Zintro experts comment on competitive intelligence

By Maureen Aylward
Competitive intelligence is an ongoing effort, and new tools, technologies, and strategic approaches are in constant change and movement. We asked our Zintro experts to comment on how they gather competitive intelligence and use the information to boost profits or market share.

Mathieu Guerville, a global strategy and competitive intelligence manager, says that his company uses Lexis/Nexis and hundreds of RSS feeds created with Google alerts that are monitored through a Google Reader aggregator to gather information on dynamic and live news. “We also monitor the annual reports of larger competitors, which allow us to determine what market segments to enter based on their profitability as measured by the performance of competitors’ various divisions or business units,” he says.

Thane Humphrey, a business development expert, says that his favorite competitive intelligence tool is relationship development. “We tend to think of competitive intelligence as an austere practice best done surreptitiously and from a distance. We use standard methods like Internet and website monitoring and reports and statistics,” says Humphrey. “We rarely consider the value of up close and personal data derived from a friendly source with their full knowledge and cooperation. This direct approach is powerful and provides volumes of useful information.”

Humphrey says that the traditional methods of standard data collection and scouting can miss the more important information that can be revealed by person-to-person connection. “I had a client in the turbomolecular pump industry that wanted more in-depth research on its competitors, so I worked the phones until I found who was in charge of production at the competitors’ operations,” he says. “I spoke with key people and told them that my client was preparing new technology that would bring increased efficiencies and capabilities to the turbomolecular pump industry. I asked if they would give me input. Each one of them was delighted to do so.”

Humphrey discovered a significant list of things the companies were looking for as well as the companies from which they purchased the majority of their pumps. “I had useful information that competitors could use, and I combined it to create a relationship that pulled me deeper into those companies,” recalls Humphrey. “I prepared a report for my client that included a company profile, corporate psychology profile, leadership profile, market positioning data, volume of production data, and technology distribution data – all the things that were unavailable by traditional methods but which were essential to good decision making for licensing,” says Humphrey.

Merrill Brenner, a strategic business and technology intelligence consultant, provides an overview of competitive intelligence:

  • It delivers insights and foresight about the competitive environment to drive decisions that can create advantages for an organization.
  • It is critical to decisions about entering markets, developing products, or taking offensive or defensive actions in the marketplace.
  • It is created by the analysis of information, providing insights as to why actions are happening and how they are being done.
  • It goes beyond information that is organized and filtered and focused on who, what, when, and where.

“Data and information once was difficult to acquire. Now, so much is available that the intelligence professional needs superior skills for making sense of it,” says Brenner. “He or she makes sense of all with a suite of information-handling tools and a repertoire of analytical techniques. These illuminate the insights so that conclusions, implications for the organization, and recommendations for action can be determined, driving decisions and actions that are implemented for competitive advantage.” However, Brenner points out that the freshest and most insightful information usually comes from human sources that can validate, update, and fill gaps of secondary sources.

David Swan, an expert in technology-enabled marketing communications programs, says that his clients are utilizing a number of tools and technologies. “One tool that is gaining traction is InteliChek,” he says. “Every month, InteliChek’s trained mystery shoppers contact our clients’ stores with a set of realistic service, product, or other scenario questions. The mystery shoppers are provided with prompts and trained so that their calls will be indistinguishable from actual consumer questions. These calls are recorded and reviewed by InteliChek personnel, who then rate the conversation according to a standard rubric designed to measure how well that store advisor met the customer service guidelines developed jointly by our client and InteliChek.”

Swan says that by addressing low-rated calls and learning from excellent conversations his client store staffs are able to rapidly improve customer satisfaction as well as the conversion rate of call-in customers into in-store patrons. “One particular client claims a 37 percent increase in the sale of tires due in part to the emphasis on decreasing hold time and improving customer service over the phone,” he says.

William Besse, a security risk consultant, says that his group is using automatic intelligence. “This software runs automatically on servers and scans the deep Internet with hunter or spider botnets using keyword searches and certain parameters that seek out information that deals with client products, personnel, finances, employee chatter, threats, and so on,” says Besse. “The results can be displayed in an interactive online format/dashboard that shows maps and graphs in real time of the results. We also use various counter-intelligence methods and techniques that have been modified for the interactive world to combat and deny competitors from performing these kinds of competitive intelligence collection efforts.”

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