Keeping Tabs on the Competition

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know just what your competition is up to?

Wouldn’t you love to know: how big they are; whether they are developing a new product or process; whether they expect to expand and, if so, where and when; what they charge and how they sell?

It may surprise you to learn that all of this information and more is available to you right now. It’s all perfectly legal; you just have to know how and where to look.

Knowing what other folks are up to has taken on a new meaning. This knowledge enables you to keep up to your competition, exploit their weaknesses, get ahead, and improve your own profit margin. The benefits are obvious, and this hasn’t been lost on Fortune 500 firms, most of which routinely gather information about their competitors. Many have “competitor-intelligence” departments staffed with full-time, trained professionals whose job is to keep their firms abreast of the latest developments in the market place.

This has been going on for years. But with increased competition and the use of computers and databases, it has taken on a whole new dimension. Media reports suggest that one of the reasons the Japanese have been so successful at staying up to date with, if not ahead of, the United States in software development is that Japan has staffed centres to gather intelligence on competitors in California’s Silicon Valley and budgeted many millions of dollars a year for the operation.

Now, relax; you don’t need to spend this kind of money to get the information. Much of it is free. Most is public knowledge, if you know where to look. Some will cost you time, effort, and the services of a professional.

How about the benefits? Is it really worth all this? Let me give you two examples, taken from two of the best books on the topic, Monitoring the Competition and Competitor Intelligence, both by Leonard Flud. In one situation, a sales manager realized that his people had a closing rate of 40%. Looking for a way to increase this, he made it a policy that salespeople could not submit bids until they had tried to gather as much information as possible about their competitors’ prices and terms. The results were astounding; their success rate shot up to a delightful 89%.

In another case, the manager of a large, packaged-goods manufacturing firm heard that a competitor was contemplating opening a similar manufacturing plant in its area. Acting on this intelligence, the firm moved immediately to flood the market with cost-cutting coupons for its products. Within six months, the competitor decided that the market area was not profitable enough and decided to build elsewhere. If the manager hadn’t received the information about his competitor and had allowed the competition to set up shop in his market, his firm would have lost millions of dollars in sales.

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