Competitive intelligence gathering can be a useful exercise that yields important information to guide your business and marketing strategy, or it can sit in a computer file and collect the equivalent of electronic dust if you’re not careful. While a competitive intelligence project can bring out your inner spy, it can also lead to confusion, misinterpretation of data, and faulty strategy-setting. Worse still, it can lead to something I call the “me too” syndrome in which you end up pushing your business into a model that’s a poor imitation of a competitor rather than an authentic and rich representation of yourself. The following 10 tips for effective gathering and use of competitive intelligence information may help you avoid the pitfalls of gathering information on your competitors while simultaneously helping you use it effectively.
Tip 1: Schedule Time Regularly to Perform Research
One of the most common complaints from competitive intelligence business owners is that they don’t have time to do competitive intelligence. They also complain that they don’t have time for market research, marketing and promotions, and you name it – they don’t have time for it. Every entrepreneur, business owner and executive is faced with this problem. Honestly, have you ever had a day in which you just had oodles of free time? Probably not. The best way to overcome this problem is to block off competitive intelligence time on your calendar as you would an appointment with a prospect or an important meeting. Block off at least one hour a month, and preferably one hour every other week. This should give you some uninterrupted time to do some internet research and begin your competitive intelligence-gathering efforts.
Tip 2: Keep a List of Competitors Handy for Future Research
One time-saving tip I like to share is the handy spreadsheet; keep a list of competitors on your spreadsheet for future reference. Include the date last researched, the name of the competitor, and the URL of their website, and leave the last column blank to type in any research notes. This ensures that each month, when you sit down to conduct your competitive intelligence work, you’ll have the list handy and won’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Tip 3: Listen to Your Customers When They Mention Other Companies
Your customers are an invaluable resource of information about your competitors. If they mention that someone else does the same thing for cheaper or better than you do – note the name. That’s a competitor. Whenever I get a call from a prospective customer, I always ask, “How did you hear about us?” Often they will mention they visited a competitor’s website first and then came to us, or they used a competitor’s services and weren’t happy with either the price or the results, so they are seeking a new vendor. The companies, products and individuals they mention may be competitors, and provide you with great information to start your research-gathering efforts.