This article was adapted from Fouad Benyoub’s outstanding appearance on The Compete Clarity Podcast.
People who work with me know how much I love competitive intelligence (CI). And it’s about more than just intelligence, by the way – it's about competitive strategy. It's about how we can leverage what we know about our competitors – their strengths, their weaknesses, and beyond – to shape our own strategies and succeed in our markets.
With that in mind, in this article, I’m going to show you how to build your CI program to deliver actionable insights that’ll set your organization up for success.
- A step-by-step guide to building your CI program.
- How to centralize your CI data
- How to measure and demonstrate your program’s value
A step-by-step guide to building a CI program
There’s a sequence I always apply when I’m building a new program or project:
Let’s take a closer look at how you can apply this as you set up your CI program.
Step one: Establish your purpose
We’ll start with your purpose. Why are you here? What is the vision for your competitive intelligence program? Set a BHAG – a big, hairy, audacious goal – to make your organization an intelligence-driven one. That might sound bold, but it’s what CI teams are here for. 💁♂️
I say intelligence-driven rather than data-driven because data alone is useless. Without processing and analysis, it’s meaningless – especially if you have too many data points to follow. The real value of a CI team or person is to make sense of all those data points and transform them into intelligence, insights, and, most importantly, recommendations for the organization.
Step two: Figure out your priorities
Sadly, you probably won’t have all the budget and resources you’d like, so from day one you’ll have to prioritize certain tasks. So start talking to your managers, peers, teams, and key stakeholders to understand their reality and ask them what exactly is missing in terms of intelligence when you're fighting against competitors.
When you start your CI program, you can find yourself feeling overwhelmed. Particularly if you have some success early on, people will come to you with more and more requests. If you take on everything people ask of you, you’re done – you’ll never see the light of day again, so you have to prioritize and learn to say no.
Step three: Be productive - show value in the first 100 days!
You have to have your program up and running in less than 100 days. Why? Because you’ll have to show value very quickly. Not to show off, but to prove what your program can do for your organization. I’d recommend starting small, for instance with a competitive brief that you put out on a biweekly, weekly, or monthly basis, depending on the pace of your organization.
It’s important to start where you are. Look at your bandwidth, your team, and the resources available to you, then start with one deliverable, deliver it, iterate, and add another deliverable. Perhaps your stakeholders will tell you what you’re delivering is too detailed and not what they’re looking for – great! Take that feedback and optimize your program. That’s going to help you develop relationships and trust with your stakeholders. 🤝
You’ll want to give yourself a year to gather meaningful results and feedback on the program. By this time, you should have identified your most valuable sources of intelligence, implemented some intelligence-gathering tools, and started to deliver on those outputs.
How to centralize your CI data
The wonderful thing about working in the world of CI today is the vast wealth of data available to us. The downside is the sheer volume of data can easily overwhelm you, so make sure you organize and centralize it all. There are some great tools out there to gather intelligence. Whether you choose an RSS, a more specialized platform, or just pay attention to social media will depend on your organization’s focus. 🔍
Where’s the data?
First, you have to identify those tools, set them up, and define your sources. This gets you started receiving news and data about a competitor’s website, their product, their pricing information, their overall go-to-market strategy (GTM), and so on.
But these tools aren’t your only data sources. You also have a huge amount of data available internally and coming in from the field. You just have to know where to find it. All being well, that data will be documented in your CRM. If it’s not, you’ll need to work with your colleagues to make that happen. This data might include conversations that your customer-facing teams are having with customers about what your competitors are up to. 🗣️
You may also have access to win/loss data. That might already be available in your CRM or through the colleagues looking after the win/loss program. By the way, the CI team can own that program – that’s been the case in a few places I’ve worked for in the past.
While it's fairly easy to just set up your intelligence tools and do some competitor research online, it's both more complicated and more important to have intelligence from the field. That means you have to develop relationships with salespeople, account managers, marketers, and product marketers. They’re perfectly placed to bring you nuggets of information from your customers.
Once you’ve identified the internal teams that can play a part in your program, you can start to identify your CI champions. Find the people who are excited about your program and are already sharing competitive intelligence without you asking them to. They are going to be invaluable in helping your program to succeed.
The end goal
The goal is to federate all that intelligence energy inside the organization – from sales, from product management, from engineering, from everywhere – and make sure you’re in the loop. You want to capture and centralize all those data points on each competitor. 🪝
How you do that will depend on your system. Some companies use platforms like Confluence while others use CI platforms to consolidate everything. Use whatever works for you – just make sure your data points are documented. Then you can map those data points and use them to build an intelligence-driven organization.
How to measure and demonstrate the success of your CI program
While competitive intelligence programs are often based on qualitative insights, you have to be able to measure the impact of what you're doing.
Objectives and key results (OKRs)
To do this, I like to use objectives and key results (OKRs). In case you’re not familiar with this framework, the objective is where you want to go, and the key results are how you get there. I set objectives for the year and key results for each quarter and every month. 🗓️
Let's say your objective is to enhance the awareness of stakeholders inside the company about Competitor X. To know you’re getting there, you’ll need to track deliverables that get you closer to achieving that goal. For example, presenting 24 briefs to relevant stakeholders.
There are so many OKRs to choose from – you might aim to send a certain number of competitive alerts to your stakeholders via Slack, achieve a certain NPS for your competitive briefs, conduct a certain number of win/loss interviews, or influence a certain amount of revenue through your competitive battle cards. Whatever you choose, you have to make it as measurable as possible. 📈
More important than the volume of briefs, alerts, and reports is the value they bring. You want to increase the value of your output by focusing on what is strategic, not just dumping any old news into your reports to make up your numbers.
Aligning OKRs with organization-wide goals
Your goals and key results need to be aligned with the organization's goals and key results – they can’t be set in a vacuum. Look at what the company is trying to do, and define your own goals from there. It’s not a case of “information in, analysis out.” Your output has to be tied to the product strategy, GTM strategy, and sales objectives. This is how you’ll achieve alignment with the organization overall.
- Competitive intelligence is not just about gathering information, it's about using that knowledge to shape your strategies and beat the competition. 🥇
- To build an effective competitive intelligence program, you need to start by establishing your purpose, figuring out your priorities, and focusing on productivity. 🐎
- Work closely with internal teams and stakeholders and identify those who are keen to contribute valuable insights. 🧭
- It’s vital that you centralize your CI data to avoid being overwhelmed. 📁
- Make sure you measure your success with OKRs that align with the overall goals of your organization. 🌎
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