How to Uncover Competitor Secrets - Legally
If your organization is pondering the question, "What are we up against?" it is not alone. Competitive intelligence (CI) is what your company is looking for, and an organization called the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) has produced this book to help you analyze and/or anticipate the strengths and weaknesses of your business rivals and make the most of that information. SCIP publishes a magazine, Competitive Intelligence Review, dedicated to this kind of fact-finding. Proven Strategies in Competitive Intelligence is a compilation of its best articles, brought together by its executive editor, John E. Prescott (who is also a professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh's Katz Graduate School of Business), and its managing editor, Stephen H. Miller.
A Legal and Ethical Process
Although it might sound underhanded at first, Miller writes that CI is actually "the legal and ethical process of collecting, analyzing, and applying information about the capabilities, vulnerabilities and intentions" of the competition. Outwitting, outmaneuvering and outperforming competitors can mean giant strides in forward movement for a company, and big financial gains. The pendulum of competitive intelligence swings both ways, and shoring up internal weaknesses can also be a source of larger profits and fewer customers moving toward the competition. The competitive intelligence payoff comes from a combination of "revenues gained and revenues 'not lost' to competitive activity," explains former NutraSweet CEO and Chairman and CI advocate Robert E. Flynn in one of the articles. "CI is worth up to $50 million per year to our company."
The goal of SCIP is to promote strictly ethical CI; Miller writes that economic espionage "represents a failure of CI." The tools used to collect CI include technology scouting via patent tracking, scanning open-source public records, monitoring the Internet and mass media, talking with knowledgeable parties, attending trade shows and conferences, and creating psychological profiles of top decision makers. These tactics represent smart business practices, and are designed to create advantages over the competition. Companies like IBM, Xerox, Daimler-Benz, Chevron and NutraSweet all have systems in place to collect, analyze and disseminate CI; in this book, practitioners from these and other companies reveal their techniques.
CI for Smaller Businesses
Proven Strategies in Competitive Intelligence aims to help those looking to start CI operations in smaller companies as well, or to improve the CI systems they have already created. An informative article from CI expert Amy Berger provides insight into her time as a one-person CI department for a medium-sized firm. Her story details the techniques she used to gather information and how her employer used CI to its marketing advantage, including her "six steps for conducting competitive intelligence successfully":
- Create and Use an Intake Form. This monitors the quantity and nature of colleagues' queries for specific competitive intelligence.
- Ask for Companywide Help - And Be Specific. Get help from others in your company by asking them what they know. This can be a long process, but patience will pay off.
- Start a CI Networking Club. Create an opportunity to meet with other research professionals to "share ideas about business online services, market research databases, analytical tools, CI consultants and so on."
- Get to Know Your Sales Force. Learn all you can about your colleagues and communicate with them. They can often provide many important pieces of data to contribute to your CI reports.
- Send Thank-You Notes as Often as Possible. Resources are a CI professional's lifeblood, so treat them right.
- Keep Your Eyes Open, Stay Focused and Expect Miracles.Companies with only a few hundred employees can use CI and corporate creativity to get the information they need, just like the biggest corporations.
This is just one example of this book's many useful entries, which also include a keynote speech from the CEO of Procter & Gamble, a transcript of a roundtable discussion of corporate leaders and articles written by CI specialists from some of the largest organizations in the world. For those with or without successful CI or CTI (competitive technical intelligence) systems working at their companies, this is a fruitful place to begin creating a system for developing what the editors call "comprehensive programs designed to anticipate and trump the competition's every move."