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Basics of Fee-Based Competitive Intelligence Services

When you’re gathering information for competitive intelligence, it’s not always a case of getting what you pay for. Sometimes the most valuable information drops in your lap. However, several fee-based services can be very useful in collecting information from sources around the world and consolidating it in a single database that you can search, sort, and filter according to your CI needs.

If you’re willing to pay for information, you generally have two options:

  • Self-serve: With the self-serve option, you subscribe to a database equipped with tools to search, sort, and filter information. The benefits are that your searches are self-directed and on-demand, and you can perform unlimited research as long as your subscription remains active. The drawback is that any self-serve option has a learning curve; you need to get up to speed on how to unleash the power of the database.

    When considering self-serve options, you need to distinguish between general-purpose options (for publicly traded companies) and sources for information on privately held companies.

  • Hire a data-mining consultant: If you’re doing an ad hoc CI project to answer a specific question or deal with a particular issue, then hiring a data-mining consultant may be a wise choice. You simply describe the insight you’re trying to gain, and the data-mining consultant does the heavy lifting.

General-purpose fee-based data services

General-purpose fee-based data services are useful for any organization, regardless of the industry. The heavy hitters in this group include the following:

  • Bureau Van Dijk specializes in company information and intelligence.

  • Corporate Information has information on over 35,000 public companies. The company sells reports about specific companies.

  • Dow Jones offers several products broken down into the following categories: Print and Digital Media, Financial News and Information, Risk and Compliance, Research and Intelligence, and Corporate Communications and PR.

  • Hoovers offers numerous tools, reports, and database subscriptions to help you research millions of companies that span more than 900 industry segments.

  • Lexis Nexis features a range of products, including online business news research, global company profiler, corporate investigative database tool, online public records tool, corporate legal resource management tool, and contact development analysis software.

  • Stratfor is one of the most broadly used intelligence information services. Stratfor has resources around the world that are adept at getting time-critical information to their clients at the speed of light. Stratfor offers daily briefings plus frequent in-depth analysis about key global or political issues.

  • The Economist Intelligence Unit provides global intelligence services that can be customized to the your intelligence needs. This organization has a rich background in CI.

Many fee-based databases have access to executives’ speeches (video or audio), which may offer some valuable insight into the character and mindset of competitors and other key players in your industry.

Sources for financial info on privately held companies

Thanks to SEC filing requirements, you can find plenty of financial information about publicly traded companies, but what about smaller, privately held companies? Fortunately, several sources provide financial info about nonpublicly traded corporations, including family-owned, equity-owned, venture-backed, and international companies that aren’t listed on the stock exchanges. Check out the following services, some of which may be quite expensive:

Industry-specific consultants

If you decide to hire a data-mining consultant, you can usually find a few options by flipping through the advertisements in your industry’s trade publications. Another option is to contact one of the major consulting firms. They usually have industry-specific consulting teams that bring a significant depth and breadth of knowledge to the assignment. Here are a few of the larger consulting firms to get you started:

Firms that specialize in CI:

SCIP has directory of service providers that you can access even if you’re not a member. Visit SCIP, click Resources in the navigation bar on the left, and click Directory of Service Providers.

Be sure that you evaluate and compare the consultants from each firm. Finding the right expert for an industry-specific project can save money and time, as well as provide much higher quality research.

When drawing up a contract to hire a consulting firm, always include a no-repackaging clause to send a clear signal that you expect the firm to do fresh research specifically for your organization. If the consulting firm refuses to sign the document, that probably means you were going to be sold repackaged research that has already been delivered to your competitor.

Another good practice is to give any new consulting firm a small project as a trial run before engaging it in a major project.

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