Competitive Intelligence Not Espionage


Business start-ups tend to stumble when it comes to gathering information on their competitors. And yet, going into business without having a thumb on the pulse of your industry is a sure way to go broke.

When planning a business, and particularly when it comes to researching competitors, people stress about what’s right or wrong, and often feel they are spying. In business planning workshops, learners ask about the ethics of snooping and whether it’s right to sneak into a competitor’s shop posing as a customer.

Here are a few methods to get you past the initial feelings of espionage and nefariousness, and on to non-intrusive learning about the industry you’re getting into.

1. You can find articles on competitor’s businesses by searching on the Internet. Just plug in your questions and topics and follow your nose.

2. Gather information from competitor’s websites, catalogues and other marketing materials. Whether via the Internet or through offline marketing, your competitors must communicate their offerings to potential customers. And yes, it’s ok to review competitor’s materials; they’ll certainly be pouring over your brochures and flyers once they’re published.

3. You can source information on competitors through Trade Associations and Trade Publications. Just search the Internet for “trade associations” or “trade publications” for your region and your business. In just moments you can narrow your search to a few possibilities for which you can visit websites to learn more. As an association member or publication subscriber, you will be kept up-to-date on industry and business trends and developments.

4. In the process of doing market surveys, you are sure to find yourself interviewing some of your competitor’s customers. A few well-crafted questions will enable you to compare your goods and services with the competition, things such as pricing, packaging, office hours, servicing and guarantees. If you’re uncomfortable doing the surveys yourself, it will cost more, but you can also opt to hire an agency or individual to do them for you.

5. The above methods will fill your folders with heaps of information, but if you do all that and still hunger for more information, there’s nothing wrong with asking a competitor out for a coffee and picking his or her brain yourself. Just be sure to go prepared to share your own information, as the person you’re querying will probably have a few questions to ask of you as well.

In researching your competitors, it’s important to keep in mind that the focus is less about the person, more about the products and services and providing the best deal for your customers.

Just because you’re competing doesn’t mean you are enemies. Most newbies are pleasantly surprised, once they get out and mingle a bit, to learn that their competitors aren’t as scary as imagined. Once you get past the adversarial image, you might find some competitors to be like-minded, interesting people, entrepreneurs just like you. Rather than awakening slumbering trolls, you are far more likely to find yourself learning like crazy, discovering opportunities to collaborate on larger projects, and even making a few friends.

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