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How To Leverage Competitive Intelligence Effectively

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Times have changed and technology is taking us to new heights we never would have thought possible. Communication is instant and accessible with others anywhere in the world; science and technology have fused to bring us courageous new developments in health and medicine; and both individuals and organizations alike are comfortable posting a great amount of information online, as the internet is the best way to connect with others. In the vein of information being online, companies have realized that with all that business advantages can come with all that available data. Enter the term competitive intelligence (CI). It is advanced market research on your competitors through following their online movements. It’s similar to market research but with specific aims and direct questions to answer, as market research is about exploring overarching market trends. Competitive intelligence is also less talked about and sometimes perceived as somewhat sneaky, yet it yields great results. And don’t worry, it is perfectly acceptable for your business to engage in.

Competitive intelligence is about viewing the current trajectory of your competitors and staying ahead of the competition by anticipating their next steps. High tech competitive intelligence is done by hired investigators or ex-intelligence officers but your company doesn’t need to go as far as that in order to stay on top of CI. Information is fairly easy to uncover with the vast amount of data on the internet, for starters. The purpose of CI is that businesses then act on the information gleaned from their competitive intelligence for their own strategic advancement. It’s important to stress that CI is not about gathering information on your competitors in illegal or unethical ways but rather by upholding the Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) Code of Ethics.

CI may not be a term you hear as often as other marketing phrases, but it is a popular method with proven success. According to Crayon, 94% of businesses have jumped on the competitive intelligence bandwagon. Perhaps this is largely due to the fact that companies are becoming wise to the reality that their competition is already running competitive analysis on them; 74% of businesses say they are aware their competitors are in the competitive intelligence game. Clearly, this is a technique your business should participate in, but you may be wondering where to start. We asked executives to share their suggestions on how businesses can effectively leverage competitive intelligence. Keep reading to receive a solid grasp on what actions you can take to get started with CI.

Narrow In On Your Competition

“The first step you should take when preparing to leverage competitive intelligence is define who your competitors are. You need to narrow in on the companies you should be keeping an eye on. Think of dividing your list into direct and less direct competition. Your direct competitors are those selling similar products to the same target customer base as you. You should filter your list to also include those less similar competitors who are still reaching the same buyer persona. Narrowing in on who your competition is should be the first step so you have a clear understanding of who those businesses are and what strategies they follow.”

  • Dan Bladen, Co-Founder and CEO of Kadence, a suite of easy-to-use hybrid working software for teams.

Know Your End Goal

“Competitive intelligence is all about knowing your end goal and using the data you find to benefit your company–otherwise, CI is not that different from market research where you measure large scale industry trends. CI asks much more specific questions and has narrower end goals. Think of it this way: when you first start using CI, try to ask detailed questions that your research can find an answer to. These pressing questions about your competitors once answered will provide you with a deeper understanding on some aspect of their strategies or next moves, and will then fuel your next step in keeping ahead of the competition. Maybe you want to know how one of your competitors plans to grow their product units. Or whether there are any commercial partnerships in the works. These questions are both specific and actionable and will provide you with valuable information.”

  • Daniel Sathyanesan, Founder and CEO of Winden, a business bank designed to help you make money.

Use Competitive Intelligence to Influence Better Decision Making

“Your company should be using competitive intelligence to drive better decision making. I know CI is often thought of from the perspective of looking out, like wondering ‘What is the competition doing? How are they planning to move forward with their product launch? What steps are they taking in such and such area?’ but in order to effectively leverage CI, you need to turn your focus inwards to your own company. Yes, CI deals largely with finding out what your competitors are doing and keeping a close eye on their actions, but the whole point of CI is to analyze the data and use it to influence your own methods and decisions. Don’t get lost in watching your competition. You have to remain true to your own mission and only use the information to help you be more informed. When you know what the competition is doing you can make more informed decisions which equals better decision making. That should be your goal. Not only to answer this or that question about your competition, but in a larger scheme to make better decisions for your own company.”

  • Brandon Lurie, Marketing Director of Y Meadows, the ultimate AI plug-in for ticketing systems.

Start With Internet Searches

“When you first hear about competitive intelligence and learn that large corporations often employ former intelligence agents to run their CI operations, and then you realize that every business is now utilizing CI including your competitors, the whole idea of competitive intelligence seems quite daunting. You wonder how small businesses or those without the capacity to hire private investigators keep up. I too had these concerns at first, but the more I’ve learned the more I understand that businesses don’t need to agonize over hiring someone with the right experience for the role. Instead, they can ask that every employee do their part to gather information where they can. After all, we as humans who have the internet are already pretty good at finding information and analyzing the data to draw inferences. We may complete some form of this every time we go on social media.

“You can start your competitive intelligence research by first defining which companies are your competition and then heading to your competitors’ websites. You can find a lot about a business by the information they share on their site, since they want to attract customers by sharing a certain amount of info about who they are and what they do. There’s usually a decent amount of data about their business tactics, resources, and planned advancements to be found on company websites. So I say to everyone overwhelmed by the task of CI, start with what you know, such as completing internet searches.”

  • Phillip Montalvo, Director of Marketing of Azuna, a plant-based alternative to odor elimination.

Watch for Patterns in the Data

“When you’re conducting your competitive intelligence research, try to look for patterns in the data you uncover. These may not immediately be obvious so it’s wise to go into your deep diving and analysis while keeping in mind that you want to watch for similarities. Some patterns that would be helpful to discover, for instance, are your competitors’ strengths–where they seem to really operate at a high level–as well as their weaknesses. You might find patterns in their marketing strategies as well, or their financial expenditures. You never know what you’ll find ahead of time so it can be tricky to know what to watch for, which is why remembering to look for patterns can be really helpful.”

  • Tyler Read, Founder and Senior Editor of Personal Trainer Pioneer, a personal training information and certification source.

Define Your Competitors’ Focuses to Distinguish Between Them

“You probably have a lot of competitors you need to keep an eye on as part of your CI strategy. It’s estimated that the average business has about 25 competitors–that’s a lot of data to constantly be searching for and analyzing to find useful information that can apply to your own company’s business model. It may help you to classify your competitors by their core competencies and their main focuses. For example, a company’s core competency may be their strong product delivery; their main focus might be on their financial revenue or maintaining their corporate social responsibility. Once you define their central motivations and strengths, you can better distinguish between your competition.”

  • Rob Bartlett, CEO of WTFast, an intelligent network providing a better online gaming experience.

Apply Your Findings to Your Plan of Action

“CI is about applying your data findings to your business strategy to stay ahead of the competition in a highly competitive market. It is so tightly competitive that everything is connected. Your competitors’ moves will affect your business, unfortunately, and often in negative ways because if they get a leg up, you’re now lower down. That’s just the way it works. You have to know how your competitors’ moves are affecting your own company and how you can take action before your competition, or at least at the same time so you stay on the same plane of success. The point of having the CI data is to use it to your advantage and keep up with the constant happenings in your area of the market.”

  • Ryan Rottman, Co-Founder and CEO of OSDB, the ultimate online sports database.

Dive Deeper Than Internet Searches

“Building a strategy without competitive intelligence is like planning a road trip without a map. You might eventually reach the destination, but it will be much more difficult. . . Competitive intelligence programs uncover and analyze market and competitor activity to provide actionable intelligence. Ultimately, the goal is to provide leadership with useful insights to support more informed business decisions.

“There are numerous tactics for excavating competitor data. One obvious tactic is using internet searches. With web searches, companies can find out what competitors are doing publicly and what they’ve done in the past. Web searches can uncover potential product announcements as well as customer feedback. Internet searches are a beginning but not the end. Be aware that surface-level web searches often yield ‘company approved’ information that only projects strengths. A deeper search should include views into leadership tendencies, past contracts, technology, M&As, facilities, personnel changes and more. Other forms of market research and analysis can be similar to internet searches regarding time commitment. These might include analysis of niche market and customer segments.”

  • Steve Roemerman, CEO of Lone Star Analysis, a predictive and prescriptive analytics company.

Analyze the Data to Answer Your Questions

“Don’t just gather the data through your competitive intelligence research–once you have the data, you still have to analyze it in order to find any specific meaning that can inform your company. View the data through the lens of answering your big questions regarding your competition. Knowing such details about your competition won’t mean anything unless correctly understood and then used to implement your own next steps. You should start strategizing your next moves in light of the information you gather.”

  • Patricio Paucar, Co-Founder and Chief Customer Officer of Navi, a simplified navigator for comparing phones and mobile plans.

Now that you have a better understanding of what competitive intelligence is and how it can be applied in highly effective ways to your business strategy, it’s time for you to take the first step to launch your own CI research. If you follow the experts’ advice, you should have plenty of data to analyze and apply to your business in no time!

Jacob Maslow is a Columnist at Disrupt Magazine. Based in the Middle East, he specializes in Journalism. He is the founder and editor of several news sites including Legal Scoops and Streetwise Journal.

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