Published April 2006
to get better handle on market
BizBest: As my business expands, the competition gets tougher. When we
were in just one market, knowing the players and their capabilities or
weaknesses was easy. Now, we often lose business and make mistakes because
we lack good decision-making information. How can we get better informed
about the competition? — In The Dark
Dear In The Dark:
As a small business grows larger, the need for solid information on
markets and competitors becomes more acute. This is the often-misunderstood
realm of “competitive intelligence,” or CI.
If you don’t fully
understand what’s happening in your competitive marketplace, it’s difficult
to make good strategic decisions for your business. Or, if you are simply
getting your butt kicked by the competition, it may be time to find out
why and what you can do about it.
does not involve spying or crystal balls. And it is much more than a simple
Internet search, rumor chasing or reading business publications. According
to Leonard Fuld, a CI pioneer and president of Fuld & Co., it is “information
that has been analyzed to the point where you can make a decision.”
can be tremendously useful, but it is still only a reasonable assessment
of what’s happening, and not gospel. Here are some things you should know
about what CI is and can do:
- It can be a useful
tool to provide you an early warning of both threats and opportunities
— and hence a way to improve your bottom line. It’s a way for you to
gain a broader perspective.
- Competitive intelligence
means different things to different parts of your business. A product
development person sees it as a heads-up on a competitor’s new R&D,
while a salesperson considers it insight on how you should bid on a
new project. As a business owner, you might consider it a long-term
view of your marketplace and rivals.
- CI happens quickly,
via personal meetings, phone calls and other interaction. Written papers,
reports and excess analysis can kill timeliness and render it useless.
- It is a way of
life for up-and-coming companies. Many successful entrepreneurs see
it as an ongoing process of gathering and distributing critical information
to anyone in the business who needs it.
- It has both short-
and long-term uses. According to Fuld, you can use CI for immediate
decisions such as how to price a product or place an ad. Or you can
use the same information to help with long-term market positioning.
These resources can
help you build a competitive intelligence component into your business:
- Fuld & Co. is
a major consulting firm that caters mainly to big companies. Still,
the Intelligence Index & CI Tools section of the firm’s Web site is
valuable for entrepreneurs seeking insight into what competitive intelligence
is all about. You’ll find free reports, white papers and CI terms. Visit
is great for business research. It’s a free, business-specific search
engine designed to help you find the companies, products, services and
marketing info you need for smart decisions.
- Hoover’s Inc.
offers a wide range of detailed information on companies. Some is free;
most you pay for.
offers access to public records information — a good place to find info
on businesses, people and assets, and to dig up the critical relationships
between them. You can run background checks, verify property values
and more using public records and other data resources. Pay as you go
or get a subscription.
- D&B offers excellent
business intelligence services through D&B Small Business Solutions.
You can find info on new customers, old customers, your competition
and new markets. Visit sbs.dnb.com.
The best info isn’t cheap, but it’s worth the cost.
- The Society of
Competitive Intelligence Professionals (www.scip.org)
is a nonprofit membership group for people who create and manage business
knowledge. The “Resources” section of the Web site can help you locate
CI product and service vendors.
- The Association
of Independent Information Professionals (www.aiip.org)
offers referrals to members who can help you with an information-gathering
project. The referral is free, and you would negotiate rates with the
service provider. Click on “AIIP Referral Program” at the Web site.
Daniel Kehrer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is founder of BizBest (www.bizbest.com),
which publishes “The 100 Best Resources for Small Business.”
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