What is Competitive Intelligence?
Competitive intelligence is the result of a company’s efforts to gather and analyze information about its industry, business environment, competitors, and competitive products and services.
The information-gathering and analysis process can help a company develop its strategy or identify competitive gaps.
Competitive Intelligence or Espionage?
Competitive intelligence practices involve ethical and legitimate research and information-gathering such as studying a company’s social media posts for specifics that might reveal the timing of a product launch. Espionage involves illegal or ethically questionable activities, such as hacking a competitor’s computer system or paying a competitor’s employee to provide confidential information.
While it’s possible to hire a trained, professional competitive intelligence practitioner, small businesses often gather and analyze the information themselves. Competitive intelligence information can be gathered through online searches and other data-gathering methods, or by talking to people.
Information sources for online and other searches include:
- Company websites for insights into target audiences or shifts in strategy, product pricing, product benefits, and so on.
- Company press releases for new product, staff, or expansion news.
- Social media postings, particularly if the company begins sharing information related to a product or service that hasn’t yet been introduced.
- Online job postings, since the types and number of open positions could indicate efforts to staff up for a new product or category development.
- Company information aggregators such as Dun & Bradstreet or Hoover’s Online.
- User’s groups on social networks that include LinkedIn and Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet.
It’s also possible to gather relevant competitive information by talking to people inside and outside the company. The conversations might be overt – “Tell me what you know about product X” – or they might be subtle, “Hey, what are you hearing from people with products like ours about what’s likely to happen in our field?”
People who might have helpful information include:
- Your own salespeople, who might learn information about competitors when calling on customers or prospects.
- Employees who attend industry conferences and might hear useful specifics.
- Vendors, especially those specializing in serving your industry.
- Customers who might inadvertently or intentionally share information they’ve acquired about competitive products or services.
The key to competitive intelligence is that second word – intelligence. Information gathered however formally or informally won’t help a company unless it is analyzed thoughtfully or carefully. Only then can the information inform strategic or other decisions in the organization.