Competitive Intelligence Ethics

I listened to a consultant who faced a dilemma of competitive intelligence ethics. Her firm had led the initiative behind a major technology roll out for a big company. One of their competitors was talking with her about competitive intelligence. Being conscientious, she was concerned that this could be ethically challenging.

Another key issue was trust. If the key competitor found out she worked for the other firm, even though the gig would be helping them set up a process, not competitor research, would they lose trust?


It’s Your Reputation

It takes many years to build a credible business that you need to consider building and maintaining relationships continuously. It’s easy enough for people to misinterpret what you’re doing which causes your reputation to sink. We face these issues often in the field of competitive intelligence.


Competitive Intelligence Is Not Competitor Intelligence

Competitive intelligence is often misunderstood. This consultant had immediately translated competitive intelligence into COMPETITOR intelligence. After we spoke for a while, I found out that there were a number of competitors in her client’s marketplace.

Competitive intelligence is about staying competitive, so there are a whole host of other factors that keep you competitive.

It’s easy to fall into the competitor trap. Here are few things to keep in mind about competitive intelligence. Much of my time is helping companies with market opportunity analysis, that is finding ways to make more money or perhaps studying the marketplace to find out that an opportunity we believed would be lucrative, is a money loser.

A popular competitive intelligence tool is STEEP analysis where you consider the macro environment that you compete in, how it is shifting, and how you might shape it to maintain your leadership. Read this article for a great explanation of STEEP and how it can be used.

S = social trends

T= technology trends

E = economic trends

E = ecological trends

P = political trends

Porter’s 5 Forces is an industry analytical tool used in competitive intelligence that looks at competitors, substitute products, potential new competitors, customers and suppliers and the relative influence and power of each in your industry.

Competitive intelligence folks also talk to numerous internal and external people to learn about the marketplace, and the competitors are only 1 small piece. I spend more time studying customers’ needs, and feel that the sales force is one of a company’s richest sources of competitive intelligence since they are talking to customers every day, learning not only about the competition, but enabling product development with products and services customers will pay for. They hear about new technology, innovation and rumors about political changes that could threaten your company’s sales success, and so much more once you make the connection into their collective and individual wisdom.


Back to Competitive Intelligence Ethics

I don’t work for competing firms if I’m doing competitor research/analysis work, and have not worked for competitors when setting up a CI process. If I’m asked to research a competitor I refer the business to another firm. How do you weigh in on this?

Here is an article, Timeless Advice for Making a Hard Choice, by Joseph L. Badaracco of HBR Online. This gives a broader perspective on ethics in business.


Win/Loss Analysis book gives you a process to learn why you’re losing clients and how to keep more business! Competitive Intelligence ethics lives here.
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