How to Tap Internal Sources for Competitive Intelligence

Extracting the information you need for competitive intelligence from internal sources is often rather challenging. The information is there, but you need to find a way to extract it from the people who have it and move it over to CI where it can be analyzed and processed into actionable intelligence.

Introduction to internal analytics

Business analytics refers to the automated collection and processing of large amounts of data to reveal meaningful patterns. Organizations use analytics to increase process efficiency, improve customer retention, monitor and fine-tune marketing campaigns, build more-effective websites, motivate employees, predict competitor actions, and much more. To make analytics more manageable, you can break it into two categories:

  • Internal: Internal analytics essentially crunches the numbers to gauge how well your organization is doing. Sales figures, profit margins, returns, customer complaints, production reports, and other forms of internally accessible data fall in this category.

  • External: External analytics sheds light on information outside your organization, such as market trends, customer sentiment (as expressed through social media), consumer confidence, industry regulations, changes in distribution channels, and so on.

Internal analytics is often insufficient for gaining insight into facts and figures. Internal analytics may warn you of a drop in sales, but until you perform external competitive intelligence, you don't have a clear idea of the cause or what you may be able to do to fix the problem.

Following are a few practical applications for internal analytics:

  • Sales figures may indicate trends in what customers are buying more or less of from you.

  • An increase in profit margins may be a good measure of success in telling whether certain initiatives have been effective.

  • A drop in market share often serves as an early-warning sign that an organization is losing ground to competitors.

If you're not tapping the power of internal analytics to improve at least one area of your organization, you should be. Start by tracking your organization's key performance indicators (KPIs). Here are a few examples of how changes in an organization's KPIs can serve as important intel:

  • Raw materials shipments from Nicaragua drastically decline.

  • Sales proposals (to customers) drop off significantly.

  • An airline's load factor on Chicago-Dallas flights declines 2.5 percent.

  • The inbound call center's hold times increase by 22 percent.

  • A key product's sales trend down by 11 percent.

  • Five of eight fulfillment centers are below required inventory levels for a major product.

Internal analytics applies artificial intelligence to big data in order to draw meaning from statistics. For example, suppose your call center's analytics software starts picking up an increased frequency of the word angry and the phrase mad as hell related to a specific line of products you're carrying. That connection can make you instantly aware of a problem long before anyone in customer service notices it.

Mapping sources and needs

To gain an understanding of where information resides in your organization and the sort of information each decision maker requires, create a source map and a needs map. A source map shows you where valuable information in your organization can be found. A needs map identifies the decision makers and the intelligence they need to improve their decision making.

Recruit an individual in each department to help you create the two maps. Try to find power players (such as department heads or content experts) who not only supply you with information and use the intelligence you produce but also are likely to promote the CI team's efforts. This person becomes your department insider and does the following:

  • Helps you identify the department's intelligence needs

  • Feeds you information that the department gathers

  • Receives the intel you provide and teams up with the organization's leadership to formulate and execute changes

Meet with your contact from each department to complete a questionnaire.

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After you obtain questionnaires from the decision makers, condense the information into a sources/needs box for each person.

For quick reference, consider creating a sources/needs card (the size of a business card) for each decision maker with sources on the front and needs on the back.

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To create your source map, strip out the needs and arrange the boxes around a box for CI.

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To create your needs map, strip out the sources and arrange the boxes around a box for CI.

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Another great way to create a needs map is to set up a bulletin board and have decision makers or CI reps in each department or area of the organization pin their needs to the board as they arise.

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Your source and needs maps provide you not only with an organizational inventory of resources but also with a list of key personnel to serve on your intel team.

How to formalize competitive intelligence gathering by department

Unless intelligence gathering is formalized, it's likely to get crowded out by other job responsibilities that may seem more urgent. To formalize the internal intelligence gathering process, take the following steps:

  1. Ask one person from each department to be in charge of gathering information and passing it along to CI.

    Recruit an individual from each department to serve on the CI team or at least designate one person to serve as a liaison between the department and the CI team.

  2. Establish a convenient means for passing information to CI.

    This may be via internal e-mail, a central database, or old-school memos.

  3. Establish goals and deadlines.

    Collaborate with each contact person to determine the quantity and minimum frequency for sending information to you. Also agree on intelligence goals and deadlines that indicate what your contact person can expect to receive back from you, and when.

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