Going to the source

July 3, 2013


One way you look for data for competitive intelligence, when you’re doing your own research, is to visualize the data as something that is flowing, like a stream. You want to figure out where it originated, and where it moves. Then you try to figure out where is a good place to intercept some or all of that data.

One thing that is often overlooked is going directly to the source of the data. In most cases, that is your competitor, which of course, can cause problems. Before you even think of doing this, check to see if your company has a policy against contacting competitors. You’d be surprised how many corporations, particularly those that it been in business for 75 or more years, have policies dealing with this. They tend to come out of misadventures with antitrust authorities in the past.

Assuming that your company has no policy against you contacting a competitor, think out whether or not you should do so. Who would you call there? What would you ask for? What would you say when someone asks who are you and why are you calling? The answer the latter one is — the truth. You are not a “student calling to research a paper”, you are not a hassled customer calling about a bill. Now you don’t have to volunteer information, but do not lie.

Now you probably can’t pick up the phone and call your opposite number, say a product manager. We can, and do, but that is another story. What you can do is look at your competitor and find out where your competitor faces the public. More specifically, does it have a consumer information line, or a place on its website allowing people to ask questions? If so, exploit these. These people are there to provide information to the public, usually customers or shareholders or potential customers, and there is no reason not to at least ask. The worst they can say is “no”.

Let me give you one quick example. Several years ago, we were developing intelligence for client on the possible rollout of a new product. It happened to be food, but that is not really that important. We found out that the product was being offered in another city and wanted to figure out if the company was positioning itself for a national or regional roll-out. Our background research indicated it was likely that the company was positioning for a national rollout, but to confirm that we called the consumer help line. We simply said we had heard about this new product, that we lived in Pennsylvania, which is true, and that we wanted to know when it might be available here. The individual in the help center, being helpful, asked that we wait for a moment while she checked. She came back in a moment and said “I have answer for you. It appears that we are rolling the product out on a national basis and we expect it will be available in Pennsylvania in about 6 to 8 weeks.” I said, “Thank you very much.” By the way, I actually went out and bought the product when it showed up here. It was pretty good.

My point is never ignore the obvious – the source.

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