Do small enterprises study their competitors? : a case study analysis of the competitor study by Dutch business-to-business small eneterprises
The purpose of this study is to address the knowledge gap regarding competitor study practices in small enterprises, to develop new theory, and to present 'best competitor study practices'. It uses a cross-sectional qualitative multi-case study methodology to study these practices of 7 small Dutch business-to-business enterprises. The study reveals that the SE's life cycle stage development is not related to the development of competitor study activities. The pace and intensity of these activities is dictated by the external environment's competitive intensity. SE owner-managers play leading roles and are fully involved in this competitor study. Other SE managers are only partially involved in operational study. SE owner-managers with Business Administration educations use more data sources than those without this discipline. The research uses strong, stable and weak relative competitive market positions to categorize the 7 SEs, and discovers relationships between SE competitor study activities and these positions. SEs with strong positions place a low importance on competitors, and they do not cooperate with them. These SEs study new technology, and they are neutral or negative about the usefulness of competitor study. Their subjects are strategic, and they use the highest number of sources, personal sources, external sources, and external direct data sources. SEs with weak positions place a high importance on competitors and cooperate with them. They focus on tactical competitor subjects, and they are positive about its usefulness. These SEs use the lowest number of sources, personal sources, external sources, and external direct data sources. They are also responsible for most of the discovered unethical and illegal data collection practices. SEs with strong or stable relative market positions improve their market positions with developed absorptive capacities, whereas SEs with weak relative market positions do not. The implication of these outcomes is that they establish the new theory regarding SE competitor study. The main limitations of this cross-sectional study are the use of only a selected, non-random small number of Dutch business-to-business small enterprises in a small geographical region and in various industry sectors. The study's implication for practice are 3 'best practice' competitor study recommendations sets relative to the 3 SE relative competitive market position categories. Finally, the study presents recommendations to the Dutch government how to it could improve the law against illegal data collection and how it could communicate this law to Dutch SMEs.