Competitors: How to easily keep an eye on them. Free.

When I was in the software business, I didn’t watch our competitors too much.

For one thing, I really didn’t consider them competitors. Sure, we lost a sale to them once in a while, but more often than not, it was due to (I kid you not) lies and deception, or a misplaced idea about what was important in the systems we do (yeah, call that a sales or marketing stumble – because better marketing should have eliminated those reasons). Sure, I recognized that they were in our market, but in many ways, they just didn’t get it.

We were the leaders in the market. I watched the competition to see what they had copied of ours, but only on one occasion do I recall that we felt the need to copy something someone else did (a visual sales tool – we were the last to do this).

As such, I focused on innovation, on interacting with customers to figure out what they needed etc. It worked for us. Everyone else was watching and copying us, and we simply kept innovating. It’s a tough position to be in, but it beats the heck out of being #2, where you’re always trying to catch up.

And of course, because the tool I use now didn’t exist.

Google Alerts.

Google Alerts lets you setup a permanent Google search of one or more of these areas: news, blogs, video, web sites (ie: search engine results) and Google Groups (Google’s NNTP newsgroups mirror).

For example, one of my clients owns a coffee shop (you may have picked up on that by now<g>), so I have a Google Alert that once a day does a search for new results on Starbucks. Blogs, news, web sites, etc.

I also have searches on my name (I strongly recommend you do this as well – but for your name<g>), the town where I live, social and political issues or personalities important to me, prospective clients, clients and a few other groups I won’t divulge.

I can either get these notifications as soon as Google finds them, or I can get them scheduled to appear once a day.

They come to my email.

Simple as pie, and extremely valuable. Not only is it easier to know what’s going on in my niche (and my clients’ niches), but it takes a lot less time and I see things that I might not ordinarily see.

Try it, I think you’ll find it quite useful.

Last but not least, don’t forget about what happened to Kryptonite, the bike lock people. In 2004, they ignored a blog about their locks being picked by a Bic pen. They knew about the blog post, but did nothing to address it.

After the story appeared in the New York Times – at which point they could no longer ignore it – Kryptonite found themselves replacing 380,000 locks worth over $10 million, and their attitude through the whole affair didn’t exactly endear them to their customers. Pay attention.

Another post on this subject – http://businessbloggingpros.typepad.com/business_blogging_pros/2008/04/another-tuned-o.html