Complete Guide to Competitive Intelligence

Published: May 8, 2019

Complete Guide to Competitive Intelligence

From seamless sales operations to savvy social media usage, innovative marketing campaigns to effective go-to-market structures, some companies just always seem “one step ahead.”

How do they do it? What competitive advantages do these organizations maintain — and are they immutable, something others can aspire to but never surpass?

At Proactive Worldwide, we certainly don’t think so.

Get insights into your competition by using the dynamic benefits of competitive intelligence (CI). Through CI’s unique methodological profiling, unlock the processes, competencies and strategic capabilities your organization was made for.

What Is Competitive Intelligence?

What is competitive intelligence?

Competitive intelligence refers to the formal research process of collecting, analyzing and interpreting data around specific business benchmarks, with the end goal to use that data to improve business core competencies.

In other words, competitive intelligence brings extensive market research into your competitive landscape — looking at competitors’ practices, pricing, products and more — to spur smarter, more informed business decisions of your own.

What Is the Importance of Competitive Intelligence?

Importance of competitive intelligence

Competitive intelligence provides businesses their most detailed and accurate course of action toward competitive advantages.

While nearly every single for-profit — and many not-for-profit — businesses want a distinct set of competitive advantages, not everyone understands how to get there. That’s where CI research, profiling and benchmarking comes in.

The competitive advantage-based importance of CI insights can be broken into three parts:

  1. Aggregation: CI research launches an extensive investigative campaign targeting specific operational, organizational and commercial concerns a business wishes to improve. Data sets are sourced and compiled to provide both micro and macro insights.
  2. Synthesis: Organizations interpret the CI data, extracting vital pieces of insights to help differentiate their brands and gain market share.
  3. Action: Organizations execute a milestone roadmap to close performance gaps and remedy pain points, realigning operations and budgets toward strategic growth priorities.

What Are the Benefits of Competitive Intelligence?

Benefits of competitive intelligence

Businesses stand to experience numerous benefits when they undergo competitive intelligence and market insights analysis:

1. Glean Competitive Insights

The methodologies at the core of CI create unique, evaluative data sets leading toward heightened competitive business activities. More so than any other approach, CI unearths qualitative and quantitative information on business activities from its most relevant sources. This allows organizations to see themselves with clearer eyes, understanding what they’re doing successfully and what keeps them lagging behind industry competitors.

2. Track Industry Trends and Predict Future Moves

In-depth competitive intelligence guides organizations through changes it can make today to improve tomorrow. Yet it also hands over external market knowledge that lends predictive insights into emerging industry trends, expectations, technologies, disruptors and more. For many, this foresight is a form of competitive advantage onto itself.

3. Improves Decision-Making ROI

Data-backed insights help declutter business initiatives. Organizations can take a hard look at current strengths and capability gaps, then re-prioritize investments and efforts to address them directly. There is less waste and less indecision — the ideal formula to see greater returns-on-business investments.

4. Boost Product and Service Speeds-to-Market

Speed-to-market refers to the time it takes to see a product or service move from its initial ideation to public sales.

Depending on the industry, average speed-to-market times will vary, as will the variables that go into creating, testing and launching a new commercial good. The more competitive a product or service’s ecosystem, the more essential it is for a company in that industry to improve its speed-to-market deliverables without sacrificing quality. CI research with a market focus enhances time-to-market, market entry and market defense capabilities.

5. Predict Competitions’ Behaviors

Competitive intelligence was founded as a means for organizations to benchmark operations against top competitors. With the information gleaned across aggregation, synthesis and action, a business is primed to better predict a competitor’s behaviors across business domains — then beat them to the punch.

6. Make Business Decisions With Confidence

Critical insights and market intelligence clarify the precise, data-backed actions and opportunities for companies to take. It illustrates how that opportunity can benefit the organization’s strategic priorities as a whole, plus gives objective defenses behind tomorrow’s business investments.

What Industries Use Competitive Intelligence?

Industries that benefit from competitive intelligence

Numerous industries use competitive intelligence to inform improvements across operations, technology, customer satisfaction ratings, market entry or market defense practices and more. Six such sectors are outlined below.

1. Technology

The tech industry seems to evolve at megabit speeds. Changes in consumer expectations often parallel shifts in wider technological affordances and access, with plenty of organizations salivating to provide the latest and greatest commercial and enterprise technological goods.

Technology-focused companies can wield CI research to improve many key capabilities:

  • New or relaunched times-to-market
  • Warranty and customer service operations
  • User experience (UX)
  • Employee recruitment and retention
  • Sustainable organizational structures
  • Long-term strategic planning
  • Market disruptor mitigation

2. Healthcare

Those in the healthcare industry navigate substantial government regulations amidst changes to the insurance market, market stakeholders and patients-as-consumers as a whole.

Competitive intelligence can help the healthcare sector balance its service orientation with still-profitable operations across:

  • Pricing analysis
  • Supply chain management
  • Vendor or third-party administrator relations
  • Value-based, not fee-based, service business models
  • Strategic alliances between health facilities, insurance carriers, pharmacy benefits managers (PBM), investors and payers

3. Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology

Like the healthcare industry, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies face an extensive regulatory environment in a high-cost, multi-dimensional sector. Competitive monitoring and integrative analytics alleviate operational risks for those in the life sciences, medical device, pharma and medical specialization fields by improving:

  • Research and development (R&D) lifecycles
  • Salesforce operations and structures
  • Drug approvals and drug launch planning
  • Market entry and gains strategies
  • Consumer awareness campaigns surrounding treatments, therapies and prescriptions

4. Manufacturing and Industrial Sectors

Commercial and industrial manufacturing has undergone a complete transformation in the 21st century. Scaled-up global competition, combined with emerging, automated technologies and changing supply and demand models, have irreversibly altered the landscape of the manufacturing industry. Competitive intelligence gives power back to manufacturers, allowing organizations to maximize their strengths today while minimizing market risks tomorrow.

Competitive insights for the manufacturing industry assists with:

  • Supply chain management
  • Distribution strategies
  • Supplier and vendor relations
  • Go-to-market models
  • Lean, Six Sigma or other process and project implementation methodologies
  • Market risk modulation

5. Consumer Goods

Consumer goods industry competitive market intelligence

From household furniture to personal hygiene products, e-commerce clothing lines to spiked sparkling water, the consumer goods and retail industry contains businesses of every size and specialization. All these organizations’ concerns, however, align under the lens of competitive intelligence. Market monitoring and CI consulting explore opportunities for retailers to improve:

  • Brand reputation
  • Consumer activity assessments and profiles
  • Emerging and disruptive technology preparedness
  • Local and global market entry
  • Sales strategy benchmarking
  • Traditional and online retail development and growth

6. Financial Services

Externally, trust and transparency are paramount to consumer perceptions of the financial sector. Internally, operations balance compliance needs with disruptive technology changing the nature of traditional banking, lending, investing and financial advising.

Key capabilities enhanced by financial service CI include:

  • Profitability and cost analysis
  • Brand reputation
  • Brand and service evolution
  • Customer support channels
  • Market risk modules
  • New entry market profiles
  • Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) strategies

How to Conduct and Use Competitive Intelligence

There is no single way to perform competitive intelligence. Instead, competitive insights research chooses a series of target domains, or topics, into which organizations conduct in-depth studies. The findings from today’s competitive research become the raw insights leveraged for tomorrow’s business growth.

This guide identifies seven target domains for organizations to dedicate their competitive intelligence efforts toward:

  • Media attention
  • Personnel and culture
  • Consumer
  • Social listening
  • Product and service
  • Sales
  • Partnerships and vendors.

How to do competitive intelligence research

1. Media Attention Insights

Media attention insights refer to public-facing announcements, promotions and updates made by your industry competitors. It includes both self-generated promotions as well as ones from other publications or organizations, within and outside your field.

Media attention insights are a poignant way to keep a pulse on the latest competitor “buzz.” Any mention of your competition in the news constitutes a significant PR learning opportunity. The conversations and traffic generated by media attention further bolster a company’s chance to perform competitive intelligence research into this critical topic.

Organizations can use any of the following to conduct media attention analysis:

  • Press releases or any similar internally approved strategic announcements hosted on competitors’ websites
  • News mentions across the Internet, plus their generated conversations
  • Recently earned industry awards and titles
  • Event calendars and program sponsorships
  • Competitive business products or services trending on social media

Media attention competitive analysis lends organizations the ability to:

  • Present differing language to the media in their own press releases, announcements and branded publications.
  • Study and enrich press contact lists.
  • Keep tabs on the overall pulse of who’s considered an industry authority, using strategies to position themselves for the title.

2. Personnel and Culture Insights

Personnel and culture insights provide a data-backed perspective on what working for industry competition is truly like.

From office culture and talent acquisition practices to the habits and skills of executive leadership, personnel insights deliver quantitative and qualitative reports on the pros and cons of a competitor’s atmosphere. With that data, organizations can assess where others in the field are investing time- and talent-management resources, gleaning predictive insights on where the industry’s overall talent and culture needles are moving.

CI consultant firms conduct personnel and cultural competitive intelligence by analyzing:

  • Competitor hiring practices, including where and how
  • Competitor hiring rates, particularly if they signal high churn
  • Past and current employee reviews
  • Executive team makeup
  • Office locations and opening branches
  • Newly created or never-before-offered positions
  • Overall work culture and reputation

Conducting competitive intelligence into personnel and culture allows businesses to:

  • Re-position its own recruitment materials to appeal to target talent pools.
  • Extract new hiring practice incentives and initiatives that pull competitors’ talent away.
  • Better understand how a competitor’s leadership may influence its future strategic goals, priorities and direction.
  • See patterns for emerging roles and responsibilities in your organization.

3. Consumer Insights

Garnering consumer feedback has long been one of the tenets of market intelligence research. As one of the most popular competitive intelligence services available to organizations today, consumer insights allow real businesses to know what real people think of their products, services and overall brand — as well as their competitors’.

Consumer analyses come backed by qualitative and quantitative research methods. CI firms initiating consumer intelligence insights for their clients most often gather data through:

With consumer intelligence analytics, organizations can:

  • Understand the rational as well as the emotional appeal of competitors’ products and services.
  • Learn from product or service features offered by others in the industry.
  • Tailor its own goods and services to match actual consumer wants, expectations and trends.

4. Social Listening Insights

Social listening competitive intelligence blends media attention analysis with consumer insights. In other words, it tracks what actual consumers are saying about competition online, as well as the methods and strategies those competitors deploy to widen their digital authority and conversion rates.

Social listening pays particular attention to digitally branded social media and content marketing. By tracking content channels, topics, posting rates, subscriptions, consumer interactions, ratings and more, social listening insights give businesses eyes and ears into direct consumer opinions.

Organizations interested in gleaning insights from social listening can begin tracking competitors across:

  • Social media channels, analyzing posting rates, consumer engagement, and the “tone” of posts as well as competitors’ most effective platforms
  • Blogs, discerning key topics and threads
  • Whitepapers or case studies
  • Newsletters, digital or print
  • Video content
  • Webinars and online conferences, courses
  • Any other miscellaneous downloadable or shareable content

Social listening insights allow a business to:

  • Better understand a competitor’s strengths and weaknesses in the eyes of the public.
  • Maximize its own most effective, influential social media platforms.
  • Recognize content marketing gaps to fill.
  • Identify customer advocacy and influencer opportunities.
  • Restrategize overall content differentiation.

5. Product and Service Insights

Evidence-based insights on product and service positioning, pricing, packaging and market share are some of the highest value and most sought after information in the competitive intelligence arena. Every business wants — and needs — to understand their competitive advantages related to products and services, as well as the strength of current product development, sales and customer support strategies.

Product and service competitive insights give metric-backed data into these concerns, allowing organizations to propel their offerings to the next level. Organizations can examine a spectrum of market-related metrics:

  • Product or service testing and updates
  • Product or service positioning and branding
  • Product packaging
  • Product or service market share
  • Price-point comparisons
  • Customer service and support
  • Customer UX reviews

Competitive intelligence research focused on products and services gives businesses a distinct advantage to:

  • Glean the values, beliefs and desires of competitors’ customer groups based on a competitor’s product or service branding.
  • Siphon those consumers by re-positioning your own branding.
  • Update packaging based on consumer feedback.
  • Leverage insights into more strategic advertisements and sales campaigns.
  • Recognize how your end-to-end product and service experience compares with the competition.

6. Sales Insights

Sales competitive intelligence allows organizations to understand what competitors are doing to widen their market share. What are emerging and core sales strategies? Do competitors offer promotions and incentives? Are there unique selling propositions (USPs) the competition claims that consumers respond well to? How can you imbue more value-adding, persuasive messaging into your own sales pipeline?

CI firms glean competitive sales insights by tracking many sales and marketing functions:

  • Conversion campaign types and success rates
  • Campaign channels, including email, direct mail and more
  • Core offers and promotions
  • New offers and promotions
  • Customer segments with in-depth demographic profiles

Conducting sales competitive intelligence allows businesses to:

  • Keep tabs on trending sales and marketing techniques, sorting the functional from the fad.
  • Deploy more strategic A/B tests on home pages, landing pages, sales pages and more.
  • Analyze the A/B tests published by competitors.
  • Identify untapped consumer pockets.
  • Brand differentiate across all collateral and channels to improve conversion rates.

7. Vendor and Partnership Insights

Vendor and partnership insights provide a final competitive analysis platform. Organizations examining vendors and partners aim to better understand the collaborative relationships the competition maintains across supply chains and workflows, as well as which partnerships are helping or hindering their own operations.

CI firms will analyze:

  • Competitors’ partners frequently tagged on social media
  • Recently added vendors and strategic partners
  • Recently dropped vendors and strategic partners
  • Professional associations
  • Competitor certifications differentiating their products and services

Benchmarking vendor relations can help contribute to many strategic changes in an organization, including:

  • Signal competitor growth and development
  • Indicate new partnership integration strategies, particularly with relevant vendors the competition recently dropped
  • Inspire influencer and outreach opportunities
  • Generate brand-enhancing sponsorship ideas

How Do You Conduct Competitive Intelligence Research?

Tips for competitive intelligence research

There are several research methods available to conduct formal competitive and market intelligence operations. However, an organization must first determine if they’ll perform the CI research in one of two ways — internally or with the assistance of a CI firm.

  • Internal CI research: Initiating CI research internally means an organization dedicates its own time and resources to formulating, tracking and evaluating CI functions it believes will identify competitive advantages. Organizations draft their own benchmarking metrics and research method using their own tools and software, hoping what they learn will lead to stronger executive decision-making.
  • CI consultant or firm: Competitive intelligence and market analysis firms expand the research affordances and often the depth of analysis conducted during aggregation and synthesis. Using their own proprietary research systems as well as established focus group and interview networks, CI firms provide a template for custom competitive profiling and in-depth assessments. This tends to bolster the research findings as well as enrich metric analyses, generating more insightful and more specialized interpretations than what a company could do on its own.

Across research functions, CI and market intelligence can be conducted using any of these research methods:

  • Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • User-experience (UX) groups
  • Online research
  • Industry databases and resources
  • Field or lab tests

Risks of Not Performing Competitive Intelligence

There are distinct costs associated with neglecting or all-out ignoring competitive intelligence benchmarking — costs which can trigger a domino-like chain of strategic business shortcomings.

Risks of not doing competitive intelligence

1. Heightened Risk on Strategic and Tactical Decisions

The wealth of information provided by CI and market research prevents organizations from having decision-making tunnel vision, introducing changes and executing judgments without proper data. It’s akin to playing darts in the dark. Your business may hit a bullseye, but you’ll have no idea why — and, more importantly, have no way to repeat it.

Organizations introduce themselves to higher amounts of risk across many of the following core business functions:

  • Product research and development (R&D): R&D activities, from initial product design to compliance testing to new market deployment, is made in isolation, without quantifiable consumer knowledge.
  • Marketing: Digital and print campaigns are shapeless, crafted toward what a business thinks its customers value versus what they actually do.
  • Sales: Conversion tactics, pipelines and campaign placements aren’t strategically measured before or after deployment, making their merits highly subjective and less likely to perform.
  • Customer service: Brands are cut off from the detailed, high-value thoughts, opinions and experiences of the very people it claims to serve.

2. Witness Competitors Outperform You — And Not Know Why

Watch from the sidelines as industry competition discovers new, innovative and effective ways to grow. Whether that growth is due to expanded technology, fresh human talent, new leadership or relaunched product features will be guesswork — and hardly educated guesswork at that. As a result, your own business goals and strategic direction stalls, uninformed by competitor planned actions, market needs or milestone roadmaps rectifying process or operational gaps.

3. Lose Market Share

Lost market share is calculated by comparing current sales percentages against sales figures over a past period. Sliding percentages indicate a business is not making equitable sales in their industry, either because its lost customers or the customers it does have are reducing purchasing quantities or qualities.

Lost market share can strike for many reasons. From a market downfall to industry disruptors with radical yet innovate business models, your organization stays in the dark regarding its reduced sales figures. It’s an unsustainable business position, one avoidable with competitive intelligence.

Go Beyond This Competitive Insights Guide With Proactive Worldwide

Not all data is made equal — but all organizations have the chance to wield data to their competitive advantage.

Competitive benchmarking and market intelligence services from Proactive Worldwide gives your business the information it needs to better understand high-value intersecting targets — your market share, your customers and your competition.

Proactive Worldwide competitive intelligence consulting services

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