Competitive intelligence professionals are businesspeople whose job it is to analyze how their company's major competitors are doing business, which allows the company to use that information to better its own prospects of success in the marketplace. The work involves a lot of research and observation as well as cultivation of inside contacts. Competitive intelligence professionals are often likened to a sort of corporate spy, but the work that they do is not surreptitious. Corporate espionage is illegal almost everywhere, which helps ensure that intelligence officials keep their observation tactics legitimate.
Many of the world’s largest companies employ entire competitive intelligence departments whose sole function is often keeping tabs on other players in the market. To remain at the top of a given field, a company not only needs to have a compelling product, it also must stay ahead of the competition. Executives often want to know what major rivals are thinking so that they can launch countermeasures, undermine competitors' sales or otherwise eliminate threats before those threats become palpable. Competitive intelligence professionals are the agents of this knowledge.
Nearly every country has corporate laws that prevent deception and outright spying on competitors in the business environment. Most are limited to overt acts of espionage, such as bribing employees, bugging offices or stealing documents. Information that can be gathered through close observation and careful thought is permitted. Reason-centered intelligence is something in which what competitive analysis professionals specialize.
There are three main branches of business intelligence. The first is strategic intelligence, which involves analyzing basic facts about a competitor, including its goals, its sales strategy and the techniques of its marketing staff, to name a few. Things that competitors do well fit into this category, as do their weaknesses. This sort of information can be gleaned through interviews with current and former clients as well as close observation of sales teams in action.
Tactical intelligence is related but focuses on the terms of competitors' sales. How deals are negotiated, whether fixed prices are really fixed and any bundling agreements or discounts usually fall within this category. Marketing decisions and day-to-day business strategy choices also are included, along with a company’s plan for future sales or proposed product developments. Understanding what will be coming and when is important information for competitive intelligence professionals in this arena.
Finally, counterintelligence provides the means for a corporation to shield its own information from its competitors' prying eyes. Most companies assume that the same tactics that they are employing in the field are somehow being used against them. Competitive intelligence professionals in this discipline usually focus on document protection measures, information security seminars and sales rep training sessions.
Competitor analysis usually also includes making a company more competitive in and of itself. This is particularly true for companies that might not be in the top tiers of their field. Competitive intelligence professionals will often study how the biggest and most successful companies operate to learn how to instigate improvement as well as how to better succeed against market forces and entering competitors.