Once you have defined your competitive intelligence needs and have agreed on them with your company’s leadership, then you must review the existing knowledge of your CI team to determine where there are “real” gaps. Then you will develop a collection plan to fill these gaps. A good collection plan must:
- Determine who will gather what information, when, where, how, and using what sources;
- Consider the mix of secondary and primary sources, the number of sources, and the elicitation strategies;
- Be based on understanding of the target environment and past experiences; and
- Ensure efficiency and standardization.
It’s important to understand that information collection has to be managed to ensure that all potential sources of information are used effectively, internal and external sources are integrated, and collection is cost-effective.
Determining How to Collect Intelligence
Who: When we think about who will gather the information needed, we have three options. Information may be collected by the CI team within the organization, by the internal network, or by the external network. (We provide a short overview of the internal and external networks in the “where” section below.)
What: Each of the KITs and KIQs has to be assigned to a particular collector to maximize collection effectiveness. For example, a collector with a medical background will have a higher chance of success in getting medical information than a collector with a commercial background.
When: The timing of KIQ collection needs to take into account two variables. When the information is needed mostly depends on when key decisions have to be made within the organization or when the chance of getting the information is higher. For example, if a key internal investment decision is taking place 30 days from today and you provide the intelligence 31 days from today, then your intelligence is useless. The decision-makers will have already made a decision and signed the contract.
Where: Intelligence begins inside your organization. In large organizations, up to 80 percent of the information you need to make safe and sound business decisions today can be found right inside your organization. The problem is that you may not have networks in place to gather this information or good internal databases to share it. Many employees in your organization have specialized knowledge and contacts that have never been exploited. Usually these employees know very little about CI, let alone how valuable a role they may play in the organization competitively. Finding these key employees and linking their areas of expertise to the CI process allows the CI team to build an internal network.
The remaining 20 percent of the information you need can be gathered through your external network. The external network is made of people outside your firm whom your employees contact on a regular basis. These contacts can occur through business transactions; sales representatives, for example, might have clients who are in contact with competitor organizations. Good CI functions, which reduce the risk and increase the chances of gathering high-quality intelligence, will expand the external network by employing the services of competitive intelligence vendors.
How: Information can be gathered in three general ways. The first and easiest is desktop (computer) research, which includes mining databases, emailing contacts, using social networks, etc. The second method is telephone interviews, and the third method is face-to-face interviews.
What Sources: There are four major categories of human sources.
- The first, which we have already touched on, is the category of internal sources, those employees within your organization who have specific skill sets or have worked at the target company.
- The second category consists of employees internal to the target company. Sales representatives, senior executives, marketing managers, finance and operations managers, regulatory analysts, media-relations specialists, manufacturing employees, and administrative assistants are just a few of the valuable kinds of sources that come to mind.
- The third category comprises sources connected with the target company – people who are employed by firms that routinely do business with the target company, such as vendors, sub-contractors, distributors, or service workers – who may or may not be constrained by confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements.
- The fourth category consists of individuals who have information about the target company but are unconnected to and uncontrollable by it. These include people who have an interest in the target company but no formal relationship, such as market analysts, business writers, and community groups.
There are multiple secondary sources such as the Internet, newspapers, paid databases etc. We will cover this type is more detail in upcoming posts.
Establishing the Collection Plan Mix
In order to have high confidence in the intelligence gathered, you must validate the collected information through triangulation. This means that you should get the same information from sources in different functions of the target organization or from different categories of sources.
For example, suppose you hear from one of your clients, through one of your sales representatives, that Health Widget Co. is planning to launch a new widget X. You then hear from an advertisement vendor working with Health Widget Co. that they just got request to develop a new marketing campaign for a widget. Finally, your CI vendor spoke within an employee at Health Widget Co. who said that they plan to launch a new widget this coming winter. You can conclude that four different and non-related sources have confirmed the launch of a new widget X. In this case, you can have high confidence in the intelligence you got from your sales representative.
Ideally, CI professionals would like to have a minimum of three sources for each intelligence question. However, this is not always possible, due to the time required to get the information from each source and due to the cost associated with talking to the sources. Therefore, the type of sources targeted, the number of sources targeted, and the collection approach have to be well-defined in order for the CI process to be efficient. I trust that the above paragraphs provide you a glimpse of the different factors that you will need to consider in order to develop a good collection plan.
The third step in the On-Competition CI process is to gather secondary information, which is the easiest, cheapest and most effective way to identify sources of information for human intelligence collection. The next blog post will cover some of the non-obvious places to get secondary intelligence.