Introduction to Competitive Intelligence

Understanding Competitive Intelligence

Successful CI enables companies to predict a competitor‘s next move and respond more quickly. By knowing the competitors’ strategies, their weakness could potentially be transformed into your strength. CI also allows companies to proactively stay ahead and anticipate changes occurring in their marketplace and industry. In short, competitive intelligence is used primarily to gain or maintain competitive advantage.

Competitive Intelligence as A Critical Success Factor

Competitive Intelligence has become a necessity for a vast number of people in the corporate world. The Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP), mentioned previously, is a significant resource for providing information on Ethical standards, education, and training relevant in obtaining competitive intelligence. Its annual membership numbers have risen substantially in the past few years.

The Stakes Are Rising

Due to the rapidly changing face of business, competition now spreads across the continents and information technology networks. Technology is speeding the flow of transactions, decisions, and knowledge-flow and as a result, corporations are demanding more CI information. Some firms depend on their senior-level management to locate key information on competitors.

Others have a centralized internal division solely for the purpose of conducting CI reviews. Still others spend large amounts of money through the employment of Competitive Intelligence companies, in exchange for a wealth of competitor information. CI teams come in all sizes, yet it must be realized that information must reach the right people at the right time. Communication, credibility, collaboration, teamwork, consistency and confidentiality are key elements in conducting CI.

By understanding competitive intelligence and how important it has become in businesses all over the world, it is evident it has become a requirement in corporate management’s strategies and decisions and a necessity to master and comprehend in order to succeed.

SCIP Code of Ethics for CI Professionals

  • To continually strive to increase the recognition and respect of the profession.


  • To comply with all applicable laws, domestic and international.


  • To accurately disclose all relevant information, including one’s identity and organization, prior to all interviews.


  • To fully respect all requests for confidentiality of information.


  • To avoid conflicts of interest in fulfilling one’s duties.


  • To provide honest and realistic recommendations and conclusions in the execution of one’s duties.


  • To promote this code of ethics within one’s company, with third-party contractors and within the entire profession.


  • To faithfully adhere to and abide by one’s company policies, objectives, and guidelines.

For more information, please visit The Society for Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP)



Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) About the Competitive Intelligence Center

What is the Competitive Intelligence Center?

The Competitive intelligence Center is a portal dedicated to the systematic, legal and ethical collection of gathering, analyzing and publishing of competitive information. 

What Is Competitive Intelligence?

“The legal collection and analysis of information regarding the capabilities, vulnerabilities, and intentions of business competitors, conducted by using information databases and other “open sources” and through ethical inquiry.”

– From the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (

What impact can Competitive Intelligence Center Have On My Organization’s Performance?

Access to tools, presentations, links to informational sources and downloads to guide CI users and help increasing productivity and knowledge about Competitive Intelligence activities to provide a greater impact on your organization’s startegic comfort level and decision making prowess. 

The goal of the CIC is to provide the community with a single place to obtain information, guidelines, tools and templates to conduct efficient  competitive intelligence activities.  Among the findings in a March 2002 Trendsetter Barometer survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers: Fast-growth CEOs who rated competitor information as being either “very” or “critically” important grew revenues by 14.2 %, versus 11.8% for all others — a 20% faster rate. Significantly, those placing a premium on competitor information are outperforming their peers on sustained revenue growth, gross margins, and a number of other key performance measures.

What is the CIC focused on since Competitive Intelligence is such a Broad Subject?

The Competitive Intelligence Center is focused on providing quick access to online sources of intelligence and leveraging the most popular CI tools: performing competitive reviews and SWOT analysis.  

Is CI truly valued in the business community?

Yes. In companies all over the world, SCIP members are enabling executives to make the informed decisions that keep companies responsive, well-positioned, and profitable. The March 25, 2002 online edition of Time magazine looked at how, post-9/11, executives are demanding better information not only about security risks, but about threats to their competitive edge as well.

How large is the CI market?

The market for business intelligence is worth about $2 billion a year worldwide, including services ranging from detailed investigations to clipping news articles, according to Kroll Inc. (as reported by Reuters on Sept. 2, 2001). In a survey of SCIP members, over 25% said their company’s total CI spending in 2000 topped $100,000. Almost 14% said their company spent over $500,000.

– From the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (

How many firms have formal CI systems?

According to a survey by researchers at The Futures Group, in 1997 a full 82% of companies with annual revenues over $10 billion had an organized system for collecting information on rivals, while 60% of all surveyed U.S. companies had an organized intelligence system (up from 58% two years earlier).

Isn’t it true that CI is only important for big businesses?

No. Clearly, executives at many global companies — like Xerox, IBM, and Motorola — have already realized the importance of CI and have developed their own operations. But small businesses, like large corporations, must compete in the marketplace. It’s just as important for decision makers in small businesses to know what lies ahead as for CEOs at Fortune 500 companies.

– From the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (

Is it possible for a company to practice some form of CI without realizing it?

Yes. Any employee who visits a trade show, reads a newspaper, or talks to friends in the same industry is doing research (one of the components of CI). But other CI components are often missing in businesses today. CI adds value to information gathering and strategic planning by introducing a disciplined system not only to gather information, but also to perform analysis and disseminate findings tailored to the needs of decision makers.

Is CI Spying?

No. Espionage is the use of illegal means to gather information. It isn’t necessary to use illegal or unethical methods in CI. In fact, doing so represents a failure of CI, since almost anything decision makers need to know about the competitive environment can be discovered using legal, ethical means. Most information that can’t be found through open-source collection and ethical inquiry can be deduced by using a variety of analytical tools — just one of the ways CI adds value to an organization.

Developing CI Strategies – Planning A Competitive Review

The Competitive Review process involves 6 basic Steps:

Step 1: Plan your review at 3 levels:

  • Strategic level
  • Tactical
  • Operational

Step 2: Identification and classification of your competitors – current and future.

Step 3: Define Intelligence Requirements – focusing on needs (vs. wants) and a specific outcome you want to achieve.

Step 4: Determine how your results will be credible, trustworthy and actionable by decision makers.

Step 5: Develop a systematic intelligence collection and analysis capability then gather intelligence developing profiles and “apples-to-apples” benchmarks for each competitor.

Step 6: Establish a two way communications channel between theCI analyst and the user(s) of the information. Disseminate and explain findings and make any necessary refinements on intelligence requirements (Begin Step 3 again).

This section will focus on the first important step.

Defining the terms: Objectives, Goals, Strategies and Tactics

There is usually a lot of confusion between the terms Objectives, Goals, Strategies and Tactics so it is useful to define these terms.  According to the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary these terms in this context are defined, as follows:

Objectives: something toward which effort is directed : an aim, goal, or end of action b : a strategic position to be attained or a purpose to be achieved by a military operation.

Goals: the end toward which effort is directed. 

Strategies: a careful plan or method : a clever stratagem b : the art of devising or employing plans, tactics or stratagems toward a goal c : the science and art of military command exercised to meet the enemy in combat under advantageous conditions.

Tactics: a device for accomplishing an end 2 : a method of employing forces in combat.

First, Establish Your Objectives

A typical Competitive Review has the following 4 Key objectives:


1.Identify competitor strategies – now and in the future.

2.Predict and monitor competitor’s likely responses to your strategies and tactics.

3.Understand a competitor’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).

4.Determine how well a competitor’s capabilities and resources are to support their chosen strategies to gauge the likelihood of success.

Key ingredients in any competitive review are that the findings be: timely, trustworthy, concise, relevant, actionable and accessible to key decision makers. From this basic framework, establish specific Objectives around the competitor you are profiling. Objectives must be:

  • A single one line statement
  • Specific in focus
  • Measurable

They can also:

  • Relate to a specific time period
  • Relate to a specific competitor

Developing Strategies and Tactics

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat.”

– Sun Tzu “The Art Of War,”

Strategy may be defined as the general scheme of the conduct of a war, tactics as the planning of means to achieve strategic objectives.

By achieving the Objectives of the competitive review, the investigation strategy can then be structured. Depending on the needs, some strategies may entail:

  • A SWOT analysis to understand the competitor’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
  • Determination of a company’s strategy: low cost provider, vertical niche focused and/or products and services differentiation.
  • Leverage: Research into partnerships, relationships, clients, technology solutions, and platforms.

Additional information on Strategies and Tactics can be found at

Media Analysis

The media is certainly a primary source in researching competitors. Newspapers, magazines, newswires, and publications all contain pieces of information that may assist you in formulating an opinion and conducting a competitive review.

When investigating a competitor, always start locally or regionally and “fan out” from there. In many cases, companies you are reviewing are more prominent in their locale or nearest major city and these publications will often contain more details about the competitor than national publications. Events such as: layoffs, facility changes, accidents, fines, large account awards/lossess or changes in management will receive local press before they reach the national newswires.

Online newspaper databases will help you locate these publications. AJRNewslink is an example.

Click here for other available sources.

Media Analysis Tips

Examine all sections of the paper. Don’t overlook help-wanted ads, legal notices, and editorials. They often provide insight and assist in formulating conclusions about strategy changes, product improvements, possible expansion, or news about key personnel. For example, if a company is continually advertising for technology positions, it could imply that it is expanding its computer structure. Observing what skills are being recruited is an important technique in uncovering something new the competitor is doing.

Note that job sites and the company’s website will also assist in this research – but be careful about the bias inherent in press releases.

Click here to view some of these resources.

Newswires are also useful in CI research. Many newswire stories never make it to the newspapers or if they are printed, only contain a portion of the whole story. They also provide periodic updates; so, if information was inaccurate or changed, the newswire story will be updated accordingly.

Trade and Industry publications are another source for conducting media analysis. To those inside a particular industry, these publications are of great value. Trends, news in the industry, rumors, vendors, key players, and other informative bits of information can be gathered. More in-depth details on a particular industry is provided, which may facilitate in a review of competitors’ actions.

Trade journal and association sources are available here.

Competitive Intelligence Research Tips

The first step in any research endeavor or project is to define the research problem. An information gap is then recognized and research will be performed to close the gap giving management a clearer idea of how to proceed strategically. Alan R. Andreason has developed an interesting research model that essentially, identifies what the final stage of the specific marketing or management decision will be and then works backward. He recommends the following procedures:

  • Determine how the research results will be implemented (which helps to define the problem). The work backwards from here.
  • To ensure the implementation of the results, determine what the final report will contain and look like.
  • Specify the analyses necessary to “fill the gaps” of information.
  • Determine the kind of data that must be assembled to carry out these analyses.
  • Scan primary and secondary sources to identify where this data can be obtained and whether or not it can be obtained quickly and cheaply.
  • If no such easy way out exists then design instruments and a sampling plan that will yield data to fit your requirements.
  • Carry out the field work. Be sure to collect only information that will help you solve your specific problem.
  • Do the analysis and watch it have its intended effect. (1)

 ResearchingOutside the Box

The Competitive Intelligence is found in a variety of areas. Sometimes, however, the most useful information is uncovered in areas unconnected with the question or decision at hand. As you do your research, you may also have times when you just can’t find the answers you need. It is at these times when researching “outside the box” is necessary.

Words of Wisdom

“The most meaningful way to differentiate your company from your competition, the best way to put distance between you and the crowd, is to do an outstanding job with information. How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose.” 
– Bill Gates, Business @ the Speed of Thought: Using a Digital Nervous System

Researching “Outside the Box” (Continued)

There are many additional forms of “Out of the Box” Research sources available in the CICLibrary. Here are a few examples of these non-traditional sources of information.

Determine Your Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) Code

In order to place your product within its proper industry you should know what SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) code applies. The SIC Code is a U.S.based system developed to classify or group industries. Many public Web sites, including OSHA’s SIC Search allow you to search by your product type and select the appropriate SIC code for each product. Once you have identified the relevant SIC code, you need to do some research to determine what other companies operate in your business – in other words, your competition. You can obtain this company information from sources such as Hoover’s Online and other business sites.

Trade, Business and Commerce Associations

Trade association documents often include valuable data that the industry group has gathered and analyzed. They are often available online.

Click here to view resources that might provide these documents.

Some trade associations provide information packages when requested. The American Society of Association Executives provides a database to locate these organizations.

Executive Compensation

Analyzing executive compensation figures is another example of researching “outside the box”. Industry standards can be viewed and conclusions can be made concerning retention of employees. is a helpful site for this topic. It contains information directly from SEC filings. For companies not listed in this site, refer to the SEC EDGAR site and research individual companies proxy statements. See also Rob Magazine “Top 1000 Paid Executives”

Political Contributions – By Industry, Company, Politician and Political Party

Tracking competitors’ political contributions through The Center for Responsive Politics also assists in drawing conclusions about the competitor. Numerous databases are featured which may provide useful facts and figures about the soft money, PAC and other political contributions being made to political parties and politicians.

Conference Calls

Conference calls are another avenue to take when conducting a competitive review. By analyzing calendars of conferences, you may uncover the speakers are actually your competitors. By accessing the conference papers, patterns, presentations and trends in the industry can be determined. You can uncover what the competition is planning straight from the source and learn the names of some of your competitor’s top employees. In many cases, conference proceedings occur online facilitating in the retrieval of documents.

Industry Analysis

Industry Analysis is helpful in compiling a competitive review for the purposes of keeping up with developments in industry or industry trends, watching developments or trends in another industry, moving into a new industry, or considering an acquisition or merger.

When studying an industry, it’s necessary to comprehend fully the direction the industry is taking. To make this determination, it’s important to analyze:

  1. History of the Industry accessible through trade publications or associations and industry-specific databases.
  2. Industry trends also obtainable through trade publications or associations and industry-specific databases.
  3. Forecasts on the size of the industry.
  4. Customers for Products or Services
  5. Potential New Customers
  6. Changes Affecting the Market such as import patterns
  7. Market Forecasts
  8. Distribution Methods
  9. Product Leaders
  10. Potential for duplication or complimenting products or services
  11. Price Structure/ Price Margins
  12. Technology being used / Emerging technologies and trends
  13. Fiscal position
  14. Productivity

Researching Business Websites / Monitoring Competitors

There is an abundance of business-to-business sites available over the Internet. These sources can be located through search engines.

Click here to view some recommended search engines.

Some important business information sites to include in your research are:

See also the Toolbox section entitled: Research Tips>

Free CI tool called C4U Scout: is a link utility used to browse through your competitor sites and to check whether changes have occurred in them. C4U automatically scans the Web pages you specify, checks the types of changes you are interested in, and delivers a summary of the changes. Program is:  easy-to-use, excellent for checking news sites, job opportunities sections, press releases and constantly updating sites. It even sets scans on an interval to your liking. Download

Researching Business Websites / Monitoring Competitors

Many business sites constantly monitor selected competitors at no cost. Companysleuth allows you to monitor public companies and provides daily reports in areas you have selected. There is a feature titled “Who is Watching Me?” which assists you in defensive CI.

Other CI monitoring sites include:

Public Records and Government Databases

Public records can be gathered at the national, state, and local government level. They offer many services to assist you in conducting your CI review. Some ways they assist include:

  • Identifying corporate relationships (Obtainable through the Secretary of State)
  • Identifying affiliations of officers/directors of companies (Obtainable through online public record services)
  • Discovering adverse information (Obtainable through credit reports, bankruptcies, etc.)
  • Identifying and locating assets and identifying a company’s real property holdings (Obtainable through state or local contracts, grants, applications).
  • Public Records and Government Databases
  • Government databases also provide services important for competitive intelligence. The information provides insight on which companies are selling to the government. State government agencies can be identified where the competition is selling goods and services. SEC Filings reveal all the required filing information by competitors. A helpful site to refer to for this information is NASIRE.
Government Online Resources
Biz.comCBDNetCongress and Government ResourcesEnvironmental Protection AgencyFederal RegisterFederal Web LocatorFirstGovInfomineNational Insititute Of Standards and TechnologyNational Science Foundation;Occupational Safety and Health AdministrationSecurities and Exchange CommissionU.S. Bureau of the CensusU.S. Business AdvisorU.S. Department of AgricultureU.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economics and StatisticsU.S. Government Online GatewayU.S. National Technology Transfer Center;[CLOSE]

Analyzing Competitor Websites

Competitors’ websites are a highly recommended competitive intelligence source. It is a free, content-rich starting place to begin your research. It’s also advantageous in uncovering information on small or new companies where traditional information about a young business is difficult to locate elsewhere.

Key sections of the site, listed in order of priority, to take note of include:

  • People/Management team – identifies key individuals and allows you to do more thorough research on executives’ management styles and accomplishments elsewhere.
  • Corporate philosophy – will assist in understanding their strategy and planning your own direction
  • Company history – older companies often provide more information; by analyzing prior behaviors, future actions can be predicted.
  • Investor relations – information for shareholders is always useful to competitors.
  • Products and services – gives clues on how competitor is positioning these products and services and assist you in determining if your products and services need improvement and are of comparable value.
  • Partners and subsidiaries – allows you to analyze these websites and examine their stature and selling points.
  • Accomplishments/Demos of products – will involve what the competitor views as their prime selling product or service.
  • Location(s) of company – often lists detailed information on employees and branches of company.
  • Press releases – often announce new partnerships, products and services being introduced.
  • Employment opportunities – identifies the area the company needs assistance in and reveals possible areas of weakness, expansion or development.
  • Company publications – posted company magazines, white papers, brochures, reports, etc. provide insight into current projects, employees, research and development, strategies, etc.

Websites are usually an updated resource providing both general and inside knowledge about the company. However, professionals still warn users to exercise caution when studying competitors’ websites. Information may be deliberately misleading and overly optimistic. Negative topics are rarely included yet often do exist. It is important to research other sources and validate what is uncovered here for credibility.

Competitive Analysis

There are a variety of different tools and approaches for gathering intelligence and analyzing competitors. Jan Herring suggests there are 5 basic types of intelligence analysis:

1. Preventing surprises to the organization by providing early warning
2. Supporting the decision-making process.
3. Competitor assessment and monitoring.
4. Intelligence assessments for planning and strategy development.
5. Analysis as a key part of the collection and reporting process. (1)

A 1998 SCIP membership survey asked members what methods of analyzing CI information were most used, and which Tools for Analyzing Information were rated most effective:

[Percent using each tool]:

  • Competitor profiles: 88.9%
  • Financial analysis: 72.1%
  • SWOT analysis: 55.2%
  • Scenario development: 53.8%
  • Win/loss analysis: 40.4%
  • War gaming: 27.5%
  • Cojoint analysis: 25.5%
  • Simulation/modeling: 25%

Effectiveness of Analysis Tools

[Percent rating each tool extremely or very effective]

  • SWOT analysis: 63.1%
  • Competitor profiles: 52.4%
  • Financial analysis: 45.5%
  • Win/loss analysis: 31.4%
  • War gaming: 21.9%
  • Scenario development: 19.2%
  • Co-joint analysis: 15.8%
  • Simulation/modeling: 15.4%

Competitor profiles, Financial analysis and SWOT analysis are the most popular and effective CI tools and therefore, will be featured throughout the Competitive Intelligence Center (CIC). (2)

Words of Wisdom

“One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” – Arnold Glasgow (1908-1970)


If you have any suggestions, comments or questions, please contact The Competitive Intelligence Center.


(1) Herring, J. (1996) “Creating the intelligence system that produces analytical

intelligence” from The Art and Science of business intelligence analysis (pp53-81).

(2) Source: Survey of SCIP membership conducted by The Pine Ridge Group, Inc. and the T.W. Powell Company, 1998. 3) Prescott, John E. (2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.) Proven Strategies in Competitive Intelligence – Lessons from the Trenches, p216-239.