Competitive Intelligence is a special form of Market Intelligence involving sourcing and gathering information about competitors on a continuous basis to enable you to keep track of what the competition are doing and planning and storing and analysing that competitor intelligence.
Because of the danger of accusations of industrial espionage, there are some strict ethical codes about how competitive intelligence can and cannot be carried out. A rule of thumb is that if the information is public and can be obtained without deception then it is OK to collect it but private data and commercial secrets are not allowed. This means sensitive data like number of sales, production costs, or commercial terms are unlikely to be available.
As Competitive Intelligence is normally carried out on an on-going basis, central focus is in putting together structures that will enable information to be gathered, collated and reviewed in a regular and frequent fashion.
In particular, you should be able to obtain competitive information not just from published information, but also from comments and snippets picked up from customers, suppliers, partners and associates. For this reason it is important to have an internal system in place to allow this information to be collected, reported, analysed and communicated.
A basic Competitive Intelligence function would include
- monitoring the press and journals for article, press releases and job adverts
- benchmarking competitive products and services
- monitoring and collecting promotional materials
- taking views from customers, suppliers and partners
- monitoring for company reports and analyst reports
- attending exhibitions and conferences and membership of trade associations
- monitoring patents
- maintaining regular searches and reports on the internet
- collecting information from competitor websites
The key is to be systematic in the way the data is collected, collated and then analysed with a view to communicating any changes in competitor behaviour quickly to those who will need to know. A classic piece of analysis is to monitor a competitor's pricing strategy and product development process to identify when and at what price their next products are going to be launched.
There are a number of tools that can help with this process. Firstly, it is important to have a competitor database to collect this information.
Traditional databases can struggle with with the complexities of competitive data and competitors typically do not provide information in neat boxes to specific formats and so data is often missing, in text form or needs commenting and unpicking. In particular, competitor information needs to be both structured and unstructured to allow for both analysis and searching. It is important that the database is flexible as markets and the information you collect can change extremely rapidly and consequently it needs to be easy to use and adapt without the need for programming resources.
The database needs to record the date, the source, a summary and details so that the data can be searched and organised to look for trend information. Ideally this will be a web based system so that sales teams can access appropriate information where and when they need to. In addition, this can also be used as a push system, notifying relevant employees when new news comes in that is relevant to their role. dobney.com can provide suitable web-enabled databases that are easy to maintain and use, such as Notanant our market knowledge system which includes functionality as a competitor database.
Our experience of competitor intelligence gathering and storage in practice is that most businesses use informal systems and specialist personnel who get to know the competitor landscape.
Some parts of competitor intelligence gathering can be automated through tools like web-scraping and semi- and unstructured databases, but in practice insight hunting and interpretation are a key part of the analyst's job and are very difficult to automate.
Of more importance is the ability to index and aggregate disperate pieces of information in a structured library-type database and this is where Notanant excels. These databases though are quite specialised and so relatively expensive, so many companies still use informal systems with files, folders and spreadsheets relying on the skills (and memory) of the analyst.