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4 sources of competitive intelligence to dominate your market

4 sources of competitive intelligence to dominate your market Deren Baker

Big sports fans don their team colors, call in "sick" to work, and crowd stadiums to cheer as their favorite players swing bats, kick field goals, or shoot 3-pointers.

But a victory isn't just in the players' hands. Before players ever set foot on the field, coaches have gathered all the stats, studied game tapes, and assessed their opponents' strengths and weaknesses.

Why would business be any different?

It shouldn't be, but nearly half of companies that collect intelligence on their competitors are not using this data to make strategic decisions, according to a recent survey by the Harvard Business Review.

The CI playbook

Competitive intelligence (CI) means gathering information on risks and opportunities, combing this data for insights, and using these findings to make strategic improvements. In other words, information alone won't give you insights; you have to connect the dots.

The pharmaceutical industry is one of CI's biggest fans. Drug companies account for 27 percent of the businesses that spend more than $2 million annually on obtaining CI.

Pharmaceutical companies have saved or made millions of dollars by speeding up the development of drugs in response to competitors, divesting drugs made unprofitable by the competition, and walking away from deals. They gain this information by attending scientific conferences and taking advantage of public records. They also learn from clinical trials, medical journals, and competitors' marketing strategies.

Competitive intelligence allows these companies to remain agile and avoid industry surprises.

Where to find CI data

For competitive intelligence to be useful, companies need to focus on the details and the bigger picture. They should continuously assess the market to develop strategies, as well as real-time tactics.

With so much data out there, it's difficult at times to identify the critical information. Here are four data points you should collect and analyze to help your company beat the competition:

Sales information
This is the single most important piece of CI out there, and most companies keep these details close to the vest. If, in some odd case, you do have access to your rivals' data, take a long, hard look at their sales funnels, website conversions, and product-specific conversion rates.

Lots of tools out there provide different forms of CI, from keyword information to competitive benchmarking to full-blown website analytics. Examine this information to see what's working for your competitors and what isn't. Learn from their missteps, and keep the best ideas for yourself.

You might find that your rivals have ended product lines, launched new ones, or decided to vigorously promote one product or another. This information allows you to keep on top of your competition -- and the market in general.

Product releases
You'll never outsmart your competitors if you don't know their past and present. What do they offer, and how has it evolved over time? Staying alert on product releases can help you identify new market trends and opportunities.

In rapidly developing industries such as the tech sector, companies gain significant advantages by learning what their rivals are improving or developing and using that intelligence to inform their own future products. Samsung, its own mobile payment solution, Samsung Pay, less than a year after the debut of Apple's mobile payment system.

Promotions
Are your competitors slashing prices or promoting bundle deals or limited-time offers? Subscribe to their newsletters, follow them on social media, and set up Google Alerts to find out.

Pay special attention to promotions in advance of special events. Many retailers offer back-to-school deals in early August, for instance. Take what you know about your consumers' behaviors -- like the finding that consumers tend to comparison shop and visit up to five websites per search -- and modify your pricing and SEO strategy to optimize your marketing initiatives. Walmart brought in a third of the back-to-school search traffic and the most subsequent purchases in a recent analysis of the 2015 back-to-school shopping season.

Corporate news
Keep an eye on where your competitors are allocating money and resources. Studying where rival companies open new offices or make high-profile hires can shed light on what they are planning.

Owler is a great service to track corporate updates. The Internet Intelligence Index also lists more than 600 such sources to keep tabs on.

Competitors' blogs, too, are great sources of CI. For example, an Airbnb competitor might be interested in Airbnb's recent blog announcement that the on-demand hospitality company partnered with H&R Block to offer discounted tax preparation services to Airbnb hosts. Unless a competitor knows to counter with a similar offer, Airbnb has a major point of differentiation.

The CI advantage

Winning teams seem to have the power of premonition. In the final seconds of a game, a basketball coach knows which player to foul to give his team the best chance to win. But this isn't magic -- it's insight gleaned from untold hours of data collection and analysis.

Business leaders, all the information you need to beat the opposing team is out there waiting for you. Now the only question is, will you do your homework, craft a stronger strategy, and beat your opponent before time runs out?

Deren Baker is the CEO of Jumpshot, a San Francisco-based startup that offers marketing analytics solutions tailored for the travel, retail, media, financial, and e-commerce industries. He has previously held senior roles at Travelocity and...

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