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Competitive Intelligence research

Sources & ethics

October 29, 2013

Home Blog Competitive Intelligence research

Last week I talked about secondary research, which is the investigation of information that already exists – it’s the most common way organizations gain knowledge for Competitive Intelligence (CI). After all, it’s not too easy to march up to one’s competitors and start asking questions. However, primary research is possible, even for CI. Utilizing both primary and secondary sources will give you the best perspective.

Primary Data Resources

Primary sources for Competitive Intelligence are not restricted to specific product details or client lists, but any direct source of information. Consider the following:

Trade Shows

Trade shows are filled with industry experts and competitors, either chatting informally or presenting in settings like breakout sessions, press conferences or booth demonstrations.

  • The larger and longer the event, the more important it is to approach it with a game plan, yet also leave room for wandering and discovery.
  • Don’t limit your awareness to meeting rooms and the show floor. Keep an eye and ear out at restaurants, hotel lobbies and transportation hubs.
  • Consider outside help. Major competitors will be on guard if they recognize somebody they know from your company or see your name on a badge.
  • Whether it’s staffers or somebody acting as your agent, they should be armed with two important traits: outgoing personality and an ethical approach with no lies or misrepresentations. (See more on ethics below)

People in the Know

Lots of people can offer insights about key competitors or the overall competitive landscape.

  • Industry experts, suppliers, distributors and other resellers – Identify them and find ways to communicate directly, like social media. Attend events that feature them as speakers or panel participants.
  • Internal staff – It’s amazing how many organizations neglect their own people when doing CI research. On the customer-facing side, involve people in sales, service and support; on the product/service offering side include people in R&D, engineering, manufacturing. All these people have their own networks, experience and unique view of competitive factors.

Secondary Data Resources

Most secondary research these days will be done online, thought don’t neglect print and other media outlets. Secondary sources will vary greatly, depending on your industry and needs, but typically include:

  • Competitor websites
  • News sites for competitor media coverage
  • Media relations departments of large competitors
  • Industry-specific blogs and publications
  • Legal databases like LexisNexis
  • Business information databases like Hoover’s
  • US Patent & Trade Organization
  • US Census Bureau
  • Regulatory agencies like Securities and Exchange Commission

Competitive Intelligence Gathering Ethics

Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) has published a Code of Ethics for professional CI researchers and other professionals, and the following tenets apply to any organization that gathers competitive intelligence for business purposes:

  • Comply with all applicable laws, domestic and international.
  • Accurately disclose all relevant information, including one’s identity and organization, prior to all interviews. (This applies equally, whether the people gathering the information are staff or 3rd party representatives)

If you’re wondering about the ethics of CI tactics you have tried or are considering, check out the helpful FAQ section on the SCIP website.

When it comes to gaining knowledge for Competitive Intelligence, include both primary and secondary information resources for the big picture view.

Rob Corrao

Rob Corrao

Rob Corrao is CEO at LAC Group and is responsible for business operations and integration of all company service lines, mergers and acquisitions.
Rob Corrao

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