Whatever the questions , knowing what you want to find_out is an essential step before intitiating a competitive intelligence program that will assure your company locates the information that will be useful to its business planning , according to Robert Sherwood
, a strategic marketing business consultant.Sherwood
, who heads RJSVentures.Com in Leawood , Kansas , has provided consulting services for more than 100 companies , some with sales up_to $ 5 billion.He
outlined a four-step process for gathering competitive intelligence during a recent teleseminar conducted by the Construction Industry Manufacturers Association
During the CIMA
educational session , Sherwood
relayed several sources that construction companies can access to find pertinent business data on other firms.
Planning Key Step
Determining what information about competitors will be useful to your company is the first step in the process and one that will prevent wasted effort , Sherwood
explained that many companies that just instruct their marketing staff to collect everything they can find on competitors often come_back with little that is useful because they didn't give enough thought to planning.
Although you may want to collect competitive intelligence just to track other companies , Sherwood
said , it's also critical to understand how the information will affect your company's decisions.
Collection is the second step of a competitive intelligence program , according to Sherwood
, and he
advises to first check government and Internet sources for publicly available competitive information.
U.S. Government ResourcesSome of the sources he cites are Secretary of State offices , since private corporations must file a large amount of information with these offices each year
.Each state is different , but very often you can find_out sales , number of employees , profitability , number of offices and the board_of_directors , Sherwood
Another source he
mentions is Securities and Exchange Commission filings , which are available online at various sites.The SEC has over 200 different reports that they require to be filed by public corporations , Sherwood said.Sherwood
explains that the SEC's 10Q report is particularly useful , because it includes information on suppliers , vendors , contracts , and CEO compensation.If competitors have new projects or new partners , it'll be in there.The penalty for underdisclosing in an SEC report is heavy.If companies file accurate information , then the most accurate information companies are going to file is with the SEC..
Overseas companies doing business in the United_States must also file about 30 different reports with the SEC , according to Sherwood
, noting that reports from foreign companies start with the letter F..
Check Uniform Commercial Code filings , available from Dun & Bradstreet , added Sherwood , if you want to know what companies are borrowing money , the method and what the money is to be used for.And Sherwood
also recommends the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web_site , since any company that's building a manufacturing plant has to apply for some sort_of EPA permit. The EPA site can be searched by ZIP code or by hazardous waste , and permits are filed years before plants will be online , he
Internet Tracking SitesSherwood
suggests using free Internet site tools that track competitive information and deliver it via e-mail.Some will notify a subscriber when particular website pages change , which can be used , for_example , to monitor changes in competitors' press_release pages , or their employment opportunity pages.
Others track information such_as when companies apply for patents and trademarks , issue press_releases , register website addresses , or get press coverage.Sherwood
noted that some search portals offer a method for researching the links to a competitor's websiite , providing benchmarking information which compares the number of links ( and presumably , traffic ) a competitor has and showing the Web addresses of linked sites which may reveal a competitor's business relationships.
Organizing the Information Your Company Already Has
Sherwood notes that many companies may not realize the amount of competitive intelligence they already have because the data exists in different departments.He
suggests using Internet technology to collect and organize such information.A first step is asking staff via e-mail to send you any competitor information they may have.By putting the competitor's name in the subject field , incoming e-mails with information on different companies can automatically be sorted into different folders.
suggests a company war room with data posted on the walls where staff from different departments can view the material.
Your finance people , your engineering people , your production people - each looks at competitive intelligence with a different but significant view , he
said.If information is tucked away in folders and people can't get a good , visual look at it , you don't get the same impact..
The final step to a competitive intelligence program is strategizing , says Sherwood
.Start by making an industry demographic assessment , and identifying what factors are causing change.It's not enough to say the Internet is sparking change , Sherwood said.That's too broad.Instead , draw inferences from your industry analysis..He
suggests , for_example , that rather than merely observing that the industry is growing at 12 % a year , look at your own company's growth compared to industry growth rates , and what does that mean about company performance and its future.
Consider characteristics such_as the economic environment , income changes , ecological changes , technological changes , political changes and cultural changes , Sherwood
The final exercise in a competitive intelligence program is to return to your initial questions , and determine what you would do differently if you knew the answers.If I said I wanted to know my competitors' sales , and I knew the answer , what would I do differently.This is the real key , Sherwood said.
For more information on the four-step competitive intelligence process , contact Robert Sherwood
at http : //www.rjsventures.com/.
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Here are some of the informational sites noted by Robert Sherwood
CIMA teleseminar on competitive-information gathering :.
http : //www.hoovers.com /http : //www.yahoo.com /http : //www.edgar-online.com /www.dnb.com/dnbhome.htmhttp : //www.mindit.netmind.com /http : //www.companysleuth.com /