We use cookies to help us provide you with the best experience, improve and tailor our services, and carry out our marketing activities. For more information, including how to manage your cookie settings, see our privacy notice.


Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

PLEASE NOTE: You are no longer able to sign in to Knowhow

As we prepare to move our content to our new website this summer, we're turning off the ability to sign in on and

To ensure members can still access everything they need, member content will be available to all users until the end of July.

Community-made content which you can improve Case study from our community

Three circles analysis

This page is free to all
How to compare your products and services with what beneficiaries want and what other players provide.

Three circles analysis helps you look at your products and services and those of other players through the eyes of your customer. Out of the analysis will emerge:

  • a picture of the extent to which your products and services and those of key other players meet customer needs
  • areas of duplication – where you are competing…
  • areas of unmet need
  • areas for potential collaboration.

The three steps

  1. First carry out some research into your beneficiary’s needs; you may already have a detailed handle on this or you could ask others including your beneficiaries: it depends how much time/other resources you have.
  2. Then research the main features of the products and services of the other player you are most interested in; ask around your organisation to get a good range of input.
  3. Now list out the main features of the products and services of your organisation.

You might end up with a table like this:

Beneficiary needs

Our key service features

Key other player service features
Immediate access to services as needed 24-hour helpline; county-wide free service Outreach workers in all towns (not villages) in the county; weekly visits
Face-to-face support No face-to-face support Face-to-face available weekly
All services available in one place  

Key worker assigned for telephone counselling

Signposting provided to other organisations for other services
Outreach worker offers counselling and advice
 Counselling Counselling service by phone Counselling service face-to-face
 Advice Advice Advice
 Advocacy Referrals Referrals
Social activities with peers, including support groups Social and peer on regular basis No social or peer activity
Involvement via volunteering to run support groups SU involvement programme run by dedicated officer  No SU involvement

Three circles diagram

The features can be transferred onto a three circles diagram like the one below. Sometimes visual representation can open up new thinking.

Diagram showing three circles analysis and the sweet spot

Download a larger version of the three circles diagram (JPG)

Description of the diagram

The three circles (key service features, beneficiary needs and other key features) are shown as a Venn diagram. The overlapping areas are labelled A-D. The 'sweet spot' (A) is the overlapping area between key features and beneficiary needs.

The analysis

Once you’ve laid out features in a table or on the diagram you can start to do some analysis.

Make the most of of your distinctiveness - the sweet spot

Look at your distinctiveness: the sweet spot! (A). How sustainable is our distinctiveness and how can you keep adding value? How can you ensure you retain this distinctiveness?

New opportunities for growth

Look for beneficiary needs that are unmet (the red area), or only partly met: these present opportunities for growth, either on your own or through collaboration

Look at services that the other player is providing that are not part of your portfolio, their distinctiveness (B); should you be providing them? How effective are they? Do you need to compete to add value for beneficiaries? 

Opportunities to collaborate or compete

Look at where you and the other player are providing the same service to meet need (D). Question if and why this duplication is the most effective use of resources. How effective are you? Should you consider leaving this work to others?  If not, should you collaborate and add value to the totality of what is being offered? Or should you all continue to offer this type of service to provide competition and comparison for beneficiaries?

Look at services you are providing that are not matched with beneficiary needs (the non-overlapping green area plus C). Question why you are providing them (sometimes this is because your portfolio of services has not kept up with changing needs), and if/why this should continue

What opportunities are there for you to provide complementary services to other players?

Further reading

  • Three circles analysis based on reflections from Joel E. Urbany James H. Davis (2007) 'Strategic Insight in 3 Circles' in the Harvard Business Review November 2007, p 30.
Page last edited Jun 23, 2017

Help us to improve this page – give us feedback.