Competitive intelligence [CI] is not exactly business-to-business expionage, but it sometimes approaches it. Rob Garber, “marketing and sales consulting” expert [firstname.lastname@example.org], formerly involved in CI with IBM, Dell, and Computer Associates, emphasized that tactical and strategic CI is more than serving as a clipping service for selecting information from the open literature treasure trove. To be most valuable, facts have got to be followed with analysis that tells the significance of the facts. What do they mean? Why should you care?
Introduced to some thirty-odd attendees by Peter Gregory of OCBA [email@example.com] , Garber emphasized the importance of CI for understanding important questions in competitive strategizing:
1. How strong is the competition? How many? How entrenched? What barriers to entry? How differentiated? How will they react to you and you to them?
2. What is your strategy? Low-cost producer? Unique product or service? Niche marketing?
In his book Competitive Strategy. Michael E. Porter, as summarized by Garber, listed five forces that drive industry competition:
1. Potential entrants.
2. Bargaining power of suppliers.
3. Threat of substitute products or services.
4 .Bargaining power of buyers.
5. Rivalry among existing firms.
Competitive intelligence seeks to uncover information and make accurate analysis and predictions relating to these five elements. To do so, it is useful to have:
1. Company profiles in detail.
2. Monthly trend analyses.
3. Quarterly trend reports.
Competitive intelligence with a strategic focus usually goes to executives. The day-to-day sales battles are influenced by CI with a tactical focus, looking for ways to differentiate one’s product or services and to answer questions raised by competitors.
For qualitative information about the marketplace, focus groups are often used. Quantitative information can be gathered from publicly available statistics or from surveys conducted with specific information goals. There is so much public information -- you can “Google” it -- that such secondary information often obviates working to get first-hand, “primary,” data.
A dramatic visual representation of a company’s approaches to the marketplace can be obtained by using the program from wordle.com that takes the information posted on a company’s web site and creates a mosaic of relevant words in different colors and orientations, the size of each word indicating its relative importance in the material analyzed. Garber’s site was big on “market” and “sales” and related words, on “intelligence” and “competitive,“ with little emphasis on “productivity” or “planning” or “image.”
Competitive analysis can help one keep watch on one’s competition, develop a winning strategy, and better communicate with one’s customers by undestanding their motivations, thus sending them the appropriate messages.
In closing, Peter Gregory, OCBA Enterprise Development Director, noted that in its two years of presentations, there have been more than 2000 attendees who have benefited from the Accelerator’s business education programs. The spirited discussions at the end of this CI talk indicated that it, too, was well received.
Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., is an author, freelance writer, and retired scientist, currently serving as a professional writing coach and collaborator. [firstname.lastname@example.org]