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Competitive Intelligence: Continuous Feedback for Increased Sales and Profits

By Enrico Codogno |

This is the first of a multi-part discussion on how Competitive Intelligence (a system of continuous feedback) gives businesses the winning edge over competitors and profits - even in hard economic times.

Competitive Intelligence provides clarity and guidance in dealing with business opportunities, and also warnings to eliminate blind spots and avoid pitfalls.

Over several discussions, we will look at what Competitive Intelligence really is, why your company should use it as part of your business activities, how it’s done, and examples of how companies have successfully used Competitive Intelligence.

Definition of Competitive Intelligence

Competitive Intelligence is the active ethical and legal gathering, and analysis of information from the business or competitive environment for purpose of applying the intelligence gathered to achieve business objectives.

From this sentence we can derive the following concepts about Competitive Intelligence.

Legal and Legitimate

One, it is ethical and legal. There is no dumpster-diving for discarded files, no bribing of people to gather key company information, no hidden cameras to photograph strategic plans. Of course, unscrupulous individuals do engage in this type of activity, and counter-measures will be discussed in an upcoming segment of this discussion.


The second concept is that information is actively gathered. This is no desk job relying on surfing the internet. Anyone engaged in Competitive Intelligence must actively network with sources of information on the competitive environment. These could be internal sources like:

  • sales reps,
  • customer service reps,
  • human resources,
  • the legal and finance departments, and
  • market research studies.
External sources of information include:
  • a suppliers and/or business partners (they may come across your competitors or perhaps their competitors are dealing your competitors),
  • industry experts,
  • government data and legislation,
  • lobby groups,
  • journalists,
  • competitive intelligence agencies and, of course,
  • competitors (actual and potential).

The third concept is that Competitive Intelligence is that it is continuous. It cannot be effective if it is a “one-off” project.

The Competitive Intelligence professional must proactively network with sources of information, especially with internal sources. When sources do provide information, a quid pro quo may be required, which may be a sharing of information or, at the very least, acknowledgement of the receipt of such information: it doesn’t hurt to say, Thank you.

Just as the gathering of information is continuous, so must the analysis be continuous. The analysis of information is the lifeblood of Competitive Intelligence. This is where seemingly unrelated data points are brought together, assessed according to credibility and possible biases, and turned into actionable intelligence, i.e., calls to action.

Clarity = Guidance and Confidence

Analysis takes incoherent points of information, assesses and organizes them to provide a clear picture of existing and potential threats and opportunities. This clarity provides guidance and confidence when developing measures to counter threats and exploit opportunities.

After the information has been analyzed and converted into an executive brief of a few sentence and point form calls to action, it is presented to key decision-makers. Senior executives do not want to see reams of information that will make their eyes glaze over. The Competitive Intelligence professional will provide back-up information in support of the executive brief, but the objective is to make decision-making as easy as possible for senior executives.

Senior Management Buy-In

And this brings us to the fourth concept: there must be senior management buy-in for Competitive Intelligence.

They must actively and visibly support those employees engaged in Competitive Intelligence in order to encourage everyone else in the company to co-operate and participate in its activities by sharing any competitive information they may come across.

Forewarned = Forearmed

Competitive Intelligence provides a multi-layer or multi-dimensional picture of an ever-changing business or competitive environment. It looks at a large number of sources and types of information and synthesizes them into a clear depiction of the business environment.

Competitive Intelligence enables your company to be forewarned of any challenges or opportunities and forearmed to counter challenges or profit from opportunities.

In our next segment, we will look at what is meant by competitive environment and also how companies can use Competitive Intelligence to anticipate or react to business challenges.

Articles in this series:

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