Introduction to Competitive Intelligence

At a recent Denver joint SCIP and APMP chapter meeting, I was asked to put together some introductory slides about competitive intelligence to set the stage for the more sophisticated discussion around “Price to Win,” which is sophisticated analysis around bids/outcomes for major contracts, usually with huge government customers.

As I assembled my slides, I realized that very little has changed in the competitive intelligence (CI) process, while the execution of the collection phase of competitive intelligence has changed remarkably over the 20+ years I have been in the business with the advent of the Internet in all its iterations, e-mail, text messaging and more recently through social networks.  This also affects counterintelligence, since it is easier for your competitors—or anyone who is interested enough—to dig up information about your company that you consider proprietary. This information comes not only through electronic means, but through ex-employees, especially from all the downsizing in the last couple of years.

One common misconception is that competitive intelligence just focuses on the competition. Make no mistake competition is part of this: but you also want to take into account all the factors that affect the competitive marketplace such as economic conditions like the current unstable economy. In the US, the stock market has staged a quick recovery although the NYSE is still 4000 points below its peak in 2007. When you consider the stock market’s quick ascent after such a steady descent, you have to wonder how sustainable it is and how this will affect your customers, suppliers and competitors. Politics can affect the competitive marketplace. Were I in the US healthcare business, I would study all the ramifications of the proposed healthcare reform, and would conduct scenario planning exercises to prepare my company for change.

Here are 10 points to consider whether you’re starting or leading an established CI operation regardless of how you’re organized or what country you work in. These points are timeless: I put this list together in the early 1990s. While technology impacts our lives far more than it did then, human nature has not changed, and that’s what’s behind these steps.

1. Identify primary users
2. Focus on critical users’ needs
3. Fashion products to meet users’ needs
4. Be mindful of the company culture
5. Identify & build on infrastructure that supports CI
6. Organize & expand your people network constantly
7. Promote communication
8. Don’t implement automation before people
9. Checkpoint performance always
10. Stay focused

I didn’t include cooperative intelligence when I started my CI career since I was too focused on learning how to do competitive intelligence. Cooperative Intelligence focuses on good communication, solid connections, and being respected as a leader by providing good knowledge and insightful work. CI is more of a back office function: CEOs don’t look to hire people in their c-suite with CI experience. However, many areas within a company do rely on good competitive intelligence–which if communicated well and in a timely fashion–does lead people to respect the CI manager. You can be the greatest executor of competitive intelligence, but if you can’t communicate relevant information and analysis to the right people at the right time, it really doesn’t matter. This is the core of cooperative intelligence in the context of competitive intelligence—being so connected with your internal customers, that you know what to provide when—and get feedback from them, so you stay on target.

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1 thought on “Introduction to Competitive Intelligence”

  1. I found your site after reading a comment you posted on Social Edge. This line from your blog is really important: “You can be the greatest executor of competitive intelligence, but if you can’t communicate relevant information and analysis to the right people at the right time, it really doesn’t matter.”

    I collect and share information intended to help non profit tutor/mentor programs grow in high poverty areas. The people I want to be looking at this info are not just NPO leaders, but the leaders of companies and institutions who benefit from more kids coming out of high school and college who are ready for 21st century careers. These are the people who need to support tutor/mentor programs for strategic and self-interest reasons.

    Finding people who can help get this message to the right people is the challenge I’m trying to overcome. The answer is to recruit intermediaries who can carry that message. I hope you’ll visit our site and want to take on part of this intermediary role.

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