How Can I Learn More About CI for My Job?

Where can you get help on learning more about competitive intelligence (after first reading our book, VBG)? Just look around. You don’t have to get involved (yet) with sites that serve only CI professionals.

Start by checking out every group of which you are a member, or where you are considering a membership. Also, check out your trade publications as well. How? Well, just Google their name plus “competitive intelligence” or “market intelligence” or strategic intelligence”.  You will often be (pleasantly) surprised to see how many of them have done or at least said something about CI.

For example, the Professional Pricing Society had me present a course on CI several years ago for its certification program. That interest among its membership continues. For pricing specialists who would like to learn a little more, just check out their site, starting with



Social Media – CheapAid

June 26, 2012

Digimind recently released a study ( on the use of social media by competitive intelligence teams. Almost 80% of those responding said they used it “to extract information relating to competitors, industry developments, consumer trends and more.”


The most targeted: Twitter and LinkedIn, with over 60% using each of them, beating out Google+ and Facebook, neither of which cleared the 50% level. And Digimind report indicates this is not used solely for B2C (business to consumer) research.


What does that mean to you? If you are not using social media (which is free, or at least cheap) to outsmart your competition, you could be missing out on a lot. And you do not have to have years of training to do that – all you have to do is read!

Your CI Mindset

If you are thinking of doing competitive intelligence yourself, get yourself in the right frame of mind. Here are a few hints for you.

Admit that you have not always been focused on what your competitors are doing:

We know that, like every other manager or executive, you try to keep up with what the competition is doing, but accept the fact that your efforts are sporadic and incomplete. Worse, you probably assume you know what your competition is doing. Never assume you know what your competitor is doing, and, more importantly, what it is planning to do. Take the time and make the efforts to find out what is really out there!

Know who your real competitors are:

They may not be who you think they are. Ask your customers what other firms else they considered before they chose you. They should be considered competitors, too. And keep a close eye on your partners, suppliers and major customers. They could quickly turn into competitors in the near future.

Familiarize yourself with the competition — as they are today:

Take the time to visit their stores, check out their web sites, and find out who owns them. Look for information about your competitors in the public domain – press releases, newsletters, government filings, etc. – as well as on their own web sites. Do this on a regular basis.

When you study your competitors, always remember, they do not necessarily operate the way you do:

Just because you are organized in one way does not mean your competitors are organized that way, too. Your competitors have their own vision of the marketplace – and of you. Even if you think that vision is wrong, always keep in mind that they will be guided by it.

Competitive Intelligence versus Knowledge Management

June 22, 2012

Knowledge management is an interesting phrase, the name given to a discipline with some impressive thinking behind it. Knowledge management (KM) is also known as business intelligence (BI). Does that mean that KM and CI (competitive intelligence) are the same, or at least similar?

No. From my point of view, there are fundamental differences in their core concepts and methodologies. That makes them two very different disciplines, each with its proper role, but with almost nothing in common, as this table shows:

Externally focused Internally focused
Focuses on existing competitors,   potential competitors, and developing technology Focuses on processes, existing   customers, and supply chains
Most valuable when answering the question   “What will happen  next?” Most often valuable when answering the   question “How do we do better tomorrow what we did yesterday?”
Seeks out data that its analysts or the enterprise do not yet have to  respond  to questions posed by themselves or others Manages and expands existing knowledge base(s)
Tends to be focused on the qualitative: What is happening/why? Focuses on the quantitative: How much?
Can be heavily involved in enterprise-wide efforts to protect competitively sensitive  information Typically has no involvement with the protection of knowledge assets

Who’s on first? And why does that matter?

June 21, 2012

The Economist recently reported on a study that has some interesting consequences for CI. The study basically indicates that decision-makers are biased by the daily pieces of information they are working with. Or, as the article puts it, interviewers favor those seen first.


Well, in the case of CI, that means that the person doing some CI research (and analysis) is most impacted by the first person they speak to about this. Who is that? Why the Client of course. In other words, anyone doing any CI research runs the risk of being infected by the Client’s own (unstated) biases. Why? Because that is the first person that he or she talks to about the project, so they give him/her greater weight than people they later interview.

Carolyn (Vella), my partner, suggests an even more interesting possible issue. For those of you who do the research, whether for a Client or for yourself, being methodical may not be a great idea. That is, if you start every project, say, by checking consumer blogs and then industry experts (or vice versa), then you may be overly influenced by what that first site or interviewee discloses. And, doing your research the same way each time could tend to assure that you never escape that bias trap.

She also suggests a cure: not only vary the way you start, but start with sites (or interviewees) that quickly disclose their own biases. For example, start with a consumer blog where people tell everyone WHY they are critical or supportive of a product. That is, position yourself to inoculate  your own or your client’s own biases with those of others.

Think about it.

Insider Information and Competitive Intelligence

June 21, 2012

The business press is filled with talk about the fall from grace of Rajat K. Gupta, the retired head of McKinsey & Company and a former Goldman Sachs and Procter & Gamble board member. What he was convicted of doing was passing confidential information to an outsider who traded on that, a violation of the Securities Exchange Act. So what does this have to do with CI?


Thanks for asking. The answer is nothing. But isn’t getting confidential information through, say elicitation interviews, therefore also illegal? No. First, CI professionals do not try and get trade secrets and other confidential information, What they try to do is get enough data to draw a conclusion, that is through analysis. Sometimes, that analysis can be spot on, and produce a startling result. But that is the benefit of CI – using public sources to develop intelligence on which you take action.


Just remember, there are lines out there. They do not apply to sound, ethical CI practices. But, if you are tempted to stray into a grey zone, remember, you have left the world of CI and are entering the world of Rajat Gupta.

What is Competitive Intelligence?

June 19, 2012


SCIP’s Fellows (these are the people who have won the Fellows Award from the Strategic & Competitive Intelligence Professionals) have just come up with “a universal elevator speech” to describe CI:


“We are the corporate radar that gives you insight into opportunities and threats before others can figure them out.”