What are your competitors up to? Here are five ways to find out.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the January 1998 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

A mandatory weapon in a guerrilla's arsenal is a clear picture of reality. What's reality? It's the difference between the way you conduct business and the way your competitors conduct business.

The idea is to do everything better than your competitors. How can you accomplish that? By spying. Spying is both inexpensive and informative. And the only way you're going to know how you measure up to your competitors is by regularly monitoring them.

Seek out competitors in your own field, in your community, in the entire nation. If you find one who operates his or her business better than you do, feel good about it because you can learn from it. Then make the necessary improvements so you are doing everything better than they are.

Guerrillas know that the truth is a valuable ally. Truth-finding can be painful, especially if you learn that you're falling behind, but the opportunities to make your company the best will make up for the pain. Here are five ways to snazz up your snooping:

1. Request information. Ask your competitors for a price list, a brochure or other marketing information. If your voice is too well-known by those who compete with you, have a friend make the call. Your friend should evaluate how he or she is treated on the phone, how the information request is processed and how long it takes to get answers. Is there any follow-up, and how good is it?

Then have your friend call your own company and request the same information. Is the information request processed as professionally and as fast? Is your follow-up better than your competitors'?

2. Phone your competitors. Focus on the personality and attitude of the person who answers the phone. If it's warmer and friendlier than the person who answers your phone, teach your employees how to do it better.

3. Order something. Get a friend to buy something from your company and something from your competitors. Have him or her do it by phone, by mail or in person. He or she should keep an eye out for the smoothness or rough edges in the process. There will be more differences than you think.

4. Visit your competitors. You or your trusted spy should visit your business and then visit your competitors. Evaluate the differences and note the details that win or lose prospects.

5. Compare everything. Look through the eyes of your prospect, and compare your service with your competitors'--think pricing, packaging, signs, people, selection, follow-up, quality, delivery and attitude. Only spying will give you honest feedback on how you're doing.

There's a tiny chance you're doing everything better than your competitors are. But if you're to be a serious guerrilla spy, be prepared to face the cold, hard truths about your company.

Once you've completed your espionage, react to what you've learned. Guerrilla spies don't have to cheat, and they don't have to engage in sabotage. All they have to do is observe keenly, keep their minds open and be committed to improving their businesses.

Jay Conrad Levinson is author of the internationally acclaimed Guerrilla Marketing series of books and co-founder of Guerrilla Marketing International. For information on the Guerrilla Marketing Newsletter and other products and services, write to P.O. Box 1336, Mill Valley, CA 94942; call (800) 748-6444; or visit the Web site at


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