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More and more market and product managers are seeing the need to abandon Google Alerts as their ad hoc competitive intelligence software solution, in favor of a software tool designed specifically for the needs of today's CI professionals.

While recent advances in AI technology and Big Data have introduced great promise they have also compounded the process of choosing the right competitive intelligence software solution. The process demands more than a set of unique requirements for an “ideal” software system and searching for the best match. 

There are a number of CI software vendors, including Cipher, all claiming that they have the perfect solution for your CI needs. So, how do you narrow down the selections?

A great way to gather information about competitive intelligence software solutions and kick the decision-making process into high gear is to schedule a live CI software demo. Think a live software demo is just for those who are ready to buy? Think again.

Participating in a live software demo is a great way to assess whether a particular CI software aligns well with your core requirements, and can even help identify gaps in your goals for implementation. If this seems out of step, maybe a better understand of competitive intelligence before scheduling demos is an order.

Depending on where you are in the software selection process and how well-defined your CI software goals are, you likely have many questions for CI software vendors. Ideally, vendors will be fairly transparent and strategically place most of the information you need to know within their presentation.

We review CI software in our Complete Guide

However, there will inevitably be information gaps in even the best live software demos. Fortunately, we’ve compiled a list of essential questions to help you maximize the information gathered during a live CI software demo and quickly narrow your search.

1. Who is this system designed for?
One of the key considerations when defining the parameters for your CI software system is who will use the solution within your organization. Will the system be used by only the CI team or organization-wide? Will the system be used to share and report information only or to support the entire CI cycle?

K360 users upload intel from the field

For example will the system enable employees in the field to upload intelligence? Clarify with the vendor how their CI software is right for your team of users.

2. Which data sources can be integrated?
Again, if you’ve done your homework and have a well-defined plan for implementing CI software within your organization, you have a pretty clear picture of what kinds of data you want to integrate and manage within your system. Just as this will be different for every industry and organization, there will be differences in what types of data and content each CI software system is designed to accommodate. Be sure to inquire how each vendor’s software will manage, display, analyze and generate reports from this data.

3. What’s the ROI?
The million dollar question. You want to connect the purchase price with increased efficiency and productivity. You likely know that CI software will save time by making data easier to search, analyze and report. However, when you discuss financials don’t be afraid to ask vendors to help you connect the dots and make a stronger case for the C-Suite.

Competitive Intelligence Buyer's Guide

4. Can your CI software system be customized?
Are you looking for an out-of-the-box or custom solution? Chances are it’s the latter. And if this is the case, make sure the vendor can accommodate must-haves on your list. In addition, if at the end of the presentation you notice something was missing from your list of requirements, it’s a good time to inquire if customization can help bridge that gap or if you need to move on to another solution.

5. What sets your software apart from competitors in the market?
This is likely the question or rather the comparison you’ve been trying to hammer out since you began your search. And the competitive intelligence industry has tried over the years to compile robust comparison reports to help buyers make educated decisions. Unfortunately, with changing players in the market and the evolving technology landscape, a static list isn’t always the best guide. You can bet, however, that each CI vendor is aware of their place in the market, and what sets them apart and makes them the best match for you.

Track Your CI Software Options in Our Evaluation Template

The truth is there is no perfect CI software that meets the needs of every organization across every industry. Finding the right CI software solution for your business comes down to the best fit between your unique set of requirements and available software solutions. Keep in mind that some of the best information about CI software can come directly from conversations with competitive intelligence vendors or review sites.

I'm happy to answer any questions you have about our competitive intelligence software Knowledge360 or just provide insight into this often complex marketplace.