Espionage : competitor comparison analysis

How often do you need to take a competitor product trial just to work out how their user experience flow feels? I’m finding with the way that trials are limited to 14 days too short. I use a throw-away mailbox, but you still have to deal with them sometimes if you find bugs or don’t understand something. And then, how sales people jump you in person when taking a trial that it’s just a lot of load that should really be dealt with by a product owner or marketing and UX person. The entire class of “what does a user expect” based on any “world experience” is important to fine tune as often as possible if UX is becoming your thing as a tester.

But since engineering always have comparison questions, I find myself taking out trials if anything just to ensure we have consistent conventions and making sure we don’t “copy” a competitor accidentally either. How do other folk do this? And is it easier to just create a paid subscription and claim the money back? Tips and tricks?

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I’ve done this a few times, mostly to get “inspiration” from how the big players are doing it, one of the products I was on had a conferencing options, so I would look into how Zoom, Meet, Teams, Slack, etc. are doing things - especially the UX stuff and create improvements based on that - if they’re doing something in a way that is more convenient for the user.

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I do it ‘yearly’ so every year, every month I pick a tool from last year and look the new features what they’ve done etc.

I also like to read the updates/patch notes once in a while and if there is something interesting I explore it!

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I remember a really fun/intense example of this - I may well create a blog post or video in the near future…

When I was working at Last.fm, Apple launched a short-lived network called iTunes Ping (basically, a short-lived “social network for music”) which had the potential to destroy our business model. It was launched with no notice (including, apparently, very little notice to artists/labels, who were frantically working out how they were supposed to sign-up to appear on the service), and I volunteered to perform a deep-dive competitive analysis, sharing the details on our company wiki (and which I saved a copy of, as it was one of the most enjoyable pieces of work that I’ve ever done).

It’s a challenge to wear multiple “hats” simultaneously - when performing a product tour, you’re trying to put yourself into the head of the customer, as well as the head of one of our company’s stakeholders) - and it “helped” that their service was full of bugs/problems, because I could always revert to wearing my tester’s hat when things got hard :sweat_smile:

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I did two years in competitive intelligence gathering. You really need a dedicated domain with an O265 subscription, and a burner phone. The way I worked was to claim I was a freelance shortlister for big companies that just want to see products that are a very close fit for their needs. Just being the person doing the legwork means the sales people won’t bother you because they think the mystery company will be contacting them directly, and if they do bother you, you can block them on the burner. You can get hours of online technical pre-sales demos like that, as well as extended evaluation copies of software. As soon as the sales person leaves the tech demo call, dig deep with the engineer. Even ask them what they think about their competitors if you like. It’s remarkable what you can find out.

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Fascinating. I’ve never had to dive that deep into the intel gathering in order to have to really do “espionage”. I was using the word more as clickbait in the title. But really good to hear that this is not uncommon territory to explore and learn a few of the more visible secrets. Just finding and then having to interview someone who “just uses” the software already, is not half as revealing as doing it yourself.

Learning what bugs your competitors apps have also gives you a more objective feel for what kinds of bugs users are prepared to put up with I guess.

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