Setting a Competitive Intelligence process up is no bed of roses, but these steps will help you not to die trying. As competition grows in fierceness, strategic processes become crucial to surviving in the industry.
The pace of innovation is higher than ever in history. It used to take years for a new product or solution to reach the market. Now it takes months (36, to be more precise).
In an environment in constant evolution, companies have to be aware of what’s happening around them so as not to be left behind. You not only have to be on the lookout for what your competitors (the ones you know) are doing. But also, what new startups and agents are entering your market, and academic institutions are up to that you can translate into your industry and build as a competitive advantage.
That’s a full.
That’s a full the industry calls Competitive Intelligence (CI), an underlying process for companies that simplifies the innovation search and reduces response time to a minimum.
There are related concepts like Business Intelligence (BI), Open-Source Intelligence, Market Intelligence, and Strategic Intelligence.
Competitive Intelligence (CI) reflects the analysis and the processing of publicly available data that is relevant for a company (or organization of any kind) to collect and take in the information that a decision-maker needs.
Competitive Intelligence looks at publicly available information that tell us about competitor’s and business partners’ operations. As well as a deeper understanding of the company’s industry (key-players, newcomers, and emerging technologies and trends).
Gathering Competitive Intelligence
Maybe you’ve heard about this concept before. You may even know it is strategically relevant to your company. But from knowing to actually doing, there’s a huge difference.
What’s your company doing about it? How are you responding to change?
Innovation processes are shorter than ever in history, but its consequences are more impactful than never before.
Added to this, there’s the aggravating circumstance that the amount of data of R&D and innovation literature increases exponentially. It may even be the case that the solution you need (and you’re planning to develop) already exists, you just haven’t heard about it yet.
But don’t stress yourself. Luckily for you, you don’t have to be continually searching for new studies, innovations, and product tests. Neither need you to be reading every single new, related document that is published.
Nowadays, it’s unimaginable that humans would process those vast amounts of data and documents to turn it into knowledge. There’re AI-powered tools that make the job of gathering Competitive Intelligence much more easier. And leave us only with the relevant information and insights we want to look at.
Monitoring the Competition
Competitor-free markets are a company’s sweet dream, but they are practically nonexistent. It doesn’t matter how cutting-edged your product or solution might be. If there’s a need for it, you won’t be alone for long. And if you are, perhaps you’re rowing in the wrong direction.
But don’t go dig up the war hatchet. In a competitive market, where many companies are operating in the same landscape, competitors not only are rivals. They also are a vast resource of knowledge.
In this scenario, CI allows you to understand the actors in your field or industry better. And to make more intelligent, data-driven business decisions by being able to forecast what they are likely to do next.
Analyzing your Industry
Competitive Intelligence is a complex process no manual will tell you how to do. Because you have to adapt it to your industry, to your market, and your company’s specific determinants.
Still, here we try to establish some standard guidelines for all scouting (or R&D) teams from all types of industries that want to set or to polish their CI-gathering process.
You want to know everything relevant and to be informed whenever there’s a new threat or opportunity you didn’t know about.
So, you will need a well-organized process for making sure you’re not leaving anything out. And also, that you won’t be surprised by information you weren’t conscious of. This process, which we’ll explain later in detail, has these steps for gathering competitive Intelligence:
- Set the Research Objectives
- Collect the Data
- Analyze the Information
- Process the Information
- Put it into Practice
This you should do for all the topics and trends you want to analyze. But also for your competitors and those organizations that may become your partners in your industry.
1. Set the Research Objectives
The first step and perhaps the most important one is to set the research objectives. They should be as specific as possible (SMART goals) and can range from strategic issues to tactical ones. These objectives would determine how you expect Competitive Intelligence to be able to help you.
Also, since CI is an expensive undertaking, it’s critical to identify what’s already known about rivals and what gaps in information exist. Then, from that base, to define accurately what is intended to be learned from the CI process.
2. Collect Raw Data
The second step would be to collect raw data from the most reliable sources to meet your goals, like patents, papers, news, and grants. Sources that can directly help you answer your questions and allow you to spot opportunities in the market.
Most posts online would tell you about the need for following your competitor’s online presence. They stress the importance of grasping at their content marketing strategy (the keywords they want to be known for), twits, LinkedIn posts, and email blasts to track what a competitor is doing.
But they fail at noticing that, in terms of innovation and R&D, that’s already all data. Think about it, if they’re making it so public that they want everybody to find out that’s because they’re market-ready. And you’re left with no time to react to their moves.
A Mix of Academic and Industrial Data
There are other publicly available sources of information, or Open Data, that are a much earlier warning of a competitor’s activity and strategy than their online activity and press releases.
When talking about innovation, there’re a series of steps we all need to follow. No matter how secretive about it we want to be.
On average, there’s a 2-year process for an innovation to be a reality. And those two years is the time we have to react to our competitors’ moves. We just need to know where to look at.
We need to pay special attention to research publications, patent applications, and won grants to aim at those lower TRLs (Technology Readiness Level) in which we still have time to react. A mix of industrial and academic data is the winning combination.
Choose your Competitive Intelligence Platform
Hand-picking the sources of information to look up is a bore. Plus there’s the worry you may not be aware of all the relevant ones. So CI tools usually provide a predefined set of sources of information they gather to analyze the vast amount of data available.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of accepting that all CI providers will give you the same information. But the reality is that different providers will have access to different sources. And it will condition the result of the analysis.
So, repeat with me: choose your CI provider according to the sources of information they aggregate.
If you’re interested in your competitors’ online presence, product launches, and what they’re talking online, that’s good – if you’re a marketer. But know that you’re missing on R&D data, aka, no room to react to your competitor’s moves.
If you’re more into startup deals, M&As, and rounds of investment, you probably are a VC. Following the money is indispensable for gathering CI. But if you’re missing R&D and Innovation data, you’re not doing all your homework.
But if you’re a company that has an innovation department or that heavily relies on in-house R&D, welcome to our team! Your focus here are innovation indicators like scientific research, patent applications, emerging technologies, and relevant startups to partner with.
3. Analyze the Information
Having located the data sources that are relevant for you, the following step is to analyze and evaluate this information and transform it into valuable insights.
This process of turning data from the industry and our competitors into valuable insights is the core of Competitive Intelligence.
It means more than having the right data, but also producing an enhanced result that allows for decisions to be made and action to be taken.
You’d want a powerful tool not limited to a list of documents you have to read. A good CI platform would automatically extract insights from that data, like:
- the evolution of the topic you’re searching,
- the most active organizations and countries,
- market readiness of the technology,
- connections between the different organizations (who is collaborating with whom? and how?)
- subtopics and subtrends
So you can still grasp the topic (in a visual way), but without having to read all the documents the platform finds, only the relevant ones.
In short, you’d want a tool that would semi-automatically provide you with an Analysis of the State of the Art.
Interactive data visualizations, rankings, and collaboration graphs are an added value that will make a difference between loving gathering CI and getting completely desperate during the process.
4. Process the Information
The end product of a Competitive Intelligence gathering process is called an Intelligence Digest. The intelligence digest is a report that delivers actionable information specific to the industry and the nature of the competitive relationship.
Basically, it’s putting into a written, organized form all the knowledge you’ve extracted from the analysis step.
In this step, it helps to create rankings of the most valuable or relevant information (documents, news, notes) to prioritize the information transfer to your team. Because once you have your report done, it shouldn’t end in a drawer. You’d usually have a meeting with the innovation, R&D, or strategy team to present what you’ve learned.
5. Put it into Practice
Once the intelligence digest is presented to the decision-makers, the final move is to make use of the knowledge you have gathered to take action. The end goal, and the reason behind Competitive Intelligence after all, is to achieve your company’s goals and remain relevant in your market.
How is this action taken would depend on the leadership of your company, but if you’ve followed these steps, you can be sure you have provided them with the best tools and information to make the decisions.
6. Repeat the Competitive Intelligence Process
Your job doesn’t end when you present the report. You’ve done the analysis, you’re an expert on the topic and you know everything that’s to know about it. But all that knowledge is old already 😉
What happens if the next day you finish your intelligence report your biggest competitor partners with, let’s say, a research group to develop a product that will make them be the total leaders in the sector in 3 years?
Will you have lost it? Will all your work have been in vain?
No. Of course not. Because after all the analysis process, you must monitor the topic to be updated on what’s happening… as it happens.
Top-of-the-market CI tools also count with a monitoring feature that allows you to keep track of a topic, your competition, or a set of both, in real-time.
You’d be creating periodic Intelligence Digest here, an ongoing report that you’d present to your team every now and then so you’d be constantly updated and can quickly react to the market changes.
A Competitive Intelligence Process
Gathering competitive intelligence for your business is a strategic step any size company should think about. Different tools in the market would help you with it. But you need to have a clear idea of the crucial steps of the process:
- The aim of the competitive intelligence process
- The sources of information you need to look at
- Set an organized process so that you won’t get lost in the data
- Visually presenting the information to make it easier to take action
- Keep monitoring the topic once you’re done with the analysis
With this information in mind, go try this advice. We’d love to help you during the process.