We get it. You want to jump into the deep end with lead generation and new customer acquisition. Who doesn’t!
But where do you start? What’s the right lead gen channel for your business or your category as a whole? What’s working well for competitors and what haven’t they even tried? Is there a marketing channel that will help set you apart?
This is where competitive audits come in. Taking a structured approach to analyzing what competitors are doing across marketing activities and how they nurture prospects through the purchasing process will give you a lay of the competitive land. You’ll have an objective view of where to prioritize your efforts, how to set the foundations for your marketing activities, and what levers you have to differentiate yourself in a crowded territory.
Picking Your Competitors
If you’re going to run a competitive audit, you need to figure out who you want to audit, right? You could probably list out oodles of potential competitors to your business, which is why part of the competitive audit process is actually narrowing down the list. There are usually a few different criteria used to start narrowing things down:
Product/Service Alignment: This includes focusing in on competitors that offer the same, or very similar, products and services. This is usually applicable in saturated or mature markets where there are a lot of competitors present.
Category Alignment: This option allows you to review organizations that may not be direct competitors but offer related or complementary products or services. This is a great choice when your organization is part of a broader category that buyers are accustomed to and will likely compare you against.
Market Position: This option can mean selecting competitors based on the market share they own or could potentially own. This is a solid choice for smaller organizations going up against entrenched players or established players keeping tabs on category upstarts.
Geography: For businesses who deliver products or services within a core region, geography is a way to further hone in on competitors likely vying for the same customers. When geography is a factor, it’s usually used in conjunction with one of the criteria above.
There is no set number of competitors you should audit. From a strictly practical standpoint, you want to keep the number in check since each incremental competitor adds incremental time to the process. Additionally, when it comes time to review the findings, too many competitors can make it difficult to keep their differences top-of-mind. We generally run audits that include 5-8 competitors.
Competitive Audit Components
There are a lot of ways to tackle competitive audits. Some are more branding or positioning oriented, and are ideal for creating unique differentiators for your product or service. In contrast, audits focused on lead generation focus more on acquisition channels that do the bulk of driving initial interest to your business.
There several components of a lead generation-oriented competitive audit. These include:
What It Is: A website sitemap is essentially a blue print for a website. It lets you see the general structure of the site including the actual pages that live on the website and how users are expected to navigate to each and every page.
What You’ll Learn Via An Audit: By reviewing competitors’ website sitemaps you’ll be able to understand how your competitors are introducing information to prospects and what information they think is necessary to convert a visitor into an MQL or a customer. This becomes a great opportunity to start evaluating your own website, or the website you plan to launch, to see if it covers critical information and displays your services, products, and value propositions in a way that will make it more likely for prospects to convert.
Marketing Tech Stack
What It Is: The marketing tech stack, or martech stack for short, represents all of the different software competitors are using to run their marketing operations. This can cover everything from website platforms and plugins to analytics tools, marketing automation software, and other bells and whistles.
What You’ll Learn Via An Audit: A truly robust marketing program generally includes a variety of marketing software. Reviewing your competitors’ martech stack can help you identify what areas of their business they’re prioritizing and how far along they are in building out their marketing infrastructure.
What It Is: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) represents how well a website is designed to increase the likelihood and quality of organic, non-paid web traffic. Said another way, it’s a reflection of how likely your website will pop up in a Google Search. SEO has a lot of components to it. There are on-site factors like website code, design, speed, and content as well as offline factors like inbound links from 3rd party sites.
What You’ll Learn Via An Audit: Tracking your competitors’ SEO performance will not only let you see how ahead of the game they are or aren’t (e.g. perhaps they don’t have very many inbound links and don’t rank in the top 10 for core keywords) but also let you know how quickly you can catch up. Additionally, as you’re thinking about making on-site improvements to impact SEO (e.g. site speed), you’ll have ready-made benchmarks to start aiming for.
SEM Spend & Keywords
What It Is: Search Engine Marketing (SEM) can more colloquially be thought of as Google and Bing Ads. These are the (usually) text-based ads that appear in search engines when you make a query, and are generally thought of as a good way to reach targeted prospects since it lets your reach individuals searching for information that aligns with your business.
What You’ll Learn Via An Audit: Exploring competitors’ SEM programs offers a variety of insights. To begin with, if you see that they are spending significant funds month over month, that alone is a good signal that competitors are having success with SEM and you could too. On top of that, an audit will uncover the specific keywords your competitors are bidding on as well as the variety of text ads they are serving up. When looked at holistically, this work will serve as a strong foundation for building your own SEM campaign since you’ll have ready-made insights into what keywords to leverage and what value propositions are resonating.
What It Is: This refers to content created for prospective customers that engages them and convinces them to buy. This can be blog posts, eGuides, white papers, product spec sheets, case studies, press releases, and even videos. This content can be informative and educational in nature to help prospects learn about the category in general, or it can more product oriented if it’s aimed to help convert leads into actual customers.
What You’ll Learn Via An Audit: As you’re thinking about your own content efforts, it’ll help to see the breadth and depth of content that’s being produced to benchmark what you’re up against. Some businesses may have major content production teams in-house. An audit will identify this let you assess if you’re ready and able to match those resources. However, more likely, you’ll see variations in content quality and publishing frequency across competitors. This will help you isolate content areas you can quickly “win” and also the minimum levels of production quality you must meet to compete.
And, it’ll give you ideas for the type of content you can produce yourself. Sometimes the biggest challenge in content production isn’t the actual production but rather the ideation. Looking at content your competitors are producing is a great way to jog ideas of your own.
What It Is: This refers to the actual price of the product or service being offered. Of course, it’s not just the price itself that matters but the payment cycle options (e.g. monthly, yearly) and even the payment options being offered (e.g. invoice, credit card, etc.).
What You’ll Learn Via An Audit: Most shoppers will check out competitor pricing so you’ll want to understand what the pricing landscape looks like and how customers are being anchored. It’ll also show you how flexible or inflexible you can be with how you charge for your product. You don’t need to match what others are doing. But, if you find yourself more or less expensive, or more or less flexible, you’ll want to ask yourself if that’s reasonable or if you need to adjust your approach.
What It Is: A customer journey maps the experience a customer has with a business as they go through the awareness, consideration, and decision process. In essence, it captures everything a customer goes through as they decide to buy. The journey covers top-of-the-funnel experiences such as the website, messaging, content marketing, and initial on-site experience, middle-of-the-funnel experiences like explainer and product marketing videos, product spec sheets, and nurture emails, and bottom-of-the-funnel components like price and pricing model, customer cases studies and testimonials, and trials.
What You’ll Learn Via An Audit: By assessing the entire customer journey, you can determine how well-developed competitors’ marketing ecosystems are and where they have the largest holes in their journey process. This will offer insight into how much of a head start competitors have (or don’t have) over your business while also identifying how you can differentiate yourself from standard industry journeys.
What To Do When Your Competitive Audit Is Complete
The competitive audit is all about intelligence gathering so that you can perform as well as, or (hopefully) better, than your competitors. Use the results from your audit to identify how category insiders talk about themselves and their products. Along the same lines, you can start to understand how prospective customers think about the category and make sure you’re talking about yourself in a similar way. Competitive audits will help in several tactical ways too, including let you…
Learn What’s Working For Others
Businesses typically put large investments in tactics that perform well for them. If you see major investments in some channels, especially search engine marketing, it’s likely a good signal that the channel is strong at driving leads. Additionally, bigger players have likely done a lot of research to land on their sitemaps as well as their SEO and content strategy. Take the opportunity to piggy back on someone else’s work and research! This is especially valuable if you’re a smaller player trying to make inroads.
Inform Your Channel Strategy
In a world where nearly all customers are doing comparison shopping, you know you need to look as good as, if not better than, competitors. However, unless you’re flush with cash, you’ll still need to pick and choose which marketing activities you want to excel at. Completing a competitive audit will help isolate which channels are competitive weaknesses, helping you prioritize acquisition channels and customer journey experiences that will set you apart.
Identify Where You Need to Step It Up
While competitive audits are about isolating opportunity, they are also about creating necessary wake up calls. It’s likely that you or other team members have strong hunches about where your competitors are stronger. However, actually performing an audit will create the concrete evidence needed to validate those hunches and set the foundations you need to start doing something about it.