Competitive intelligence (CI) research is the process of gathering and analyzing information about a competitor’s products, services, strategies, strengths, weaknesses, and market position. CI research provides organizations with insights to help them make better business decisions and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Competitive intelligence research collects data from various sources, including online sources and via conversations with customers, prospects, competitor customers, and ex-employees of other organizations. These data points are then analyzed and synthesized so that organizations can make better decisions about marketing, product development, and sales efforts as well as other strategic planning initiatives.
Effective competitive intelligence can be crucial when it comes to creating a powerful business strategy. In fact, 92% of stakeholders at high-growth companies say it’s critical to success. By relying on quality research and insights, organizations can better understand how the industry is evolving and benchmark themselves against competitors. In essence, CI research can be the difference between a thriving business and one struggling to keep up with the competition.
When Do You Need Competitive Intelligence Research?
Competitive intelligence research is needed whenever a business wants to better understand its competitors, the competitive landscape all up, or market forces. Here are some specific situations where CI research can be useful.
Entering a New Market
If your company is planning to enter a new market, CI research can help you identify the key players in the market, their strengths and weaknesses, and what strategies they might be pursuing. This information can help you develop a game plan to compete effectively in a new market.
Developing a New Product
Many markets have untapped areas where growth might be fast vs. slow. CI can help you identify these areas that have the potential for increased growth, either by pointing you to products and services that might be valuable to create or GTM strategies you could pursue with an existing service.
Mergers and acquisitions are a common growth option for many companies. CI research can assist decision-makers in understanding which organizations might be worth pursuing for a merger or acquisition. CI research can also help you find what companies might be strong compliments to your own.
CI research can also help when it comes to due diligence activities. Competitor analysis can lead to a deeper understanding of a target company’s past financial performance, their key customers, and the overall value they bring to the market.
If your company is in a market that is saturated, it’s important to position yourself in a way that allows you to stand out and grow.
Sometimes, that may mean you have to take a step back and develop a broader perspective. You may be missing out on opportunities by being laser-focused on certain competitors and what they are doing. For example, maybe your customers have made changes in their processes or now value different products or services. If your competitors have not caught on to this type of industry change just yet, it opens the door for your organization to take advantage of this shift.
How do B2B Market Research, Competitive Intelligence Research, and Market Intelligence Differ?
B2B market research, market intelligence, and competitive intelligence are all related disciplines; however, there are key distinctions between them.
B2B market research focuses on understanding the perceptions, and motivations of prospects, customers, competitors, and partners. It utilizes a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods. Competitive intelligence research, in large part, is focused on the moves competitors are making. That may include their strategy investments, sales or marketing tactics, or product or service launches. Market intelligence focuses more on the market as whole versus a detailed analysis of individuals, organizations, or competitors. Therefore, market intelligence research tackles concerns such as government regulation, macro economics, or an overall assessment of industry trends.
The three disciplines tend to differ from one another in three primary areas: in their focus, their data sources, and their objectives.
B2B market research focuses primarily on the perceptions of individuals and organizations. This includes gathering information about buyer and prospect preferences, needs, and concerns.
Additionally, B2B market research may be merely focused on an organization’s own customers and prospects. Hence, a focus on a competitor is not always warranted, although it is common in B2B market research vs. B2C market research.
CI research primarily targets competitors, and therefore competitor customers, competitor ex-employees, and competitor partners tend to be in focus.
Market intelligence is less interested in the needs of a single individual, organization, or competitor, and tends to look at an industry as a whole.
Both CI and market intelligence research projects leverage Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) as a key source of insight. OSINT derives from the collection and analysis of publicly available information, such as industry forums (digital or in-person), news articles, industry reports, company websites, social media posts, and public financial statements.
CI research also regularly includes the collection of Human Intelligence (HUMINT) via interviews with prospects, customers, competitor customers, and partner organizations. Typically HUMINT is combined with OSINT to provide a more comprehensive picture of the competitive landscape.
B2B market research relies more heavily on traditional research methods such as surveys and focus groups, as well as interviews. During these projects, research analysts gather insights to better understand behaviors, preferences, and challenges. It is also very common for B2B market research to target a particular market segment, buyer type, or geography.
B2B market research objectives tend to focus on measuring and evaluating the needs of prospects and buyers. For example, a company may want to run a message testing project to evaluate how prospects react to different messaging pillars. The research would then allow an organization to tune its messaging efforts for greater effect.
CI research primarily focuses on helping companies better understand their competitors. Therefore, CI can provide early warning as to potential competitor threats and help a company see where they rank in their competitive landscape.
At times, CI research projects may have the objective of answering a specific set of questions. For example, a company may be looking for answers as to why a competitor is outselling them or what is most effective about a competitor’s marketing strategy.
Market intelligence takes a macro view. It analyzes a specific industry or market segment to understand the broad forces that are driving that industry forward – or backward. This knowledge can help an organization make long term strategic bets, or avoid making poor ones.
What Competitive Advantage do Companies Gain from Conducting Competitive Intelligence Research?
Conducting CI research provides a number of benefits. CI can help companies make better strategic plans, mitigate competitive risks, and pursue meaningful innovation.
An organization that wants to thrive and not just survive needs a strong strategic planning organization. However, developing a business strategy and seeing it through to fruition requires a strong grasp of one’s product and services, an understanding of trends in the market, the competitive landscape, and customer expectations.
CI research can help companies to see more clearly across all of the areas outlined above.
Members of the C-suite, in particular, can use CI as a way to benchmark their own company’s performance. With this knowledge in hand, C-suite leaders can potentially be multiple steps ahead of the competition and therefore make more timely business decisions.
CI research can help companies identify potential market risks and threats, including regulatory changes, competitive threats, and changes in buyer behavior. Flagging these risks can help companies to develop contingency plans and mitigate the potential threats before they become significant problems.
CI research can inspire innovation within companies by identifying areas where competitors are weak or where there are gaps in the market. Companies can then use this information to develop new products, services, or marketing strategies that set them apart from their competitors.
CI research can help you understand the pricing strategies of competitors and help you adjust your own pricing strategy accordingly. This information can also inform you about the perceived value of your products or services compared to competitors.
CI research can be a valuable tool when it comes to helping your sales team understand where they are winning and losing out on deals. Win-loss research is a fundamental part of most CI initiatives.
Additionally, data-backed reasoning as to why an organization is winning or losing deals provides the insight needed to influence decision-making at the executive level.
CI research can help organizations identify potential partners that are active in a market and who have a strong reputation for delivering quality products and services.
Effective CI can also help an organization develop a strong partner program, based in part on an understanding of what makes other partner programs enticing to potential partners.
With CI research, you can gain insights into your competitors’ messaging, positioning, and targeting by analyzing a competitor’s marketing strategies. This can assist a marketing team in finding strategies and tactics that resonate with prospective customers.
Further, CI research can reveal what type of content and campaigns resonate best with both your target audience and competitor customers you wish to win over. This can better inform you as to what types of content to create and how to distribute it, ultimately leading to a content strategy that is more effective in engaging prospects, current customers, and competitor customers.
Ultimately, CI research aims to provide companies with a competitive advantage by enabling them to make informed decisions and stay ahead of the competition. By better understanding the market, customer needs, and competitive threats, companies can make strategic decisions that position them for long-term success.
How is Competitive Intelligence Research Conducted, and What is Included?
CI research can be conducted through research projects in which analysts gather Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), conduct interviews, and then analyze and present insights.
OSINT is often used as a starting point for CI research. It involves gathering information from publicly available sources and is a crucial part of a CI research project. Analysts can gather a wealth of information about market trends, competitor activities, pricing, and customer needs, which then provides a foundation for further analysis.
Primary research involves gathering HUMINT directly from a wide variety of potential sources. These sources may include competitor customers, competitor employees, suppliers, industry experts, salespeople, partner managers, or customer support teams. Sometimes these sources may even include ex-employees or ex-employees that have meaningful perspectives to share.
Once the intelligence has been gathered analysts must then draw meaningful conclusions and provide recommendations to stakeholders. Some research firms may even go one step further by not just delivering recommendations but actually helping to activate them.
What is Ethical Competitive Intelligence Research Collection?
CI research must be conducted in an ethical manner. Any failure to do this results in not just moral hazards but legal ones as well. Given this, CI firms should understand and closely follow the Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals society’s code of ethics . In other words, they should be who they say they are in all interactions. This is because one of the easiest ways to get into trouble as a CI professional or firm is to obfuscate who you are when gathering HUMINT.
Unfortunately, some CI firms will do anything to get information. Almost like spies or secret shoppers, they don’t come out in the open about who they are and what they are searching for in order to gather information such as demos, a walk-through of a sales cycle, a product roadmap, or pricing information. While this type of information may provide a short term benefit, the long term consequences of engaging in unethical behavior are much worse, for both the CI firm and its clients.
How Can Competitive Intelligence Research Work For You?
Outside of the strategic aspect that can assist the C-level suite, CI research provides value to a number of different roles within the organization. Below, we’ve broken down how they can work for different job functions.
CI research can help sellers have meaningful conversations with prospective buyers. By deeply understanding each competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, and how these competitor’s pitch, a sales team can win more deals.
John Wanamaker famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, the problem is that I don’t know which half.” This “effectiveness gap” can be better understood, and potentially minimized, if an organization spends the time to understand not just what is working for them, but what is also working for competing organizations when it comes to marketing.
This type of competitive analysis also allows an organization to better understand the messages, campaigns, and tactics that would allow them to “win-over” competitor customers.
Teams that develop products or services have long valued competitive intelligence. Traditionally, these intelligence efforts focused on understanding a competitor’s capabilities or feature set. Yet, while it is important to understand what a competitor is offering, just getting into a feature war might not be the best choice.
An effective CI effort for product or service teams must not just list a competitor’s capabilities but it must frame this discussion so the focus is on the “features that matter.” A strong CI effort can, through the lens of competitor customers and their perspectives, highlight features that are being used more often than expected and those that aren’t being used at all.
With this information in hand a product or service team can develop features that will actually be game changers vs. just a mere focus on copying the competition.
What Kinds of Companies can Benefit from Competitive Intelligence Research?
Organizations of all sizes need to have a clear understanding of the competitive landscape. With a clear view these organizations can plan farther ahead with confidence and take advantage of market opportunities that much more quickly.
Enterprise organizations have long invested in CI efforts. Organizations of this size, also typically have one or more dedicated competitive intelligence teams. The focus of these teams can vary quite a bit based on where they reside in the company’s org chart.
A team aligned with the needs of the C-Suite may focus more on strategic planning, a team embedded in a sales organization may focus on win-loss efforts, and a team embedded in a product team may focus more on developing a compelling product roadmap.
These centralized teams also typically have a wide array of vendor or partner relationships so they can source CI across various types of competitors, market segments, industries, and geographies.
Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (SMB)
SMBs typically do not have a dedicated CI function, or if they do it is typically focused on the capabilities of a single individual or a very small team. In these organizations it is quite common for this team to be focused on more tactical vs. strategic needs. For example, developing competitor profiles or assisting with win-loss initiatives. Although for larger mid-market organizations, CI teams can be seen assisting with strategic planning initiatives as well.
Startup companies must have a full view of the market they are entering and hope to dominate some day. Additionally, having a strong perspective on the competitive landscape is critical if the organization wants to receive strong external funding support.
Finally, a startup tends to have limited resources in the best of times, given this a strong CI effort can help any startup understand where they can get the best ROI from a sales, marketing, or product development investment.
Cascade Insights & Competitive Intelligence Research
Cascade Insights is a market research and marketing agency that works exclusively in the B2B tech sector. We specialize in producing B2B market research and B2B marketing, including competitive intelligence services. Visit our competitive landscape analysis research page to learn more about how our analysis can bring you insights you can actually use.