Some people will happily share what they know. Others will think your question to be inappropriate. Don't worry about the latter, unless they are a customer. Walk softly around customers.
Here's the list, then we will give you a tip or two for approaching each:
- Other contractors
- Former Employees
- Watch their crews.
- Their marketing materials
Specifically, talk to the trades that follow them in the construction sequence. This will be your best source of information. They know how well their field crews are run.
They know how well the work gets done. They know whether the company encourages corner-cutting or not. They know whether proper safety procedures are followed. They know whether crew staffing and turnover is a problem.
Also remember that contractors talk to each other and to their suppliers. They'll probably know whether your competitor is in financial trouble.
This category also includes insurance agents and bond agents along with material and equipment suppliers. Chat up the suppliers' sales personnel. They are the most likely to share information - unfortunately about you too!
Find out whether your competitors pay their bills on time and whether they have been buying a lot of equipment? Find out whether they prefer to buy or rent.
This includes prospects. Arrange for one of your most trusted clients to take a sales call and a proposal from your competition. Debrief with your client. Learn what they did and didn't like about the sales call. Gather up the marketing materials and proposals let with them.
If you can, get their clients talking. This isn't so easy, carries risk, and may produce misleading information as the truly happy clients will keep their mouths shut while the unhappy clients will sing like birds. That would give you the mistaken impression that your competitor can't keep his clients happy when they actually do.
Bankers typically are a tight lipped group. Your best shot at information gathering is going through your own banker and seeing if he or she will pick up anything through their network.
Now here is a group to tap. Employees almost always know what's really going on in a firm. Former employees are usually happy to spread the dirt as few have loyalty to their former employers.
Field workers will be able to tell you how well organized their field crews are. Office workers will be able to tell you the spending habits of the owner, the culture of the company, and the manner in which the owner operates.
Watch Their Crews
Why? Because you will get a feel for their productivity, quality, and professionalism. These three factors are strong determinants of your competitor's ability to compete on cost and maintain customer satisfaction.
Their Marketing Materials
Read their website. Collect copies of their brochures, business cards, fliers, advertising materials, and proposals.
Look at the signage on their equipment. Read their Yellow Pages and Blue Book advertisements. Keep a close eye on the ones who have well crafted marketing messages. They probably are also good at selling and pose a serious threat for the higher margin work.
Additional Research Resources
Some of these are a little more extreme. We are not advocating all of them, just sharing the list with you. Use sound judgment in your selection of them.
Pull up a Dunn and Bradstreet or Hoovers Online report on the business. Pull a personal credit report on the owner if that is allowed in your State of residence and the State in which the competitor resides. Call the Better Business Bureau.
Check for lawsuits, liens and tax judgments.
Not sure where to start or how to go about collecting this competitive information? Give Ron Roberts or Guy Gruenberg a call (Ron: 913-961-1790 or Guy: 708-774-6500). Ron and Guy are experts at creating great sales organizations, developing strategic and tactical processes, and bringing the people together in a culture that achieves instead of clashes. To receive the FREE Contractor Best Practices Newsletter visit www.FilthyRichContractor.com