Identify and Analyze Your Competition
The competitive analysis is a statement of the business strategy and how it relates to the competition. The purpose of the competitive analysis is to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the competitors within your market, strategies that will provide you with a distinct advantage, the barriers that can be developed in order to prevent competition from entering your market, and any weaknesses that can be exploited within the product development cycle.
The first step in a competitor analysis is to identify the current and potential competition. There are essentially two ways you can identify competitors. The first is to look at the market from the customer's viewpoint and group all your competitors by the degree to which they contend for the buyer's dollar. The second method is to group competitors according to their various competitive strategies so you understand what motivates them.
Once you've grouped your competitors, you can start to analyze their strategies and identify the areas where they're most vulnerable. This can be done through an examination of your competitors' weaknesses and strengths. A competitor's strengths and weaknesses are usually based on the presence and absence of key assets and skills needed to compete in the market.
To determine just what constitutes a key asset or skill within an industry, David A. Aaker in his book, Developing Business Strategies, suggests concentrating your efforts in four areas:
- The reasons behind successful as well as unsuccessful firms
- Prime customer motivators
- Major component costs
- Industry mobility barriers
According to theory, the performance of a company within a market is directly related to the possession of key assets and skills. Therefore, an analysis of strong performers should reveal the causes behind such a successful track record. This analysis, in conjunction with an examination of unsuccessful companies and the reasons behind their failure, should provide a good idea of just what key assets and skills are needed to be successful within a given industry and market segment.
Through your competitor analysis, you will also have to create a marketing strategy that will generate an asset or skill competitors don't have, which will provide you with a distinct and enduring competitive advantage. Since competitive advantages are developed from key assets and skills, you should sit down and put together a competitive strength grid. This is a scale that lists all your major competitors or strategic groups based upon their applicable assets and skills and how your own company fits on this scale.
Create a Competitive Strength Grid
To put together a competitive strength grid, list all the key assets and skills down the left margin of a piece of paper. Along the top, write down two column headers: "weakness" and "strength." In each asset or skill category, place all the competitors that have weaknesses in that particular category under the weakness column, and all those that have strengths in that specific category in the strength column. After you've finished, you'll be able to determine just where you stand in relation to the other firms competing in your industry.
Once you've established the key assets and skills necessary to succeed in this business and have defined your distinct competitive advantage, you need to communicate them in a strategic form that will attract market share as well as defend it. Competitive strategies usually fall into these five areas:
Many of the factors leading to the formation of a strategy should already have been highlighted in previous sections, specifically in marketing strategies. Strategies primarily revolve around establishing the point of entry in the product life cycle and an endurable competitive advantage. As we've already discussed, this involves defining the elements that will set your product or service apart from your competitors or strategic groups. You need to establish this competitive advantage clearly so the reader understands not only how you will accomplish your goals, but also why your strategy will work.
What You'll Cover in This Section
The purpose of the design and development plan section is to provide investors with a description of the product's design, chart its development within the context of production, marketing and the company itself, and create a development budget that will enable the company to reach its goals.
There are generally three areas you'll cover in the development plan section:
- Product development
- Market development
- Organizational development
Each of these elements needs to be examined from the funding of the plan to the point where the business begins to experience a continuous income. Although these elements will differ in nature concerning their content, each will be based on structure and goals.
The first step in the development process is setting goals for the overall development plan. From your analysis of the market and competition, most of the product, market and organizational development goals will be readily apparent. Each goal you define should have certain characteristics. Your goals should be quantifiable in order to set up time lines, directed so they relate to the success of the business, consequential so they have impact upon the company, and feasible so that they aren't beyond the bounds of actual completion.
Goals For Product Development
Goals for product development should center on the technical as well as the marketing aspects of the product so that you have a focused outline from which the development team can work. For example, a goal for product development of a microbrewed beer might be "Produce recipe for premium lager beer" or "Create packaging for premium lager beer." In terms of market development, a goal might be, "Develop collateral marketing material." Organizational goals would center on the acquisition of expertise in order to attain your product and market-development goals. This expertise usually needs to be present in areas of key assets that provide a competitive advantage. Without the necessary expertise, the chances of bringing a product successfully to market diminish.
With your goals set and expertise in place, you need to form a set of procedural tasks or work assignments for each area of the development plan. Procedures will have to be developed for product development, market development, and organization development. In some cases, product and organization can be combined if the list of procedures is short enough.
Procedures should include how resources will be allocated, who is in charge of accomplishing each goal, and how everything will interact. For example, to produce a recipe for a premium lager beer, you would need to do the following:
- Gather ingredients.
- Determine optimum malting process.
- Gauge mashing temperature.
- Boil wort and evaluate which hops provide the best flavor.
- Determine yeast amounts and fermentation period.
- Determine aging period.
- Carbonate the beer.
- Decide whether or not to pasteurize the beer.
The development of procedures provides a list of work assignments that need to be accomplished, but one thing it doesn't provide are the stages of development that coordinate the work assignments within the overall development plan. To do this, you first need to amend the work assignments created in the procedures section so that all the individual work elements are accounted for in the development plan. The next stage involves setting deliverable dates for components as well as the finished product for testing purposes. There are primarily three steps you need to go through before the product is ready for final delivery:
- Preliminary product review. All the product's features and specifications are checked.
- Critical product review. All the key elements of the product are checked and gauged against the development schedule to make sure everything is going according to plan.
- Final product review. All elements of the product are checked against goals to assure the integrity of the prototype.
Scheduling and Costs
This is one of the most important elements in the development plan. Scheduling includes all of the key work elements as well as the stages the product must pass through before customer delivery. It should also be tied to the development budget so that expenses can be tracked. But its main purpose is to establish time frames for completion of all work assignments and juxtapose them within the stages through which the product must pass. When producing the schedule, provide a column for each procedural task, how long it takes, start date and stop date. If you want to provide a number for each task, include a column in the schedule for the task number.
That leads us into a discussion of the development budget. When forming your development budget, you need to take into account all the expenses required to design the product and to take it from prototype to production.
Costs that should be included in the development budget include:
- Material. All raw materials used in the development of the product.
- Direct labor. All labor costs associated with the development of the product.
- Overhead. All overhead expenses required to operate the business during the development phase such as taxes, rent, phone, utilities, office supplies, etc.
- G&A costs. The salaries of executive and administrative personnel along with any other office support functions.
- Marketing & sales. The salaries of marketing personnel required to develop pre-promotional materials and plan the marketing campaign that should begin prior to delivery of the product.
- Professional services. Those costs associated with the consultation of outside experts such as accountants, lawyers, and business consultants.
- Miscellaneous Costs. Costs that are related to product development.
- Capital equipment. To determine the capital requirements for the development budget, you first have to establish what type of equipment you will need, whether you will acquire the equipment or use outside contractors, and finally, if you decide to acquire the equipment, whether you will lease or purchase it.
As we mentioned already, the company has to have the proper expertise in key areas to succeed; however, not every company will start a business with the expertise required in every key area. Therefore, the proper personnel have to be recruited, integrated into the development process, and managed so that everyone forms a team focused on the achievement of the development goals.
Before you begin recruiting, however, you should determine which areas within the development process will require the addition of personnel. This can be done by reviewing the goals of your development plan to establish key areas that need attention. After you have an idea of the positions that need to be filled, you should produce a job description and job specification.
Once you've hired the proper personnel, you need to integrate them into the development process by assigning tasks from the work assignments you've developed. Finally, the whole team needs to know what their role is within the company and how each interrelates with every position within the development team. In order to do this, you should develop an organizational chart for your development team.
Finally, the risks involved in developing the product should be assessed and a plan developed to address each one. The risks during the development stage will usually center on technical development of the product, marketing, personnel requirements, and financial problems. By identifying and addressing each of the perceived risks during the development period, you will allay some of your major fears concerning the project and those of investors as well.