Steps to setting up a competitive intelligence function: an urgent business

Steps to setting up a competitive intelligence function: an urgent business


Market Intelligence


An understanding of your competitors has always been essential in business.

More and more, businesses of all kinds are looking at competitive intelligence as an operational function. This is either incorporated into one of their existing teams or departments, such as marketing, strategy, or knowledge, or developed as a stand-alone unit within the company.

At the SCIP annual conference earlier this year, many attendees were recently recruited by their companies for the purpose of establishing a competitive intelligence function, and were looking for ideas and inspiration on how to get started with such a task. Here are a few of the common themes from the event:

1. Be clear about what competitive intelligence is

There are several terms in relation to intelligence that get used interchangeably. If you’ve been tasked with establishing a CI function, it’s important that all the stakeholders involved are clear about what they mean by that.

Use a single definition and make sure all concerned understand what is meant by it.

This will manage internal expectations of what the competitive intelligence function will achieve.

2. Have a clear understanding of the questions you need to have answered

A common issue organizations have in collecting any kind of data, is trying to collect all of the data.

Having as much information as possible about your competitors can seem like a good idea, but unless you have a specific use for it, it’s just going to sit there. This means you’re spending time, money, and human resources on something you can’t digest, can’t interpret, and can’t use. Nobody has the budget for that!

By establishing specific questions regarding what you want to know about your competitors, you only have to receive information that’s helpful and relevant to your strategic objectives.

This means:

  • Your competitive intelligence function will be efficient

  • Decision-making in reacting to competitive intelligence will be more concise

3. Choose a vendor

By now, you and your stakeholders have agreed on your definition of competitive intelligence, and you know the questions you’re trying to answer.

It’s time to think about the vendors who can help you answer the questions.

Factors to consider when choosing a vendor to support your CI function are similar to those of MI, and boil down to:

  • Cost

  • Communication

  • Measurement

As with anything else, with competitive intelligence, you get what you pay for. You could easily go for the cheapest solution, likely AI-driven, where you’ll input some keywords, and get 100 emails that you have to sift through yourself to try and answer the questions you’ve established.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have competitive intelligence companies who base their ability to support your competitive intelligence needs on human analysts. This means there’s less of a gamble on hoping you’ve used the right keywords to answer your questions. You really will only receive answers that are helpful and relevant to your objectives.

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Setting up a competitive intelligence function


Merrell is ShiftCentral’s content lead. He has more than twenty years’ experience providing strategic planning and policy support to business leaders and senior government officials.

Merrell H. Moorhead


Content & Editorial