No matter what kind of organization you work for, whether it's your own small business or a global Fortune 100 company, your number-one goal is success, says Les McKeown, author of Predictable Success. Success can be measured by using, defining, gathering, analyzing and distributing information about products and services, customers, competitors and any aspect of the business environment needed to support your executives in making strategic decisions. This is known as research, market analysis or a broader definition called competitive intelligence.
Research focused on the external business environment looks at the risks and opportunities in the market, hopefully before they become obvious to the market as a whole, thereby giving you a competitive advantage. The key items a business should look at are:
- market statistics
- financial reports
- newspaper clippings and,
- competitive information
Use the research to make yourself more competitive relative to the entire environment with customers, competitors, distributors, technologies and macro-economic data.
Gathering Competitive Information
Information can be obtained from public or subscription sources, from networking with competitor staff or customers, or from field research interviews. Many years ago I was consulting with a small construction company and the CEO did not have a lot of money to analyze his competition. He found it easier to get in his truck in the morning and park outside his competitor's building to see the number of contractors that came in for supplies. It wasn't scientific but it did give him a feel for the activity level of his competitors.
His other tactic was to visit with his competitors and ask them how they were doing. Usually he would say his business was down and ask how things were going with them. Having observed the activity level of his competitors he could draw a conclusion about how they were doing in the market place.
We supplemented this information with one-on-one interviews with select customers, gathering information on the company's strengths and weakness, industry information about the current state, how the industry was changing (from their perspective), and how the company could provide more value to their customers.
This research along with the other data allowed my client to make informed, tactical decisions. The importance of this information to an organization is that it can focus on both the short term and long term impact to the company. The actual time horizon will depend on your industry and how quickly it is changing.
Strategic and Tactical Information
From a strategic standpoint, research should focus on the long term and look at issues affecting your company's competitiveness. The research should help you identify where you want to be in X years, and what strategic risks and opportunities you will face. For example, click or cut and past the following link into your browser to view an article on Construction in year 2030: developing an information technology vision. rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/368/1924/3551.full An article such as this can give you clues that will help you in your long range planning.
From a tactical standpoint, research will provide you with information designed to improve shorter-term decisions related to growing market share and revenues. This information is needed to support the sales process of your organization. Then gather information such as what your competitors are selling, their pricing, what activities are they conducting for promoting their products and services, to whom they are selling their products and services and how their sales force is structured.