I have worked in competitive intelligence for over 25 years and here are some timeless key findings.
1. What Is Competitive intelligence Anyway?
Competitive Intelligence is NOT competitor spying. While competitors are definitely part of the external scanning and analysis process: customers, suppliers, regulators, new technology and so many more sources are part of the competitive puzzle.
2. Company Insularity Is Not a Competitive Advantage.
Too many companies spend too much time being insular since it is comfortable and are encouraged by executives who want to do it their way. Unfortunately many companies compensate their executives to be low risk takers since they get paid very well whether the company is doing well or not.
3. Don’t Forget: Your Employees Are Smart!
Yet, you don’t want to be too focused on the external environment so as to disregard what your employees are telling you. You don’t want to stifle their creativity by saying it won’t work, since it didn’t before or at company X. You want to give employees adequate time to be creative and exploratory, and to make allowances for mistakes: not just in research and development.
4. Let Employees Create and Have Access to Customer, Sales & Market Intelligence.
Customers are a key source for product development, competitive intelligence and the future of your marketplace. Don’t assume you know what your customers want: ask them. I notice that the the most successful companies are good at figuring out what will delight their customers–which goes far beyond “asking them”. This comes from letting the brains in the company be creative and develop neat products and services. Yet they need to have a tie to customers and other external sources to feed their creativity while internal marketing and sales people help them with practical things like pricing.
5. What Ever Happened to Good Old Fashioned Customer Service?
Many companies fixate on innovation at the cost of good customer service around existing products and services. One key learning from many Win/Loss interviews with customers is that customer service and company reputation are often the reasons customers buy and stay with you. Innovation and pricing are almost always lower in the decision-making totem pole. In a similar vein, some companies seem more eager to steal competitor’s customers than to retain their own. Costly move.
6. Many Companies Can’t Afford a Competitive Intelligence Process.
If your company doesn’t have the budget to sustain a competitive intelligence process, at least establish and maintain a list of internal and external experts who you can rely on when you have those competitive intelligence quick turnaround projects. Realize the value of cross-functional input towards key decisions, as cross-discipline output will reduce blind spots in your strategy. Input from external resources, who have never worked at your company, also reduces blind spots.
7. Be Actionable.
I have noticed that most companies actually have the intelligence they need about their marketplace to make smart decisions: they just aren’t willing to make the changes. Being nimble and willing to make organizational, product or service changes is a competitive advantage. Don’t get bogged down in organizational practices and procedures that aren’t necessary. Having management that is incented to make these changes is also a competitive advantage!
Extra Tip: Learn Why Your Competitors Got the Business that You Didn’t.
Win/Loss Analysis book gives you a process to learn why you’re losing business and how to keep more of it!