Competitive Intelligence

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

Consultants commonly face the challenge of doing a quick analysis of a new organization. We have to be ready with the right set of questions to discern what is happening and what might improve the performance of the company. (I suppose that this is true inside organizations when competitive intelligence is applied to a new problem or within a new business.)

If you are lucky, you will have sufficient time to analyze in depth before prescribing action. Whether it is a short time or a long time, the time is still finite. Therefore, the right focus is important.

All of this got me to thinking about what I would ask if I entered an organization and were limited to five questions. That is, what five questions would give me the best possible picture of the competitive intelligence status of a company and some idea of what might improve the competitive intelligence value?

Here are my five questions that I would address to senior leaders of the company.

  1. What are your strategies?
  2. What results are you getting from those strategies?
  3. What factors do you think most affect your strategies?
  4. What are the established givens and outstanding puzzles for you in the competitive environment?
  5. What are you already doing to understand, track and respond to competitive issues?

What would be your set of five questions?

Tom Hawes
Competitive Intelligence Case Studies Blog
Competitive Intelligence Case Studies
Strategically Thinking Blog
JTHawes Consulting

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this is one of those excellent, thought-provoking meta-questions that promote our practical CI work - thank you!

My experience as a consultant speaking with a lot of SME owners and managers is that they usually are top experts in their industries but they are not used to think in terms of strategic moves. Many of them do not use a clear and proper positioning statement, most of them do not even have an idea of the difference between positioning and their real market position.

Thinking about questions that "would give me the best possible picture of the competitive intelligence status of a company and some idea of what might improve the competitive intelligence value", I would choose the following:

1. When was the last time you were surprised by a competitor or by another relevant market participant? How, and why? (Transparency question)

2. Which competitor or market moves or events, even if highly unlikely, would destroy your business model? (Black Swan question)

3. Imagine that you were your most aggressive or smartest competitor - which would be the most effective attack against your company? (Role change question)

4. What keeps you awake at night when you think about the future of your company? (FUD question)

5. If I picked one of your employees and asked him about the most urgent competitive information he could get ethically - would he know which one, and would he have an established channel to deliver that information? Shall I try? (Interface question)

I believe in the educational power of uncommon questions. So, apart from the informational aspect to have a good starting point for a valuable consulting process those kind of questions might also be helpful to show the client the boundaries of his thinking (and thus, the value of an external CI expert)...

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I like your questions very much and the parenthetical reasoning that went with them. Perhaps my favorite part of your reply is "I believe in the educational power of uncommon questions" that summarizes better than my original entry why questions are so important. Thanks for sharing.

Tom Hawes
What lines of business are you in?

Which lines of business are you considering exiting?

What lines of business of you considering entering?

Thanks. You have two more questions you could ask! :)

Andreas and I circumvented the "rules" differently by asking compound questions.

Seriously, I would want to know more about motivation in choosing the company's business lines. Also, I would want to know more things about how they view the external world and how it affects their decisions. Perhaps those could be the additional questions. Or, maybe you have better ones to add?



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