Why is Competitive Intelligence important to your business?
First, it is necessary to understand what CI is – and is not.
Competitive Intelligence (CI) is a method used to gather and analyze information about competitors which may not always be easily obtained or publicly available.
How can Competitive Intelligence results be used to develop strategy?
Once a list of “target companies” has been identified via a variety of other intelligence, research and discussions, a plan needs to be developed and appropriate personnel need to be recruited to implement it.
Such a plan must set objectives and anticipate how results will be used.
- What questions need to be answered?
- Is a competitor planning to introduce a new product? Or enter a new market? Or expand its sales force? Alter its pricing?
- Are there any merger or partnership opportunities?
- (Note: It requires skill to get the answers to such questions since they cannot simply be posed directly. As in certain sports or fighting, you need to get your opponent “off balance” or distract them.)
- Who will be interviewed?
- What people are likely to have the answers — or part of the answers — to your questions? It could be the competitor’s sales force, engineers, their ad agency, public relations firm, present customers or members of their supply chain.
- What will be observed?
- Combining content from websites, newsletters, trade publications, patent filings, or even job postings can provide insights into informative.
- Increasingly, selective monitoring of social networks, blogs, or discussion boards may uncover useful items about developments within competitive businesses.
- Trade shows and conferences offer many opportunities to gather information that can be combined to form insights, e.g. booth size, amount of collateral, and number of staff present suggest approximate marketing budget for such an event. In addition, you may be able to listen to a presentation or sales pitch, thereby learning about a new feature or service.
- How will the information be integrated and presented?
- One data point is generally not sufficient to draw a conclusion, so multiple sources, interviews or observations are recommended.
- Conclusions should be realistic and believable, and thus any assumptions need to be clearly presented.
- It is a good practice to indicate the level of confidence one has in the advice provided to stakeholders.
- CI provides an Early Warning System (EWS) that detects signals that can alert you that a competitor is probably planning to do something that will impact your business.
How do you train to do Competitive Intelligence?
A good CI professional may have experience with journalism, interviewing, reporting and writing skills. Alternatively, a market researcher or statistician with strong analytic abilities can often be trained for this role. There are many other backgrounds which at times can lead to successful performance in the CI function.
It is important to understand that CI is focused on gaining insights into what your competition is doing or planning to do while Market Research is customer-focused. As such, even if customers are surveyed, tell you about their attitudes about your competitors and their usage of their products, they are not a source of knowledge about future strategies of those companies.
If there are not enough (or no) internal resources trained in CI, there are many third parties who offer fundamental through advanced courses. Such suppliers generally can be used to actually do the project for you, and by working with them, it is possible to learn and develop best practices for yourself or your company. Many can be found among the members of SCIP (www.scip.org) or ESOMAR (www.esomar.org).