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Conducting effective market and competitive intelligence (M/CI) is no easy feat: it demands high-quality data, sophisticated software, and an expert team. It’s important the entire organization buys into the merits of M/CI, supports the M/CI function, and contributes valuable intelligence and insights to the process. 

An efficient M/CI function significantly strengthens any organization operating in a competitive environment. By providing actionable, insightful intelligence, M/CI teams can shape decision making and ensure their organization always remains a step ahead of the competition. The efficiency of a M/CI team is a good indicator of the long-term strength of the organization.

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However, the field of M/CI is not universally well-understood, and many organizations see their M/CI efforts fail to deliver the right quality, or quantity, of intelligence. It’s often the case that a lack of efficiency is the key driver in this disappointing performance. 

M/CI is commonly introduced reactively in light of a new competitor development or market activity that has caught the organization off-guard. Set up quickly, and often without due thought given towards driving performance efficiencies, many new M/CI teams are quickly overwhelmed. A lack of processes, technologies, and qualified people means that CI teams spend too much time sifting through a deluge of data to actually deliver any valuable insights. By the time the next year’s budget comes around, the M/CI team has failed to produce anything of value, and is downsized or disbanded.

We refer to this as the ‘cycle of competitive intelligence failure’, and over the years, we’ve seen it happen time and time again.  

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make your competitive intelligence team much more efficient, and therefore, effective. Here are the five biggest factors that drive efficiency in competitive intelligence:

The Location of the CI Team

Generally speaking, an M/CI team will be structured as either a centralized or decentralized function

Centralized teams exist as a standalone group within the organization, and interface directly with a wide variety of constituents and stakeholders spread across the business. The team will share resources, work closely together, and operate with some degree of freedom to explore the long-term strategic goals of the organization. Centralized M/CI teams will typically appoint one person to manage the relationship with each business unit. For example, in the life sciences industry, M/CI teams are usually centralized, with one team member responsible for each therapeutic group.

Decentralized M/CI teams are spread across the organization. There might be one or two M/CI professionals in each organizational unit, and while the M/CI team may share some resources, they don’t work too closely together. By being closer to the business, M/CI teams can generate and deliver valuable insights quickly, although there is some loss of efficiency in not working closely with fellow M/CI professionals.

Both approaches have their merits, and there’s no one size fits all approach that dictates where your M/CI function should be located. Consider the existing organizational structure and priorities of your business when determining where to locate your M/CI team.

Demonstrating Value Early

Many M/CI teams falter because they fail to adequately demonstrate their value to the organization. While M/CI is a long-term, strategic initiative, it’s important that new M/CI functions prove their value quickly. A quick, visible demonstration of value ensures buy-in from important stakeholders across the organization, from executive leadership to decision makers in individual business units. If a M/CI team can garner executive sponsorship, it’s much easier for them to secure the resources and relationships required to be successful in the long-term. 

The best way to demonstrate value is to start off in an area where it’s possible to achieve quick wins. That area may well be any of the following: the sales function, the marketing department, reporting to key leadership, or the strategy team. 


“Getting up to speed on the right secondary information before starting the primary component of any project and so maximizing the value of primary from the get go.” 

- Mike Ratcliff, Senior Director


Taking the sales team as an example, as discussed by Troy Pfeffer on our recent episode of The Gambit, starting off close to the sales function enables M/CI teams to deliver meaningful insights that are materially important in whether the organization wins the next sale. By providing relevant, actionable intelligence to the sales team, the M/CI function can point to a new client as a clear example of the value of M/CI. Thereafter, it’s much easier to build the traction necessary to play a more prominent role in the strategic decision making process of the organization.

Ability to Adapt to Change

The modern M/CI analyst needs to possess the flexibility to adapt to change and thrive in uncertain environments. In the past, M/CI might have been perceived as an academic, research-based field, but with the pace of change in the world today, that’s no longer the case. 

Disruption is happening at a breathtaking pace in every industry, and the role of M/CI is more complex and challenging than ever before. M/CI has evolved into much more of a strategic discipline, and it’s important that M/CI analysts have the capacity to understand the external operating environment, the goals of the organization, and the role of M/CI in a broader commercial context. 

M/CI teams must be able to effectively adapt to change, whether that’s a new product, the emergence of new competitors, or changing regulatory requirements. While M/CI teams have more data than ever before, the world is becoming increasingly unpredictable, and it’s important M/CI analysts are able to help their organizations navigate these uncertain times. 

High Performing People

Given the complexity of the environment M/CI teams operate in, it almost goes without saying that you need smart people on your team. As the role of M/CI has evolved, so too have the people who work in M/CI. Increasingly, M/CI analysts have a background in strategy and possess a detailed knowledge of the commercial side of the organization, while also understanding key M/CI fundamentals like data science. 

It’s critical that M/CI analysts understand not only how to locate and analyze the right data, but also how to frame it in the right context for their organization. The best M/CI analysts are no longer specialists; they are curious well-rounded generalists with experience in multiple disciplines and a keen knowledge of the organization as a whole. 


“Making sure our analysts and consultants have a meticulous business understanding helps us answer the questions we get to solve in the most efficient way. 

This is reflected in our teams hiring strategy and performance indicators. Just getting the right data is not enough, not in terms of efficiency nor relevance.”

- Gerrit Schimmelpenninck, Senior Talent Intelligence Manager


A Centralized Technology Platform

Many of the redundancies in competitive intelligence are driven by a lack of coordination between different stakeholders in the M/CI process.

A recent survey conducted by Forrester, 67% of executives cited centralizing resources/knowledge across their organization as very or extremely challenging.  In large organizations, it’s not uncommon for different business units to buy data sources the company already has access to, or to engage an external vendor for a project very similar to one recently completed by another department. Avoidable errors like these are a major driver of inefficiencies for M/CI teams - particularly those structured in a decentralized manner. 

Silos across the organization add to this already troubling problem. When the intelligence you need lives in the minds, email inboxes and internal communications of team members across different departments, collecting that information becomes a massive effort. Building and continually fostering a “culture of M/CI” becomes possible when a centralized intelligence hub is integrated into the organization.

In addition, much of the time M/CI analysts spend on “low value” activities lives within the manual collection and organization of data. In today’s environment of data overload, having a system that automatically raises pertinent information to your analysts can be the difference between leaving them under a pile of data they can’t get out from under or allowing them to successfully analyze that data to produce insights.


“Planning, planning, planning.  We use a Key Intelligence Topics/Key Intelligence Questions framework to help assure that we gather the right information from the right sources so we can do the right analysis.” 

- Randy Richter, Chairman 


The solution to issues like this is a centralized M/CI hub, which acts as the center of the M/CI universe within any given organization. Platforms like Knowledge360Ⓡ not only make data collection and organization a problem of the past, but they can syndicate knowledge across the entire organization, as well as act as a hub for M/CI teams to share resources, collaborate on projects, and more effectively manage vendors and other external stakeholders. 

Final Thoughts on Efficiencies in Competitive Intelligence

Like many areas of a business, efficiencies in M/CI can be broken down into three key areas: people, process, and technologies. 

Without adaptable, smart people, the M/CI function will suffer from a lack of leadership and direction, and fail to respond to rapidly changing market conditions, ultimately resulting in failure. 

Without sufficient processes, it’s impossible for the M/CI function to work effectively with others, or to create and share actionable insights that make a meaningful difference to the trajectory of the organization. 

And without the right technology, organizations will never be able to take a joined-up approach to M/CI. By leveraging the latest advancements in technology, M/CI teams can spend less time on mundane data collection tasks and more time driving actionable intelligence. 

Here at Cipher, our services represent the perfect blend of people, process, and technology. Knowledge360 is an intelligence hub that functions as a one-stop shop for everything related to market and competitive intelligence across the organization. 

Need support with people or processes? Our competitive intelligence consultants are available to build your strategic competencies in M/CI and arm you with the tools and processes you need to take your intelligence capabilities to the next level.

Contact us today to schedule a demo of Knowledge360. 

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