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In the information age, data serves as the ultimate currency. Advertisers pay for it, platforms build empires on top of it, and researchers devote significant resources to find it. Yet much like currency, not all data holds equal value. Instead of using up resources researching the information-age equivalent of pennies, it’s important to identify a more potent type of data: information that is both valuable and accessible.
This balancing act lies at the center of competitive intelligence. In the perfect world, an organization could commit limitless resources to uncover every possible fact, insight and piece of data on a competitor. The real world, on the other hand, likely requires working with finite resources and limited budgets to uncover the key competitive data points most helpful for driving business decisions.
For those facing an unforgiving timeline, here are four key data points to be researched that—with the right tools—will help to rapidly build a valuable dossier of competitive data to share across your organization.
Gathering competitive intelligence is both a qualitative and quantitative endeavor. When it comes to the latter, there are few facts as useful as net sales. This bottom-line number outlines just how much income a competitor has coming in, making it a valuable barometer of success among customers.
For publicly traded companies, finding a competitor’s net sales is relatively straightforward. Within LexisNexis DossierTM for instance, net sales appear on the company snapshot. Private company sales numbers can be harder to pinpoint, but many—especially larger private companies—are still easily uncovered thanks to various analyst reports. Pro tip: use established conversion tables to report net sales in the predominant currency for your organization.
Total assets are important for competitive intelligence because they help to outline a competitor’s financial health. In addition to total sales, total assets are measured against liabilities (more on that later) to determine an organization’s overall solvency. Assets include the tangible, property, land and equipment, and the intangible, such as patents, brands and copyrights.
Ultimately, assets play a large part in an organization’s ability to make money. Understanding the assets of a competitor is shorthand for understanding their potential future growth.
After identifying net sales and total assets, it’s important to also research the total liabilities for competitors. As previously mentioned, this figure serves as the foil to net sales and total assets. Taken together, the three can be compared to measure whether an organization is drowning in debt or swimming in potential. By themselves, liabilities aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Taking on liabilities like loans can be a sound investment in future growth. But when liabilities become outpaced by sales or assets, problems arise.
Companies with lower total liabilities are less burdened by debt and have more agility to make liquid financial decisions. In the event of an economic downturn, competitors with extremely high liabilities will have a much harder time staying afloat.
Even as automation becomes more prevalent, a company’s total headcount provides valuable competitive insight. Total employees can be a barometer for business optimism, and a sharp spike in either direction can provide a rough estimation for a change in business projections.
The total number of employees can also be used in comparison with other figures—like total sales—to provide further insights. A lower headcount to total sales ratio correlates with a higher overall productivity. This can be valuable for human resource professionals in evaluating staffing strategy. For those in public relations, sharing headcount numbers with external audiences can be a great way to emphasize your organization’s local or regional investment.
After compiling a data dossier, be sure to share the information appropriately. For this, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach but there are a few key things to keep in mind. As a rule, visualization of data makes the information easier to understand—use graphs, charts or even infographics to convey key points quickly and efficiently. Take special care when reporting competitive intelligence to executives, a topic we’ve expanded on previously . And finally, know who your target audience is. Data is only useful when in the right hands— be sure to share it with those who will find it actionable.