of who your competitors are or you don’t have a clear understanding of their strategies, you could overlook a significant risk to your business.


Let’s imagine a direct competitor launches a new product or service that enhances its proposition. The later you learn about this development, the less time you have to respond or protect your share of the market.


Or perhaps there’s a new entrant in the market and you only find out about them from a current customer, by which time it’s too late to stop them taking their account away.

In contrast, imagine you were to learn about those threats as soon as they materialised. Or as soon as the precursor to that threat materialises, such as your competitor making a significant new hire or investment.


The longer you have to analyse and understand the changes taking place, the better placed you are to make changes of your own and respond proactively in the market.



The Benefits Of Competitive Intelligence For Small Businesses 

It’s not just threats either. Understanding your competitors’ strategies can help you identify opportunities such as underserved customers and untapped markets. Being able to analyse strategies alongside trends within the market can help you move fast. 

You don’t even need to be first, either. Studies show that first-mover businesses have a 47% failure rate compared to the 8% of ‘fast followers’.

Knowledge, understanding and the ability to move quickly can be the difference between success and failure.

It’s unsurprising then that the competitor intelligence market is expected to reach $33.3 billion by 2025, a 44% increase over the last five years.

That growth isn’t being propelled by enterprise-level organisations alone. We’ve seen a significant increase in small and medium-sized companies ready to use competitor intelligence to better understand their competitors and market.

So how does competitive intelligence for small businesses work? How do you gather the intelligence you need to gain a competitive advantage, outsmart the competition and protect and grow revenue?

Types of Competitor Intelligence Should Small Businesses Track

To gain a competitive advantage, small businesses can track various types of competitor intelligence. Here are 3 grouped examples:

1) Product and service offerings

Understanding your competitors’ product or service offerings and the strategies behind them is vital. You can monitor their features, pricing, packaging, and any updates or enhancements they introduce. This information can help you identify gaps in the market and uncover opportunities for improvement or innovation in your own offerings.

2) Marketing and advertising strategies

Keeping an eye on your competitors’ marketing and advertising campaigns can give your own teams valuable insights. By analysing their messaging, channels and tactics, you’ll gain insights into their target audience, positioning, and value proposition.


You’ll be able to compare these with your own strategy to see why you’re the market leader or where you could be falling short. By understanding what resonates with their customers, you can refine your own marketing strategies and differentiate yourself effectively.

3) Online presence and digital Marketing

Another important area of focus should be your competitors’ online presence. This can cover their website design, user experience, search engine optimization (SEO) strategies, social media activities, and content marketing efforts. This information helps you identify online trends, discover new platforms to engage with your audience and optimise your digital marketing strategies. 


By tracking these types of competitor intelligence, small businesses can stay informed about the ever-changing landscape and make data-driven decisions to stay ahead of the competition.

What Types of Competitors Should Small Businesses Track?

Small businesses should track various types of competitors to gain a comprehensive understanding of their market. Here are four categories of competitors worth monitoring:

Small businesses should track various types of competitors to gain a comprehensive understanding of their market. Here are four categories of competitors worth monitoring:


A) Direct competitors

These are businesses that offer similar products or services to the same target audience as yours. Tracking direct competitors allows you to analyse their strengths, weaknesses, pricing strategies, customer satisfaction, and market share. This knowledge helps you differentiate your offerings and develop strategies to attract and retain customers.


B) Indirect competitors

Indirect competitors may not offer the same products or services, but they target the same customer needs or solve similar problems. For example, a local bakery could consider a supermarket selling ready-made desserts as an indirect competitor. By monitoring indirect competitors, you can uncover alternative solutions that customers may choose over your offerings and find ways to address those needs.


C) Established competitors

These are long-standing players in your industry who have established brand recognition and a significant market share. Analysing established competitors provides valuable insights into successful strategies, customer loyalty programs, and industry trends. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses helps you identify areas where you can compete effectively or find a niche market to target.



D) Emerging and Scale-up Competitors

Keep an eye on emerging businesses and scale-ups that are gaining momentum in your industry. These competitors may have innovative approaches, disruptive technologies, or unique value propositions. By tracking their growth and strategies, you can anticipate market shifts and identify potential threats or partnership opportunities.


By monitoring these types of competitors, small businesses can make informed decisions, adapt their strategies, and stay ahead in a rapidly evolving business landscape.

What Tools Should Small Businesses Use?

Small businesses can benefit from using competitor intelligence (CI) tools to streamline their data collection, analysis and decision-making processes.
Here’s why automated software has gained popularity over manual tracking:


Efficiency and time savings

CI tools automate the gathering and analysis of competitor data, saving valuable time for small business owners and marketers. Instead of manually monitoring multiple sources, such as websites, social media, and industry publications, these tools consolidate information into actionable insights.


Comprehensive data collection

CI tools provide access to a vast amount of competitor data from various sources. They can track competitor websites, social media profiles, online reviews, and news mentions. By aggregating this information, small businesses gain a holistic view of their competitors’ activities and market trends.


Real-time monitoring

Automated CI tools offer real-time monitoring capabilities, allowing small businesses to receive immediate updates on competitor activities. Whether it’s a new product launch, pricing changes, or marketing campaigns, these tools provide timely alerts, enabling businesses to respond quickly and stay ahead of the competition.


Data analysis and insights

CI tools not only collect data but also provide in-depth analysis and actionable insights. They utilise advanced algorithms and machine learning techniques to uncover patterns, trends, and correlations within the competitor data. Small businesses can leverage these insights to identify strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities, guiding their strategic decision-making.


Competitive benchmarking

CI tools enable small businesses to benchmark themselves against their competitors. By comparing performance metrics, market share, customer sentiment, and other relevant factors, businesses can gauge their competitive positioning and identify areas for improvement.


Competitive strategy development

With the help of CI tools, small businesses can develop informed and data-driven competitive strategies. By understanding their competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, and market positioning, they can identify gaps in the market and devise strategies to differentiate themselves effectively.


Risk and threat assessment

CI tools assist small businesses in assessing potential risks and threats from competitors. By monitoring competitor activities and market trends, businesses can proactively identify emerging threats, such as new entrants or disruptive technologies. This allows them to develop contingency plans and mitigate potential risks to their market share.

Other Considerations For Small Businesses

What do you want to achieve?

This could be to address a specific challenge – such as understanding how your competitors are attracting customers or the best talent – or simply to build a broader understanding of the market you’re in and how you can gain a competitive advantage. Having a clear goal or set of goals in mind will keep your project focused and make it easier to evaluate its value to the business.


Who needs to see the intelligence?

In a small business, it may be limited to very few people but there’s no reason why certain insights can’t be shared with everyone. The key is to think about who will benefit from a better understanding of the market and who will be able to use what they learn. 


Once clear, you can think about how best to share it and how it should be presented. It may be as simple as giving them access to the dashboard or setting them up for alerts. Or it could involve your software integrating with your existing communication and data visualisation tools, such as Teams and Power BI.


How will you use your competitor intelligence?

While this will depend on what you learn, it’s worth having a plan for how the data can be put to good use. Maybe it forms an important part of your strategy meetings. Or relevant stakeholders are asked to give feedback on what the data means for your business and the market. 


Clear lines of responsibility, processes for how data is presented and shared, and metrics that will determine the value of your investment are all critical to making the most of the intelligence.

Competitive Intelligence For Small Businesses – FAQs

1) What is competitive intelligence?

Competitive intelligence refers to the process of gathering, analysing, and utilising information about your competitors and the market in which your business operates. It involves monitoring and evaluating your competitors’ strategies, activities, strengths, weaknesses, and market positioning. Competitive intelligence helps businesses gain insights into their competitive landscape, identify opportunities, mitigate risks, and make informed decisions to achieve a competitive advantage.


2)  What defines a small business?

Generally, a small business is characterised by its size, turnover, and number of employees. According to the Companies Act 2006, a small company in the UK meets two or more of the following criteria: having a turnover of not more than £10.2 million, a balance sheet total of not more than £5.1 million, and employing fewer than 50 employees. However, it’s important to consult specific regulations and guidelines for accurate definitions based on the particular industry or sector.



3) What are the main benefits of competitive intelligence for small businesses?

Competitive intelligence offers several benefits for small businesses, including:


Market Awareness: Competitive intelligence provides valuable insights into market trends, customer preferences, and emerging opportunities, allowing small businesses to align their strategies and offerings accordingly.


Competitive Advantage: By understanding competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, and strategies, small businesses can differentiate themselves, improve their products or services, and develop unique value propositions to stand out in the market.


Risk Mitigation: Competitive intelligence helps small businesses identify potential threats and risks, such as new market entrants or disruptive technologies. This allows them to take proactive measures to protect their market share and adapt their strategies accordingly.


Strategic Decision-Making: With comprehensive competitive intelligence, small businesses can make informed decisions about pricing, marketing, product development, and expansion. They can identify untapped market segments, anticipate customer needs, and optimise their strategies for sustainable growth.


Customer Insights: Analysing competitor intelligence provides valuable information about customers’ preferences, behaviour, and satisfaction levels. This knowledge enables small businesses to tailor their offerings, improve customer experience, and strengthen customer loyalty.


Collaboration and Partnerships: Competitive intelligence helps identify potential collaboration opportunities with complementary businesses or strategic partnerships, leading to mutually beneficial relationships and expanding market reach.

Continuous Improvement: By monitoring competitors’ activities and market trends, small businesses can continuously adapt, innovate, and improve their offerings, ensuring their competitiveness and long-term success.