It's easy to say, "Cream the competition." But for many entrepreneurs, it's hard to know exactly how to do that.
Large corporations can afford to dip into their coffers and spend loads of money on competitive intelligence, but what about the little guys?
Getting the goods on what your competitors are doing doesn't have to tap your company's cash flow to the point of vulnerability. In fact, according to Harvey Wiseberg, co-founder and regional coordinator of the Cleveland chapter of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP), any business owner can take advantage of ways to keep up on his or her industry. Here's how.
Know what you're looking for
According to Wiseberg, competitive intelligence involves collecting, analyzing and disseminating information on competitors and competitive situations. The idea is to keep ahead of your competitors by knowing what they're doing now and what they're planning for the future.
"You want to try to avoid being blindsided," says Wiseberg.
That may entail regular reports about new product lines, prospective clients or whether a business is looking to expand its market share into your territory. The bottom line, says Wiseberg, is to be prepared.
Wiseberg's organization, SCIP, was founded in the mid-'80s and has about 6,000 members worldwide. Its goals are to promote competitive intelligence, shed light on competitive intelligence and train people with these tools through seminars, speakers and annual meetings.
Understand competitive intelligence laws
"Often people confuse what we're doing with espionage," Wiseberg says, so much so that often, when he speaks at conferences, he will indulge his sense of humor by dressing up in a trench coat. "Then I take it off and say, 'We don't work like that and we don't look like this; we look like all of you.'"
He emphasizes that keeping an eye on the competition is legal.
"We stand by a code of ethics, and we collect data in two ways: from published sources (magazine articles in business journals) and primary information. With primary information, we develop interview guides to aid in talking to people and eliciting the information you want."
The power of competitive intelligence
If business owners have an idea of where their competition stands, they can detect early warning signs of something going on in the marketplace.
"A major advantage to knowing the competition is being able to stay viable in a quickly changing world and staying competitive," Wiseberg says.
Small businesses might even benefit more from competitive intelligence than larger corporations because their density makes them highly flexible.
"Small businesses can move quickly, as opposed to the larger companies that have to deal with layers of management before making a change," Wiseberg explains. "That's why I say, 'It's hard to teach an elephant to dance.'" How to reach: SCIP, (440) 442-1670 or www.scip.org
Courie Weston (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a reporter for SBN.