Does competitive intelligence sound like complicated industrial espionage to you? Don't worry — gathering information about your competitors is a sensible market research practice that allows you to be proactive about your business decisions.

What is competitive intelligence?

  • Collecting publicly available information about your competition in a legal and ethical manner, then analyzing it and putting it to use to improve some aspect of your business.
  • When fine-tuned, it must respond to a specific need or problem in order for you to apply the analysis effectively.

First, know your own business inside and out — what are your goals? What sets you apart from your competitors? Anything unique will give you an edge. The next step is to be aware of the market. The old adage is true: knowledge is power.

Get started by studying your competition's marketing and visiting their brick-and-mortar locations. Become a client if you can. Keep track with information available in the public domain and through social media.

Armed with a bit of background information, you can then consider sources close to your competition. You may even sound out their employees. Other sources include:

  • Attendees of trade shows and conferences
  • Suppliers
  • Customers — yours and theirs
  • Industry consultants or other organizations familiar with your rivals

Why not make competitive intelligence part of your business routine, like media monitoring? You may even hire a market research firm or a competitive intelligence consultant.

What should you try to learn?

  • New product/service launches — are your own offerings affected?
  • Changes to products/services, marketing or operations — should you do things differently?
  • Changes in personnel — does this signal a new direction?
  • Are they expanding or selling their business? What is the impact to you?
  • How do competitors achieve their goals? Can you implement better strategies?
  • Is there any new competition to observe?

Don't forget about counter-intelligence — what are your competitors learning about you? Try to protect your own business information while keeping up to date about those around you.

Our section on Industry sector data can help you stay current about trends that could influence your business. Our information on Benchmarking may allow you to evaluate your own performance.