Competitive intelligence gathering typically requires going beyond online sources, to interviewing human subjects. Even if it’s well within your comfort zone to contact and get information from a group of strangers, the guidelines discussed here can make the process smoother and more successful.
Contacting Human Intelligence Subjects
To initiate the process of gathering human intelligence, you first need to identify the right people to interview. Be sure to get the widest practical range of perspectives by contacting a variety of sources in your own company, as well as outside market influencers, resellers, your customers, and even competitors’ customers.
To increase participation and establish rapport, consider what motivates various individuals; some may simply want to be heard, while others may respond to personal relationships or hope to benefit from the research itself.
Sources for Human Intelligence Best Practices
As you interact with human intelligence subjects, it is worthwhile to take note of what works and what doesn’t, as an aid to establishing your own style and techniques. Beyond that, it is worthwhile to consider outside influences.
Qualitative research techniques from the Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) website are a great place to start. Analyzing social networks of potential subjects using tools such as NodeXL and Twiangulate also yields a wealth of insight. LinkedIn is a great place to search for people who have the background needed to offer insights. Product and domain experts are also easy to find on Slideshare – with contact information. Finally, consider Brant Houston’s Investigative Reporter’s Handbook for tips from the journalism field.
Addressing Your Biases and Those of Your Interviewees
Early in the human-intelligence-gathering process, define how your own experiences, preferences, and allegiances related to a product, technology, or company could influence your findings. Also be cautious of confirmation bias, where tentative conclusions from completed interviews cause you to guide future interviews to support your hunches.
Interviewing a range of people helps limit the impact of interviewee bias. For example, happy employees see a different reality than disgruntled ones, and people tend to assign responsibility for problems outside their own organizations.
Maintaining Ethical Guidelines and Practices
First, do no harm. That means being careful not to put others (or yourself) at risk, and the first important aspect of that guideline is disclosure: never misrepresent yourself as someone you’re not. Don’t pose as a fake customer. You don’t have to volunteer information, but you do have to be truthful.
By Sean Campbell
By Scott Swigart