Instant Competitive Research

By Geoffrey James

When you’re going into a sales situation, it’s always a good idea to know your competitor’s weaknesses. Because so many segments of the software market are fragmented with a multitude of different players, however, a software sales rep can sometimes end up going head-to-head against a company about which the rep is only vaguely familiar. Fortunately, the Internet provides a quick and easy method to discoverer the weaknesses of nearly any competitor. Here’s how.

STEP #1: If the company isn’t publicly held, skip to step #2. Otherwise, go to and click on Search for Company Filings, then Companies and Other Filings. Enter your competitor’s corporate name. You’ll get a list of documents. Click through to read their most recent 10K and 10Q reports. Typically you’ll get a list of .html files. Click on the first one, which will contain most of the company’s last detailed financial report. Skim through this document to learn exactly how the competitor defines itself, the businesses it’s in, and the way it allocates its funding. Check out the section titled Issues and Uncertainties to find out about the competitor’s weaknesses as seen by the competitor’s own management.

STEP #2: Go to and do successive searches using the competitor’s full corporate name and the following terms: troubled, dissatisfied, problem, and lawsuit. Chances are you’ll discover at least a few references to situations where your competitor has failed or made a customer unhappy. For every reference that looks promising, search on the competitor’s name along with the name of the unhappy customer. With any luck you’ll end up with an article or articles detailing how and why your competitor failed.

STEP #3: Craft your sales presentation to emphasize the characteristics of your firm that are clearly superior to your competitor’s weaknesses. For example, if your competitor has experienced problems with customer support, emphasize that your firm has won awards in that area. If your competitor’s management has told the SEC there is a danger of a hostile takeover, emphasize that your firm is financially solid and committed to long-term product support. An advantage to this approach is that it changes the discussion from a comparison of software features to a comparison of software companies.

STEP #4: Suggest that your prospective customer perform due diligence on every firm bidding for the contract. During due diligence your customer likely will discover the same weaknesses you found. That information, combined with your customized presentation, should give you the inside track on the sale.