The Importance of Competitive Intelligence

magnifying_glass.jpgCompetitive intelligence sounds like a useful concept in theory, but should it be considered an ongoing business priority? We asked a variety of executives, entrepreneurs, and consultants to weigh in on this question. Here, we’ve gathered their insights in a series of quotes to highlight a range of unique perspectives. Read on to learn more about the value of tracking your competitors and keeping a close watch on emerging market trends.

Stay Nimble and React Quickly

“In my opinion, except in very rare circumstances, businesses cannot exist merely to provide a product or service — regardless of how good they are at it — and not pay attention to what is happening in the marketplace. They need to watch out for direct competitors (for car companies, that would be other car companies) as well as indirect competitors (using the same example, for car companies, these can be services like Uber, public transportation, and other modes of transportation like bikes).

By staying on top of what competitors are doing, a company can be more nimble and react quickly to their actions. For instance, they can adjust pricing, introduce new products, discontinue products that competitors are now offering, and take other similar action depending on the needs of their businesses.

Competitive intelligence is meaningless if you do it occasionally or after your competitor has already taken a big step. (I get so many clients who come to me years after they have lost market share to a competitor because it could offer a lower price to customers). What will determine your success is knowing ahead of time what your competitor is going to do so that you can either implement a strategic response before it is an imperative or react in a timely manner. Being caught by surprise can be disastrous.

And finally, the size of the company is immaterial when it comes to having a competitive intelligence program. The neighborhood Chinese takeout needs competitive intelligence as much as a Fortune 500 company."

— Jay Dwivedi, President of Xinvest Consultants

Learn from the Mistakes of Other Companies

“Competitive intelligence allows us to constantly learn from successes and failures around us. Everything is so transparent with the internet that one great exercise I sometimes ask start-up founders I coach to do is to find companies who have failed at selling to the market they're targeting. This can provide guidance around how to market, position, sell, distribute, and even build out product. We tend to highlight only the successful start-ups, but we can learn a great deal from what hasn't worked in the past.”

— Juliana Crispo, Founder and CEO of

Stay Ahead of Your Closest Rivals

“Smaller businesses should make use of competitive intelligence to grow their businesses to the same level as their competitors. This then positions them to exceed past their competitors. Larger businesses should use competitive intelligence to stay ahead of their closest rivals and keep smaller businesses from becoming close rivals. Common areas of competitive intelligence to look at include client lists, service/product differentiators, marketing campaign components, sales strategies, service delivery processes, and customer service methods.”

—  Aaron Wittersheim, COO of Straight North

Differentiate Yourself from the Pack

“Competitive intelligence is essential in today’s hugely competitive marketplace for many reasons. The most important reason is so you know what not to do! The days of following your competitors are over. Being disruptive is the only way to succeed these days, and that’s not even a guarantee anymore. You need to gather data on your competition, but not just for the traditional reasons. You need to clearly set yourself apart. Your product and service must be different. They must be the best, and they have to stand out and be memorable. If you know what your competition is doing, you know what you shouldn’t do: Exactly what they are doing.”

— Ryan Hulland, President & Founder of Netfloor USA Access Flooring

Avoid Pitfalls and Innovate Successfully

“We know that companies need competitive intelligence to better understand their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, to monitor competitors’ products, advertising and brand platforms — all in an effort to influence their own strategic decision-making. What business leaders often fail to derive from competitive intelligence is which pitfalls to avoid and which ideas, if quickly capitalized on, could serve as innovative differentiators.

Too many successful businesses become complacent, believing that their own product or service will stand the test of time. Competitive intelligence helps leaders avoid competency addiction, a state wherein leaders use outdated mindsets and behaviors to solve new challenges. By staying current with trends, technology, and industry-related developments, leaders are allowing new ideas to flow into the company and spark fresh thinking that leads to ideation and new offerings.

However, too much focus on using competitive intelligence to benchmark other organizations can steal time, dollars, energy, and resources away from a much better use of competitive intelligence: innovation. Innovation that allows you to leap frog in front of your customers (not just mimic and follow) will help you sustain a competitive advantage. And that means profit. Yes, business leaders need to know what their competitors are up to, but even more important, they need to gather the trends, patterns, and relationships they see emerging across industry platforms. They then need to ask, 'How do we capitalize on this intelligence?'”

— AmyK Hutchens, Founder and Intelligence Activist at AmyK International, Inc

Identify Areas of Opportunity

“I believe competitive intelligence is very important and should be prioritized for the following reasons:

1.) Staying flexible in an adaptive world. Our world is always changing, with new techniques, new materials, and new protocols to enhance the way things operate and function. By keeping an eye on major players as well as smaller start-ups, you can enhance your own company by adopting something of theirs that you like. Why reinvent the wheel or spend lots on creative research when a simple monitoring campaign would suffice?

2.) Finding areas of opportunity. It's good to know what areas of opportunity exist for your company. Your competitors can snuff out which space is still fresh for the taking. Try to understand who their marketing is geared towards and what kind of outreach is being done.”

— Curtis Boyd, CEO/Founder, Future Solutions Media

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Finding Business Opportunities: The Importance of Market Research

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Topics: Market Research Strategy Profound