It may have been more than 400 years ago that philosopher Sir Frances Bacon is believed to have coined the phrase â€˜knowledge is power', but these words are no less relevant today, especially in the business world. In an ever-more competitive marketplace, knowing and understanding your rivals, and using this knowledge to direct business decisions, is nothing short of essential.
The Intelligent Choice
Competitive intelligence is the gathering and application of information on your business market to help make strategic decisions. Its importance cannot be underestimated. This knowledge can make the difference not just between greater profits or accolades, but between success and failure.
Comprehensive research and intelligence allows you to minimize and evaluate potential risks when making business decisions, measure performance and gain a valuable insight into the needs and opinions of existing and potential customers. You can also use the intelligence to enhance your operation's standing and reputation by improving communications with everyone from customers and suppliers to other stakeholders in the business.
This information enables you to identify weakness or gaps in the products and services offered by both your business and your rivals, so that you can pinpoint your own competitive advantages and evaluate the pricing and quality of goods and services.
Keep Up to Date
knowing your sector and establishing your business position within this marketplace is vital, even for a small start-up, and does not lose importance with success and expansion.
Ongoing intelligence can provide an early warning system for everything from potential threats to great opportunities. You can develop marketing campaigns that take full advantage of competitors' weaknesses or respond to the campaigns that your competitors have developed.
It can prevent business and, ultimately profits, from being taken away from you and alert you to developing products, services or technologies that will prove lucrative or advantageous in the future.
There are many ways to gather the information and often you can do this from the comfort of your own desk. The internet has made it easier than ever to gain access to research, read about industry professionals and conduct your own investigations.
There's a host of websites offering business information and if you want to start a web check online you can access everything from the account records and annual returns reports of rival firms to insolvency records and business name changes.
Just typing a few phrases into an internet search engine or reading a competitor's brochure or website can also lead to a wealth of information. The websites of companies listed on the stock market are particularly worth the time spent on having a good look around. They will have an investor relations section which is likely to reveal their plans for the future and may give an insight into their financial resources and how they are targeting particular customers.
If you are starting up or branching out into e-commerce, there are online tools available to help you find invaluable information to assess competitors and plan your own business moves more effectively.
The search does not have to be limited to the amount of traffic to a rival's website or the number of external websites linking to their own. By finding the right online help, you can check out the age of their domain, the number of product pages they have indexed and how search-engine-friendly their web technology is.
Direct Your Attention
Whatever your sector, make use of local business directories and organizations, press reports, exhibitions and trade fairs. Pay attention to flyers, marketing material, advertising, planning applications and ongoing building work.
Even community and social networking websites can be a useful resource, and do not forget your own potential or existing customers. They will be able to tell you what people really think of your business and others in the same sector.
Much of this advice may seem like common sense, but the importance of competitive intelligence often gets forgotten when deadlines are tight and everyday tasks demand attention. Yes, it will take a certain amount of time to ensure you are abreast of everything that is going on, but there are fewer more productive or easier ways to ensure you make the right business decisions.
If you are still unconvinced about the importance of competitive intelligence, and about whether it is worth that extra hour of two of research, remember this one fact: even if you are not keeping an eye on your competitors, many of them will almost certainly be watching you.