Competitive intelligence is tricky. It’s hard for companies to know how much they should obtain, and it’s even harder to actually obtain it. In my experience, larger companies are likely to dedicate resources to competitive intelligence (CI). Smaller companies like the idea but usually don’t have the resources to commit to it. They argue that what the competition does is irrelevant, because the company is pursuing a particular direction and doesn’t need to respond directly to competitors. Others believe they are small enough that they need to focus on their clients alone, not the competition.
What information about competitors should you gather?
Basic CI includes identifying who the competition is (both direct and indirect competitors) and obtaining an overview of their characteristics: product lines, distribution, pricing, reputation, market share, business development process and team, and any other parameters you identify as crucial. You may not need to gather all of this information select the topics that are most relevant for the competition you face and the marketing decisions you need to make.
Gathering Information the right way
CI can sound like a sexy undertaking but don’t turn it into a dumpster diving affair. There are reasonable and unreasonable ways to do CI. The latter can land companies in the headlines and are more likely to hurt than help.
In most cases, a third party is needed to obtain competitive intelligence. They can get access to details and people that you cannot simply by merit of being independent. This method requires the most financial commitment, but often it is the only viable solution for getting useful CI.
Check for posted job opportunities. Learning about the type of people your competition is hiring can give you clues to what market niches they are exploring, which divisions they are expanding, and what product or service lines they are prioritizing. Social media such as LinkedIn can be a great resource to understand who’s moving into (or out of) a competitor.
Ask your business development team. Their direct contact with customers provides them access to strong market knowledge. Leverage their relationships with customers to assess the competition. Ask for their objective opinions.
Look for former employees on LinkedIn. As long as they are not under confidentiality agreements, they may be able to share some insight.
Consider talking with head-hunters, industry association personnel, or other industry watchers who may have views on the industry. You’ll be amazed by what people will tell you, if only you ask.