Small business owners may have nightmares about reading an article about the product launch of your closest competitor only to realise it’s the same product you have been working on for months. However, rather than wasting time worrying about how you could miss that information, consider instead spending that energy on competitive intelligence to prevent any possible surprises.
The term competitive intelligence may conjure up images of espionage and James Bond movies, but it’s simply the honest practice of gathering and analysing public information on competitors. It ensures you to have a good sense of what is going on with your competitors and avoids surprises. It should be an integral aspect of any small business.
Know where to look:
A majority of information that you want to know about your competitors is freely available. Analyst reports, traditional media (newspaper, press releases), job search engines, business and academic sites and even trade shows. Thanks to the internet gathering competitive intelligence has never been easier. RSS Feeds deliver timely updates from your favourite websites and blogs and can help you keep abreast of what others are saying in your industry. Google Alerts are also a great source of information by providing email updates of the latest relevant Google results (news, web etc.) based on your choice of query or topic.
Know who to ask:
Often talking to the competition can lead to the most telling information. It may not be a matter of what they say but how they react. Body language always speaks volumes. For instance, if you spot a competitor at the bar after a trade show, ask if they’re launching that Amazing Widget. If her eyes go big and light up then you’re on to something!
Know what is useful:
Not everything you hear or read will be important or true. You may find that you’re collecting pieces of a puzzle. Consider the source of the information. Ask yourself is there any other information that supports that rumour? Does XYZ have enough cash to make that move?
Know how to use it
Analysing the information you gain about your competitors can be used in different ways depending on your needs. You may simply want a sense of your competitors profile or perhaps it will be used to benchmark your company performance.
Competitive intelligence is an ongoing job and by using the appropriate methods you can develop a good understanding of your competitors business and your competitors weaknesses can become your strengths!