In most types of competitive intelligence analysis, human sources should play a role. As you interview people you will gain perspectives that aren’t available on the Web. This runs counter to the intuition of many people that everything is online somewhere, if you know where to look. There is simply no substitute for talking directly both to people in your own company and to those outside.
Developing an Overall View of the Human Intelligence Enterprise
Even many seasoned competitive intelligence analysts put self-imposed limitations on themselves, in terms of whom they believe they can contact for information. On the continuum of sources, you can certainly talk to your own sales and marketing teams, although there may be some limitations from management with regard to customers and partners, and it can be challenging to contact competitors and their customers. All of these sources bear investigation, however.
This scope of inquiry is often affected by the personalities and preferences of the analysts, which is a valuable consideration for those running competitive intelligence organizations as they choose team members to complement each other. It also highlights the value of bringing in outside competitive intelligence consultants in some cases.
How to Get Started and Whom to Talk to
The easiest way to get started in collecting human intelligence for a given project is to consider people in your own company. Sales reps are an obvious choice, since they are often the nerve endings of the company, with lots of customer contact, which can yield insights about what competitors are saying about your company and what objections end customers raise. Sales teams also have a vested interest in the competitive intelligence enterprise being successful, since it can make their jobs easier.
Talking to partners, distributors, and resellers is also a potential treasure trove of insight. For example, they may be focused on your products in one part of the channel and a competitor’s in another part. If that is the case, you will want to know why, as a first step to changing that practice to your advantage.
Expanding the Field of Human Intelligence Sources
Beyond people within your own company and other closely related sources, it’s valuable to identify potential interviewees through open source intelligence, to seek out speakers at conferences, and to consider the analyst community. Once you have assembled a list of potential sources, the process of sifting through those possibilities to prioritize which ones to contact can be aided by the AEP framework, an acronym for the following factors:
- Accessibility. Even though it may not be a disqualifying factor, you should consider the fact that sources such as those high in their organizations may be difficult to reach, which can add to timeframe requirements.
- Experience. There is no substitute for ensuring that the people you interview have the expertise needed to add value to your analysis.
- Perspective. Are they neutral, or highly biased toward your company or the competition? Neutral third parties, and raving fans of the competition are both valuable sources for insights.
By Sean Campbell