Daily Archives: October 15, 2007

Why Spy When You Can PI? (Another Competitive Intelligence)

Recently, SupplyManagement.com ran an article on how competitive intelligence can be a huge benefit for buyers. It had some great advice, but since nothing’s perfect, I’m going to add a few tips of my own. But first, Spies Like Us should cover the basis.

According to the SM.com article, “Competitive intelligence” (CI) isn’t about code names, tapped phone calls or fake beards, but is a legal and ethical process that is fast becoming an essential part of a business’s operations. CI focuses on collecting and interpreting information about organisations, market trends and industry developments, to help companies foresee risks and opportunities. By analyzing competitors, firms can realize their strengths and weaknesses and make more informed decisions.

Furthermore, it’s useful to supplier analysis. It can be used to validate a supplier’s claim before a contract is awarded. Analyzing a supplier’s cost structure will help assess the reasonableness of prices suggested by the supplier’s agents during negotiations. CI can also create an early warning system on potential difficulties a supplier may have. Also, information on current or potential suppliers may also turn up details on the competition where there are common suppliers.

Start with the international media – which often have huge searchable databases. Then move on to external sources – such as academics who have worked with the company, software firms that have installed systems, customers, partners, sub-contractors, suppliers, or individuals who have studied the organization. Then, if need be, move to within the company … but remember, the more likely an individual is senior and knows the answers, the less likely they are to talk.

Don’t overlook forums, conferences, and networking – and the power of sharing. A little can often go a long way. Work with non-competitive similar goals … the old the enemy of my enemy theory. There’s also outsourcing, but that can easily cost in the six figures.

The article concludes with the following tips:

  • Bypass voicemail and switchboards
  • Call from abroad; you’ll be perceived as less of a threat
  • Harness the power of the female voice
  • Use native language speakers
  • Avoid the words “research”, “survey”, and “questions”
  • Never expect to get too much out of any one respondent

I’d add, or emphasize, the following:

  • Watch what your target does until you understand who they are
    A good PI is a master of surveillance and follows his target until he understands what his target does on a daily basis. Who are they dealing with? What are they getting from the relationship?
  • Target those with a valid need for the information you need
    It might be unethical to try and extract the information you need from your target under false pretenses, but it’s not unethical to chat up their partners and ask for it in casual conversation. After all, they might already have the information you want and be willing to discuss it over a bottle of well-aged Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • How is the product made?
    You can’t construct a good cost model if you don’t know what to put in it.

It is always awkward doing business with an alias.

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