What does it take to achieve true impact with your competitive intelligence program?

That’s what we asked ourselves when we put together our periodic table of competitive intelligence elements. Curated from the thoughts, quotes, opinions, and contributions of the dozens of CI thought leaders we’ve worked with since the Competitive Intelligence Alliance launched one year ago, we built this table to give you a 10,000-foot view of the role.

So if you want to be the best competitive intelligence professional you can be, check out our periodic table of competitive intelligence elements.

We unpack:

  • Data types
  • Data sources
  • Specific data to gather
  • Deliverables
  • Metrics to track
  • Strategies and marketing activities to contribute to
  • Analysis frameworks

… plus a bonus section on the common character traits we’ve observed in our CI leaders.

Fancy a copy of the table to keep by your desk? Grab it in A3 size and create a hi-res poster:

Become familiar with key data types

Use our periodic table of competitive intelligence elements to identify which types of data you might be neglecting.

On the Compete Clarity podcast, we’ve spoken with competitive intelligence professionals who’ve been in the game for years, yet only recently realized they were missing one or more of these key data types.

Here are some of the key data types you’ll find listed in the periodic table:

To get this right from the start: bookmark this page to quickly reference all the data types that can help you in competitive intelligence.

Track new data using these competitive intelligence sources

The periodic table of competitive intelligence elements walks you through the entire competitive intelligence process.

Once you’re familiar with the types of data you can collect, you need to know which methods to use to start collecting them.

We’ve split these sources into three camps:

  • Internal
  • External
  • Software

Internal sources of intel include:

  • Subject matter experts (SMEs)
  • Customer success and sales reps
  • Product developers
  • Leadership

Your internal data sources are some of the most cost-effective and readily available.

Your sales and customer success reps are on the front lines against your competitors every day. If anyone were to hear about new competitor updates and developments in customer interests, it’d be them.

In a similar vein, your leadership executives are likely to stay awake at night thinking about market trends and macroeconomic factors. Eventually, you’ll be the one keeping them updated. But in the beginning, your leadership team can bring you up to speed quickly.

Speak to these groups at regular intervals to make sure you’re on top of new and crucial information.

External sources of intel include:

As great as internal sources of intel are, they have a big flaw: they’re one step removed from the true source of the information.

In other words, what you hear from your colleagues might be wrong. Without knowing, they might have filtered the information they’re telling you. They could be misremembering, or they could have misheard the information in the first place.

Use external sources to corroborate information you get from internal sources wherever possible.

External sources are also great for catching information as early as possible, so competitor developments don’t catch you off guard.

Competitive intelligence tools include:

Across our podcast, industry reports, and practical playbooks, we’ve spoken to a lot of competitive intelligence professionals. All of them have a data collection process that’s at least semi-automated.

Even the simplest of free tools, like RSS feeds and Google Alerts, can pull news of competitor developments right to your inbox. And if you find this overwhelming at first, don’t worry. You’ll get better at scanning through for what’s relevant and what’s not.

According to Mindy Regnell, Principal Market Intelligence at Postscript:

I use Google Alerts for [tracking trends], which is kind of like drinking out of a fire hydrant the first time you do it. So it takes a little bit of time to get used to it.

I always tell people, ‘Don’t start with five Google Alerts. Start with one or two…’

Honestly, it took me like six months to feel like I was really fast and efficient with Google Alerts and that’s probably because I started with five. And now I’ve got like 25 Google Alerts turned on, and it doesn’t faze me at all.

Other tools help you not only gather and collect information but also help you deliver it to stakeholders. These don’t need to be paid competitive intelligence tools, either. Workspace software like Slack is perfect for sharing information (via a dedicated competitive intelligence Slack channel), as well as for keeping people updated. You can pull RSS and Google Alerts updates directly into a Slack channel, or create a channel for updates when you create a new resource.

Chris Link, Research and Insights Manager at Interlace Health, produces what he calls “data packs”. These self-serve resources are available 24/7 for anyone who wants insights into a competitor to access and read. Produce something similar and you can publish updates and new releases directly to Slack to keep people in the loop.

Brush up on the data to uncover

So what are you trying to uncover with these data types and data sources?

From your customers:

From your customers, you want to learn:

  • What their unmet needs are.
  • The strengths and weaknesses of your product.
  • The strengths and weaknesses of competing products.

When it comes to your customers, you primarily want to uncover what needs they have that the market isn’t yet meeting.

You also want to uncover (from both existing and potential customers) what your product is good and bad at.

Finally, if you can, you should find out the same thing about your key competitors. What do their existing customers like about them? What do they not do so well?

About your competitors:

You also want to learn the following key things about your competition:

  • Alternative solutions
  • Emerging competitors

Primarily, you should aim to understand how the players in the game change over time. You’re probably already aware of who your competition is, but you need to know when new disruptors enter the industry.

That’s true even for alternative solutions and very indirect competitors. If a trend begins to emerge that customers are shifting away from solutions like yours in favor of something new, it pays to know!

About your market and industry:

Finally, you need to know the following about your market and the industry you’re a part of:

  • Industry trends
  • Supply and demand
  • Market sentiment
  • Other macro-economic factors

This isn’t an exhaustive list. Check out the periodic table of competitive intelligence elements for the full picture.

Think about deliverables, and the stakeholders they enable

Competitive intelligence doesn’t begin and end with data. It begins and ends with your stakeholders.

Which stakeholder groups do you serve most of the time? What intel do they want, and in what form do they want it? The answers to these questions will determine the types of intel you care about most, and the sources you’ll come to rely on most heavily.

If you’re working closely with sales and customer success, enabling them to compete against competitors for deals will form a big part of what you do. For this, the battlecard is the go-to deliverable for most companies. But you’ll also find yourself holding and facilitating training sessions on the material.

Leadership often demands very specific types of reports. BLUF-style (bottom line up front) reports, with a very high-level overview, followed by much more detail, are often what this stakeholder group is looking for.

The periodic table lists many more possible deliverables, including competitive briefings and competitive newsletters.

How to Deliver Competitive Intelligence to Marketing Teams
By working closely with your marketing teams, you can weave your competitive positioning into your prospects’ buying process from the outset. That way, you’ll be the obvious choice when it’s time to buy.

Track these metrics to prove the value of your competitive program

Proving the value of what you do is critical for any competitive intelligence professional when they first join an organization. Proving ROI quickly is the key to unlocking further investment, buy-in, and generally boosting your chances of continued success.

But what metrics should you track to do this?

Here are some options:

  • Net promotor score (NPS)
  • Sales confidence score
  • Length of sales cycle
  • Cost per acquisition
  • Number of competitive content pieces published
  • Content adoption rates

You can gather net promoter score (NPS) in a couple of different ways. The first is to track what your customers think of you and your products. This falls firmly under the “customer research” category.

When your customer NPS improves, it’s usually because you’re listening to them and meeting their needs better. When this is driven by your research and intelligence informing product teams, that’s a great thing.

The second way is to gather your sales team’s NPS of your enablement content. How many of them would advocate for it to their colleagues? How many use it actively? This ties in with content adoption rates, but ultimately measures satisfaction with the content you’re giving them. When this improves, you know these teams are very confident in your material, and believe it helps them close more deals.

This second “sales NPS” ties in with the sales confidence score and cost per acquisition. Sales confidence score is more specific to certain competitors, while cost per acquisition improves slowly as your team becomes more efficient.

Some of these metrics have longer time horizons for improvement than others. Refer to the table of competitive intelligence elements for a full list.

Consider which strategic and marketing activities you’ll contribute to

Secondary to your primary deliverables, most competitive intelligence pros end up helping strategic and marketing teams decide their focus.

That means you could help inform:

If you’re tracking competitor SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) data to identify where your rivals are investing their content marketing and paid search resources, you quickly learn their priorities.

Depending on how much of this work your content and marketing teams are doing already, they may even rely on you to help them figure out which keywords and search terms to track. Especially given what you know of your competitors’ behavior and possible content gaps in the market.

Use these analysis frameworks to move from raw data to real insights

Strategic frameworks can help you go from raw data to real insights.

Here are a few to consider:

People tend to have their favorites, but using a framework you’ve not considered before can get you thinking about raw data in creative new ways. This can be the catalyst you need to break out of a rut in your strategic thinking, allowing you to see exploitable gaps in the market you missed.

Our periodic table of competitive intelligence elements lists 15 different frameworks. There’s bound to be one in the list you’ve not used yet. Why not give it a try?

Wish you could review the elements of CI at a glance?

“The greater part of instruction is being reminded of things you already know.” - Plato

Seasoned CI veterans might not need to learn much that’s new. But you’re likely to benefit from having a quick list of go-tos you can review at a glance to be sure there’s nothing you’ve missed.

That’s why we put together the periodic table of competitive intelligence elements. 110 elements you can check out today to be sure you never leave a stone unturned.