Business owners and their leadership teams are rightly urged to engage in regular strategic planning to move their companies, thoughtfully and consciously, in a positive direction.

However, no matter how sound a set of strategic objectives might be, it’s always important to bear in mind that your competitors have plans of their own. That’s why you should consider integrating competitive intelligence into your strategic planning efforts.

What to look for

The term “competitive intelligence” generally refers to the process of legally and ethically gathering and analyzing information about competitors to better anticipate market trends, analyze industry developments and compare business practices. It can help you collect valuable data and analytics about each competitor’s:

  • Financial performance,
  • Products and services,
  • Market position,
  • Focus or business direction (or related changes),
  • Growth or expansion plans,
  • Mergers and acquisitions activity, and
  • Joint ventures or strategic alliances.

You should also be looking for signs of weakness in competing companies. Have they closed offices or facilities? Do they seem to be desperately looking for employees? Are they embroiled in one or more legal disputes?

How to do it

Putting competitive intelligence into practice may conjure dramatic images of ethically dubious cloak-and-dagger corporate espionage. But there are a multitude of perfectly above-board ways to collect the massive amount of data often available about other businesses.

For starters, simply chatting with customers and prospects, bankers and insurance reps, professional advisors, and other business contacts at trade shows, conferences and other networking events can help keep you in the know.

Back in the office, you can designate an employee (or several) to scan major daily newspapers, community news sources, and trade and other business publications for pertinent stories about your competition and industry. In addition, make sure you’re on the mailing lists for competitors’ brochures, catalogs, press releases, annual plans and other print collateral.

And, of course, there’s the internet. Obviously, you or someone on your team needs to be very familiar with your biggest competitors’ websites and blogs. What are they focused on? What changes are they making — or failing to make?

If competing companies are active on social media, follow those accounts and take note of major announcements, sales and so forth. You may also want to join online discussion groups or forums related to your industry where you might pick up news or clues about competitors.

Additionally, explore harnessing the powerful search engines and resources offered by various third-party providers. For example, Dun & Bradstreet provides industry, market and company-specific intelligence and analytics about both public and private businesses. Meanwhile, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission provides free public access to the filings of public companies via its EDGAR database.

Many ways

As you can see, there are many ways to gather competitive intelligence legally and ethically. And what you learn can strengthen your existing strategic planning or even inspire you to go in a new and better direction. Contact us for help integrating relevant financial data and projections into your strategic objectives.

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