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Competitive intelligence, often referred to as CI, is at the heart of every high-performing organization. By practicing competitive intelligence, organizations can take steps to stay ahead of their competition, maximize business performance, and ensure sustainable long-term success.

However, there can be a lot of ambiguity about what competitive intelligence is and what it isn’t. Competitive intelligence stands apart from other types of intelligence, like market intelligence (MI) and business intelligence (BI), and in order to conduct a successful competitive intelligence effort, it’s important to understand the distinctions between the disciplines.

In this article, we’ll outline a concrete definition of competitive intelligence and share answers to some frequently asked questions. Understand this, and you’ll be well-positioned to introduce game-changing competitive intelligence initiatives in your organization. 

Competitive intelligence, a brief definition

Competitive intelligence is the process of building and maintaining a deep understanding of your competitors in order to better understand their strategies and anticipate their future actions. This revolves around three key factors: the market, your customers, and your competitors. 

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Competitive intelligence is an ever-evolving process that leverages real-time data and insights to inform strategic decisions on an ongoing basis. It is not a one-and-done exercise; it requires a team of competitive intelligence analysts with the right blend of expertise, time, and resources. 

By practicing competitive intelligence, organizations can reduce uncertainty and increase confidence around business decisions and strategies. By being proactive in responding to market trends or competitor actions, they can ensure strong performance relative to their competitive set. 

Competitive intelligence vs. market intelligence vs. business intelligence

Together, competitive intelligence (CI), market intelligence (MI), and business intelligence (BI) form a strategic triad. In unison, these three activities empower businesses to form a complete picture of the landscape in which they operate.

At Cipher, we use the analogy of a navy ship to think of the role of CI, MI, and BI. Business intelligence provides information on your own ship. For companies, BI focuses on core competencies, resources, financial position, employees, and more internal factors that dictate a business' success.

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Market intelligence focuses on the environment the ship is sailing in. Think of the external environment the business operates in: factors like market trends, economic conditions, the regulatory environment, and more are all key considerations here. 

Competitive intelligence is information on what your adversaries are doing. Businesses use CI to analyze the threats competitors pose. CI also helps businesses identify opportunities to mitigate these risks, exploit competitor weaknesses, and formulate strategies that enable them to gain a competitive advantage. 

What's the right way to do competitive intelligence?

An effective approach to competitive intelligence can be broken down into three stages: collection, discovery, and collaboration. 

Collection focuses on the effort to identify, gather, and process a body of competitive intelligence data that will yield valuable insights. Far too often, firms become overwhelmed in this stage and struggle to identify appropriate data sources, organize datasets, and find the time for analysis. A better approach incorporates technology to automatically collect, organize, and tag reliable data from robust sources.

Discovery is the portion of the process where competitive intelligence practitioners analyze the competitive intel and obtain valuable insight. In this stage, the priority is separating the signal from the noise and identifying key areas to analyze. Increasingly, many CI organizations are using AI-powered tools to assist in this process and free their analysts up to spend as much time as possible generating valuable insights. 

Collaboration refers to the process of sharing information and insights to relevant stakeholders across the organization. The goal of competitive intelligence is to better guide the strategic decision-making of the organization, and therefore it’s imperative that high-value CI insights are shared effectively with the right audience. Consider creating centralized dashboards that display critical information in real-time and are universally accessible across the organization. 

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Should your company do competitive intelligence?

Building a competitive intelligence function is one of the best investments an organization can make when building for long-term success. Any organization that doesn't undertake CI is at the mercy of the market and vulnerable to unpredictable and highly consequential business disruption. 

In highly-competitive industries, it’s vital to stay on top of market trends and remain ahead of competitors. Competitive intelligence represents the best way to do that. A talented and well-equipped CI function enables organizations to make decisions with a higher degree of confidence, to anticipate competitor actions before they happen, and to ensure they’re always fulfilling the needs of their customers.

What are the best competitive intelligence resources for getting started?

One of the biggest challenges faced by new CI teams is uniting a tangled web of different data sources, analysis platforms, and shared dashboards. Managing all this complexity severely hampers CI efforts, and it’s almost always better to keep it simple.

One approach is to streamline your entire competitive intelligence approach into one unified platform. Knowledge360 is the world’s first intelligence hub. It has all the resources you need to build a strong competitive intelligence effort.

🔎 Related: 9 best free competitive intelligence tools in 2022

This competitive intelligence tool integrations with a variety of high-quality data sources, sophisticated analysis tools powered by AI, and real-time dashboards that share key insights with important stakeholders across the organization.

Where can I learn more about competitive intelligence?

To get started, visit our Competitive Intelligence Resource Center. There, you’ll find everything you need to know about competitive intelligence and can access a series of in-depth guides and resources. 

Begin with The Complete Guide to Market and Competitive Intelligence, or take a deep dive into trends in your industry with our industry-specific resources for life sciences, insurance, and consumer goods

For a deeper dive, check out groundbreaking books like Competitive Intelligence 2.0: Competing in a Digital World, by Leonard Lane and Mike Ratcliffe, who recently appeared on The Gambit. 

Competitive intelligence is more important than ever before

With the rapid disruption evident across many industries, it’s never been more important for organizations to undertake competitive intelligence. Innovation is happening at lightning pace, and it’s critical that organizations continuously track the activities of their key competitors to ensure they can stay one step ahead. 

High-quality competitive intelligence is the key to success. With the quantity of data available today, it’s important to have a sophisticated platform to manage your competitive intelligence efforts. Knowledge360 is the world’s first intelligence hub, and is perfectly equipped to act as the cornerstone of your organization’s competitive intelligence efforts. 

To learn more about competitive intelligence, check out our new Competitive Intelligence Resource Center

The Complete Guide to Market and Competitive Intelligence