Actionable Competitive Intelligence

Celeste Smith Bishop

Successful businesses use actionable competitive intelligence (CI) to drive business plans, marketing plans and tactical maneuvers throughout their business. In fact, they use actionable competitive intelligence as a competitive edge. Actionable competitive intelligence is the “all bases loaded home run” in business. However, many executives mistakenly think of competitor information as competitive intelligence. And fewer still understand the powerful distinction between competitive intelligence and actionable competitive intelligence.

Competitor information is not competitive intelligence. And competitive intelligence is not actionable competitive intelligence. Let’s take a few minutes to clarify the distinctions – they could be the most productive few minutes you ever spend to improve your likelihood for success. Think of it as Brain Food.

Competitor Information

Competitor information informs competitive intelligence. Competitor information is rather inert until you tie it together with business knowledge in general and an unbiased assessment of your own business strengths and weaknesses. When you integrate competitor information with those additional insights it transforms into competitive intelligence. But wait … there’s more!

This is where the first hiccup usually begins. Not every piece of competitor information is accurate, relevant or useful. It is very easy to bog down in the “more is better” syndrome or forget what you set out to accomplish. Many businesses don’t make it past this hurdle either because their information gathering was not done well or they failed to understand it as the beginning in becoming a more competitive business.

Competitive Intelligence

Organization and analysis techniques – like a Swot Analysis, Gap Analysis or Porter’s Five Forces – are necessary to transform competitor information into competitive intelligence (CI). CI usually refers more to the process of how you use competitor information than to the information itself. Process, which includes business plans, marketing plans, tactics and more. When used effectively, competitive intelligence strengthens many areas of your business – product development, human resource practices, billing and payments, sales, customer service, etc.

Consider this: if every department of your company used competitive intelligence to inform decisions and day-to-day tactics what kind of business results would you achieve? Yet, here too is another hiccup. Frequently, this is where the process stops and the CI report becomes another “read later” piece of business. Close but no cigar.

So… What is Actionable Competitive Intelligence?

Actionable competitive intelligence, simply put, delivers intelligence that can be acted upon. Sounds simple … so how come it isn’t?

1st — You Are Working in Multiple Time Dimensions

To really leverage this successfully, you build a fundamental body of competitor knowledge – historical CI. At the same time you are actively pushing the envelope to stay current and forecast the future – predicting competitors’ actions.

2nd — You Are Drawing Inference and Taking Action

Drawing inference and taking action implies willingness to make educated guesses – a skill honed over time – to anticipate your competitors’ actions. Specific competitive intelligence techniques, such as scenario development, red team/blue team exercises, timelines, etc, develop the necessary skills among your team.

3rd — You Are Bucking the Trend: Opportunity Discovery

A funny thing happens on the way to developing actionablecompetitive intelligence. In the journey to actionable competitive intelligence, you and your staff acquire a framework of inquiry, observation and expectations that overflow into related areas and enable you to discover opportunities that may have little to do with your competitors directly.

You can’t turn off the motor! You then become the competitor the others worry about and watch.

Reflect on how powerful a competitive edge you would have if you continually could make better quality decisions, expend resources more effectively, and take proactive and defensive measures with greater speed and certainty. Those advantages and more accrue through consistent application of actionable competitive intelligence.

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Reprinted from Brain Food – an online resource focusing on creating competitive success. Brain Food is on the web at: http://www.bishopmarketresources.com