To create a successful competitive intelligence (CI) system, in my experience, a company must first determine what knowledge it needs. In other words, the company must identify its intelligence requirements. These intelligence requirements consist of key intelligence topics (KITs) and key intelligence questions (KIQs). I’ll cover the differences between KITs and KIQs in a different post.
In this post, I’ll cover the specific types of knowledge a company needs. The priority your company should place on them will vary with your industry, strategy, market, and number of competitors (among other factors). However, I’ve found that in order to succeed, all companies should have good intelligence in at least ten different areas:
- Intellectual property
- Product development
- Market segments
- Human capital
First, by keeping track of product developments through patent literature searches, you can learn where your current competitors are active and what new competitors are entering the market. Depending on your company’s resources, you should do a comprehensive patent literature search at least once a year.
When searching for patents, start with the European Patent Office, which publishes all patent applications within a year after they are filed. This is valuable information because most countries do not make patents available to the public until their patent offices review them.
By learning about your competitors’ product development strategies and focus areas, you can understand how the market will change in the future. You should keep a broad view of the competitive landscape to detect disruptive technologies that might not seem like direct competitors today. By understanding how your competitors are developing future products, you can ensure your own products will be better than theirs. To be unique in the marketplace, you need to understand your competitors’ characteristics and behavior.
Along with using commercially available market reports and databases, talking with thought leaders, distributors, potential clients, and other expert sources can help you assess your market needs and size. Identifying target market segments will allow your company to know what markets your competitors are targeting or ignoring and will allow your company to better assess the size of each segment. Knowing how competitors segment the market can give your firm a more realistic view of its own customers and future market share.
During the long development periods for most biotech products, market needs and sizes will change. Thus, it is vital to keep your CI up to date by regularly consulting with key sources – for example, consulting a scientific advisory board and attending conferences. This process allows decision-makers to identify emerging trends and adjust their strategies.
By monitoring new technologies, both entering the market and in development, your company can identify possible partnerships with other companies and academic institutions. Searching scientific journals and patent literature and attending professional conferences can turn up fruitful sources of new partners.
It is also important to continuously monitor your competition. Some players will drop out of the market, while new and potentially disruptive technologies, developed by small firms that may not be readily apparent as competitors, may enter the market. A company has to be very expansive in thinking about possible competitors.
By attending conferences and talking to competitors at their booths, your company can assess competitors’ product strategies. You need to develop a good understanding of the products your competitors are developing, not just the products that are already on the market. This can allow your firm to determine if it wants to pursue a single product, multiple products, or a product-platform strategy.
By talking with your distributors and your competitors’ sales forces, your company can also determine how competitors are getting their products to market. This information can help your company develop its own more efficient and targeted strategy for product marketing and distribution. Your company can, for example, look at how much your competitors spend on advertising or how big your competitors’ sales forces are to create benchmarks for your own goals and performance.
By reading the publications of your competitors’ scientists and academic partners and by talking with them at conferences, your company can also identify the bottlenecks that competitors have encountered when developing similar technologies. This information can help your firm set its own development priorities, avoid potential problems, reduce development times and costs, and thereby develop a competitive advantage.
Surveying the regulatory agencies is one way to determine your current regulatory requirements and identify issues that might hold up a product’s approval or affect the way it is labeled and marketed. With a CI process, you can examine the various factors in the regulatory environment and anticipate changes that may profoundly impact your enterprise. With CI, you can also learn what your competitors are planning (in terms of either data or services) to make their products more attractive and get customers to pay for them.
Meanwhile, one of the most vital tasks for the leader of any company is ensuring that the firm has the resources it needs to operate. CI can help you determine which venture capitalists are investing in your firm’s technology area and which organizations might be interested in acquiring those technologies. This information can better establish your company’s value during financing and potentially strengthen your firm’s negotiating position. In addition, CI can identify merger and acquisition candidates, government grants, and joint-venture partners that could provide alternative sources of funding, thereby increasing your firm’s negotiation leverage.
Finally, salary surveys, recruiting agencies, and analyses of job ads can provide important insights into your competitors’ staffing strategies. This information can allow your company to determine the type of people it needs to succeed in a market niche and what it will take to attract and retain them.
In this post, I have provided an overview of the areas where CI can play a role in your company. While this is not a comprehensive list, it should help you think about the knowledge and the functions that you should consider when building a CI system. Most companies simply think of competitive intelligence as part of marketing or product development. My experience, however, has shown that it can add value across your entire organization and product value chain.
In the next blog post, I will discuss in greater detail how to develop and organize the key intelligence topics (KITs) and key intelligence questions (KIQs).