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Competitive intelligence (CI) plays a critical role in enabling organizations to be successful. But let’s be clear: a singular focus on tracking a predefined set of known competitors is checking the box and far from what is needed to effectively compete in today’s marketplace. 

Instead, successfully competing requires organizations––and CI practitioners––to take a comprehensive view, focusing on three key pillars: their competitors, the broader market, and customer trends. 

Executives need to ask themselves if they are satisfied with playing catch up with competitors, or if they desire to lead.

Organizations that rely on just tracking and responding to competitor strategies are reduced to a reactive stance, and their strategy is destined to be defined by imitating the actions of competitors.  Executives need to ask themselves if they are satisfied a step or two behind, playing catch up, or if they desire to lead. Often, the distinction is a result of a more comprehensive approach to intelligence, driven by a focus on competitors, the market, and customers.

Of course, developing strategies that account for the behaviors of consumers, the constantly shifting trends of the market, and the unpredictable activities of competitors is difficult. But building the capabilities to do so effectively is an investment that’s proven to pay long-term dividends, helping organizations become market leaders.  

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Breaking Down the Traditional Approach to Competitive Intelligence

For many years, and for many organizations the current model in use, the traditional approach to competitive intelligence advocates tracking a pre-selected number of direct and indirect competitors. Before the development and proliferation of competitive intelligence software, this process was largely conducted by individual intelligence analysts using a taxonomy driven, library-style system.

As technology has advanced, many software platforms have come to the market that enables competitive intelligence analysts to programmatically track the activities of a set of pre-defined competitors. The types of activities typically tracked include news, product launches, regulatory approvals, key leadership hires, and pricing

Embracing competitive intelligence can help organizations make significant strategic improvements. CI can help sales teams to win more deals, or assist marketing departments in shaping the positioning and messaging for their products and services. It enables product teams to optimize roadmaps, and helps leadership to set long-term development goals. 

However, the insights that organizations glean from competitive intelligence will be significantly limited if the organization chooses to monitor and analyze a small number of competitors and ignores broader market and customer trends. 

Your insights will be limited if all you monitor and analyze a small number of competitors and ignore broader market and customer trends.

Even with the latest software, tracking a limited number of competitors is a common behavior. Why? Many CI software platforms charge clients based on the number of competitors they’d like to track. Companies are forced to reduce the number of competitors they monitor in order to   stay within budget.  

In industries like life sciences, where the average Knowledge360Ⓡ tenant tracks an average of 81 possible competitors, that can be hugely limiting to overall intelligence efforts.

Why Competitor Intelligence Alone Isn’t Enough

You can think of competitor intelligence as one leg of a three legged stool. The other two legs are those of the broader market and customer trends. Organizations should devote resources to tracking each of these variables. 

Let’s first explore the importance of tracking the wider market. 

Competitors are a critical part of the overall market landscape, but there are all kinds of other variables that organizations should be tracking as part of their competitive intelligence process. These could include legislation that affects the market, the activities of regulatory bodies, second-order effects resulting from macroeconomic events, and more. 

Tracking the entire market the organization competes in, rather than a small subset of competitors, ensures that organizations are developing a broad perspective of their market, one that will likely best position it to capitalize on current market conditions and trends. 

The most concerning sources of possible disruption come from unknown or completely new competitors.

Many seasoned CI practitioners will tell you, the most concerning sources of possible disruption come from unknown or completely new competitors: companies you probably aren’t tracking them today. However, if you have an understanding of what is happening in the market, you just might see these new disruptions materializing before they start wreaking havoc on your business.

When only tracking specific competitors, you completely miss out on the most important voice that should drive your strategy: your customers.

When companies only watch their competition, they miss hearing the most important voice:  that of their customer. 

It’s important for organizations to understand both what customers currently want, and how their demands might evolve in the future. Doing so requires market research; both traditional methods and newer, more advanced methods like prediction market research. By truly understanding customer needs and wants, as well as how they are poised to evolve in the coming years, organizations can design strategies that are aligned with the needs of their customers. 

Using competitive intelligence techniques to track only a known set of competitors, rather than the entire market, also increases the chances that an organization will be caught off guard by disruptors. It’s often the case that disruption originates from unexpected sources. If organizations are only tracking a few direct competitors, there’s a high chance they’ll be caught off guard by the next wave of disruption that hits their industry. 

The Importance of a Comprehensive Approach to CI 

A comprehensive approach to competitive intelligence collates insights from competitor intelligence, market intelligence, and customer research into one comprehensive story. In this instance, the sum is far greater than the parts. By combining these sources of information within one platform, intelligence analysts can develop insights that shape the way that their organization thinks about how it competes.  

Building this type of approach is not easy, and often requires a cultural shift towards a culture of intelligence, where everyone in the organization buys in and participates in the process. Leaders should encourage team members across the organization to share insights, and ensure everyone has access to shared knowledge relevant to their role. This process can be made easier by leveraging the right intelligence software platform.

The Complete Guide to Market and Competitive Intelligence

Read our comprehensive guide to CI

Choosing the Right Software Platform

Adopting a comprehensive approach to intelligence that encompasses competitor intelligence, market intelligence, and customer research requires an advanced solution. Many competitive intelligence platforms are built specifically to track a predefined set of competitors and lack the capacity to simultaneously track market trends.

As you set about your journey to find the right software platform for your organization, look for platforms that give you the ability to track market developments, discover new competitors, and upload snippets of field research or customer insights. One platform that delivers on all this, and more, is Knowledge360.

Knowledge360 acts as an intelligence hub for the entire organization, enabling leaders to track market and competitor activity using shared dashboards that dynamically update with the latest data. Users are free to create as many dashboards as they like, and can track any number of competitors, niche business areas, or even entire markets. To learn more about Knowledge360, schedule a demo today

Not sure which software platform is right for you just yet? Visit our Guide to Selecting CI Tools and Software to discover the perfect match for your needs. 

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