Competitive Intelligence

Tactical, Operational & Strategic Analysis of Markets, Competitors & Industries

Hello everyone! :-)

I'm a college student (majoring in business) from Germany, and have been working (and mostly researching lol) in SEO/Internet Marketing/web analytics for the past few years.


I really enjoy that "web stuff", but the more I keep doing it the more I realize that research is my main passion, and people continue to ask me to research things for them (for free LOL)...thus am wondering if I can specialize in a field that's primary about research.


What are the best competitive intelligence researchers you know My guess would be that the personality traits curiosity & persistence (& a systematic way of thinking) may be the difference makers to succeed in this career.

However, I'm here to ask people who actually know this and dont need to guess like I do ;-)


thank you!


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cant help but add this - I just read (in another forum post), that a difference between CI and market research...was that CI folks usually have to dig deeper.

Is this true? just asking because I LOVE to dig deep ;-)

Hi Patrick,

This has been an ongoing and quite heated, topic of conversation on this board in the context of the value of CI Certs, which I and other long time Strategic CI and IC analysts have stipulated are largely worthless-- because one cannot teach the most critical elements of CI success. As this research (article below) confirms, almost precisely in accordance with my earlier posts-the keys to success in CI are cognitive power, the ability to see linkage/patterns, interpret signals and communicate. BINGO! Curiosity, tenacity, memory and a systems dynamics thinking perspective are essential as well.


Competitive Intelligence Analysis: Learn the Industry, or Learn How to Think?
March 30, 2011
by outwardinsights earlier this month reported the results of a National Research Council study that says, to attract the best analysts, the intelligence community must shift from an emphasis on traditional qualifications like formal education, and focus more on an individual’s raw cognitive ability. Knowledge of a specific country or region of the world and technical expertise are important traits in an intelligence analyst, but they essentially can be taught, according to the report. The way a person thinks — how he or she gathers information, analyzes it and spots trends and patterns in the information — are better indicators of success in the intelligence field, the study said.

The parallel here, of course, for competitive intelligence analysts is whether is wiser to hire an analyst who comes with deep industry expertise, or someone who demonstrates critical thinking skills and cognitive abilities similar to the ones cited in the National Research Council study. I have observed that most organizations value industry knowledge first, and are somewhat less concerned about a candidate’s natural analytic competency. This may be a bias for deep industry or technical knowledge, or it may be easier for hiring managers to test for industry knowledge more than cognitive abilities.

That’s too bad, because I tend to agree with the National Research Council study that it’s easier to learn about political regions, industries, or business subjects such as finance or supply chain management than it is to learn how to think. I have seen individuals with little knowledge of particular industries thrive as competitive intelligence analysts because of their ability to formulate hypotheses, digest large quantities of information, spot patterns and trends, and reach objective, well reasoned judgments. At the same time, I have seen individuals with deep industry or technical knowledge struggle as intelligence analysts because of their inability to master these cognitive tasks.

To be sure, training is available on matters of intelligence analysis, critical thinking, and the like, and it can be beneficial. But, at the end of the day, I’ll take someone who has the solid cognitive skills, and work to help him or her learn an industry, over someone who may be an expert in his or her field, but struggles to formulate logical and objective conclusions from qualitative and quantitative data.

To be sure, testing for such skills is challenging. What do I look for when hiring intelligence analysts, beyond their educational and work experience?

The ability to communicate. Crafting clear, concise assessments that take a reader from point A to point B in a logical, well reasoned way is critical for success as an intelligence analyst.
The ability to go beyond the data. Can an individual draw logical conclusions from information, or can he or she simply summarize what he or she has read?
The ability to handle incomplete or contradictory information. Analysts who can use judgment to fill in data gaps, or who can compensate for conflicting pieces of information tend to make good intelligence analysts over individuals who are flummoxed by such data inconsistencies.
The ability to consider alternative outcomes. Rarely does information point to a single, certain outcome. Good intelligence analysts can think about alternatives and identify the future circumstances that must be present for a particular outcome to occur.

Can you teach someone how to think like an an intelligence analyst? Add your comments below

Market Research and CI are entirely different animals--they require different skill sets, they work in different ways and they tend to answer quite different questions. Here's a succinct synopsis:

Market Research

More what is and what was (rear view mirror)
More customer focused
Project by project basis method of working (drag and drop)
Quantitative and Methodological
Uses Surveys, Questionnaires, statistical tools


What will be (anticipatory)
More competitor focused
Ongoing, systematic approach over time to get deep
More qualitative, less methodological
Leverages HUMINT (elicitation) skills and carefully selected and targeted source relationships

MR doesn't answer questions like the following well,but CI should be able to:

1) What is really happening inside competitor X's walls that we could leverage to our advantage?
2) What is competitor X's strategy in the production color market?
3) What's coming from Competitor A,B and C by 2013, where do we think they will be when we launch our new product?
4) How well is Competitor G's Strategy really playing out ? (Well in advance of Market share numbers, etc)
5) Is company C shifting their investment in this IP and moving to another form, and what are the implications? Their likelihood of success?
6) Does any one firm/set of firms enjoy a sustainable competitive advantage in a given market?


I'm going to split this question up:

1. What are the traits that make a GOOD analyst?

2. What are the traits that make a SUCCESSFUL analyst?


Your ability to provide predictive analysis that lets people make better decisions is what makes you GOOD. Do everything Monica just said, and you'll be really, really good.


But to be SUCCESSFUL is another matter entirely. It depends on the bureaucracy in which you operate. I have worked with many internal analysts for whom following the above gameplan would be career suicide. You see, the industry might be quite "old school" with many of the senior managers possessing thirty or more years experience. These types of executives likely achieved success with somewhat of a "pre-CI" mindset, and if you just start flinging competitive intelligence dossiers full of threats and opportunities at their heads, they will find you about as much fun as a surprise colonoscopy.


<WARNING: SHAMELESS PLUG> My new book is actually about how the political reality of bureaucracy keeps us from using intelligence properly. The reality of competitive intelligence is kinda like the reality of being married - it doesn't matter if you're right in the sense of Platonic idealism if your relationship crumbles and you're sleeping on the couch after a few hours of dodging flying crockery.</PLUG>


Playing the political game is the key to success as an analyst. Learning your skills properly is the key to being good. The latter is much, much harder, and also much more deserving of respect.

Great answer Eric!

I wonder who, then, is in anyway teaching that to future Intelligence practitioners, be it within a company or as a consultant?

Have you saw it included in any curricula of any Intelligence course, kind of '1-on-1 on corporate politics'?

Who cares if you do a great SWOT analysis but miss the setting where it is going to be delivered or to whom and how is it going to be delivered, does it confronts established ‘agendas’, takes in consideration cultural nuances, etc.?

I would even argue that being GOOD is secondary to be SUCCESSFUL, meaning, master the 'politics' and then invest on the 'technique' side of the equation.

I am doing it but only on a tangent to my students but far, far from what they need...
Eric, Miguel

As always, superb comments by both of you.

Eric, you are of course, precisely right. Do what I said and you'll be a really, really good CI analyst, but indeed organizational politics and culture do factor in heavily to success. Interestingly, very few people ever talk about this, and it is indeed a challenge in some organizations. So right, CI folks are supposed to be change agents; but at the same time we are supposed to be political, goes without saying that these two things frequently run in direct contravention. Now, IF you are in a organization that has a truth telling culture this wont be such an issue, but if you are in a company that tends to operate on conventional wisdom and cant handle the truth, as a CI practitioner you then are forced to navigate the political waters relative to how much truth that they can handle, and whats going to happen to you as being the messenger of bad news, not to mention as someone who can slaughter the sacred cows so to speak. (ie some folks will fear you because they know you can blow up the falsehoods they purport)

I faced this constantly when I moved from working as a SR Strategic analyst at a truth-telling company to being the manager of a start up CI function in a Japanese multinational with a inordinately reactive profile and a notorious and comical inability to accept the truth.What was I thinking? Suffice it to say, it wasn't pretty. Here's an example: I had to in one instance make a critical judgement about revealing the outright falsehoods sales management was telling our CEO about the state of play in our largest account-- do I let him keep believing the happy, everything is fine rhetoric he was being spoonfed by sales management when we were weeks away from having them dump us for nonperformance in favor of a major competitor , or do I present the truth that he is being intentionally misled and we have not met SLAs, the client is thoroughly disgusted with us, sales has known all this for a long time and done nothing to rectify, etc? I had the GAM begging me to bring this to the attention of Exec US management because he knew his managers were blowing smoke, and that more than likely the CEO wouldn't read an email or return a call directly from him- but that said CEO would read an email if it came from me documenting all this, or if I walked into his office and blew the whistle using the evidence the GAM provided. No win situation right? One way or the other, someone is going to be angry, embarrassed, etc. This is the kind of thing I think CI folks have to deal with often and it comes down to doing the right thing to protect the company at the risk of being unpopular with certain audiences. (Hmm add this as another trait CI folks have to have, being OK with sometimes being unpopular)

Funny speaking of this, at my first CI job in the final interview, the sagacious CI Manager said to me "Are you afraid to be unpopular? If so, this isn't the job for you. " Right on, how wise he was. .....

Now to your questions and points Miguel:

1) I think few people out there doing CI Training are doing much more than the basics- generalities of how to do elicitation, secondary source allocation,business school SP frameworks.

2) I don't know how anyone would necessarily teach a course on how to navigate generally through the maze of corporate politics. They would vary significantly I would surmise by company, and be firm specific. I may be wrong on this note...

3) As to the point about being good being secondary to being political, well in my personal experience being good will carry an analyst a long long long way in a company where truth telling is OK. In these climes, if you're not good, you can be political all you want and you will fail. On the other side of the coin, in companies where truth telling is not as accepted, being political takes more precedence than being really, really good.


wow thanks for the replies, everyone! Unfortunately my PC is giving me issues (at home), so Im only at the library now and cant reply to all of this, but I'll sure get back to it.


quick reply, though ;-):


1. I'm looking for a field that is mainly about doing what I would call "deep research" - e.g. where the deeper you can dig, the better you're gonna be. It seems that CI is about much more than that and the main task of it doesn't equal "digging deep"?


2. I know (by now hehe) that there's a difference between being good at something and being successful at it (meaning that being good at a certain skill doesnt necessarily mean youll be able to charge a high price for it in the market, etc...) - I assume that's what the difference of "good" and "successful" was about?



I just read all the replies, again ...but cant really reply,yet ..gonna have to read it another time to remember and address the right points! just saying this so you wont think i dont appreciate it.


However, one thing Id really like to ask, competitive intelligence different from competitive intelligence RESEARCH in the latter being a subset of the former.... or does competitive intelligence research not really exist


thank you again!!

Hi Monica,

Thank you for your comments and reply, as usual great food for thought.

Allow me then to pick up where you left it.

1) I agree. There is no one on the ‘CI Training’ arena doing this kind of ‘teaching’. On my view this alone tell us a lot about how much there is the need to further improve the training offering ‘out there’.

2) I believe that although challenging and far from having an ‘algorithm’ we can for sure have a good ‘heuristic’ – your own comments above to Eric are a great example. As I view it is far better to have a ‘valid’ approach on how to take in consideration corporate politics into a CI role than to expect to hold a ‘reliable’ one or, even worst, not to take this into account when doing your ‘CI business’.
Coming back to the lack of training offering on this specific topic or how challenging this may be, I would suggest that like it happens so many times we have to look ‘elsewhere’, here goes a set of links where formal training is already being offered (I cannot comment on the quality once I have not attend these courses but looking at the AMA one I would say it seems to be good enough to partially serve the ‘needs’ I am talking here):

3) I am fully with you. We should first recognized where ‘you are’ (meaning in what kind of company/culture/politics are we working) and work from there. On a ‘true telling company’ being Good will likely takes you further than being Successful. Still, corporate politics is not ‘a thing’ that you only have on ‘true telling’ company, in fact that may even be a huge blind spot. Every company has its own corporate politics, which reinforces your above comment on how difficult it may be to develop a training program to tackle this challenge. Thus one has, a first step, to learn which one it is and how it works and go from there - should we focus on being ‘Good’ and only after invest on being ‘Successful’? Or vice-versa? My approach is that you should go for both with the same enthusiasm and focus.
I find it amazing that almost no, if any, undergraduate or graduate management course has a course on this topic as a way to prepare future managers to deal with this from the beginning of their careers (this comment is more Portugal centric given I really cannot speak for any other geography). Still, my understanding is that things aren’t that different in other countries (but maybe I am wrong…).



RE: Your Responses

Patrick: I'm looking for a field that is mainly about doing what I would call "deep research" - e.g. where the deeper you can dig, the better you're gonna be. It seems that CI is about much more than that and the main task of it doesn't equal "digging deep"?

Monica: Digging deep is only part of the equation relative to CI. Yes, CI requires extensive research both primary (HUMINT) and secondary source review, but perhaps most importantly, it requires seeing linkage/patterns in behavior and being able to get underneath whats really going on. This requires tremendous depth, historical perspective and context only gained by watching the evolution of competitors and the effect of their actions in the market over time. I guess my question to you is are you a numbers guy or more of a qualitative sort? CI isnt so much about crunching large data sets in databases, or customer focused information, those are more the domains of MR and BI. CI is about being anticipatory, providing strategic early warning.

2. I know (by now hehe) that there's a difference between being good at something and being successful at it (meaning that being good at a certain skill doesnt necessarily mean youll be able to charge a high price for it in the market, etc...) - I assume that's what the difference of "good" and "successful" was about?

Monica: No, the argument about being good vs being successful here wasn't related to price. What we were saying is that being a great analyst is only one piece of the puzzle is being successful overall in CI, the other element was being adept at politics, navigating the cultural dynamics at play in organizations which CI sometimes butts up against as a change agent /truth telling function.

Hello Monica - thanks for the reply!


As for me being a number crunching guy or a qualitative guy...I think Im probably neither :-). What I enjoy doing is deep research, research that is a challenge (to figure something out,etc.). Usually it has little to do with numbers, though I'm not opposed to number crunching, either. maybe I dont understand the word qualitative right - I'll shoot you a PM about this.


I really just found the field of CI and this forum because of trying to find a venue where I could do this type of research. It seems that my understanding of CI was too narrow!

however, actually I do enjoy anticipating opportunities, problems,etc.. I usually do this in my life on a regular basis trying to gauge which life problems are next. Anticipating problems that are about to arise (many in life are just waiting to happen, because they happen to everyone, or everyone who is similar to yourself) is my favorite "problem solving" technique actually!;-).

So even though CI seems not to be what I was lookinng for in terms of doing mostly could still be an option for the future (Im still in college, anyway). but for now, Im probably wrong, here!

Thanks for everyone who answered my questions, of course!


EDIT: Oops, just noticed, that I can't message you until youve accepted my friend request (in case you do accept it). I wanted to ask you something about the research part, but it includes information about myself that I'd prefer not to share on a public forum. ...It's nothing bad just something Id prefer not to be on the public www....and of course I'll make sure I keep the message to 3-4 lines and ask a precise question! :-)


hope this isnt asking for too much!

I thought about competitive intelligence and it being anticipatory, at the back of my mind.... and trying to create a competitive advantage for the company. I think I'm already doing something like this in online marketing - let me give an example:


the mobile phones/mobile web isnt really that big, yet (then again I dont know if this may be different in the US?). However in Japan the mobile web is big already. Ive been pondering the question if "foot traffic" will become big once everyone is starting to use the mobile phone to access the web. right now its all about search engine traffic, and paid for traffic. in the future, once mobile gets big people may start typing in web addresses they see somewhere. Right now im trying to find someone from Japan to ask questions about how mobile web access has changed the job of online marketers in Japan....this could then be leveraged as a competitive advantage for a website in the US. - in theory, anyway LOL Im not sure if this is gonna be actionable, to be honest ;-).


Another example would be that understanding the underlying factors of the market environment....and understanding them to a deep level (so you can spot changes sooner than the competition) something else that could be leveraged to be ahead of your competitors. ...for example when it comes to bidding on keywords in PPC Marketing (pay per click marketing basically means that internet marketers bid on keywords that people search for on the internet. ...if you bid on them youll have one of those ads that are displayed at the right side ofgoogle's search results.


if oyu can anticipate such changes of underlying factors, you should be able to be the first to bid on a keyword, that only now becomes highly searched for....and have a first mover advantage over your competitors.


Is this kind of thing going on in competitive intelligence? thank you!


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