Q: "I just joined a startup as a Product Manager. The CEO wants me to conduct a competitive intelligence study. How should I go about it?"
First, get clarity on the goal. Studying competitors should be a holistic learning endeavor that helps you:
Don't approach it with a monolithic mindset to blindly copy whatever they have.
Why? Because, without any validation efforts, we won't know whether:
(a) their thought process was rational (was it the best solution for the problem?)
(b) whether the feature works for our customer audience.
For a competitive intelligence study, prepare a slide deck that considers:
Look at competitor product & marketing sites, understand the value propositions & the audiences they are catering to (e.g. job titles of testimonial authors can help).
What pain points are they claiming to solve vs. your priority areas?
Some experts frown upon a side-by-side feature comparison, however, I believe it is essential because many customers will evaluate products that way on review sites anyway. Even if a feature isn't important to a prospect, having it (vs. not having it) might trigger "loss aversion".
But before you venture into feature-by-feature comparisons, you need to establish "equivalence" i.e. compare apples with apples.
For example, let's say your product & a competitor offers an integration with Salesforce. It's tempting to say both offer it. However, if your version supports only a one-way sync compared to the competitor's 2-way sync, then be explicit about it and create separate line items to make this evident.
Whenever possible, sign up for a free trial or freemium and experience the product first-hand. What do they do well & where do they lack?
Capture pricing sheet of these competitors and document how similar or different their business model is. What do they offer in each tier? How does that revenue model compare to yours?
Finally, know that there are typically 3 consumers of such a document alongside the CEO:
They want to see a feature-by-feature comparison & a SWOT to assist in handling objections. How are we better?
They want to know about new problems, opportunities & audiences that the product isn't catering to to plan potential roadmaps. Where can we improve?
How do we position ourselves compared to them? What are some competitive advantages that we need to base our messaging on?
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