ShiftCentral / Online tools to collect competitive intelligence on a shoe-string budget

Online tools to collect competitive intelligence on a shoe-string budget

Competitive Intelligence on a small budget is something that companies would love to have, especially start-ups and small-sized firms. For these players, the intelligence needs are huge but the budgets, not so much.

Strategist Wendy Scherer writes that the proliferation of the web means there's a huge amount of information out there that's available at no cost, other than the time you invest to find it. The challenge is figuring out how to find and put to action the most relevant and applicable information.

Online tools are now so abundant that it's sometimes difficult to figure out where to start. Legal Librarian and social media expert James Mullan says the idea of using free and open source tools to undertake business and other intelligence gathering isn't new; we've been using Google and similar tools to search for news and information for years. But what has become apparent in over the last few years, is that there are a number of other tools information professionals can use to undertake research on companies, their products, and news that company is generating.

Mullan lists four basic tools to get a business started in collecting intelligence about its competitors, market position, etc. Twitter will often be used by companies to tell customers what they're doing, any issues they might be having, and future plans. Products may also have an account on Twitter, both to engage with customers - such as resolve issues they may have - and to announce new development. Another easy-to-use tool that can help you find out more about a client or competitor is LinkedIn. LinkedIn company pages can provide a lot of information about a company including number of employees, new hires, recent promotions, and profiles of popular LinkedIn users.

Two other tools also worth mentioning are Quora and Slideshare. Quora is a Question and Answer application that relies on crowdsourcing to both create and answer questions. It can be a useful way to identify what companies might be interested in, via questions, and what they're working on, via answers. Slideshare is another useful tool for competitive and business intelligence. Many companies will upload presentations to Slideshare, which they can use to discuss how they see products developing or other future trends.