According to a study by the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, about 90% of the Fortune 500 companies in the US are conducting competitive intelligence activities. A majority of large enterprises, according to another study (about 70%), believe that having competitive intelligence in the past would have increased the effectiveness of their campaigns. Yet, many companies, including some market leaders in the rest of the world, do not have well-defined competitive intelligence plans. They evaluate their strategies and tactics in isolation, without taking into account what the competitors are up to or how they could react to them.
Competitor intelligence is one of the key success factors in today’s highly competitive and dynamic marketplace. Companies need to continuously monitor their competitors, especially before making key strategic decisions and investments around new product and campaign design, price and promotions plans, and branding and repositioning decisions.
If not proactively managed, one of your competitors may launch a similar product to the one your R&D Department was working on just before you. Another competitor may apply deep discounts the same week you were planning to increase your prices. Any such actions by your competitors can and will go a long way towards negatively affecting your market share and brand image.
To address such risks, companies need to take into account not only their own strategic priorities and voice of their customers, but also what their competitors plan, develop and offer to the market, in order to have the complete picture for their strategic and tactical investments. This is why, according to the respondents of a recent Outward Insights survey:
83% consider competitor intelligence important in business development & sales
79% consider competitor intelligence important new product launches
71% consider competitor intelligence important R&D planning and execution
Unfortunately, most companies that do competitor research perform such activities only on an ad-hoc basis and do not follow a structured process or plan. What’s worse, such research often gets lost on the desktop of a few specialists and never sees daylight again. Effective competitive intelligence with high ROI requires the right focus and utilization, which comes with good planning and dedication.
The obvious, but not so commonly covered, first step in competitive intelligence is the identification of competitors. Unfortunately, most companies assume only their usual rivals create competitive risks and fail to recognize a potential up-and-comer, or a complete newcomer until it is too late. For example, Xerox failed to recognize Canon as a potential threat before it entered into its market and US car makers considered Honda as only a motorcycle manufacturer and did not consider it as a future competitor at the time. Identification of the competitors requires ability to foresee who might enter into the market, as well as who has substitute offerings stealing market share from them, such as a speedboat company stealing customers from Ford, or 3G mobile operators stealing share from the traditional ISP market.
Once the current and potential competitor list is defined, companies should set-up operations to regularly follow news and continuously gather intelligence about their:
Although information about all these items should be collected continuously to facilitate quick responses and opportunistic actions, regular reports should also be compiled quarterly or semi-annually to create an archive on the competitor profiles, to use as an input in the strategic planning and key initiatives such as new product launches.
Sources which can be used to gather such information are numerous, with different levels of cost (difficulty), content, and depth:
All the information collected about competitors should be action oriented, creating immediate responses upon learning or critical inputs for decisions in the future. Hence, companies should also pay attention to measuring and evaluating the value-add of each source and category of information collected to maximize return on their competitive intelligence investments.
In order to start structuring and regularizing competitive intelligence, companies should establish an external or outsourced team of specialists or allocate part-time responsibilities to their existing resources to initiate and plan intelligence gathering activities. In this plan, the sources, content and frequency for intelligence gathering should be well-defined and supported by a knowledge management platform to keep the information manageable and accessible by the right parties over time.