In today’s cutthroat climate of business competition, burying your head in the sand to focus on your startup is a sure-fire way to fail. That’s why competitive intelligence is such a vital component to any new startup; it gives you the chance to see what others in your field are doing and implement changes in your strategy before it’s too late.
Stemming from the practice of market research, competitive intelligence is the act of making your organization competitive through use of a multi-pronged approach, studying customers, competitors, technologies and macro-economic data to come up with the best approach. There is a critical difference between competitive intelligence, which is a legal and ethical way of systematically gathering and analysing data, and industrial or corporate espionage, which is illegal, may include the theft of intellectual or informational material or blackmail, and is to be avoided at all times.
As startups are often low on cash, knowledge that is legally and publicly available is like a jewel for the taking. Thankfully, critical business information can be found through Companies House records, which you can access for free through various online services such as Duedil. Financial reports, lists of Directors (and who else they work for), pending lawsuits and more open up a whole world of vital business data about your competitors that not only lets you know what you’re up against, but helps you benchmark your own progress and success against inspirational forerunners in the industry.
Another source of free CI data is your competitors’ social media accounts, public relations actions, and email newsletters. By posing as a consumer, you’ll gain crucial information about launch dates, PR strategies (successful or not…) and the way in which your competitor is communicating with consumers. Adopting competitive intelligence strategies into your business can determine the difference between sensing early disturbing warning signs in the industrial landscape or missing them and trying to pivot too late.
When choosing to implement competitive intelligence strategies, it’s most effective to be very targeted and focused. What specifically is important to know that will help your company thrive?
Cultivate a list of reliable sources. In-house employees like salespeople and customer service representatives can be a great source for competitive intelligence because they regularly speak with customers who are also dealing with rival companies. If your employees are briefed what to look out for, they can gather information that way and report back.
Once you’ve collected your pile of data, it’s often helpful to bring in a strategic consultant who can see, beyond a bias, what actions might come from the data that will help your business. Using spy tactics and making sure to stay well on the right side of the law can make you a more rounded and well-informed entrepreneur and give your company every chance of success.