Competitive intelligence—analyzed information that gives you insight and competitive advantage—is a discipline that can be taught. You and everyone else in your company, from salespeople to research scientists, can apply this discipline to improve market standing and bottom-line results.
This isn’t to say that the discipline is simple and easy to learn. The biggest challenge most managers face is that they are surrounded by smoke screens, rumors, and competitive distortions. Competitors create smoke screens all the time—and the marketplace helps them out with a glut of information and misinformation. Rumors (sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally placed) course through markets, prompting managers to react inappropriately or to ignore danger signs altogether.
You need to see through these smoke screens—not wait them out. If you wait until the smoke clears, you may have delayed too long. You may find that your opportunity has disappeared or the threat solidified. Either way, you lose. You need to see ahead of your competition and spot a major disruption long before it lands on your doorstep.
One thing is for certain: Competitive intelligence is both every manager’s responsibility and opportunity. Corporations have begun to recognize this fact. A search on the Factiva news service (a Dow Jones–Reuters news service) reveals a meteoric rise in awareness of competitive intelligence. The number of news articles on competitive or competitor intelligence multiplied from 68 in 1990 to 157 in 1994, 751 in 1998, and 9,574 in 2003. The news stories covered the need for intelligence from North America, Latin America, Europe, and throughout the Asia/Pacific region and in nearly every area of business, from R&D to sales to marketing to operations to communications.
The growth of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, based in Alexandria, Virginia, from a handful of members in 1986 to thousands today from around the globe, is another indication of the concept’s acceptance within most large corporations.
Yet this growth begs a question: How can even a few thousand intelligence professionals hope to meet the intelligence needs that emanate from everywhere in the corporation? As I have suggested, they can’t and they shouldn’t.
Competitive intelligence, as a means to see through and ahead of fast-changing rivals, has become a critical component in the business arsenal. It should be part of everyone’s job. At the same time, intelligence itself has evolved into something much less neat, clean, and easy to manage. It has become more sophisticated and, for those who take full advantage of it, an ever more powerful weapon.
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