Your rival companies know plenty about you, but what do you know about them? Competitive intelligence can level the playing field and not only help you learn about your rivals, but learn more about what may be missing from your own business. Collecting competitive intelligence (CI) is surprisingly simple to do by using resources anyone can access, and putting forth a little effort. This article explains how to get highly useful information about other companies from the Internet, from written sources such as periodicals and rivals' catalogs, and by attending trade shows and practicing "mystery shopping."
Nobody conducts business in a vacuum. You can bet your competitors know plenty about your company. So why not level the playing field by finding out as much about them as you can? It's surprisingly simple to do and, in today's very competitive environment, a survival strategy.
Your goal is to develop insights into your competitors, including their products and services, financial performances, market positioning or share, relocations, expansions or closures, mergers and acquisitions, changes in business direction, growth trends, and press coverage.
It's inexpensive to research other companies on the Internet. Obviously, you should first check out their Web sites and your industry's business/trade associations, networking groups and online newsgroups. Then review research Web sites - such as those listed below. They and many others will help you gather and organize competitive intelligence. Try a search and see where it leads you. Remember research is an iterative process and one reference or link may lead to another even more valuable source of information.
The CI Resource Index at www.ciseek.com has a search engine and an extensive list of competitive intelligence resources. At www.10-kwizard.com you can find public information and filings in the Securities and Exchange Commission's Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval (EDGAR) system.
For access to industry, market and company-specific intelligence for both public and private businesses, try www.hoovers.com. Hoovers provides free summary information and a paid subscription option for more detailed information. On www.lexis.com, you can search for liens (including tax liens) on competitors' property. You can also find financing sources and assets competitors have pledged as collateral. And don't forget credit-reporting agencies such as Dun and Bradstreet. These generally provide financial data, management and ownership information, and payment histories.
Finish With Tried-and-True Methods
The Internet is a great resource, but it isn't all-inclusive. So be sure to cover the "old fashioned" information bases as well.
Read all about it
Carefully read your rival company's catalog, brochure or other collateral material. How do they compare to your business? What do they sell or not offer? What are their shipping and other customer service policies? Also read periodicals that report on your business, and consider contracting with a clipping service -- a company that collects media information about specified topics.
Meet and greet
Now it's time to get out of your office and meet your competitors face to face. As you probably already know, companies use trade shows to announce and promote products, services, mergers, acquisitions and other business strategies. Trade-show exhibitors don't necessarily train their staffs to be cagey around possible competitors. Here's an opportunity for you to question them. Who knows what strategic information trade show workers may reveal?
Competitive shopping provides an insider's view of how your rivals serve their customers. It's simple: You assign employees to buy products or services from your major competitors. You can discover more than just their customer service skills. One company using competitive shopping learned of a rival's hidden fees; it used the information to promote its own more-ethical billing practices, profiting handsomely.
Go for It
Competitive intelligence can not only reveal your competitors' financial strengths and weaknesses, but also forecast marketplace trends; uncover information about companies you wish to acquire, merge with or invest money in; help benchmark your business methods against industry leaders; and suggest ways to prevent competitors from spying on you. Go for all the information you can get -- it's good for business. To learn more about collecting and using competitive intelligence please contact me; I'll be glad to help you find ways to gather the data you need.