CI has never been more relevant. Data is more readily available than ever. Industry-shattering insights are all around us if companies will invest in the tools to extract them from the noise.
As companies see the potential, they also begin to see the roadblocks. Large scale data management is impossible by hand and the tools necessary to manage it are complex. Previously, businesses could rely on small studies and customer reviews to stand out. Now, to be exceptional, customers rely on CI.
It’s no surprise that competitive intelligence is booming. Companies in every industry are looking for ways to take advantage of it. With proper preparation, any company can use CI to outpace their competition.
How to Use Competitive Intelligence to Gain an Advantage
Cipher has found that 75% of typical CI activities add no value to their companies. This is not a failing of competitive intelligence, but planning and implementation.
In many organizations, CI programs are initiated reactively. Decision-makers are alarmed by a market disruption and attempt to gather information in direct response to the threat.
With no preparation or direction, CI teams gather massive amounts of irrelevant data. They waste their energy sifting through meaningless noise and are pressed to make decisions before finding any actionable information.
As a result, there are no beneficial results, the CI team is removed and CI is ignored until the next market disruption.
This picture may be bleak, but it is entirely avoidable.
Using CI to gain an advantage depends on five steps:
- Clearly defined objectives and strategy
- Focused data gathering
- Information organization
- Analysis with proper tools
- Practical implementation
There are two main differences in this plan from the typical CI approach. Here, we use CI as a predictive tool, not a reactive one. The analysis is designed to produce specific, actionable results, ensuring value at the end of the process.
Competitive Intelligence Process
For companies without an existing CI process, the steps listed above may not be detailed enough. Below is a complete five-step plan to make CI implementation painless.
1. Information Planning
There are three main questions before any CI process:
- Who are your consumers? Consider who will be using this information and how best to present it to them.
- What is your strategic objective? Formalize what the decision-makers hope to find.
- Where is the information? Determine if you need dedicated researchers to find the data or if it is readily available.
When answering the questions above, do so with time, cost, and scope in mind. When developing a strategic objective, frame it as a specific question. Then, clearly define how you expect an answer to look. Specificity here will give your team a clear direction and measure of success.
2. Information Collection
Cast a wide net during data collection. Teams can refine excess data with intelligent analysis, but they cannot make up data points to flesh out incomplete figures.
Some common sources of data are:
- News services
- Google alerts
- Marketing materials
- Earnings reports
- Social media
With a 24/7 news cycle and around-the-clock social media updates, it is impossible for humans to keep pace with daily data influx. Without resources to track and automate data, teams will spend far too much of their valuable time on work easily done by technology. Have plans and tools in place to ensure teams spend their time wisely.
Click here to learn more about Knowledge360 for competitive intelligence.
3. Information Organization
Information collection never stops completely, but once the team has enough data, it is time to focus resources on its organization. Use your team's industry expertise to filter the essential details from the useless data.
In addition to simply knowing where to find data, you’ll need a way to organize and manage that mass of data in such a way that your team (and others in your company) can actually use it. Knowledge management systems solve this particular problem, and help make it much easier to find the signal within the noise.
Use collaboration to make data organization a manageable task. Spread the workload across teams to break the information into more manageable chunks.
Large corporations will need to work to avoid information silos or barriers to information sharing. The proper CI toolset will go a long way towards centralizing data and creating a collaborative environment.
4. Information Analysis
This is the moment that turns information into intelligence. We will cover analysis tools later on in this article. The analysis process will depend on the CI toolset and expertise of the CI team.
Regardless of the team, focus any analysis on the stated objective. Build a knowledge base that fully answers the questions you set out to answer. Once the team arrives at a conclusion, develop strategies that best capitalize on these findings.
Above all, remember that you are attempting to understand a complex, evolving system. Use your practical knowledge of the industry to eliminate strategies that are theoretically sound but practically unviable.
5. Information Production and Dissemination
Successful dissemination and adoption rely on applicability. In step one, we identified specific questions to answer. Now, the CI team needs to present a complete and actionable response.
First, consider the decision-makers. Teams should know what type of information executives need to make quick, effective decisions. Organize the data in a way that makes the findings most relevant to their needs.
In your strategy, include precise, practicable next steps for departments to best use your information. Hours of work have led to this, and persuasive presentations are the difference between adoption and rejection.
Competitive Intelligence Activities
After establishing an overarching CI process, companies need to consider the specific activities they will use for data gathering. CI activities fall into two categories: tactical and strategic. Both are vital for plotting a course for any organization, but they satisfy two distinct needs.
Tactical Competitive Intelligence—delivers information to make day-to-day operational decisions. These activities are often short-term and highly focused. They include tasks such as:
- Post-purchase interviews
- Focus groups
- Competitor product tests
Each activity has a highly specific goal, such as identifying the reason for a lost sale or testing the appeal of particular product features. These types of analyses are necessary to work out the finer details of sales approaches and marketing.
Strategic Competitive Intelligence—plots a company’s best path forward for long-term growth. It focuses on economic, technological and even cultural trends. Strategic activities require substantial investments and long-term plans, but they have the potential to pay dividends. These activities include:
- Monitoring government and lobbyist activities to identify potential regulation changes
- Reviewing legal battles and patents to find opportunities in intellectual property rights
- Identifying emergent technology that has the potential to disrupt your market
Strategic planning does not exist to develop specific long-term plans but is best used to guide companies into the market's most profitable areas.
For CI activities, teams need the right tools. In a data-driven world, that means robust CI software. Before purchasing CI software, companies need to know their competitive intelligence maturity.
Suppose a company has no CI experience or does not entirely understand the value of market and competitor intelligence (M/CI). In that case, their best option is to partner with an M/CI consulting firm. A consultant will demonstrate how the company can benefit from CI. From there, they can decide what is reasonable to invest in a CI tool.
For CI-mature companies, the selection process starts by identifying what functions the team needs. The correct M/CI software will be a force multiplier for analysts. It will minimize the time they spend on collecting and organizing data giving them more time to approach analysis creatively.
M/CI software falls into three categories:
Point Tools—offer specific insights on limited data sources. They provide highly specialized information, such as financial statements of publicly traded companies or patent lawsuit results, and provide in-depth analysis tools.
These solutions excel at their chosen function but do not provide a complete view of the competitive landscape. SEMRush and MOZ are excellent examples of point tools. Both specialize in search-engine keyword ranking, but neither has the complete tools to analyze other aspects of the competition.
Generic Tools—support a wide range of business operations but are not purpose-built for CI functions. These tools are often available at no or low cost to a CI team, though they are not designed for the type of functions CI needs to thrive.
Microsoft SharePoint is an excellent example of a generic tool. While it offers an immense degree of customizability, the functions that CI teams need are not readily available.
Purpose-Build M/CI Software Platforms—provide a complete M/CI picture. They offer tools for industry-wide analysis as well as in-depth reporting on specific data points. They will collect data from a wide range of sources, compile that data and offer analysis tools to identify critical information.
Along with functioning as data acquisition tools, they will also operate as central storage systems. Combining the two functions eliminates the potential for information silos and enables seamless collaboration.
Knowledge360® is the ideal example of a purpose-built platform. Knowledge360® is the complete solution that your CI team needs to thrive. It is the only software with automated Natural Language Processing (NLP) tagging and AI searchability to save your team from sifting through useless data. Its simple user interfaces and customizable reports let teams tailor their experience to the exact results they need. Knowledge360® is a true force-multiplier for any team.
Get a free demo of Knowledge360Ⓡ to see what your team is capable of.