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Without an ongoing growth investment, it is easy to fall into a cycle of using the same tools and approaching Competitive Intelligence (CI) in the same way. But the industry changes fast and the individual markets we work in change even faster. 

Relying on experience is necessary, but there are two other keys to excellence in the field. First is learning from others. Second, and perhaps harder, is unlearning things that are no longer true. 

The selection of books we have below includes the best literature to enhance your CI knowledge. The target audience for these ranges from the uninitiated in CI to firm decision-makers. 

Wherever you currently sit in your understanding of CI, every book in this selection has a wealth of information you can benefit from.

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The eight must-read competitive intelligence books are:

  1. Business and Competitive Analysis: Effective Application of New and Classic Methods by Craig Fleisher and Babette Bensoussan
  2. Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors by Michael Porter
  3. Actionable Intelligence: A Guide to Delivering Business Results with Big Data Fast! by Keith Carter
  4. Competitive Intelligence Advantage: How to Minimize Risk, Avoid Surprises, and Grow Your Business in a Changing World by Seena Sharp
  5. Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World by Bruce Schneier
  6. Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne
  7. Successful Business Intelligence: Unlock the Value of BI & Big Data by Cindi Howsen
  8. Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin

Below we cover the details on each book and why they are useful to you. 

1. Business and Competitive Analysis: Effective Application of New and Classic Methods by Craig Fleisher and Babette Bensoussan


The first book is also the most comprehensive. Business and Competitive Analysis by Craig Fleisher and Babette Bensoussan is an essential guide for CI tools, techniques and adoption. 

The goal for Business and Competitive Analysis is to give readers the tools to accomplish the three essential tasks in CI.

Those tasks are: 

  • Gathering useful data
  • Analyzing the data to develop a strategy
  • Conveying the strategy to the rest of the organization

Business and Competitive Analysis first provides an exhaustive collection of the tools and techniques individuals need to gather and analyze data. Its merit as a reference material alone should earn it a spot on CI professionals’ shelves. 

Fleisher and Bensoussan address one of the most taxing challenges in all of CI: organizational adoption. In many organizations, solutions depend solely on executive approval. While academic resources tend to not address this issue, CI professionals need to convince decision-makers to implement decisions. 

Fleisher and Bensoussan are persuasive and succinct. Once familiar with their work, employees will be able to quickly answer any questions that decision-makers have and outline strategies that the entire organization can follow. 

Business and Competitive Analysis serves not only as a comprehensive compendium of tools and techniques but also as a practical, persuasive tool for any CI team. 


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2. Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors by Michael Porter


The field of competitive intelligence is harsh to old resources, as technology can render tactics irrelevant as quickly as they are developed. But some classics can transcend novelty. Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter is one such classic. 

Michael Porter’s influence in business cannot be overstated. His works are the basis for many paradigms in the field of competitive intelligence. Porter’s research has articulated concepts such as competitive advantage, the value chain and core competencies. His body of work has transformed the way academics and professionals alike view business strategy.

Competitive Strategy uses microeconomic principles to establish five forces that determine the profitability of markets.

The five forces are:

  1. Customer bargaining power
  2. Supplier bargaining power 
  3. Potential new entrants
  4. Potential substitute products
  5. Competition level 

In Competitive Strategy, Porter discusses how to measure these competing forces and when it is prudent to enter new markets. In later works, he establishes strategies for entering these markets, brings structure to strategic positioning and transforms the way companies look at their rivals. 

Competitive Strategy revolutionized the business world and demands a read from any CI professional.  

3. Actionable Intelligence: A Guide to Delivering Business Results with Big Data Fast! by Keith Carter


When CI teams identify an opportunity, their time to act is brief. To turn that opportunity into an advantage, teams must develop a functional plan and present it to the decision-makers before competitors can respond. And the obstacle of approval grows larger as more data and stakeholders get involved.

Actionable Intelligence by Keith Carter gives managers the tools to take data and turn it into beneficial results as quickly as possible.

The book will teach CI professionals how to:

  • Answer questions faster, with no additional effort spent on data collection
  • Make better use of employee’s time through effective analysis
  • Remove the focus from failures to new results

Actionable Intelligence gives companies the framework to avoid rigidly stifling opportunities with excessive protocol. Carter’s plan begins by creating a results-driven culture where employees are committed to bettering the lives of those around them. From there, he recommends restructuring data acquisition and focusing on the points necessary to convince decision-makers. 

With the simplicity in the structure Carter describes, CI practitioners will be able to gather their ideas, present them and put them into action quickly enough to maximize usability. Actionable Intelligence is an excellent guide for managers to reorganize their companies to maximize CI impact. 


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4. Competitive Intelligence Advantage: How to Minimize Risk, Avoid Surprises, and Grow Your Business in a Changing World by Seena Sharp 


So far, we’ve discussed a number of books designed for the CI professional. For individuals with little CI experience or who do not know the benefits of CI, Competitive Intelligence Advantage by Seena Sharp is a great place to start. 

This book was written specifically for managers who are unsure of the benefits and uses CI has to offer but who are knowledgeable about competitive advantages. 

In order to see if CI could influence your business, the book begins by asking several questions: 

  • Are you introducing a new product or expanding to a new market? 
  • Have you unexpectedly lost sales to a competitor?
  • Have you noticed potential opportunities, but lack the information to know if it is right for your company?
  • Do you question if your current market understanding is still valid?
  • Have competitors found success in selling unexpected products or selling to unexpected customer segments?

If the answer to any of these is yes, then competitive intelligence is a must for the organization. Through this book, readers will get a practical understanding of quality CI, how it can add value to their business and gain practical tools to act on it. 

While Competitive Intelligence Advantage focuses on those new to CI, it will provide industry veterans a refreshing look at CI from an outsiders’ perspective. It will challenge assumptions about the CI process and, more importantly, outline a roadmap for converting skeptics. For as valuable as this book is for newcomers, the information in this book can be even more useful for established CI professionals in marketing to new clients. 

5. Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World by Bruce Schneier


Data and Goliath by Bruce Schneier offers a haunting look at the world of data collection as it applies to consumer privacy. Schneier covers the personal data created by individuals and how that information is gathered by corporations and the government. 

Schneier pays close attention to the impact of privacy erosion on the consumer. Specifically, he addresses the damage this erosion will cause if it continues unmanaged. He concludes with the practical actions individuals can take to establish a stable balance between privacy and technology. 

Not centered specifically on competitive intelligence, Schneier writes about the ethics of information collection in practical, realistic terms. He addresses the areas where information gathering can do real damage to individuals if mishandled. This is a must-read for anyone in emergent information gathering as a reminder of the ethical challenges of surveillance. 

6. Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne


The Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne picks up in the strategy phase of CI. This book begins by contrasting companies that expand into markets without competition and those that join competitors in crowded markets. Kim and Mauborgne refer to these as “blue ocean strategies” and “red ocean strategies”, respectively. 

Building a blue ocean strategy has four benefits: 

  1. Create new market space and demand
  2. Render competition irrelevant
  3. Eliminate the value-cost tradeoff
  4. Align the company in pursuit of differentiation

The book argues that in developed markets, as globalization continues and productivity increases, supply will increase faster than demand. Because of that, profit margins will decrease, and competition will become harsher. The way to grow exponentially is through products and services that open new market space. Companies must focus on developing products that are so far beyond others in the industry that they have no competitors. 

Blue Ocean Strategy is the guide for converting CI information into market-shaping results. It is made for the team that values innovation and is willing to take risks for considerable success.

7. Successful Business Intelligence: Unlock the Value of BI & Big Data by Cindi Howsen

Business Intelligence (BI) operates as one of the three commercial intelligence disciplines. Because of that, it is a necessary part of any comprehensive strategy. Successful Business Intelligence by Cindi Howsen provides CI professionals a useful look into BI best practices and the tools to make it work in any organization. 

Howsen gives readers a high-level view of how BI fits into the intelligence industry, what its adoption process looks like and how to get the most out of it. Perhaps the most pertinent content in Successful Business Intelligence is Howsen’s process for creating a data-driven company culture. 

Companies can do this by:

  • Aligning intelligence strategies with organizational goals
  • Making intelligence a company-wide priority
  • Selecting the correct tools for your intelligence needs
  • Measuring the real success of your practices
  • Developing a habit of innovation and refining your BI processes

While focused on BI, nearly all of the strategies Howsen recommends can be extended to CI processes. With her tools, managers will also be able to create a company committed to data-driven results. For any professional, this would create an environment where CI aligns with company goals and information quickly turns into action. 

Any manager with the opportunity to shape company culture should consider this book. 

8. Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin

We round this list out with Playing to Win, by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin. Lafley is regarded as one of the most effective CEOs in history. Roger Martin was Lafley’s strategic advisor and Dean of the Rotman School of Management. 

In Playing to Win, Lafley and Martin describe their strategy and thought processes for Proctor and Gamble’s success from 2000 to 2010. In that time period, Proctor and Gamble’s sales doubled and their profits increased fourfold. Their goal with Playing to Win was to develop a playbook for winning strategies. To do that, they broke their successful strategies into five parts. 

Those components are:

  1. Winning aspirations
  2. Where to play
  3. How to play
  4. Core capabilities
  5. Management systems

With Playing to Win, Lafley and Martin created a step by step guide for companies to dispel misconceptions about strategy and move ahead of their competition. This book excels in its clarity and practicality. 

Through the book, they go into great detail on how each consideration applies to success and how to apply it to your own business. The tools and techniques discussed are widely applicable across industries and simple enough that their application is obvious. 

Knowledge 360Ⓡ: Turn Knowledge into Action

As any CI professional will tell you, data is only useful if it leads to action. The same goes for knowledge. The books we discussed above may contain a wealth of knowledge, but tools are essential. That’s why Cipher offers Knowledge 360Ⓡ.

Knowledge 360Ⓡ Competitive Intelligence Software is the tool you need to monitor your market, assess your competitors and leverage your organization’s knowledge. With machine learning and AI-enabled searchability, users can extract actionable information from data faster than ever before. 

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Knowledge 360Ⓡ also includes out-of-the-box connections to common tools such as Google Drive, Salesforce and SharePoint. These features combined with its built-in collaboration features, makes it the best solution to turn your knowledge into action. 

Request a live demo of Knowledge 360Ⓡ to see how it can help you put your knowledge to use.

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