Companies & Finance: Competitors & Customers

Need Help?

Ask us!

Quick lists of competitors

Both of the databases below have quick lists of competitors.  The competitors listed will be the major ones, but the lists will not be comprehensive, nor will they necessarily cover all industries in which your company may have a presence.

Market share lists or rankings: 

Sometimes you can safely assume that the companies in a market share list are competitors.  But not always!  This works best when the company name and the product/brand name are the same or closely associated.  Here's an example for commercial aircraft.  Try the Market Share Reporter in Business Insights Essentials.

About finding competitors

The problem here boils down to this question:  are you looking for real competitors to your company or just likely competitors?  Just because two companies are in the same line of business, does not necessarily mean that they truly compete.

Real competitors:

Public companies usually name their primary competitors in their SEC filings, usually the 10-K or ARS (both are annual reports).  But that list will be incomplete at best for various reasons.

Analyst reports will also often name competitors:  since these reports are written by industry experts, these are also likely to be real competitors.

Likely competitors:

To get a broader picture of the competition in a line of business or industry, to figure out which companies are likely competitors, use directory databases to find out which other companies are in the same industry. Then look at each company more closely to see if they are truly competitors ... they may not be competitors because of geography, because each company primarily sells to a different clientele, because of size, or for other reasons. 

Industry classification codes:  some directories are organized by keyword headings, others by industry codes.  Often you will need to know the SIC or NAICS code for your company (click here for more information about SIC and NAICS).

Problems you may encounter:

  1. Sometimes this information is just hard to find.  If your company is private or smaller, expect to have more trouble. 
  2. When you screen by industry codes (e.g. NAICS, GICS, etc.), you are more likely to get companies that are not truly competitors.  Look at those companies closely to verify.

About finding customers

Below is a brief introduction to the question of finding out about a company's customers.  For far more detail, see the Marketing research guide's section on finding customers.

Real customers:  Look in public company filings and trade magazines.

In general, this information is usually considered highly proprietary, or sensitive, and companies generally do not want to disclose it. But public companies must name major customer companies in their annual reports, in order to disclose any relationships that have the potential to cause revenue problems.  (That is, if they lose that customer, their business will suffer.)  But major contracts won and lost are often reported in business or trade magazines, so that is another place to look.

Potential customers:  Look in directories

Of course, sometimes what you want is to find new customers, to expand your business.  Then the problem is identifying good prospects. 

•   B2B (business to business):

For companies that sell to other businesses ('Business 2 Business'), use directory databases to find potential, or likely, company customers.  For example, say you are working with a building supplies store:  their primary customers are building contractors. 

You can use a database like Reference USA to find out how many contractors are located near your store (within the same metro area, county, or state) ...

•   D2C (direct to consumer):

For companies that sell directly to consumers (D2C), things are more complicated.  You can find out demographic and psychographic information about the customers in general using consumer survey datasets.

You can also find out the general demographics and some lifestyle information for a county or metro area using the Local Market Audience Analyst in SRDS Media Solutions (listed under 'Specialized directories').

General business directories

Which directory should you use?

–  For quick look-ups:  use Business Insights Essentials (BIE) or Hoover's Company Records
–  For international scope:  use Business Insights Essentials, Hoover's or Nexis Uni
–  For comprehensive US coverage of both public and private companies: Mergent Intellect (also covers Canadian companies)
–  For creating downloadable lists of companies: Mergent Intellect or Nexis Uni.

Specialized Directories