The standard methods of research—searching the Web and reading a few magazine articles—are good starts. But try these guerrilla tactics too:
Follow the money. To get competitive intelligence on a company, contact the people whom the firm does business with. Information leaks out whenever money changes hands.
“If you’re wondering if a competitor will open a new plant, think about who they would need to call first,” says Leonard Fuld, president of Fuld & Co. in Cambridge, Mass. “They would probably need to get approval from a zoning board, hire engineers and suppliers, and buy service and maintenance supplies.”
A zoning board might keep public records, making your research easy. To win over vendors, approach them as a potential customer and get them to sell to you. Example: Ask, “Why should I buy your machine?” When they answer, “I’m installing one at XYZ Co.,” follow up with questions, such as “How will they use it?” and “Do they plan to buy more?”
Study the classifieds. Help-wanted ads provide a wealth of information. You can learn where a firm is growing, how it positions itself in the industry and how long it needs to fill job openings.
Scan the financials. For a quick review of the most-requested corporate financial data, such as profit and loss statements, financial ratios and stock history, see http://www.41stocks.com. It’s a great Web site for job interviewees, marketers and savvy managers who want to track the progress of their competitors— and their potential employers.