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The Truth about Competitive Intelligence

By David Siskind


Take this short quiz

  • 1) Competitive Intelligence is all about spying.
    Yes / No
  • 2) A Competitive Intelligence strategy is only for large companies
    Yes / No
  • 3) You need a Competitive Intelligence Strategy when your business is in crisis
    Yes / No
  • 4) You can get all the Competitive Intelligence information you need by surfing the web
    Yes / No
  • 5) Competitive Intelligence gathering is the same as conducting market research.
    Yes / No
If you answered yes to any of the above, read on...
The first "myth of competitive intelligence" is that it is nothing more than spying on the competition. We have all seen one exhibitor approach another to obtain brochures, take photographs of the booth or new products or get snippets of information from booth staff. This does not constitute to a competitive intelligence strategy. Competitive intelligence is defined as: "An organized, structured, information gathering process that enhances strategic decision-making."

A well-defined CI strategy will give you a leg-up on future directions. It works whether you are a very big player or a start-up. It should become an ongoing function of your marketing department in good times and in times of crisis. While you can glean much information on the Internet, there is more to a CI strategy. Unlike a marketing strategy your CI strategy has broader objectives. The goal of your CI strategy is to uncover information that will guide your decisions to affect your corporate future.

A competitive intelligence program at a trade show offers you a much greater breadth of information than simply checking out your competitors' booths.

Here are the steps you should consider when developing your CI strategy.

  • 1. Determine exactly what kind of information you need
    Your CI objectives emanate from your perception of business "threats". Ask yourself, "What is the biggest threat to my organization's well-being? The answer to this will help you define a clear focus for your CI strategy.
  • 2. Formulate specific questions
    These questions should clearly address the goals you set out in step 1. Questions that begin with, what, where, how and why, are good candidates for information gathering.
  • 3. Create your CI team
    Often you will have various levels of your corporation attending a show. They can all form part of an effective team since they have different areas of expertise, access to different contacts and bring different personalities to the table.
  • 4. Pre-show research
    Prior to the CI mission, you need to gather pre-show information to ensure that your goals are realistic and will provide your team of mystery shopper's with valuable information about where their goals can be met. Start with the show's web-site where you can learn about exhibitors, visitors, association activities, media contacts, and special programs.
  • 5. Training your team
    Your team needs to understand exactly what you expect of them. A training program focused on CI skills and mystery-shopping etiquette is necessary prior to the show.
  • 6. Collate information
    Upon returning from the show, each mystery shopper will submit a report to one central person who will begin the process of analyzing this information.
  • 7. Reporting
    Once the information is collated, it needs to be put into the hands of key decision makers in a timely fashion, ideally within one month of the show. Also, it is helpful to report the results to your CI team and your appreciation for a job well done.

The next time you choose to exhibit at a trade show or corporate event consider including a mystery-shopping program to augment your CI strategy. If you do it well, you will be amazed at the benefits to your organization.

Barry Siskind is President of International Training and Management, a training company specializing in exhibitor training and business networking.
To contact him, call416-783-5200 / 1-800-358-6079 (North America).