By Tom Dorr, director of the Center for Economic Vitality
Imagine that you could peek into your competitors’ financial statements gleaning instructive business comparisons and competitive intelligence. Or, consider that you can boost sales to your existing customers by knowing their lifestyles and preferences. What are innovative ways your business could cut costs, increase sales or access new sources of financing? Where can you find new customers?
Every day, businesses struggle with how to be more competitive and maintain or increase profits, especially in challenging economic times. One of the keys to increasing profits is to utilize competitive intelligence. Competitive intelligence involves using both primary and secondary research on a regular basis. Primary research is surveying people’s opinions while secondary research is tapping into published data about a specific topic. Competitive intelligence includes answering questions owners face every day:
- Is what’s happening to my business happening to everyone in the industry?
- How much should I be paying my employees? What benefits are reasonable and competitive?
- Are my expenses in line with others in my industry? What are others doing to cut expenses in their businesses?
- Who are my customers? Where/how can I reach them? What are their preferences and lifestyle choices? Where should I be spending my limited advertising budget to get the greatest return? What are ways I could improve my website for search engine optimization?
- What options do I have for funding my business growth or stabilizing my cash flows if my bank won’t loan any more money?
To get answers to the questions above, one needs to do research. Gathering meaningful data a business can use requires research and interpretation. Fortune 500 companies have staff and consultants at their fingertips, charged with positioning their organizations at the heart of the marketplace. They have it pegged – know thy customer, and know the lay of the land. Typically this ability is restricted to large corporations with deep pockets.
Many small to medium-sized businesses can’t afford to hire market research firms to understand what is happening in their industry and with their competitors. But business owners need to understand current market trends, new innovations, consumer preference trends and competing or substitute products on the market.
Given this priceless information, companies big and small can grow their sales, increase margins and market intelligently. This competitive intelligence is available to Whatcom County businesses at no-charge through Western Washington University’s Center for Economic Vitality.
For example, one local business in the retail sector used market research to expand their product offerings. And as a result they increased their profits. Another manufacturing company used research to identify a new source of financing for their exports, while another used competitive intelligence to find new customers for their services.
Many CEV clients are using research to identify ways to cut costs. A few of the recent research tasks identifying opportunities for cost reduction include shared work, reduced hours, inventory reduction strategies, and vendor negotiation techniques. Financial performance benchmarks are also available as critical information for owners and managers to use to make difficult decisions about wages, benefits and even owner-compensation decisions.
Understanding your customers is essential to business success, and critical to spending your marketing dollars wisely. How valuable would it be to know where else your customers shopped; what their interests are; and how you can cost effectively reach them?
Business and competitive intelligence services are critical to the success of today’s business. Access and harness this power to help your business survive and thrive.
The Center for Economic Vitality delivers this business research paired with strategic counseling at no-cost to Whatcom County businesses. Our goal is to leverage the resources of the university to help businesses thrive. By bringing competitive intelligence to our local economy, businesses will stabilize and grow, create new jobs and generate new investments and keep people employed.
For more than 24 years, the Center for Economic Vitality at Western Washington University’s College of Business and Economics has helped to shape the economic future of our region one business at a time. The CEV provides free, confidential counseling and technical assistance combined with business intelligence research services to business owners and managers throughout Whatcom County, as well as economic gardening services to all Small Business Development Centers and underserved Economic Development Councils throughout Washington State.
For more information, go to www.cevforbusiness.com or call (360) 733-4014.