Why you need to start testing with your competitors’ users

Loïs Gauthier
February 23, 2023

You might have conducted research with your users, your prospects, your non-users, but have you ever researched with your competitors’ users?

In this article we explore why you should test with your competitors’ users, in what cases it is the most relevant and where to find them.

Let’s first define how we use the term “competitor” in this article: a company that is serving the same needs in the market as yours. There are different levels of competition (direct and indirect) and which one you will study will depend on your objective.

Studying your direct competitors will mostly help you if you are trying to work on core-features, general experience, UI and acquisition.

Studying your indirect competitors will be relevant if you are trying to expand your business and features and need to learn about a more various set of needs.

Here are the top benefits to meet your competitors users:

  • reduce the myopia created by being focused on one’s product and users, creating new perspectives and opportunities.
  • get to know your competitors product from the inside. This benchmark is beneficial to your organization beyond the UX team: marketing and sales for example.
  • learn from your competitors mistakes (avoid making them) and best achievements (adapt them to your users and goals)
  • discover unmet needs
  • validate or challenge assumptions
  • prioritize new developments

In what cases is it relevant to test with your competitors’ users?

The main limitation you will face when studying your competitors is that at first, you most likely won’t have much data about what works for them. For example, if you notice one of your competitors is launching a new product, you won’t know whether it is successful or not. Meeting their users is a first step you can take to bridge that gap. You can also use proxy variables that are public like social media interactions or reviews to gauge market response.

Meeting your competitors’ users is not compatible with all research types. It is especially relevant for these following research purposes:

  • exploratory research and usability testing to launch a new feature/product (that your competitor has already)
  • exploratory research to improve an existing feature (that both you and your competitor has)
  • exploratory research to brainstorm on the general improvement of your product (UI or general features like account creation, log-in etc)

Conducting UX research with your competitors users will be less relevant for niche or emerging markets: if you are unable to find relevant competitors, it will simply not be possible to conduct this type of research

Here are 3 different situations and how meeting your competitors’ users can help:

You are studying a feature of your product your competitors DON’T have. This is a great way to learn whether this feature can be used as a marketing and commercial tool to win over new clients from your competitors’ users. This is especially useful in the context of a market with limited growth where your business is fighting to gain market share.

You are studying a feature of your product your competitors also HAVE. Comparing a similiar feature developed by another company will give you a new perspective on something you might already be very familiar with. This could help boost creativity and inspire changes in your product.

You are creating a feature your competitors already have. This is the case in which the value of meeting your competitors’ users is the most obvious. They have done something you haven’t and you can fasttrack learnings by tapping into their experience. This is the followers’ advantage (less risk because less investment needed to innovate).

How to recruit and test with your competitors’ users?

Maybe you already had this idea but wondered where and how you can find your competitors’ users?

Here are the main ways to reach your competitors’ users:

  • (for B2B products) you sales teams have probably encountered some of them while prospecting (”Thank you for reaching out but we already work with XXX”). You can explain your need to the sales team and choose one of these options: 1. define a set of questions that sales rep can directly ask prospects when they detect they have insights about competitors 2. choose criteria for prospects contact to be transfered to UXR teams when detected by sales. This technique creates a great passive feedback loop while fostering collaboration within teams and around users.
  • your competitors’ social media organic audience: on most advertising platforms, you can target a specific page’s followers which allows you to get closer to potential testers
  • social media groups and blogs: if you work in a small/niche market, you can tap into these different communities that can be very specialized
  • your own users who might have churned from competitors before coming to you

Your ability to find your competitors’ testers will vary depending on your business: the wider the audience, the easier. Also, B2C targets are usually easier to find than B2B.

To learn more about how to find participants, read our dedicated article.

Once you have succesfully made contact with your competitors’ users, here are a few questions you could use to gather their insights:

  • Why did you look for [product category name] solutions? What problem were you trying to solve?
  • How did you look for [product category name] solutions? What made you choose [competitor’s name]?
  • How did you hear about this company [competitor’s name]?
  • Did you consider using [your company’s product]? If so, what made you choose another solution?
  • Now that you use this product, do you feel you have been able to solve your initial problem?
  • How do you feel when using this product? Would you recommend this product to a peer?
  • What do you like most about this product?
  • What do you wish were different about this product?
  • Have you faced any specific problem while using [competitor’s name]?
  • Have you ever considered switching to a different product? If yes, why and have you started already? What would be your main point of attention to look for another solution?

These questions should allow you to create a great understanding of how users needs are served in your market to identify opportunities.

What are the risks of this type of UX research?

This type of research requires to gather legal information before hand: about your market’s regulation and about your competitors. For example, in B2B markets, some companies require their clients to sign a NDA. This will prevent you from asking certain questions during meetings or you might not even be able to find users accpeting to meet you.

You should make sure these meetings will not be considered a theft of intellectual property or spying.

To do this, make sure record the interviews so that you have use it as proof against such claims.

If you are worried about these legal concerns but still would like to meet these users, you can do so by not asking questions about your competitors solutions. Focus on their needs and how they meet them.

Types of users

As a company’s user experience research practice grows comes the necessity to be in contact with a wider variety of participants for your research. It may start with your own users because they are the easier to reach, then your prospects for similar reasons.

Users in your market come next while competitors users often come last because they are harder to reach and one may not always feel comfortable targeting them.

Once reached, they have a high potential in terms of insights quality and relevance to your business.

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