Identifying Competitive Intelligence Research Methods

Competitive intelligence research is simply the act of investigating and monitoring the actions of your competitors in order to develop your own business strategy. Ultimately, the greater your knowledge of competitor activities, the easier it is going to be to differentiate yourself. This knowledge will influence how you choose to position your product or service, taking advantage of the weaknesses of your competitors’ strategies.

To gather this information, you can use a wide range of competitive intelligence research methods. We’ve outlined some of our favourites below. The key is to approach your research in a well-thought-out and coordinated manner.

Write down what you don’t know

Before you begin investigating your competitors, you first need to establish what you already know as a company. You want to identify where the gaps in your knowledge are. To do this, you may need to approach every department individually to ascertain what they know about their competitor counterparts. As each department has their own interests, they will have highly specific industry knowledge of which you may not be aware.

As you pull all this information together be sure to include as much historical information as possible. It can be incredibly useful for identifying patterns in your competitors’ behaviour that could indicate an upcoming product/service launch or change of strategy.

Try to approach your competitive intelligence research with a specific goal in mind rather than a desire to learn absolutely everything about the company. For example, you could be concerned with the following:

  • Upcoming service & product launches
  • A change in marketing strategy
  • Targeting of new markets

Talk to current & prospective customers

First-hand accounts of both you and your competitors’ sales and marketing approach can be invaluable. Ask any prospective customers who chose your competitor over you why they made that decision. In addition, ask some of your newest customers why they made the opposite decision. The sales team should be able to provide you with a great list of contacts to get you started. Questions to consider include:

  • What were their expectations of the company, product or service?
  • What did competitors offer and provide that you didn’t?
  • What could you do to improve your service or product to make it a more attractive proposition?
  • What was their experience of your sales process?

Identify & speak with industry specialists

One of our favourite competitive intelligence research methods involves talking to the people in the know. These are individuals who have a reputation for being at the forefront of the industry, aware of where all the latest developments are coming from. They’re someone who regularly speaks at industry conferences and other sector events. Follow these people on social media and keep a close eye on their blog to keep track of discussions about your competitors. Be positive and reach out and ask for their advice and opinion. They may be more amenable to your advances if you are willing to provide them with information in return.

Attend industry events

As well as listening to the leading experts, industry conferences are also a brilliant opportunity to learn about competitors straight from the horse’s mouth. People tend to be particularly chatty at these events so it could be worth lingering near competitor booths, listening out for what they might reveal to visitors. Often, people are likely to reveal more in unguarded moments. For example, when having their lunch or travelling to and from the conference.

Keep track of their marketing

This competitive intelligence research method requires a bit more technical know-how but your marketing department should be able to guide you. We recommend keeping an eye on your competitors’ paid advertising campaigns (PPC) to see what search terms they are targeting. This will give you a good idea of their business priorities, which products or services they are pushing and who to. Furthermore, if they’re regularly publishing content you may be able to get an idea of their keyword strategy (SEO). Domain purchases can also be pretty informative about upcoming launches.

Be ethical with your competitive intelligence methods

With competitive intelligence, it can be all too tempting to cross an ethical line and partake in industrial espionage. To avoid running this risk, we would recommend that you don’t contact competitors whilst pretending to be a customer. Neither should you ask someone else to do it on your behalf. Stick to talking to people have approached the competitor for their own genuine reasons. If you have any ethical concerns about your work, the not-for-profit organisation Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) is a good source of information.

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