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Look at your competitors to know your customers better.

When I first launched my first SaaS product, looking at my competitors was a perfect way to set myself back into the Monday blues. It was just frustrating to see how easy it seemed for them to expand and get customers. I also began to copy some of the functionality they would have to establish my product as equal. My first eight years of building products were like that, and each would be a great idea (at least in my mind) but then would die in growth as I had to go head-to-head with the big players.

After those 7-8 years, things changed. Book after book from “The Lean Startup” to “Blue Ocean Strategy” and numerous podcasts would embed concepts of differentiation, uniqueness, adaptability, and agility. The challenge is that you finish with a lot of theory (and a lot of homework). The overarching from all this theory formed into one concept that completely changed the way I built software and service companies. The person who knows the customers want and needs the best -and answers it – gets the money.

The person who knows the customers wants and needs the best - and answers it - gets the money.

People are so desperate for a real solution, that you now find services like Mint that have 14,000 buyers appear in the pipeline while they were still building the first release. Other great software like Parlor (teamparlor.com), ProductBoard (productboard.com), Close.io (close.io), EnjoyHQ (enjoyhq.com) or Sunrise Calendar (now acquired) answer the needs of users very clearly. Since they understand it so well, they can operate in hyper-competitive markets with great success.

“Hey , that sounds like the most ‘Captain Obvious’ point ever.”

Correct! Once you understand the customer’s needs and complaints with what is out there, you can connect the dots to create a kickass product, and succeed as a business. However, I am all about tactical steps, and I can tell you that the easiest way to understand those unserved needs? Take a look at your competition, and look hard!

Once you understand the customer's needs and complaints with what is out there, you can connect the dots to create a kickass product, and succeed as a business.

There are a lot of competitors, and there are a lot of alternatives, there are a lot of products and businesses out there that we can learn from to understand the customer better. Here is how:

    1. Take a look at your competitor’s website. What language are they using? How are they positioning their product? Take those as notes. 

    2. Then start to map the journey. Using a tool like archive.org or Waybackmachine, you can see the journey and how the has adapted over time. You will find that many SaaS companies may have started more general or in a different niche. How did they change the positioning, use cases, language overtime to capture the interest of the same users that you seek? (P.S. You should use a tool like Rival to track this in a fine-tuned manner going forward.)

    3. Go to review sites like G2Crowd, AlternativeTo, Radius, Capterra, and other places for reviews of your competitors. These reviews are terrific value as users are telling you how the other products in the market are failing them! You won’t always find listings, but each one that exists is invaluable. 
With just those three steps, think about what is the result. 
What positioning works/doesn’t? What niches was the product created to serve? How has language and offerings in the market changed/adapted over time? What are users of competitors your future customers looking for, that is not being given to them by their current relationships?

You can look at any industry, and by looking at the three items above can craft a killer product concept that is unique and in-demand. All this without having to talk to a single customer or crafting a line of code. If you already have your SaaS product and want to stay ahead of the competition, you should do this exercise every month to every quarter.
Don’t let your competition drive you crazy. Don’t let the competitors ruin your day and what you are trying to be. They are telling you how to be the market leader.

Don't let your competition drive you crazy. Don't let the competitors ruin your day and what you are trying to be. They are telling you how to be the market leader.

If you want to do the same in your organization, get Rival!

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