I was recently asked by a prospective client to summarize how I could help his company develop and implement a competitive intelligence process. While I tend to follow certain steps in setting up a CI process, I was taken aback since this company’s industry is such a specialized niche within financial services, and I am not a “one size fits all” consultant.
Here are some of the takeaways that apply to any industry:
Determine the most important areas to track and analyze or what we in competitive intelligence refer to as Key Intelligence Topics (KITs). You can’t focus on everything or you won’t do anything well. Within in that, focus on the most essential KIT immediately and make a big splash within your company. Your company executives and marketing people will have a lot of good ideas about KITs, but don’t just rely on them. Ask people in other functional areas so you gain balance and aren’t blindsided.
Don’t forget to market and position your CI initiative. Start by letting people know what CI is: what you do and don’t do and set up ethical boundaries. Nobody owes you anything in the busy workplace. Present CI in the context of what they do and how you can help them, and that will go a long way to gaining their cooperation. Create a logo so people can readily identify what you send them by its look, and share only quality stuff and not too often.
I think most companies are close to parity when it comes to conducting secondary research, that is monitoring competitors, market trends including and all the components of the STEEP analysis:
However, where excellent companies stand out is in connecting with people who are responsive both inside and outside their companies across a variety of disciplines. The initial challenge is to locate these connections, and then keep track of them as they move to different areas within your company, leave your company, or start at your company. It’s even more of a challenge to track your external contacts. I use both ACT!, a great contact database to keep track of my contacts, as well as Outlook.
If you establish cooperative relationships and disciplined communication with relevant people you will have a competitive advantage. You will keep your network informed and over time, those people you connect with will think to inform you when they find nuggets that they know you value.
Trade shows are often overlooked as a means to obtain competitive intelligence and so much more. Dig into your company’s trade show strategy and engage those who are attending to become collectors of CI. Sales is often conducting some form of win loss analysis, and is a great conduit to your customers, a great source of CI if recorded.
Lastly, don’t forget your competitors are collecting against you, which we call counterintelligence. Influence your company to take steps to protect your company’s important information like R&D, product development & intellectual property.
For lots more detail about setting up a CI process, I suggest you buy the CI Foundation’s book, Starting a Competitive Intelligence Function.