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Competitive Intelligence, the 'Net, and You

If you don't know what your competitors are up to, chances are they'll win whatever race you're in.

But, what is competitive intelligence? How is it done and can you do it yourself?

Competitive intelligence is a combination of processes whose goal is to provide you with usable knowledge. A simple monitoring of competitors and the external business environment isn't enough. What counts is how you analyze that information and how that analysis determines your decision making process.

People interested in their competition acquire a wide range of information in a legal and systematic way. Through examination and evaluation, they gain a clearer understanding of a competing firm's capabilities, structure, culture, behavior, and weaknesses.

To be effective in gathering information, you need multiple sources to provide a total picture and corroboration. Look to business directories, government filings, industry experts and analysts. Think about customers, market reports, local newspapers and libraries, suppliers and vendors. Go through help wanted ads, and, of course, the Internet.

Once you've gathered the information, analyze it. Consider benchmarking, statistical analyis, pricing models, and trend analysis.

After you've transformed the data into information, go the last step. Change the information into knowledge--something you can use. Ask yourself what opportunities are available based on the information? What holes remain unfilled? What do you need to be wary of? Are your competitors all going in one direction while you're traveling the opposite way? Is there conflicting data and what does that mean to you?

Check out these sources for finding company Information on the Internet

  • Do a search for the company at Veronica.
  • Yahoo! provides links to company Web sites by industry.
  • EDGAR is a database from which you can retrieve SEC filings (including 10K's, 10Q's, Annual Reports and Prospectuses) for approximately 3,500 U.S. public corporations.
  • Hoovers profiles publicly listed U.S. company's traded on the three major stock exchanges and more than 1,200 of America's largest private companies.
  • Thomas Register of American Manufacturers
  • Dun & Bradstreet Information Service offers free news and information as well as paid access.
  • Search Deja News to see who has posted what where.
  • Browse through the appropriate email lists to do the same thing.

Links to More about Competitive Intelligence

  • Fuld & Company provides more than 300 links to sources for gathering competitive information, including industry-specific links. The site is easy to use, but a few of the links provide very little information.
  • The Journal of Commerce is a news magazine of national and international items affecting how business is done. You can see the front page only--unless you subscribe. They offer a free two week trial subscription.
  • ISI Emerging Markets provided difficult to find emerging market financial, economic and political news and information. It's available by subscription.
  • Trade Port offers a plethora of information about emerging markets and world trade.
  • And, of course, if price is no object, get a subscription to the DIALOG databases which contains millions of full text articles from hundreds of journals and newspapers, including PIERS, a Journal of Commerce database with import/export data, which allows you to track the movement of export/import materials from one company location to another company location abroad.

Happy intelligencing.

---- bio Jennifer Hicks is CEO of WordsWork, a small but diversified Boston-based company focused on developing out-of-the-ordinary content for Web sites. A prolific writer for the past ten years, Hicks' work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications including The Black Collegian, The American Association for Higher Education, The Internet Business Network, Mosby Consumer Health, and assorted newspapers and magazines. Hicks holds degrees in English and small business administration--a combination that adds to her success as a business communications expert.