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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.


Competitive Intelligence Advantage by Seena Sharp

SeenaSharpSeena Sharp’s book Competitive Intelligence Advantage  has just been published! I just ordered my copy and strongly encourage you to do the same! Seena Sharp has been doing competitive intelligence (CI) since before she founded her Los Angeles-based CI firm, Sharp Market Intelligence in 1979.

What I like about Seena, and it’s a long list–way too long for this blog–is her provocative nature as she looks at the causes for events. She has focused on soft intelligence for years, which is often what drives decision-making. She is really good at uncovering sources that others would overlook, who always look in the “same old places” or the “industry publications/trade journals.” She has a holistic outlook as she helps her clients uncover what is about to happen in the marketplace, and how they can take advantage of these trends, and perhaps influence them. BTW I also like her laughter!

So here is a little bit about her book that I picked up on the Internet…I’ll write more when I read her book!

Competitive Intelligence Advantage:

* Defines and refines the elements of quality CI
* Details why what you don’t know will hurt you
* Equips you with techniques for detecting opportunities and seizing them
* Shows you when and why to use CI to your advantage
* Helps you understand and evaluate information sources
* Demystifies and debunks common myths about CI

This book explains why data is not intelligence, why competitor intelligence is a weak sibling to competitive intelligence, when to use it, how to find the most useful information and turn it into actual intelligence, and how to convincingly communicate findings.

Competitive intelligence is a robust management discipline that is often misunderstood and underestimated, yet results in numerous benefits when used wisely. CI is critical for minimizing risks when formulating your business strategy. The true power of CI lies in its ability to reveal what’s happening outside your organization—to take off the blinders and show you the true competitive state of play.

Businesses would benefit from viewing competitive intelligence from a COST to viewing it as an INVESTMENT that saves money and provides immediate value. If you’re a senior-level executive or organizational leader—and you aren’t tapping the power of CI for an external perspective on your customers and the marketplace—you’re giving your competitors the upper hand.

Order your hardcopy
Order your electronic copy

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