I recently demonstrated to a BYU business school class several online tools that I regularly use for market research and competitive intelligence. My premise was that if a business person is omniscient, then the chance that they will create a business that succeeds is 100%. (I suppose there is always a risk of execution failure if you are not also omnipotent, but that’s not my point). Omniscience is not possible in this world. But the more knowledge and intelligence you have about an industry and all of its players, the more likely you are to create a successful venture.
So what powerful internet tools can help you gather all known information about industries and companies so that you can more quickly create a successful strategy and alliances for your own business?
My father taught me about SIC codes (now NAICS codes) which the government uses to classify all economic activites.
I like to go to the Securities and Exchange Commission Website, look up an SIC code, and then find all publicly traded companies in that industry. I usually look at the companies annual and quarterly filings, scanning first for financial information (income statement & balance sheet) and then I go to the section entitled Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Business Operations. With just a few pages of reading, you can learn a great deal about any publicly traded company.
If the industry I am investigating has anything to do with manufacturing, I like the Thomas Register web site, which lists 189,000 manufacturing companies in the United States and more than 2.3 million products. This web site is free. By registering, you can actually email many of these companies, visit their web sites, etc. It’s an unbelievable resource. A global manufacturing directory is also being developed at Alibaba.com, which even goes further to connect buyers and sellers in the global marketplace. Everyone in business ought to keep their eyes on Alibaba.com. They raised more than $80 million in venture capital in February. They are huge in China and growing in influence elsewhere.
I also demonstrated the importance of Hoovers.com for finding contacts at large private and public companies.
Alexa.com (everyone must install this toolbar) shows you how much web traffic any business web site gets in comparison with any other. (It’s the poor man’s version of Comscore Media Metrix).
A free subscription to Dun & Bradstreet’s web site will let you list customers, prospects, and competitiors, and get free email alerts any time a company’s financial status changes (for better or worse). Don’t you want to know the financial health of your customers? Not knowing can cause you to go out of business someday.
In addition to D&B, you should sign up for Google News Alerts using keywords about your company, your industry and your competitors names. Any time any of 4,500 online news web sites mention any of your keywords, you’ll get an email. This is a free clipping service for executives.
And if you want to cover radio and television in addition to online news, sign up for TVeyes.com, and be alerted whenever your keywords are mentioned on the air.
I’m planning to buy a news aggregator and start getting RSS feeds from many of my favorite publications, but I’m not sure it will be a better user experience than getting alerts from Google and TVeyes.com.
Being alerted is ever so much better than searching the web every day for news.
Think of all the free competitive intelligence that is waiting for you. I know very few people that are aware that any of these tools even exist. So many employees in so many companies are so heads down, that they miss all the good free stuff that tells them about the outside world and all the good ideas that are being implemented outside. So if you sign up for these tools, you’ll have so much the advantage in the years ahead.