It’s common to compare the competitive intelligence (CI) field with spying. In reality, the two are very different; the intrigue and romance afforded the international man or woman of mystery have little to do with the approaches and techniques that are common in the competitive intelligence field. The key differences are apparent in considering three types of interactions that a national intelligence agency may have with human subjects:
- Interrogation is questioning and coercing an uncooperative subject who is aware that you’re trying to obtain information.
- Interviewing is based on a voluntary exchange without deception or coercion, where a willing participant is aware of the information being sought.
- Elicitation seeks to get information from a subject who is unaware that information gathering is even happening.
Of these three approaches, competitive intelligence primarily uses interviewing, where:
- The CI pro recruits people to participate in their area of investigation.
- The people being interviewed are fully aware that they’re being interviewed.
- The identity of the CI pro is fully known.
- There is no coercion or attempt to get the interviewee to divulge secrets in violation of non-disclosure agreements or other contracts.
Elicitation does happen from time to time, particularly at a trade show or other public event, but it’s less common. But even when eliciting, the CI pro does not misrepresent their identity.
This is part one of a series of three posts about the differences between spies and competitive intelligence professionals. The second post, “Three Tales from the Market Researcher and the Spy,” describes a few ways that the CI field benefits from techniques created by market researchers, and the third, “Three Ways the Journalist Vanquished the Spy,” gives a similar description of influences from investigative journalism.
By Sean Campbell
By Scott Swigart