Business intelligence: a beginner's guide to company research

18 June 2015 Sean O'Mara

Company research is crucial to a large number of business and professional processes. In some cases failure to conduct the correct company research can land you in legal trouble, especially if it constitutes negligence. Whether you’re prepping for a interview or sourcing a supplier, it’s essential to know with whom you’re dealing.

Why would you need to research a company?

Here are common scenarios in which business research can be your friend.

  • Prepping for a job interview – Find out about company culture, key people, goals and objectives. What sort of people do they hire? Prepare some great end-of-interview questions with this knowledge.
  • Sourcing a supplier – Learn about reputation, how they handle complaints, customer satisfaction levels, are they subject to any litigation?
  • Pitching to a customer – Find out their challenges, needs and aspirations.
  • Considering a job offer – Is this a place you want to work? Is it a safe bet? Are they at risk of going under in 12 months time?
  • Conducting competitor analysis – Find out how well your competitors are funded, where they’re investing (did they just hire a new developer on a massive salary?), do their key people have directorships elsewhere?

Where to do your company research

Start at the most obvious place, the company website.

It seems almost too obvious, but the best place to start when researching a company is to spend an hour or so looking at the website. Any corporate website worth its salt will list the following information as an absolute minimum;

  • Address.
  • Names of key people.
  • Contact information.
  • “About us” section providing an overview of the company’s history, aims and objectives. Some may also include details on corporate structure.

A little bit more digging around on the website and you can uncover some absolute gold.

Blogs from key people will provide a great insight into company culture. Latest news can reveal a lot about what the company has been up to recently and what its plans are for the future. If you’re really switched on, you can also spot potential business issues for a company by the sort of content their website features.

We’re not saying march into an interview with a list of spelling mistakes you’ve found on the website, but a few well placed questions enquiring about the strategy for an upcoming product launch will go down well.

Ask – you’ll be surprised how much you can find about a company just by asking them.

There’s no harm in picking up the phone or sending an email to a business to find out a little more about what they do and how they do it.

Media database Gorkana keeps its records up-to-date (and its users coming back) by getting on the phone and speaking to people. Every Friday Gorkana calls all the national papers to get a headcount of who’ll be working the Sunday shift (essential info for anyone working in public relations).

If they can get a straight answer from a busy national news desk what’s to stop you having a very quick chat with a senior buyer?

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The personal approach works in sales too. Regan McMillan is sales director at foul weather clothing company Stormline International. He believes that speaking to potential customers prior to a pitch can give would-be suppliers a head start.

“Big companies play a lot harder and are a lot trickier deal with from the supply side, so it pays to get as much information as possible. Calling up and asking in advance of a pitch about things like payment terms or expected discounts for bulk orders can really help.”

Social media

It’s safe to say the vast majority of companies have some soft of social media presence. The type of social strategy deployed can tell you a lot about a business.

Some companies almost begrudgingly enter the social space with corporate Twitter profile for resolving customer service issues. Others dive in feet first and fully embrace the possibilities with a more “touchy-feely” brand presence on Instagram or Pinterest. What works for one business won’t work for another; you’d expect your local interiors company to be bossing it on Instagram, but you’d feel a bit weird about seeing your bank on there.

Facebook

Corporate Facebook pages can be incredibly useful or irredeemably naff, depending on strategy and resource. You can tell a lot about how a company values its people and its customers by looking at the sort of content that’s posted.

You can also learn about customer satisfaction from a brand’s Facebook presence. Check out how they respond to complaints and queries in comments under their own posts. If absolutely everything posted is positive or neutral, just be wary that the company may be deleting negative content.

Twitter

Twitter can give you a real sense of culture and values at a company. A corporate Twitter account is also a good way to keep up to date with developments, especially at smaller firms and startups.

Just beware putting too much stock in everything the company Twitter tells you, quite often the boss’ ego can cloud just how accurate their news and updates are.

Youtube

Big brands leverage the power of Youtube for advertising and brand building, but you can also gather some good business intelligence via Youtube output. Tech innovators often post how-to content in video form and a number of musical instrument retailers use the platform to reveal new products and live demo them to potential customers.

Check out German audio brand Sennheiser’s Youtube channel for a lesson in digital storytelling.

Google+

Google’s much derided social platform is actually super handy for basic stuff. If you want to know a business’ opening hours or directions to their office from the tube you’ll find it quickest via Google+, often without leaving the Google search page.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is ideal if you’re researching key people ahead of a pitch or interview. Knowing where people studied and worked previously gives you a feel for their trajectory and background.

It also gives you an insight into how this firm recruits and what skill sets and experience it favours in its people.

Instagram

The popular photo-sharing network is great for learning about a company’s values and interests. Personality-driven lifestyle brands like Expedia and Airbnb do some lovely work with Instagram.

For businesses that completely lack any presence on social media, it’s worth asking whether you want to work for or do business with such monumental dinosaurs.

Digging deeper – financials and legals

When it comes to lead generation and risk mitigation you’re going to need a more in-depth form of business intelligence. Your first port of call should be a dedicated business intelligence website like (ahem), DueDil. Our website aggregates financial and legal business information about private companies. It is the largest free source of such information in the UK and Ireland.

Whether you’re sourcing a supplier or looking for b2b leads, dedicated private business directories are an essential part of your research tool kit.

Would you give credit to a new company whose director has a history of poor financial conduct? Probably not. But the only way you’d know that risk existed is by using a business intelligence directory.

Companies House is useful for checking directorships too. As the UK’s official companies registrar also documents an exhaustive list of all registered companies, so is ideal for seeing if that company name you were thinking of using has already been taken.

Company research will equip you with the information required to give yourself the best chance of success in that pitch, interview or procurement process. Even more importantly it’ll give you the confidence and peace of mind you need going forward to forge meaningful and long-lasting relationships.