Competitive intelligence is the action of defining, gathering, analyzing, and distributing intelligence about products, customers, competitors, and any aspect of the environment needed to support executives and managers making strategic decisions for an organization. (Wikipedia)

Sometimes (incorrectly) seen as corporate spying, Competitive Intelligence or CI (when done ethically) is an excellent way to gain a small business advantage. Usually compiled with both primary and secondary research, gaining insight and understanding into your competitors allows you to make more informed strategic decisions,  knowingly differentiate based on their flaws and speak to a competitors shortcomings – if needed.

Where to gather competitive information

It can seem an arduous task to track this type of insight when there is no clear and guaranteed value to your business. However, knowledge is power in business and in B2B you need all the advantage youy can get. Below is a short list of where you can start getting competitor insights.

  • Job postings
  • Press Releases
  • Industry events e.g. Tradeshow
  • Search Engines e.g. Toolbars, Search Data
  • Web Analytics Benchmarks
  • Past clients
  • Interviews / focus groups
  • Competitor websites
  • Social media
  • Industry specific blogs

Types of data

There’s a difference between primary and secondary information and you should gather a blend of both to ensure accurate data to base your decisions around.

Primary data is just what it sounds like, information straight from the company. It is more  dependable and is usually the strongest type of data but is often difficult to acquire.

Secondary data is one or more steps removed. It’s easier to get your hands on but you should corroborate any data before taking action.

Competitive Intelligence is an on-going task within an organization. And knowing how to read and analyze the data is an entire field of study (end employment). However, as a small business you don’t need to go that deep. Any amount of competitive intelligence will give you a bit of insight into the competition.

Here are a few tips to get started:

  1. Choose your competitors realistically and start files to help you track what you collect.
  2. Schedule specific times throughout the year on when to review the files.
  3. Make this a project beyond one person– designate others to help collect data and add info to the file.

 What kind of insights have impact

While page rank, organic keywords and search traffic are nice-to-know about what you really want to know is pricing structures, supply chain mapping, investment plans, marketing strategies, positioning and so on.

These kinds of insights can help make your own business more competitive and possibly address questions around your own business growth. Remember that growth is often unrecognized unless tracked. So, begin looking at your own benchmarks so you can compare.