Acquiring and Managing Competitive Information

competition-lee-0815Nobody’s business operates in a vacuum. Your company is surrounded by a network of clients, vendors, collaborators and competitors. Everyone in that network has their own challenges that they’re dealing with. Some of it won’t impact you and some of it will. The key is to maintain awareness of the world outside your own little bubble.

Everyone keep tabs on their local marketplace. In casual terms, we call it “gossip.” Taken to a more formal level, it’s referred to as “competitive intelligence.” Really large companies in some industries, like energy or manufacturing have a focus on intelligence gathering.

There’s always an upside to every situation, and upheavals in the marketplace can provide new opportunities. And the best way to find those is to keep tabs on what’s going on in your local market.

A little digging can often pay off. In one instance, a dealer friend heard through a third party that a builder felt ambivalent about their existing relationship with a rival.

Spurred on by this, he sought corroboration from another source, prepared himself, and reached out to the builder, and was able to close him.

I know, this goes on all the time, everywhere. But just like anything else in your professional life you should frame “industry gossip” in professional terms, and treat it like any other part of running a business.

Because that’s how my mind works, I break it down into steps.

First, collect information. The opposite of gossiping isn’t not-gossiping, it’s listening. You’re already plugged in to virtually every source that you can learn new info from. Your existing network of business contacts is how most things will come your attention. Further networking will bring you even more sources.

Here’s a pro tip: Vendor sales reps are, by and large, notorious gossips. They travel far and wide, are told a lot, and aren’t always the most discreet.

Some of the hottest tips I’ve gotten in my career were from vendor reps. As a result, discretion is something I’m very mindful of myself now that I’m a rep.

Even so, as an AV pro, try to be circumspect with regard to what you tell your vendor reps. When news comes your way, be flexible and open minded. Not everything is going to come gift wrapped as something you clearly need to act on. Be able to read between the lines, and determine if it requires further inquiry.

Next, corroborate the information. Not only is your network the primary way you learn about new developments, but also how you can corroborate: “Trust, but verify” as the saying goes.

Chances are, when you hear something from someone, there’s at least one other person in your network who either knows it, or knows something related to it. It’s like putting together a puzzle where you have to collect the pieces from more than one source. Once you’ve assembled a more clear picture, you can move to the next step.

Finally, if necessary, evaluate and act. Once you’re aware, whether it’s an opportunity or a threat, you need to decide what you’re going to do about it.

As the kid’s cartoon show said, knowing is half the battle. Take steps to acquire and evaluate information, short of actual cloak and dagger work. Formalize it in your thinking like any other business function. That makes it more than mere gossip, that makes it “intelligence.”