So how does Competitive Intelligence work?
Perhaps it would be helpful to begin by contrasting CI with another commonly used technique. When interested in how customers view a company’s products compared to ones competitors, Market Research is generally employed. Whether by phone, mail, online or in person, the goal would be to assess awareness, perceptions, attitudes and usage of products by customers and prospects across many companies (including yours) in a given market. Using surveys or focus groups for example, one can identify competitors as well as their relative position to your company/product as well as to one another on a number of key factors. But because market research is customer-focused and does not speak to your rivals, it will not indicate any intentions your competitors have to expand their product lines, build a sales force or a new office, change pricing or seek new partners or markets.
Competitive Intelligence can complement market research findings by formulating specific questions to ask of one or more “target companies”. This is accomplished by interviewing their employees or speaking with them at trade shows and either asking them questions or just listening to and observing their activities. It is important that all responses and data be verified from multiple sources, e.g. marketing people at a trade show, engineers and a sales people called at one or more locations. If several people at different levels and functions each confirm that a new product is being developed within a certain timeframe, there is greater confidence that it will happen, and when.
Direct information gathering such as above should be augmented by monitoring news and press releases, job postings, patent filings, real estate purchases, leases and construction plans. Even discussions on social media such as LinkedIn and twitter can be analyzed to better gain insights into, and deduce potential plans that these competitors might have. For example, some high level employees might indicate their upcoming travel plans to attend meetings or trade shows in certain locations. This could suggest a pending merger or acquisition discussion or expansion into a new market.