One simple tool for competitive intelligence


While I totally agree with Jeff Bezos that ventures should focus all of their attention on their customers and how to surprise and delight them not on their competition. But if are just at the idea stage you really need to keep track of others who may be pursuing something similar.

Ive had at least half a dozen mentoring sessions where a mentor pulled out their smartphone and did a Google search and found several other companies pursuing the same idea we were discussing with the founder – much to the consternation of the founder, who obviously either hadn’t ever done a Google search or hadn’t done one recently.

As a blogger I’m constantly on the lookout for articles that may be of interest to readers so I rely on Google Alerts.

If you aren’t familiar with Google Alerts you should be! Google Alerts enable you to monitor the web for content of interest. Alerts is very easy to use. You simply enter what you want to create the alert about into the alert box.

Assuming your have a Google email address, Alerts will then give you a number of options for your alert, all with defaults : How often;Sources ,which include news, blogs, Web etc.; what language you want for your alerts; and what region. Region is very important because you may get a lot more alert emails than you care to wade through and if your venture is confined to the U.S. setting your region to United States will cut down the emails substantially. Google also gives you a choice between Only the best results and All Results – though how Google determines “best results” is a mystery. Finally you can chose the mailbox where you want your alerts delivered. If you get a lot of results in the Alert preview you might want to refine your alert terms or even create a new email address for your alerts.

There are two parameters with search: reach (ensuring that you are searching as many sources as possible) and relevance (how closely connected or appropriate the results are to your search term). Google does a fantastic job of mediating between these somewhat contradictory goals, but if you use a generic alert term like “mentor” you’ll end up with far too many alerts. And bear in mind, Google makes it even easier to delete or edit an alert than to create one so I recommend you start off with a substantial list of alerts and then whittle them down as you see how many hits each alert generates.

As to the content of the alerts, you will want to include your company name, your product name, the names of competitors and channel partners, your name and the names of your co-founders and anyone else in the venture who may have a public presence.

If you have an intern, handing off the task of reviewing the alert messages every day can be delegated to them, easily done if you’ve created an email address solely for alerts. In searching for Google Alerts I came across yet another Google tool that I was not aware of: Google Trends. If you are riding a trend like machine learning or the blockchain you may want to use Google Trends as well, they just added new features and a redesign.

But just like the Web itself it’s too easy to fritter away time following all the news stories Google Alerts delivers to you. So be disciplined. I recommend starting or end each day with a review of the day’s alerts email. Set aside ten minutes or so. And keep in mind why you are doing this: to track mentions of your company and product as well as competitors. However, think about what will you do with the new information Google digs out for you? If you are a blogger the answer is simple. But if you are a founder decide why you need to know this information and what you will do with it. For example, it may be a good way to track the efficacy of a public relations campaign. Or ascertain the impact of a new product release. Activity without purpose is just activity, founders need to focus on results, not activities.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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