Start with the critical list of questions you need to have answered. What about the competitor should you know to avoid being blindsided by their best move?
Go to the internet first. Find out through websites, trading information, annual reports, advertisements, and blogs what the competition has been up to. Google the company name, the names of their major talent, and the names of their best customers. What is being written about them? What are their mission, vision, goals, and guarantees? What kinds of people are they trying to hire? How do they advertise for openings?
Set up a “Google Alert” that will notify you when any of the aforementioned are in the news or on the web. (Be sure to put quotation marks around the name to avoid irrelevant hits).
Shop them. Either in person or on the phone, find out what it’s like to buy from this company. How do they connect you with a decision maker? What is their pricing? Value proposition? What about their process is superior to yours? How is it inferior?
Who is the top talent in your competitor’s company? Who has the largest sales volume? Who is the most respected in the industry because of particular expertise? What do customers value about the people who work for the competition?
Attend industry conferences. Through networking, find out who the major players are and get to know people who know your competitors.
Read industry journals. Who’s being interviewed for the articles? Why?
Talk to competitors’ suppliers and distributors. (Talk to your own too).
Stay on top of any news of competitors’ mergers and acquisitions.
If you can’t find what you need on your own, hire a research firm that specializes in competitive intelligence in your industry. You can start by going to www.scip.org to read about the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals.