Competitive Intelligence: Remain Ethical & Avoid Deception

Last month I was interviewed by Adam Sutton of MarketingSherpa, and in the spirit of cooperative intelligence I am going into detail on each of the 5 tactics we discussed to improve competitive intelligence collection. This week I cover the last tactic. For the full article you need to subscribe to MarketingSherpa.

Tactic #5: Remain ethical and avoid deception

Make sure anyone you use to collect information is operating under the same ethical standards as held by your company. If you need help figuring out what your ethical standard should be, check out the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professional’s (SCIP’s) website for its code of ethics.  Most associations have a code of ethics and often your industry or your company will have ethical guidelines. I also like the Association of Independent Information Professional’s (AIIP’s) code of ethics.

As a consultant I am sensitive to the topic of ethics since there is such a variance among my clients. Some industries are more conservative than others. Countries have very different ethical standards. Some clients have the attitude of “Just get the information for us, I don’t care how!” Others go as far as to have me sign on to their company ethical standards.

Don’t expect consultants to be unethical to collect for your company. You wouldn’t ask your employees to be unethical, and consultants when working for you are an extension of your company. It just isn’t worth your reputation to be unethical, and it doesn’t feel good to me to be asked to unethical. I have had companies ask me to attend trade shows and sign up as the employee of a large company. That’s unethical and also unnecessary. People will talk and share at trade shows even if you are a direct competitor. Of course, they’ll share even more with a trained collection consultant who is not a competitor.

More companies have written ethics statements these days, although I don’t find that companies are any more ethical today than they were 25 years ago when I started in this field. I find that having an honest discussion around ethics at the proposal stage is helpful so I can decide if my ethics and the company’s are similar. I find that each case is a little different, and you need to arrive at what feels right with each customer and each collection project, but that having ethical guidelines is helpful. Ultimately it’s your conscience that will guide your behavior and ethics is part of that.

BTW, SCIP’s Competitive Intelligence Foundation published a book on ethics Navigating the Gray Zone which will give you a lot of tippers around ethical behavior and how companies have developed ethics policies over the years. Here is a short article I wrote on ethics, Ethics: The Cooperative Angle.

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