ACCESS: The Theory and Practice of Competitor Intelligence
ntelligence may be defined as the acquisition, organization and evaluation of information pertinent to our strategic situation. This is popularly understood to mean information concerning an enemy or adversary or competitor, but realistic information concerning our own and our partners strategic situation is equally important. It is also popularly perceived that intelligence activities are clandestine and covert — cloak-and-dagger stuff. In fact, 95 percent of all strategic intelligence (e.g., CIA) work draws upon openly available sources of information — newspapers and periodicals, libraries, industry and academic databases, personal interviews and conversations, and — of course — the ubiquitous Internet. Intelligence is simply the organized, orderly and focused gathering of information relevant to our strategic position.
But how does this affect the owner/manager of the emerging business?
Whether we operate a 10-stool pizza shop or an electronic assembly facility with 500 employees, it is equally imperative that we understand our strategic situation as clearly as possible. We must know our present competitors, potential competitors in the future, and competitors from totally new sources. The owner of the Burger King franchise must not only be informed about the possible construction of a new Wendy's or McDonald's and Mary Lou Donovan's plan's to open Mary Lou's Gourmet Coffee House, but also about the expanded take-out food service being introduced by the 7-Eleven. The competitive threat presented by the opening of the new Star Market may be greatly offset by the generation of much greater traffic counts. Both the functional and the geographic marketplaces in which we operate must be understood fully.
For most smaller businesses, we are often unaware of the serious impact of new legislation and government regulations — especially local ordinances and regulations. Total prohibitions on smoking in certain towns is believed to have driven substantial restaurant business to neighboring communities. Health and sanitation regulations vary significantly from town-to-town both in the published codes and the diligence of enforcement. Even the attitude and cooperation of the police and parking authorities to assure adequate and hassle-free parking for customers and employees varies tremendously from town-to-town. Good intelligence gathering requires a full awareness of the political environment in which we are working. For example, astute intelligence may lead the owner/manager of the emerging business to make certain pre-code changes that then become grandfathered thereby precluding the need to institute much costlier changes later when a new code is expected to go into effect. We may frequently be distressed with our findings, but good intelligence should prevent most surprises in the future.
For many emerging businesses, changing technology can be either a boon or a curse. Today, established products can suddenly become obsolete overnight; alertness must be exercised not to be blind-sided. However, the agility of the emerging business frequently enables it to introduce or at least adapt to new technology much faster than its larger and more cumbersome competitors. The failure to perceive and to exploit new technologies often emerging from non-conventional sources has led to the extinction of once-famous companies — both large and small. Few typewriter service and repair companies were nimble enough to move into the service and repair of computers, but most passed quietly into extinction. [There is still a specialized market catering to old-timers who treasure their Underwood or Royal heirlooms; these arcane needs are now served by a small number of traditional service and repair companies.]
Of course, the owner/manager of the emerging business is scarcely the CIA or even the Microsoft Corporation. But intelligence gathering is something most of us can do all the time. We are gathering intelligence when we read the newspapers and especially trade publications, when we attend industry trade shows and meetings of our Chamber of Commerce, and when we simply walk around our communities. Intelligence is being gathered inadvertently all the time. However, the power of intelligence is in its organization and evaluation. We must be attentive to and discriminating about what we are seeing and hearing, and then creative in determining what we can do with this intelligence. The strategic situation for even an emerging business is changing constantly.
A battle can only be won by the tactical and strategic proficiency of the Commanding General of the division. But the battle will be lost if the CG is inattentive to the critical intelligence being presented by the Divisional G-2.
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