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Competitive Intelligence Tools

Your ultimate guide to competitive intelligence and market research tools

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What's included in this guide?

  • The 3 kinds of market research and competitive intelligence tools
  • How to buy your competitive intelligence software
  • How recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have introduced great promise and also compounded the process of choosing the right software tool
  • Why so many market and competitive intelligence practices fail and how to avoid making similar mistakes
  • 3 things you must do before you select a market and competitive intelligence software tool 

What's the best way to use this guide?

This guide outlines the steps needed to ensure you select the best tool for your organization, but how you experience it is entirely up to you. You can read it from beginning to end, or you can jump to the section(s) that interest you most. 

Table of Contents

Jump straight to chapter by clicking on the options below.

How to Do Competitive Analysis Research

The four phases outlined in the introduction give you a good idea of what competitive intelligence data collection and ultimate analysis should entail. You’ll repeat those phases as needed, supported by the best-in-class features available in Knowledge360

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Why do you need a competitive intelligence tool?

If you're interested in learning about competitive intelligence and market research tools, one of the following is likely true.

Your company has been surprised by recent changes in your market or competitive landscape

Maybe you’ve lost key deals you expected to win. Maybe a competitor has launched a new product you didn’t anticipate. Or maybe you are trying to respond to a disruptive new entrant.

Either way, you’ve determined that you need to get a better handle on your market and competitive picture.

🔎 Related resources:

Certain groups within your company do a great job collecting competitive and market intelligence

But that information is locked away in organizational silos and doesn’t reach other groups within the company that need it to make better strategic decisions.

Maybe there are a ton of great competitive nuggets in your CRM system, but it’s not accessible to the strategy team. Maybe your Investor Relations team has a subscription to brokerage reports about your competitors, but stingy “by-name” license restrictions limit their ability to share the reports with your intelligence team.

Either way, you’ve determined that you need a way to centralize and manage competitor- and market-related information so that it is readily available to everyone who needs it.

Your intelligence team does a great job supporting one function of the business but ...

... it doesn’t have any resources to spare to meet demand for intelligence support from other parts of the company.

Maybe your team spends most of its time finding the answers to random questions from the C-Suite and doesn’t have any bandwidth to provide support to the sales organization. Maybe your team specializes in sales enablement but doesn’t have any time to support the R&D function.

Either way, you’re looking for ways to use technology to help your small intelligence team act like a big one.

Bottom line:

Whether you found yourself nodding your head in agreement with one of the above statements or with all of them, you will find value in this guide.



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About this competitive intelligence tools guide

The team here at Cipher has been developing and delivering marketing and competitive intelligence (M/CI) solutions for our clients for almost 25 years. This long experience has taught us well that there are no “cookie cutter” solutions that provide an optimal solution for every company.

Each company has unique needs that stem from its industry, organizational structure, and strategy. With this guide, we hope sharing our experiences will help you make a well-informed buying decision.

A lot has changed over the last quarter century. This is obviously true of M/CI technology. Many time-consuming and relatively low-value M/CI activities like collecting, organizing, and curating information—all of which are critically necessary to effective M/CI—can be automated freeing up highly-trained (and expensive) human resources to tackle the challenges that machines are not (yet) capable of handling.

"Today's CI Practitioner delivers value not from necessarily knowing the answer, but from knowing where the answer resides, and how to employ the appropriate tools and techniques necessary to obtain it."

Fred Hoffman- Dr. Fred Hoffman, Assistant Professor
Ridge College of Intelligence Studies and Applied Sciences at Mercyhurst University


But this change has not spread evenly across every company. Many—perhaps even most—companies are stuck in the stone age when it comes to M/CI practices. Our experience has shown that most competitive and market intelligence and insights teams still spend up to 75% of their time on low-value activities like collecting and organizing the information they need to do their jobs.

This is a recipe for failure.

Your highly-educated and highly-skilled analysts should be spending their time on activities that add tangible value to the business, like developing actionable strategic insights. New technologies like natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) offer incredible potential to automate the repetitive and time-consuming processes that, while fundamental to effective intelligence work, have often prevented companies from realizing the expected return on their investments in intelligence.



Our Guide Partner

As the world’s largest non-profit serving the M/CI community, and our partner producing this guide, SCIP (Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals) has been at the front line of these and other transformative changes. Over its 34-year history, SCIP has seen significant shifts in the type of value organizations expect from their M/CI teams. As technology has enabled great efficiencies in data collection and processing, its members are turning to SCIP for help developing their analytical, influencing, and communication skills. These changes pose a significant mindset shift; from data analyst to storyteller, or information agent to growth partner.

The largest non-profit for CI professionals

SCIP Mission Statement

As SCIP is the world's largest community of leaders who leverage insights and best practices to enable smart strategic choices and transformational growth. We increase members' impact and capabilities through advancing ethical best practices, developing professional standards, curating innovative and disruptive ideas, and cultivating a powerful community. As a non-profit, we collaborate with partner organizations to promote the value of strategic choices driven by insights rather than by gut feeling, conventional wisdom, or the loudest voice in the room.

As we walk you through what we have learned while working with thousands of companies over the last three decades, keep in mind the ABC’s of any competitive intelligence solution:

A - Automation. Whenever possible, leverage technology to perform low-value activities and allow your team to devote their time to high-value M/CI activities.

B - Business Needs. Always consider your business needs, both today and in the near future (look out 1 to 3 years).

C - Collaboration. The return you realize from investments in intelligence will be directly proportional to how collaborative your solution is and the cost of supporting continued collaboration.

How this competitive intelligence tools guide helps you

Commodities data is ripe for the picking. From declarations to government reports, there are a few significant sources of valuable information for competitor comparison. You can glean valuable knowledge from them all.

While recent changes to market and competitive intelligence practices have introduced great promise, they have also compounded the process of choosing the right competitive intelligence software solution. This guide outlines the steps needed to ensure you select the best tool for your organization.

If you are considering purchasing a M/CI software tool, the choice of which solution you use will likely be a group decision. While you may be familiar with the terms commonly used in the corporate intelligence community, others on your team may not be. For this reason, we begin this guide by sharing our definitions of competitive intelligence, market intelligence, and a handful of other related terms.

Next, we discuss how market and competitive intelligence is conducted and how your business is likely to benefit from market and competitive intelligence before examining common reasons why M/CI practices fail.

Subsequently, we discuss how to prepare for your evaluations and review the different types of tools available. Finally, we finish our guide with an outline of the steps you will need to take to procure a M/CI software tool for your organization.

Selecting the right software solution will enable your team of professionals to provide actionable intelligence that directly relates to your strategic goals and nets better business results. With the correct tool, they will be able to positively impact revenue, profitability, and other key strategic KPIs.

Light Bulb IconRemember: Your tool should Automate repetitive low-value activities, support your Business needs now and, in the future, and improve Collaboration among M/CI producers and consumers. 

Defining market and competitive intelligence (M/CI)

One common stumbling block for companies trying to determine which technology is right for them is simple terminology. The terms “Business Intelligence”, “Market Intelligence” and “Competitive Intelligence”, and are quite often incorrectly used interchangeably or confused. In fact, we often find that the terms are misused or confused even by people within the same company. As you research the available solutions, you’ll quickly find that there aren’t really any commonly accepted and mutually exclusive definitions for any of these terms.

Over the years, we’ve developed a straightforward language to describe these complicated concepts. From our perspective, there are three key terms that you need to understand: Market Intelligence (MI), Competitive Intelligence (M/CI), and Business Intelligence (BI). We’ve developed a brief anecdote that harkens back to our CEO’s time in the Navy to help illustrate what each is and is not, and how they relate to one another. Before we define each of these key terms, a word on what market and competitive intelligence are not, and that is any form of industrial espionage or any action that involves illegal or unethical activities. M/CI insights are derived from the analysis of publicly available information gathered by legal and ethical means.

MARKET AND COMPETITIVE INTELLIGENCE (M/CI) - Describes the insights derived from the collection and analysis of external data and information related to customers, potential customers, competitors and other external factors impacting your business like regulatory and compliance trends.

Market IntelligenceThe term Market Intelligence (MI) describes insights derived from the analysis of external information (information collected from outside your own company) related to your customers and potential customers (viewed either in segments or in aggregate) and other external forces impacting your business like regulatory and compliance trends. Typical MI activities include tasks like market sizing, trend analysis, buying patterns, and value drivers’ analysis. MI provides insights into the external environment that impacts our business AND that of our competitors alike.

Competitive IntelligenceCompetitive Intelligence (CI) also describes insights derived from the analysis of external information. But, as the name suggests, CI is focused on insights about your competitors. Basic CI is designed to provide insights into your competitors’ capabilities and limitations. Basic CI tasks include things like competitor profiles, battle cards, and SWOT analysis. Advanced CI, which is much more complex and difficult, is designed to yield insights as to the competitors’ strategic intentions. Advanced CI activities include things like scenario planning, wargaming, and red teaming.

Business IntelligenceBoth MI and CI are often used interchangeably or together with Business Intelligence (BI). However, the term BI is more appropriately used to describe insights generated by the analysis of internal information (information collected from within your own business). BI is intended to provide insights into how your own business is running and is often focused on managing against identified Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Basic BI activities include forecasting, where historical internal performance data is used to project future performance based on trends. Advanced BI incorporates big data, advanced analytics, and machine-learning and can be applied to complex optimization tasks or other forward-looking insights like predictive maintenance.

Orange Light BulbRemember: Business Intelligence is a product of internal information while both Market Intelligence and Competitor Intelligence rely on external information.

Topic Deep Dive: Common Terms often confused and misused, we define, explain and illustrate differences in our Guide: BI, CI, KM: What's the difference?

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What do competitive intelligence and the Navy have in common?

Business Intelligence: Your Ship

Business Intelligence - Your ShipFocuses on internal operating environment. Involves continuous monitoring of the ship's internal engineering systems. Used to benchmark against known operating parameters to flag potential issues and optimize for efficiency.

Think about the Captain of a Navy ship. To do his or her job effectively, s/he needs three different categories of accurate and timely information. First, the Captain must have a solid understanding of how the ship itself is performing. S/he needs to understand how efficiently the engines are running. S/he needs to know how much fuel is onboard or if any equipment is inoperable. (Maybe most importantly, the Captain needs to be sure there is enough toilet paper remaining to prevent a mutiny!) All the internal information in this category is related to his or her own ship. In Navy terms, this is called “ownship” data. In the business world, we refer to this type of information as Business Intelligence (BI).


Market Intelligence: Your Environment

Market Intelligence - Your EnvironmentFocuses on external operating environment. Gathers external data about winds, waves, tides, and currents to identify trends and anticipate future conditions. Helps you avoid hazards and exploit favorable conditions.

Second, the Captain needs to understand what is happening in the environment where the ship is operating. Tides, currents, winds, weather patterns—all can have a significant impact on which course the Captain will select. In the Navy, this information is called meteorological and oceanographic data, or “METOC” for short. This category of external information describes conditions that affect not only the Captain’s “own ship”, but also every other ship operating in the same area. In the business world, we refer to this type of information as Market Intelligence (MI).


Competitive Intelligence: Your Adversary

Competitive Intelligence - Your AdversaryFocuses on others in the external environment. Gathers intelligence about your adversary. Must be analyzed to assess the threat they pose to you, and identify opportunities to exploit strategic or tactical advantages.

Lastly, the Captain needs information about the “bad guys.” S/he needs to understand how many and what kind of potential adversaries might be in the area, their respective capabilities and limitations, and—to the extent possible—their intentions. In the Navy, this type of information is known simply as (wait for it) “Intelligence.” In the business world, we refer to this type of information as Competitive Intelligence (CI).


Light Bulb IconRemember: To make the most informed decisions, your management team needs intelligence on the business, your competitors and your markets.

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The business case for competitive intelligence

Before the digital age, most businesses found that useful market and competitive information was scarce and hard to acquire. However, in today’s world, the reverse is true. Businesses are in a state of information overload.

A common problem companies face today is not finding information, but rather finding the signal in all the noise. Businesses need relevant, timely, and accurate information to make smarter decisions, faster.

Historically, M/CI has been most rigorously implemented within companies operating in industries with long product development timelines like the pharmaceutical, software, and defense industries. Many of today’s “world-class” M/CI capabilities exist in Pharmaceutical companies (see our CI State of Play report). >M/CI helps them to develop and deliver unique products to the market ahead of their competition.

By looking outward, companies in these industries avoid strategic surprises regarding competitor offerings and capabilities while identifying relevant technological developments affecting their industry along with environmental changes affecting the supply chain, and regulatory changes that may affect how business is conducted.

M/CI helps you make faster and more informed decisions by combining existing internal data with relevant external data. When looking at the whole picture, your business can make better predictions and business decisions to gain a competitive advantage.

"Intelligence is a critical foundation for understanding an organization's market environment and assessing overall competitive position. It is the beginning of developing any successful integrated business strategy and is a key element for a company to consider when regularly tracking impact, as well as evaluating opportunities to enhance long-term performance."

Chu- Albert Chu
Managing Director, Insights & Intelligence at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association



The following are four common examples of how competitive intelligence helps companies identify, assess and make use of information.

Identify New OpportunitiesIdentify New Opportunities – Knowing where and how your competitors influence a market can help adjust your strategy. You can identify and monitor market trends to see when a new opportunity presents itself.

Gain Market ClarityGain market clarity - Maximize your competitive advantage with clarity into where your competitors are positioned in relation to you and the market.

Reduce Risks & UncertaintlyReduce risks and uncertainty - A clear picture of your current market and competition will remove uncertainty and eliminate speculative decision making.

Support Key Decisions with DataSupport key decisions with data – You increase confidence in strategic investments when they are backed with market and competitor data.

Light Bulb IconRemember: Businesses are in a state of information overload, today’s problem is not finding information, but rather finding the signal in all the noise.

Why do so many competitive intelligence programs fail?

For decades, competitive intelligence initiatives around the world have fallen victim to an all too familiar cycle of surprise, reaction, stockpiling, overload and, ultimately, death. Our research shows that up to 75% of typical competitive intelligence activities add no value to the business they serve.

Why do so many M/CI Practices fail? - Process Graphic

In our experience, M/CI initiatives often tend to be implemented reactively, rapidly become unmanageable, rarely deliver meaningful insights, and ultimately end because of the lack of meaningful results delivered at the end of a budget cycle. That is, until the next surprise market event, merger or acquisition has executives calling for more intelligence and better insights.

And then the cycle begins again.

A Better Way

Today’s world-class M/CI teams have broken the "M/CI cycle of Death" by leveraging technology. Recent advances in technology—specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the form of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML)—offer unprecedented opportunities to automate the critically necessary, but time-consuming and low-value activities of collecting, organizing, and curating information.

The correct M/CI software tool allows researchers and analysts to focus on developing insights, which is the primary value intelligence teams have to offer. The right tool serves as a force-multiplier for the modern M/CI team, freeing the analyst from low-value tasks like collecting and organizing information from multiple sources. Our research shows M/CI professionals using a M/CI tool have as much as five times more time to devote to analysis and insight generation as those without a tool built to support M/CI work.

Before and After Knowledge360

The right tool not only increases the analyst’s productivity but can also communicate M/CI value and drive adoption across departments.

Orange Light BulbRemember: Teams working without a tool designed to support M/CI activities spend up to 5X more time on low-value activities.

Read the Complete Guide to Competitor Analysis Research, Data and Information Sources.

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Before you select your competitive intelligence tool

Know your M/CI maturity level

It is important that your M/CI software tool solution meets the business where it is supporting the business’s decision-making process. The maturity of your M/CI practice (self-assess your maturity now) will have a significant influence on selecting your best tool. Business complexity should be considered when evaluating tools as should anticipated market changes. Compare our stages to the maturity of your practice, which maturity stage best aligns with your practice?

No information is captured. Lack a strategy.
Often startups, or companies who have dominated a market but are now faced with new competition.
Part of one person's responsibilities typically in sales or marketing. Limited knowledge of available data. All manual.
Dedicated person or team in place. Uses some automation. Gaps in their understanding. Unaware of blind spots.
M/CI functions integrate into key business functions. Good understanding of data. provide insights to business. Using a tool built for CI.

Providing strategic insights, closing knowledge gaps within your business and delivering recommendations regarding unexpected competitor moves are all complex activities.

So ask yourself:
"Does my business understand the value of having market and competitor intelligence?"

If you answer anything but a definitive “Yes!” you may want to consider delaying the purchase of a software tool. You might want to engage an outside M/CI consulting firm to help you define your company’s M/CI needs and demonstrate how the company will benefit from M/CI insights before investing the time and resources in a tool.

Introducing any new technology will bring challenges. Established routines will be disrupted, onboarding and training time must be considered, and most of all “Why the change is needed?” must to be clearly explained again and again until it is accepted and adopted as the new normal.

The introduction of new technology alone should not be considered justifications to delay implementing a M/CI software tool. As the number of your business functions asking for market intelligence, competitor profiles, and insights grows, you will be faced with a decision; adopt a M/CI tool and change the way you perform, or risk diminishing results due to ever increasing data and requirements.

A newly-formed M/CI practice asked to provide competitive and market intelligence could gather information through a point solution like Google Alerts or any one of these free software tools and save it to a generic tool like SharePoint or Google Drive folder. From there, a knowledge worker might review the information and provide insights within a PowerPoint presentation or a monthly PDF newsletter.

But as your M/CI practice matures, the requests made by the business will evolve and investing in a tool may become necessary in order for your team to keep pace. Regardless of the type of tool you decide best fits your needs, you’ll want to map out your M/CI strategy.


Start with a PlanStart with a plan

First, make sure you have a strategy that aligns with your business’s strategic plan. PayPal’s head of Market Research puts it this way,


"Solve the big problems, remove pain and your work will be elevated."

Rama-Mallika- Rama Mallika
Head of Research at Paypal



Understanding where your business is headed will guide you in identifying what you need to collect, analyze and share. If you lack a clear plan, the time to build one or the in-house skills, consider hiring an outside company to help you develop your strategy. Remember, your strategic plan should be flexible enough to adapt easily to newly identified threats.


Identifying your data needsIdentify your data needs


With your plan built and aligned with the business, it’s time to consider collecting information, and identifying your desired data collection resources. Data comes from many places and determining which sources of information you will be using to provide your insights is a necessary next step. You won’t want to miss an important update or new release because your tool doesn’t collect a particular source of data.

Make certain you document all of the data sources you currently collect as well as those you anticipate needing based on your business strategy and M/CI roadmap. It’s also important to include data your company is already collecting, especially information collected from field employees.

Below is a list of commonly collected sources to help start your list.

  • News services
  • Journals
  • Company data (public AND private)
  • Financial releases
  • Government data
  • Regulatory documents
  • Clinical trials
  • RSS feeds
  • Conference abstracts/posters
  • Marketing materials
  • Press releases
  • Job postings/personnel moves
  • Patents
  • Competitor websites
  • Social media posts, blogs
  • Paid databases
  • Industry-specific websites


Reduce Your Data GapsReduce your data gaps


Dealing with uncertainty, improvising, applying flexible models and learning from limited data make up the core analysis performed by your team and are included in the insights they share with your stakeholders. These insights might be a part of weekly reports delivered to a sales or marketing team, or they may be ad hoc, in that they are one-offs and unplanned, like a SWOT analysis of a new entrant into the market.

As the person charged with finding the right competitive intelligence solution, you have probably identified gaps between the information you know, the information you have, and information you lack. The right M/CI tool should be included in your plan to successfully narrow or close these gaps.


Automate where possibleAutomate where possible


The right M/CI tool will multiply your M/CI team’s output. Automated tagging and advanced analytics are examples of how technology can free human resources from performing low-value M/CI activities. System alerts and notifications are additional features to look for in a M/CI tool.

Machine learning and AI can and should:

  • Automate repetitive and time-consuming M/CI tasks
  • Respond quickly and precisely to signals or alerts
  • Store vast amounts of information
  • Execute many different tasks simultaneously
  • Perform deductive reasoning, (If… then…)

A word of caution: In recent years a great deal has been written surrounding the advancements of artificial intelligence (AI) technology and while AI is progressing faster than ever before, there remain certain attributes of M/CI work that machines simply cannot (yet) perform.

The ability to think creatively and use abductive reasoning, both skills require to form good hypotheses, will for the near future remain with your knowledge worker and not a machine. Any claims to the contrary should be explored deeply and thoroughly.


Light Bulb IconRemember: M/CI software tools that supports the collection, organization and tagging of all information sources, internal and external (free or subscription-based), will have a significant impact on the amount of time your team spends on developing insights.

3 types of market and competitive intelligence tools

The sheer number and variety of business, market, and competitive intelligence solutions currently on the market can make the process of identifying the right one for your needs seem daunting. In order to make sense of this complicated landscape, it can be helpful to put them all into categories. Determining which type of tool you need is the first step in this journey and will immediately help to slim down the long list of potential options to something much more manageable.


Software Tool 1One category of tools is what we refer to as Point Solutions. These specialized tools are designed to add focused value against a defined subset of the activities required to do effective M/CI. Point solutions are like screwdrivers, they are designed to do one thing well. They might provide a single, specific type of information—like news, or company financials, or IP data. Or, they might focus on a single, specific aspect of the M/CI workflow—like creating curated newsletters or sales enablement materials. These point solutions often have very timely and accurate data of the type they specialize in, but that’s it. If they focus on a particular piece of the workflow, they likely do that piece very well, but that’s it. You would need multiple point solutions to get a comprehensive view of the market and competition and to support the entire M/CI workflow.

For instance, many companies find value in understanding their competitors financial reports—especially when their competitors are all or mostly publicly-traded companies. There are a host of solutions available that focus specifically on delivering data and analysis related to publicly-held companies’ financials. These include tools like S&P Capital IQ® and FACTSET®. Point solutions like these offer in-depth, specialized data and functionality that is specifically designed to enable a particular aspect of M/CI—in this example financial analysis.

Other good examples of point solutions are SEMRush and MOZ. These tools are outstanding at delivering insights about how you and your competitors stack up from a digital search-engine keyword ranking standpoint. Although these insights represent only a small slice of the M/CI pie, they are nonetheless crucial for many businesses. If your biggest need is to benchmark your digital presence against your competitors, point solutions like these are your best bet.

Additionally, there are point solutions specifically designed to enable M/CI teams to support certain functions within the business. Klue is a good example. Although it is designed to harness insights from more than one source of data, it is specifically optimized to help “marketing and enablement teams collect, curate, and deliver intel to sales to close more deals” [emphasis added]. Based on everything we hear about it, it serves this need quite well. If your most critical M/CI need is around getting competitive enablement materials into the hands of your sales force, then Klue might be a good option to explore.

One key drawback to trying to cobble together an overall solution from multiple point solutions is that when relevant information is collected from point solutions, it often ends up “lost” as it is saved to in multiple locations or systems. The lack of a centralized knowledge management system can lead to replication of effort within the company and even the same department.


Point M/CI Software Tools



  • Add focused value to specific activities
  • Data is usually accurate and timely
  • Typically "best in class" at what they do
  • Do not provide full M/CI picture
  • Data saved in multiple locations
  • Replication of work is common


Software Tools 2At the opposite end of the spectrum are what we refer to as Generic Tools. These are software suites that are designed to support a wide-variety of business functions and business processes. They often require significant customization to be applied in the context of M/CI. There are other tools that fit into this category, but by far the most prevalent of these is Microsoft SharePoint®. Generic software tools like SharePoint are incredibly flexible and adaptable and can often be customized to provide an acceptable solution to enable full-scope M/CI work. Depending on your need, using a generic software tool can feel like driving a nail with a wrench – it isn’t as efficient as using a hammer, but it can get the job done. One benefit to using a generic tool is that, in many cases, your company may have already purchased it. Leveraging that prior investment may allow you to stretch your M/CI budget.

Customizing a generic tool may seem very attractive. A few words of caution before traveling down this path. First, the allure of adapting a generic tool is often the result of a poorly defined process or lack of M/CI strategy. New M/CI functions may see the use of a tool as a solution to their problems when in actuality, the tool is allowing a team to perpetuate a poor process and preventing them from making changes needed to protect the business from future market risk or identify new market opportunities.

Second, in our experience, companies often underestimate the effort and resources required to accomplish this level of customization, and to update and adapt it over time. Over-tasked and under-resourced internal IT development teams generally have a list of priorities a mile long. They may be under pressure to deliver a massive ERP implementation, in the midst of a CRM transformation, and have a “go-live” with a new POS system coming all at the same time. So getting a sufficient allocation of their time and attention dedicated to an internal M/CI platform can be a challenge.


Generic Software Tools



  • Highly customizable
  • Low or no cost to the M/CI team
  • Support some degree of automation
  • Not designed for M/CI teams
  • Require time and effort to customize
  • May not be priority for internal IT team


Software tool 3The last broad category of M/CI solutions we’ll discuss here are Purpose-built M/CI Software Platforms. These solutions typically collect data from multiple sources, serve as a repository to store and organize this data, offer capabilities to analyze the data, and provide functionality to help analysts distribute the insights they generate to their internal stakeholders. Most M/CI professionals will find their optimal solution within this last category with tools like Comintelli’s intelligence2day®, AuroraWDC’s FIRSTLIGHT®, or Cipher’s Knowledge360®. However, it is worth breaking this broad category down a bit further, as all Purpose-built M/CI Platforms are not made alike. (Use our tool evaluation spreadsheet to compare M/CI tools.) The solutions that comprise this category offer a wide variety of data, features, and functionality, and it’s important for potential buyers to understand the differences between Purpose-built software tools in five key areas; bundled data, data hosting, knowledge management, information structure, integrations, and customization.

Bundled Data: Many Purpose-built M/CI Platforms are designed simply to serve as a repository for data and information you either already have in your possession (like internal reports, etc.) or which you have arranged to procure from another vendor (like financial data, news, etc.) However, some Purpose-built M/CI software tools will also offer premium data bundled as part of their subscription offering.

When setting out to determine which solution is best for you, it is important to know what data you already have, what data you can access via other vendors, and what data you want to access through a subscription to your M/CI tool.Key advantages of bundled data include eliminating the need for a separate step to centralize information coming from multiple sources. It can also be quite a bit more cost-effective, as access to many of these 3rd party datasets is expensive, and they almost always provide far more information than you actually need.For instance, a subscription to premium financial data can be pricey, and you more than likely don’t need access to the vendor’s entire database of millions of companies. You only need access to the handful or few dozen your M/CI team is tracking.

Data Hosting: Most Purpose-built M/CI Platforms are now delivered via the cloud in a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), or subscription-based, business model. However, you will still find a few solutions that can be deployed on-premise or in a privately-hosted environment. Understanding your company’s data security requirements is an important first step, as they may immediately eliminate a whole swath of available tools.

Knowledge Management: Some M/CI tools will offer access to a variety of data, information and insights. But not all tools offer the ability to upload and manage your own content. This is important because a key requirement for effective M/CI is to have the ability to synthesize data and information that is being collected outside of your company with the information and knowledge that is already present within the enterprise. Every company is collecting information about the market and the competition. But often, there is no formal process around this collection. The nuggets of information and insight that are gleaned in casual conversations with customers, competitors, and others outside the company become “tacit knowledge”, often locked away in an obscure email string or on someone’s hard drive. The ability to centralize the collection and organization of this “tacit knowledge” is a critical component of effective M/CI.

Information Structure: Most M/CI software tool platforms use keywords to tag content that is stored within the system. Some of these platforms have automatic tagging capabilities that will automatically apply a keyword tag to a piece of content whenever that keyword is identified within that piece of content. Often, these keyword structures may have multiple, hierarchical layers. For instance, in many platforms, you can configure the tool to automatically tag a piece of content that contains the word “China” with the tags “China” and “Asia”. These hierarchical keyword structures are often referred to as taxonomies. Using a taxonomy is a time-tested method to structure information for easy retrieval. In fact, librarians have been using a taxonomy known as the Dewey Decimal system for over 140 years. If your goal is simply to organize information so that it can easily be retrieved by others, then taxonomies are a great tool.

However, taxonomies have some key drawbacks. First, they will automatically tag any piece of content that contains the string of characters specified by the user as a “keyword”. When using a traditional keyword-based system, the user tells the computer to look for a specific pattern of characters within a document and, when it finds that pattern, to apply a tag for that keyword. If we tell a keyword-based system to automatically tag the keyword “apple”, the system will search each piece of content and if it finds the letters a-p-p-l-e, in that sequence, with no spaces, it will apply the tag “Apple”.

Obvious problems arise in cases like this, where the keyword has more than one potential meaning. We have no way to know whether the content that was tagged with the keyword “Apple” is about Apple the consumer electronics company, or a fruit that is a key ingredient in the all-American desert pie.

Another drawback of taxonomies is that the user who is searching for relevant content must know exactly what s/he is looking for. If you’re old enough to remember when library catalogs existed in multi-drawer cabinets with countless index cards in each drawer, you’ll understand this phenomenon. If you wanted to find information about the science of social networks, you would consult the index to find that your topic was located in section 302.85. All well and good, but there is nothing else in 302.85 except that specific topic. A taxonomy does not lend itself to discovering relevant information that you didn’t know was relevant when you started your search.

Some M/CI newer platforms, however, leverage a different type of information architecture to automatically organize content. Advanced metadata tagging technologies using AI, like natural language processing (NLP) and other machine-learning (ML) algorithms, can go beyond simply identifying a string of characters in a document. They can automatically identify and classify entities that are mentioned within a piece of content, and tag them accordingly, without anyone ever having told the system what it was looking for.

Going back to our Apple example. As discussed above, a keyword-based system that uses a taxonomy might be able to automatically locate the characters a-p-p-l-e and apply the tag “Apple.” However, a system using advanced NLP could read a document, understand the context in which the word “Apple” was mentioned, and realize that this particular usage was a reference to the company Apple, and applies a tag of “Apple” of the type “Company” to that piece of content. And remember, no one had to tell the AI that they were looking for “Apple”. The system recognized the entity and classified it appropriately as a company by itself. It also may have identified mentions of the companies “Facebook”, “Google” and “IBM” automatically too within the same document, without anyone having told it to look for those words.

Machine learning algorithms can also be applied to train a computer over time to recognize that certain pieces of content are more valuable than others. Machines can be trained to identify content that is relevant to a particular concept or topic, or to a particular product. Machine learning can also be used to filter out irrelevant content automatically, drastically improving the signal to noise ratio in the platform. All of these features benefit the analyst in identifying relationships or connections that may not have been previously seen or understood.

FilesIntegrations: Two key drivers of success for M/CI teams are how effectively they can access tacit knowledge from across the enterprise and how effectively they can provide insights to their stakeholders. The ability for your chosen M/CI platform to integrate with the other enterprise applications used by the other functions of your business is critical. For instance, sales teams tend to live day-to-day within their CRM system. Asking them to have to capture competitive intel in anything other than that CRM is foolish. They won’t do it. Likewise, you’ll want your M/CI team to “live” within the M/CI platform you choose. You don’t want to ask either group to constantly toggle back and forth between multiple applications. That defeats the core purpose of implementing purpose-built tools. But it can be powerful when your chosen M/CI platform integrates seamlessly with your CRM. It can allow the M/CI team to easily gain access to hidden tacit internal knowledge as well as to seamlessly provide their insights back to the sales function, without ever asking a sales person to leave their CRM. If your organization widely uses other enterprise applications (like Slack for collaboration, Tableau for data visualization, etc.) it is worth finding an M/CI tool that will integrate with these other applications.

Customization: Just about every M/CI software platform offers some degree of customization. This can vary from minor items like the ability to tailor search-strings all the way up to completely customizable dashboards that can be configured for each user individually. There are a couple of factors to consider as it relates to customization. First, it is important to understand what customizations are available within each platform. Second, it is critically to understand what customizations can be completed by a trained user (i.e.one of your analysts) versus what customizations must be undertaken by the vendor’s development or engineering team. The latter often comes with additional cost which you might not have budgeted for initially.

A Purpose-built M/CI tool provides a single point of access to a range of information tailored to the needs of each business function, department or user supported by your M/CI team. Knowledge workers stay in a single tool, eliminating the need to jump from one application to another and eliminating the need to export large databases or spread sheets of information.

The result allows your team of professionals to spend more time on high value M/CI activities, providing actionable intelligence that directly relates to your strategic goals and nets better business results.


Purpose-Built M/CI Software Tools



  • Complete M/CI picture
  • Central repository for information
  • More time for insight generation
  • Longer implementation/training
  • If customization requires vendor support, may be additional cost



Light Bulb IconRemember: A Purpose-built M/CI tool is the only tool capable of providing a complete picture of your markets and competitors.


Feel free to compare some of the common tools on the market with our CI Software Tool Comparison Article Series:

How to buy your competitive intelligence software

Congratulations! You made your selection and identified the platform that will best meet your needs. Now it’s time to work-through the procurement process within your company.

As this is a very important part of the process and one of the things that most M/CI don’t do that often, or maybe have never done, we wanted to include some lessons learned from our experience working with clients to bring Knowledge360® on board.

There are three primary areas that you need to address as you look to bring in a new solution/vendor: Budget; IT/Security approval; and a Legal review. We’ll tackle each of these three to help you through the process.

The first step we recommend is to identify who will have a role in the review and procurement process. We recommend this team not exceed eight members and include employees with the following responsibilities:

  • The Buyer: The person or group with the budgeted resources to make the purchase. Who owns budget approval? Is there a sourcing/procurement group that you have to work through? Make sure to involve this person in the process.
  • M/CI Consumers / Stakeholders: The groups, departments or business functions within your organization who will benefit from you having this tool. Typically, this group includes: employees or input from sales, marketing, product managers, strategy, and your executive team.
  • An Executive Sponsor: It is always helpful to have a VP or above helping to drive the process and streamline your efforts to get things done.
  • An IT/Data Security Contact: It is very important to identify who is the point person to review/approve security concerns associated with bringing on a new software tool.  This is especially important if you plan to house your own internal data in the chosen M/CI platform.
  • Your Legal Review Contact- Every M/CI software tool you consider will have legal terms associated with it.  It is imperative to identify who will approve/negotiate any terms that apply to your new solution.

Know Your Budget

Any solution that you choose is going to require some level of investment.

Just like when you make purchases in your personal life, it's best to understand what price range you will be working within. Just as the price of a new car varies greatly, so too does the cost of M/CI Software tools.

For example, pricing will vary greatly depending on your M/CI needs, the vendor’s licensing model and what type of M/CI functionality you are looking for. So, to make sure you review and consider economically viable tools, we always suggest you get a feel for your budget range as part of your first step.

Other areas to consider as you seek budget approval:

  • Will you be required to build a Business or Use Case for the project and identify:
  • Who benefits from the work delivered by the M/CI tool? (e.g. sales, marketing, product, etc.)
  • Who would potentially access the tool for data? (sales reps, executive team etc.)
  • Who can request information?
  • Will your current M/CI process need to change?
  • Is a return on investment (ROI) needed and how it will be measured?
  • What is the procurement process? Do you have a procurement department? Will they insist on leading the purchase process? Do you have a department budget approval process? Have you purchased software before?If so, where were the most challenging areas?

You’re Going to Need a Security Review

Since the tool you choose will need to be able to house your own internal data, you are most likely going to be required to obtain sign off from your IT/security team.

If you have selected a comprehensive tool, it will aggregate external data and allow you to include your own data. When this is the case, a member of your security or risk management team will almost certainly need to be involved.

Considering these points early in your selection process will allow your teams and your vendor the time needed to respond accurately and completely and may shorten your procurement timeline:

  • Do you have an internal requirements doc/form from your risk assessment team outlining their needs?
  • Does your vendor of choice have a document that outlines their security processes and procedures? (Your risk assessment team will prefer documentation provided for them instead of having to request everything ad hoc.)
  • How long does your security team need to perform a security review? How are reviews scheduled? Is there a defined process you will need to follow? (This is typically a bottleneck in the procurement process - the earlier you understand this process the better.)
  • Who is the POC for these reviews internally?

Crossing Your T’s and Dotting Your I’s

The last major part of the procurement puzzle is legal review.

Everything from our phones to the apps we use for watching movies includes legal terms. While you may just click “agree” to those terms, there’s a good chance your organization’s legal team is going to want to review the terms of any solution you choose. So, consider:

  • Who is your internal contact for contract review?
  • Does your company require that you use your own Master Service Agreement (MSA) or can you use the vendor’s End User License Agreement (EULA)?
    • Often you will use the EULA in conjunction with an internal MSA. The MSA will outline the relationship while the EULA will cover the usage of the vendor’s tool.
  • How long does it typically take for contract review? How are reviews scheduled? Is there a defined process you will need to follow to have your terms reviewed? This is often another bottleneck in the buying process — as with Security review - and the earlier you can get this started, the better.

A typical procurement timeline for a M/CI tool is about nine weeks beginning with the selection of a vendor and ending with a vendor-led “training kickoff call.”

Orange Light BulbRemember: Before your new M/CI software tool is made available to your users, it will require an audit from your Security/IT team and a legal review of the terms and conditions. Both of these activities can add weeks or months to your procurement timeline.

M/CI Software Tool Procurement Timeline



See How to Automate Intelligence Gathering and Distribution

Acknowledged by SCIP as a best-in-class CI solution, Knowledge360® makes it easy to aggregate and visualize information so you spend less time searching and more time making strategic decisions.

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