Competitive Intelligence

How to do market research with no time or budget

Image result for market researchMarketers get asked to do a ton – branding, sales enablement, event planning, content creation, lead generation – it never seems to end.  It’s even worse when you have to do it all by yourself.  Here’s one more skill any marketing manager worth their salt needs to master – market research.  Dun DUN DUN!

Here’s the thing.  You don’t have to be a big data or industry analyst to do it.  You already have all the skills you need to do basic market research.  You don’t even need a budget.  Just the willpower to try.

Here is my step-by-step guide so that you look like a marketing rock star at your office:

Image result for audience1) Determine your audience

Who will consume the information?  When I produce reports I direct them towards two groups – sales leadership and product leadership.  You may need to provide useful information to your executive team or business development.  Figure out who you’re writing for and it will direct every decision from there out.

2) Create a report template

Image result for reportI find it’s 12x easier to do almost anything when I have a framework to work inside.  Here is the framework I use for my reports – feel free to copy or edit it for your purposes.

Header – States title and date

Industry News – I use this section to focus on news that is relevant for the entire industry.  This could include shifts in the market, new technology, or any other trends that may be happening at a macro level.

Competitor News – This section breaks down each of our competitors and what they’re up to publicly.  This could include product announcements, executive changes, public filings, important customer announcements – anything I think my audience would find valuable.

Word on the Street – Finally I have a section dedicated to the rumor mill.  Nothing is substantiated and nothing is verified – it’s just a few people’s opinions on a particular topic.  This is by far the most popular section month after month.  This is the stuff you’ll never read on a Google alert and is the hardest to capture.

3) Sign up for everything

Image result for sign upThere is a smorgasbord of information out there.  It’s your job to compile it.  Sign up for daily or weekly email updates from the following sources.  They get delivered to your inbox regularly and you won’t have to spend whole days doing research.  But it will look like you did.

  • Google Alerts – I recommend starting with 3-5 keywords that are most often used in your industry.  Then setup a Google Alert for each one of them.  Also set one up for each of your top competitors.  Every day you’ll get a few emails automatically from Google and you can file them away until you’re ready to read through them.
  • Business Publications – Whether it’s the Wall Street Journal or your local downtown newsletter, these things are packed with the best and most useful information you can find.  Most are free and are more than happy to send you a daily synopsis email.  Sign up for publications that cover your industry or geography or however you breakdown your business.
  • Industry Rags – Every industry has super niche publications.  Do a quick Google search and find them.  “_____ industry news” ought to do the trick.  I used to do marketing for the B2B drug testing industry.  My team tested workers’ comp patients for opioid abuse and marketed to risk managers.  You don’t get any more niche than that.  There were actually 3 websites I used that discussed little more than just this topic.  Trust me.  There are resources out there for whatever you sell.

4) Set a reminder to plug and play

Image result for copy and pasteNow set two 1-hour meetings on your calendar a month; one in the first half of the month, one at the end.  Open up that folder holding all your automatic emails and skim through them.  Click the links that interest you and copy/paste the best content into your report.

Be sure to include a link that reads “Full story” in case your readers want a deeper dive, but catch the high lights in your report.  Don’t include more than 2 paragraphs for any listing.  I actually prefer 3 sentences or fewer.  My audience is mostly made of VPs or higher so they don’t have time to read everything.  Get to the point and give them a means to learn more if they want to.

PRO TIP: No email to an executive should ever take longer than 30 seconds to digest.  Why do you think people created “executive summaries”.

5) Do some custom research

I mentioned my final, and most popular, section is called “Word on the Street”.  It never takes me longer than 2 hours to complete and it’s the most fun.Image result for research meme

  1. Identify a topic
    -Competitor pricing in a certain market
    -How a certain vertical uses your product
    -A new technology that your readers need to know
  2. Identify an expert
    If you’re looking at how competitors are behaving in a certain market, call the local rep that handles that territory and interview them.  What feedback is he/she hearing from local customers?  Where is your pricing being undercut?  What product/solution/competitor do folks love and hate?

    If you’re looking at a particular vertical, go for academics.  Professors love to talk – it is what they do for a living.  Let them tell you what a vertical needs.  Here’s an example.  I was doing a piece on the video gaming industry one month.  I found that Carnegie Mellon has an entire school dedicated to video game design.  I went to the website, emailed everyone listed and requested a 30 minute interview about the topic I was researching.  Within 2 hours I got 2 replies.  One of them, I later found out, also ran her own video game design company.  She was a wealth of information, was happy to let me pick her expert brain and didn’t charge me a dime.

  3. Write it all down.
    Take everything you just wrote notes on and translate it into something useful for your audience.  Stick it in your report.  Done.

6) Format and Distribute

You’ve collected all this information and interviewed experts.  Now you just have to put in a form that’s pretty and distribute it to your audience in a way they want to receive it.


After a year, what you’ll find is that you actually become the expert on your industry and people will start asking you for your opinion.  That’s when you know you’ve created something valuable.

Image result for expert meme