With all the recent coverage in the press about Russian spies, you’d be forgiven for thinking we were back in the cold war era. But intelligence gathering is actually an important part of running a business if you want to stay competitive
There are five main sources of competitive intelligence
1. Common contacts: talk to people who also talk to your competitors:
Customers: what have they been demanding, and getting, from rivals; what makes them satisfied (or not) with competitors they buy from:
* Distributors/vendors: what they (and end-users they’ve talked to) know and think about rivals’ products and marketing strategies
* Ex-employees: what was afoot, and in the air, at rival companies they used to work for
* Subcontractors: what they’ve been doing for rivals, what this says of competitors’ current capabilities and future plans
* Suppliers: what materials or new equipment rivals have been buying from them
2. Industry interchange: make the most of information which competitors give out to the rest of the industry, via:
* Trade associations: statements made at, papers presented to, committees and conferences on issues of common concern - and unguarded remarks at the social events held around them;
* Survey data: information given in response to industry questionnaires/opinion polls, or insights that emerge from their published result.
* Interviews, profiles: what rivals’ CEOs and other execs have told the business press – and what else the journalists found out.
3. Competitors’ own publicity: what rivals say about themselves in:
* Press releases, presentations: eager to be first with good news or new ideas, rivals sometimes announce them too early - letting you see where they’re ahead, and prepare to retaliate.
* Job advertisements: early warning of top execs they’re about to replace, departments they’re expanding, vacancies they’re finding hard to fill and where their headhunters might attack you
* Marketing campaigns: long planning phases for big product/corporate image push give early warning of rivals’ next moves - and a long lag between advance promotion and actual delivery reveals when something’s wrong with their plans
* Corporate websites: as they’re aimed at current or prospective buyers and suppliers, sites may carry details not intended for competitors’ eyes; and clues to what’s cooking (or overheating) can multiply when disgruntled customers, lobbyists or employees start leaking details, or posting comments, their bosses would rather keep quiet.
4. Available research: information gathered by independent industry watchers is increasingly accessible, analysable, up to- date and cheap as online delivery expands:
* Market research: industry trends, forecasts, news updates, and major company profiles.
* Interest groups: product tests, company probes by consumer or campaign groups; one-off customer campaigns, and Internet ‘gripe sites’, for more individual views on what other firms have got wrong (or, occasionally, right)
* Databases: company financial and transaction information assembled privately or by public agencies (e.g. Companies House): unstructured, but increasingly open to electronic searching, mining, and integration with other data
* Information sites: subscription websites that pull together online information (inc press releases, annual reports, CEO speeches)
5. Intelligence gathering without descending into industrial espionage, ways of moving from talking to into taking:
* Leaks: strategy-sensitive details that accidentally get out, e.g. because a journalist unearths them, a website security system fails to contain them, or a sharp-eyed researcher finds them in the bin
* Poaching: employees with privileged insight into rival’s strategy or product plans, who can be headhunted or lured into ‘consulting’ role
* Undercover clients: investigations by staff, or hired agents, who present themselves as actual or prospective client: no deception in applying for a rival’s offer, attending their sales pitch/exhibit, checking out their pre-launch prototype – spotted n the road or in consumer trials
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