October 13, 2016
I want to share 10 basic rules with you DIYers which you should keep in mind when doing your own competitive intelligence research and analysis:
- Be honest – admit that you have not always been focused on what your competitors are doing: Even if you have been trying to keep up with what the competition is doing, your efforts have almost certainly been sporadic and incomplete. If you are not really keeping up, you are probably just assuming you know what the competition is doing. Never assume you know what your competitor is doing, and, more importantly, never assume you know what it is planning to do!
- 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. Those should be considered competitors, too. And keep an eye on your partners, suppliers and even major customers. They can, and often do, quickly turn into competitors.
- Ask lots of questions: If a customer leaves, find out why he/she is leaving and where he/she is going. Keep track of the answers you get. You may find a pattern that warns you of emerging competitors or new initiatives. Then you know what to focus on.
- Familiarize yourself with the competition — as they really are – today: Take the time to visit and revisit their stores, study their facilities (if possible), check out their web sites, and find out who owns them. Regularly track data about your competitors in the public domain – press releases, newsletters, new government filings, etc.
- When you study your competitors, never assume they see things the way you do: Your competitors have their own vision of the marketplace – and of your firm. Even if you think that vision is dead wrong, always keep in mind that they are guided by it and will operate in accord with it, not on how you think they should behave.
- Decide what’s important – and what is not: There are some things you can’t do anything about no matter how much you know about them. Focus on supporting important decision-making, not on merely satisfying your own curiosity.
- Don’t assume there is nothing you can do, even if you know what your competitors are up to: Effective CI does not always provide an opportunity to develop a competitive advantage, such as launching a new product. But sometimes it provides a vital early warning of a threat that can help you survive!
- Don’t get pressured into trying to measure exactly what CI is doing all of the time: While there are many aspects of CI where you can measure the impact, you cannot attach a number to everything CI can do for you. For example, what is the value of knowing a competitor will beat you to market or knowing that a competitor’s planned initiative will run into problems because the construction of the plant supporting is behind schedule because it still lacks some key permits?
- Be realistic: With the increasing focus on security on all fronts, some sources of raw data CI that were available in the past are no longer open to the public. Others may not be in the future. Always keep these changes and possible changes in mind
- Do it right – or don’t do it at all: CI is an ethical, legal activity. Never let yourself get pressured into doing anything that is not totally ethical and legal. There is never any good reason to be unethical or illegal.
June 15, 2015
In the previous blog of this series, I presented a quick guide to starting your own CI research. Now, I want to turn to time.
When you have identified what you are looking for, try to estimate how long you have to get the answers to your questions (that is when do you have to make a decision), and also how long it will take you to do the research and analysis. Keep in mind, these time frames are not the same. This does not mean you should be building a formal timeline; but always be aware the fact that, if you are researching this for a meeting, whatever you have when the meeting happens is what you must present.
Never feel that you must achieve perfection. You will never be able to do that. Intelligence is not like graduate university research, where the premium is put on perfection and closing out open questions. Intelligence is designed to be actionable, and timely. In other words, a perfect answer to the key question delivered a day late is worthless, but a largely correct analysis delivered on time may be invaluable.
Let us say that you have about two weeks to do this. Set a reminder to yourself at the end of the first week to do a quick mental review of exactly what you’ve accomplished. Then allow plenty of time for your analysis. Realistically, you are doing analysis as you go along, but always allow time to review all of your research and dig for the insights which you may have missed as you were collecting the data.
While there are no hard and fast rules on the subject, experience and research indicates that given a choice between spending 90% of your time on data collection and only 10% on analysis versus 50% on data collection and 50% on analysis, in most cases you will be better off doing the latter. So leave plenty of time for analysis and for last-minute data gathering to fill voids you missed the first time around.
In the last part of this blog, I will deal, at a little greater length, on structuring your own CI research.