How to Recruit Intel Agents for Competitive Intelligence in a Small Business

Major corporations are likely to have a formal competitive intelligence department complete with a director, data-entry personnel, and one or more dedicated analysts, but you don’t need a separate CI department to achieve success. Instead, you can integrate CI with what management and employees are already doing by adding it as a job responsibility.

How to recruit readers for the intel team

A great way to gather data is to assemble a team of readers to produce a monthly CI report. Readers are simply employees who commit to remaining plugged in to certain sources of information (perhaps trade journals, news media, social media, and so on) and either entering it into the system or passing it along to another CI team member who enters it into the system.

Although readers are usually most involved in collecting information, they may also be involved in analysis, especially if your readers have expertise in certain areas of interest.

Adding readers to your CI team offers the following benefits:

  • Job enrichment: Readership gives employees the opportunity to contribute something of value to the future success of the organization, making them feel more important in the grand scheme of things.

  • Spreading the workload: By divvying up the intel sources (trade journals, social media, websites, white papers, and so on) or assigning topical areas, each reader has a small slice of the intelligence pie so nobody feels overwhelmed.

  • Specialization: Over time, each reader can work toward becoming an expert on a specific source or topic area.

  • Efficiency: Using a team of readers, CI can pull together a monthly CI report fairly quickly and without adding to CI’s operating cost.

Take the following steps to recruit readers and coordinate their efforts:

  1. Find people in different departments who are willing to be a part of an intelligence team.

    Get the right mix of people by forming your team around the five personalities of change (pathfinders, listeners, organizers, followers, and diehards). Be sure to include at least one pathfinder, because pathfinders are

    • Natural intelligence gatherers.

    • Unbiased — they tend to see data for what it is.

    • Motivated by variations in job responsibilities; pathfinders often get bored when restricted to a single job area, so allowing them to serve on the intel team benefits everyone.

  2. Assign each person an area of responsibility.

    Try to assign areas of responsibility based on each individual’s area of expertise; for example, someone in customer service or sales is probably best qualified to gather information about customer needs, and someone in product development may be best suited to monitor emerging technologies and processes/procedures. You may want to designate the following areas of responsibility:

    • Competitors

    • Customer needs

    • Technologies

    • Procedures/processes

    • Legislation

    • Acquisitions/mergers

  3. Collaborate as a team to compile a list of resources for each area.

    Consider both internal and external resources. Internal resources include information from other personnel. External resources may include industry journals, trade shows, social media, patent records, Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, online discussion groups, and so on.

  4. Work together to gather and analyze information.

    To find out more about gathering information, see Part II. For more about analyzing information, turn to Part III.

  5. As a team, compile the research and analysis into a monthly state-of-the-industry report (briefing document).

    Your report should include the following:

    • A one-page executive overview that can be read in 120 seconds, max

    • Supporting analysis in the see-mean-do (SMD) format

    Inform all team members to communicate urgent information to the CI team leader immediately so the team leader can report it to the designated contact person on the executive team (in most cases, the CEO).

    Urgent information includes anything that could possibly affect the business positively or negatively in the next two to three months; for example, if a hurricane is threatening to delay shipment of materials needed for production, management needs to know as soon as possible to line up an alternative.

Publicly recognize the people who take on these duties in addition to their regular jobs. From a motivational standpoint, recognition is much more powerful than money. If you make selection for the intel team a big deal and continually recognize the members, serving on the team becomes a sought-after honor in the organization.

Enlist everyone

Although the competitive intelligence team is responsible for gathering and analyzing data, you should encourage everyone in the organization to contribute. To mine information from the various departments, take the following steps:

  1. Draw team members from each department to ensure connectivity between the CI team and the department heads.

    Having an inside person operating within each department helps get buy-in from department heads because they know that someone on the CI team is watching out for them. Another option is to assign each intelligence team member to a specific department and encourage them to spend time in their assigned departments once a week or every two weeks.

  2. Coordinate with the department heads and make sure that they’re stressing to their staff the importance of passing on information to the intelligence team members.

  3. Create a process for logging information from each department into the system.

    The process can be as simple as having the CI rep from each department send an e-mail message to the person on the CI team who’s in charge of data entry on a regular basis.

Recognize, recognize, recognize! Recognize contributors and CI team members for a job well done. Recognition is the engine that drives CI success.

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