Track Your Competitors - Win More Contracts

You cannot afford to ignore your competition in a slowing economy. Many construction firms have a good grasp of their own capabilities, but lack in-depth knowledge of what competitors are doing. As the ancient Chinese General Sun Tzu said, "Know thy enemy and know yourself, in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated." Proactively studying the competition will help you win more contracts.

The best way to survive in today's environment is to constantly sift through competitive intelligence for new developments that could affect your ability to win the next project. Tracking your competitors is a powerful way to increase revenues and profits. Uncovering your competitor's weaknesses can help you head off threats and take advantage of opportunities.

Some construction business principals don't worry about competitors, believing that their company is "uniquely qualified" for a project. This theory can prove to be short-sighted when a competitor snatches work away with new capabilities, previously unknown relationships, or lower pricing.

Here are four things that will help you effectively track your competitors on a regular basis:

Identify Your Competitors
Create a master list of businesses you compete against frequently. Whenever you go up against a new competitor, add them to your list. Collect and maintain detailed information about each competitor. Keep the information in one centralized database where everyone in your organization can easily find it.

Ask the Right Questions
If you're in a bid situation, do your competitors currently have a backlog of work or are they hungry? Has one of them done a lot of work for the agency before? Knowing the answers could impact your pricing, or even change your decision to participate. If you're responding to a government RFP, what can you find out about previous contract awards? The right information could help you craft a stronger proposal by showing you where to emphasize your firm's strengths. These are just a couple of ways that tracking competitors can have a positive impact on your business results.

Identify Key Data and Where to Find It
What kind of intelligence will help you beat the competition? Let's start with obvious information such as your competitor's services, people, past projects, past pricing, clients and business partners. A considerable amount of information is available online. Your competitor's website contains a wealth of information, so that's a good place to start. Bear in mind though that most companies take precautions against revealing anything proprietary. An Internet search can turn up articles and press releases that discuss a competitor's business. However, you could easily make a mistake if you make business decisions based on this information, since most of it is old news.

Visit the library for useful information sources such as a local business journal, the business section of your local newspaper, and business directories that rank competing businesses in your market area based on revenues, number of employees, industry classification, etc. Again, using sources such as these is like looking in a rear view mirror; the information is nearly always inaccurate and out-of-date.

Ask your current clients and prospects what they think of a competitor. You might be amazed at what some people will tell you, especially if they've had a bad experience.

Then there's the not-so-obvious information that can be pure gold. Buried within the mountains of federal, state, and local government procurement records lies a treasure trove of hard-to-find information that allows savvy business principals to plan for the future rather than just react. Your competition doesn't want you to have this high value intelligence, because it can level the playing field or even give you an advantage. But how do you obtain this type of information?

Subscribe to a Service that Provides Timely Business Intelligence
Companies can choose to collect and sort through upcoming government construction projects online or subscribe to a service that collects and organizes the data. Gathering competitive data yourself is time-consuming, and the results are often incomplete or irrelevant. Most business people can't spend hours every day digging for competitive information.

The good news is that some automated business information subscription services can regularly scan government procurement records and deliver new business intelligence customized to your company. The principal of an engineering firm that specializes in corrosion control relies on just such a service. His subscription includes both e-mail notifications about new engineering projects and access to a proprietary database of government procurement information. A search tool helps him uncover specific data through keywords and narrow down searches further with filtering options to access exactly what he needs.

To help him get an idea who his competition might be, he has the ability to download information such as planholder lists. He also relies on the service to pinpoint award data, so he can further investigate the competition. Award data tells him how much business a competitor has already won from an agency he might want to approach. Award data also allows his company to target contractors who may need engineering support. For example, his company may get in touch with the winner of a marine terminal contract in order to identify partnering or subcontracting opportunities.

By regularly and frequently accessing government business opportunities and market information this way, his company has been able to make more informed business decisions and has grown its government business revenue. He points out the value of the subscription service when he says, "We've won a couple of huge contracts this way, but the value is that these contracts are good for years."

Data subscription services make sense for small contractors, too. For a few dollars, on a quarterly basis, a small firm can find out what contracts have been awarded to five key competitors in the past six months.

Better "capture management" is another way that a data subscription can help any company's employees use their time more wisely. Knowing who won specific government contracts helps you avoid deals you didn't really have a chance to win, so you can focus on opportunities that are a good fit for your company.

Conclusion
Tracking your competitors is always worthwhile, though never easy. Doing it consistently takes effort and discipline, while online data services eliminate much of the drudgery and can pay for themselves with one or two contract awards. Think of quality competitive analysis as an investment that pays off in ensuring your business success - especially in uncertain times.

Irvine Alpert is executive vice president at Onvia (www.onvia.com), which helps construction industry businesses achieve a competitive advantage by delivering timely and actionable sales opportunities and information. He is the founder of Onvia Guide and leads business development efforts for the company. Previously, Alpert was CEO of ProjectGuides, a customized information service that delivered leads to the architecture engineering and construction (AEC) community.

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