What Is Competitive Intelligence? Definition and Guide

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As the competitive landscape of virtually every industry continues to increase, companies are investing heavily in market intelligence research to help give them an an edge. This ongoing process is often referred to as competitive intelligence.

In this guide, we'll cover what competitive intelligence is, as well exactly how to incorporate effective competitive intelligence research as part of your overall business strategy. We'll also share a competitive intelligence best practices to help you optimize your research process.

What is Competitive Intelligence?

Competitive intelligence is the process of gathering and analyzing information about competitors to gain insights into their strategies, strengths, weaknesses, and market positioning. It involves monitoring competitors' online presence, marketing campaigns, pricing, product offerings, and customer feedback. Understanding the competitive landscape, businesses can make informed decisions, identify opportunities to gain a competitive advantage in the market.

Competitive Intelligence Research: The Best Sources For Gathering Competitive Intelligence 

While larger companies have may have luxury of investing in competitive intelligence professionals, small and mid-sized businesses may not have room in their budget. Many organizations will need to gather competitive intelligence in house.

Fortunately, competitive intelligence information can be gathered using market research tools, as well as online searches, other data-gathering methods, and even talking to customers or employees.

Here are a few high quality places to help you find your competitive edge.

Information sources for online and other searches include

  • Company websites for insights into target audiences or shifts in strategy, product pricing, product benefits, and so on.
  • Company press releases for new product, staff, or expansion news.
  • Social media postings, particularly if the company begins sharing information related to a product or service that hasn’t yet been introduced. 
  • Going through the sales process of a product or service to better understand how a sales team works.
  • Online job postings, since the types and number of open positions could indicate efforts to staff up for a new product or category development.
  • Company information aggregators such as Dun & Bradstreet or Hoover’s Online.  
  • User’s groups on social networks that include LinkedIn, Facebook, Reddit, and even a company review site such as Glassdoor.
  • Using a SEO or analytics tool to better understand your competitions marketing strategy.

It’s also possible to gather relevant competitive information by talking to people inside and outside a company. The conversations might be overt – “Tell me what you know about product X” – or they might be subtle, “Hey, what are you hearing from people with products like ours about what’s likely to happen in our field?”

Throughout the process of competitive research it's important to always remain ethical and play within the rules. Never mislead or outright lie while conducting research, not only is this unethical, there can be some severe legal repercussions as well in same cases. If you have the ability to afford investing in competitive intelligence professionals to help you with the process, it can help save you signifiant time and money down the road.

People who might have helpful information include

  • Your own salespeople, who might learn information about competitors when calling on customers or prospects.
  • Employees who attend particular industry conferences who might be able to share unique insights into the state of the industry.
  • Vendors, especially those specializing in serving your industry.
  • Customers who might inadvertently or intentionally share information they’ve acquired about competitive products or services. Again, never mislead or misrepresent yourself during this process.

The key to competitor intelligence is that second word – intelligence. Information gathered however formally or informally won’t help a company unless it is analyzed thoughtfully or carefully. You can use the insights gained through competitive intelligence to improve your current marketing strategy and respond appropriately to the current competitive landscape.

You can also use your findings to create clear competitive analysis documentation you can share with your marketing and sales teams to help give them a competitive edge.

As with most things in business, competitive intelligence is not something you can do once and call it a day. It's a complex, always evolving process that helps your business stay competitive. 

Competitie Intelligence FAQ

Is Competitive Intelligence Espionage?

Competitive intelligence practices involve ethical and legitimate research and information-gathering such as studying a company’s social media posts for specifics that might reveal the timing of a product launch. Espionage involves illegal or ethically questionable activities, such as hacking a competitor’s computer system or paying a competitor’s employee to provide confidential information.

What are some competitive intelligence examples?

Competitive intelligence covers the entire process of understanding your competition and market conditions to help give businesses a competitive edge. This covers everything from doing SEO research on your competitors, to user-research, and more.

What's the difference between competitive intelligence and market intelligence?

Competitive intelligence focuses mainly on understanding the competition, where as market intelligence generally focuses on the customers and users first. Both are critical in building a well rounded business strategy.

What are the top competitive intelligence tools?