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Competitive Intelligence is Maturing: Here’s What to Do About It

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Ben Cope on Wed, Jan 22, 2020

Competitive intelligence (CI) is not a new business function. The way businesses and CI practitioners are approaching competitive intelligence, however, is changing quickly. We recently surveyed 1,000+ CI practitioners and stakeholders in our third annual State of Competitive Intelligence research report. Our findings this year were particularly noteworthy, and when compared to the data from previous years, indicate that competitive intelligence is fundamentally changing across industries. 

Competition Continues to Heat Up

For the third year in a row, businesses across industries are reporting that their field has become more competitive. Startups are challenging incumbents in nearly every industry, and with cheap capital and inexpensive technologies to fuel their growth, they are becoming increasingly formidable foes. 90% of businesses report that their industry has become more competitive in the last three years.

What’s the natural response to an increase in competition? A stronger focus on competitive intelligence programs.

State of Competitive Intelligence

Competitive Investment Grows

Competitive intelligence practitioners are becoming valuable assets. 57% of businesses now have two or more employees working on CI compared to just 37% two years ago. Businesses are also allocating larger budgets to their new CI personnel. Two years ago, only 20% of businesses allocated over $25,000 annually to non-headcount CI budgets. This year, ~50% of businesses are spending at least that much, and many are spending much more. 

Download the 2020 State of Competitive Intelligence Report 

Even smaller businesses are beginning to invest in competitive intelligence. Last year’s research found that only ~16% of small and medium businesses (those with fewer than 500 employees) spent $25,000+ on non-headcount CI expenditures. In just one year’s time, that number has doubled with roughly 32% of small and medium businesses spending $25,000 or more reported in this year’s research.

As competitive intelligence teams grow larger and their budgetary authority expands, another interesting trend emerges: the way in which they execute on CI programs.

State of Competitive Intelligence

Practitioners are Improving Processes

Larger teams and more budgetary flexibility allows CI practitioners to step back and examine how they execute. When the CI process is broken down to research, analysis, and communication of intel, research has historically been the most time-consuming activity by far. Since our first research report, the percentage of time CI pros spend on research has decreased from 43% in 2018, to 38% in 2019, and finally to 36% in 2020.

CI practitioners are either getting better at finding important intel, or are starting to adopt software that streamlines research (or both). Either way, the end result is that the CI function is becoming more efficient and more time is going to the portions of CI that impact business outcomes.

State of Competitive Intelligence

Quantifiable Impact is Becoming Consistent

As attention shifts away from research towards analysis and distribution of intel, the impact of CI shifts as well. In our first State of CI study, only 49% of businesses reported seeing a quantitative impact of their CI program. Given the anemic budget allocated to CI and the excessive time spent on research rather than analysis and dissemination of intel, that number shouldn’t be too shocking. 

Now, for the second year in a row, roughly 90% of businesses are reporting that they see quantifiable results from their CI programs. Nearly twice as many businesses also report that they take both strategic and tactical actions based on competitive intel they’ve gleaned compared to two years ago.

Competitive Intelligence Maturity

All of these trends point to a major shift. Modern competitive intelligence - that is, competitive intelligence that is somewhere between partly and entirely performed digitally - is maturing as a business function. Broadly speaking, this is not a novel concept. Anyone familiar with Six Sigma can talk about Process Maturity Models. Deloitte and MIT Sloan have written extensively about the impact of digital transformation on a company’s broader level of digital maturity. The novelty lies in the maturation of competitive intelligence more specifically. 

Competitive intelligence has been performed in a relatively consistent manner for a long time. In just a couple short years, that manner has changed drastically. Companies aren’t just investing more in competitive intelligence, they’re honing the CI process and are seeing dramatic improvements in CI output. To keep up with where the market is moving and meet (or even exceed) the new norm, it’s imperative to move beyond viewing and executing CI in an ad-hoc manner. CI programs need a defined, repeatable process that allows for a proactive approach to producing and updating the key deliverables consumed by every stakeholder in your organization.

CI Maturity Chart

To get to that next step and advance the maturity of your CI program, take a page from the books of several CI practitioners who shared their best practices in the recent report. 

Leveling Up Your Competitive Maturity

Competitive intelligence is worthless noise if the intel gathered lives and dies in a vacuum. To move beyond the ad-hoc “just get it out there” stage of your CI program, strive to create a refined process that encourages improvement and iteration. First, create a real, defined process by which you perform competitive research. Then, focus on how you can improve the ways in which you produce tactical and strategic deliverables. Finally, ensure everything you do is measurable and optimizable.

Streamline CI Process

Creating a defined process for CI execution can be a big step, especially for marketers performing CI as part of a wider set of responsibilities. The first and most important step to take is to refine the process by which you perform competitive research. Research is the only step in the CI process that can be streamlined in any meaningful way. Whether you choose to employ CI technology to tackle the task or simply streamline your intel gathering process by zeroing in on the sources of intel that provide the most value, make sure analysis and creation/refreshment of CI deliverables occupies more of your day than research. After all, these are the activities that drive impact and bring a greater level of maturity to your CI program.

State of Competitive Intelligence

Engage Tactical Stakeholders

Go-to-market teams in particular can derive significant benefit from tactical CI outputs. Sales needs battlecards, competitive sound bites, feature comparison checklists, and anything else you can provide to help them win competitive deals. Marketing benefits from receiving regular updates about campaigns run by the competition, the content they’re producing, and anything else to help their messages stand out in a crowded market. 

Sit down with every team impacted by competitive activities and understand the depth and breadth of competitive enablement they require. Then, make sure those assets and any accompanying enablement sessions are refreshed and iterated on with regularity.

State of Competitive Intelligence

Improve Executive Buy-In

Competitive intelligence cannot become a distinct, effective, optimizable business function without buy-in from executive leadership. To accomplish this, make sure to provide your exec team with two things. First, regularly provide high-level, tactical competitive landscape reports. Ensure these reports include analysis of how each trend impacts your business and aren’t merely repetitions of information they’ve already heard. 

Second, report on the impact your tactical outputs of CI have made on your primary stakeholders. If the battlecards you produced have improved the competitive win rate of your sales team by 15%, make sure to shout that from the rooftops. 

State of Competitive Intelligence

Measure, Rinse, Repeat

Measuring the impact of competitive intelligence is still a common struggle for CI professionals. Only 44% have key performance indicators in place today. However, those who have defined KPIs are more than 2x as likely to report revenue increases as a result of their CI program. 

Be sure to measure both input and output KPIs. Input KPIs, like competitive enablement asset engagement and frequency with which competitive assets are refreshed, will help you understand how inputs impact outputs. Output KPIs, like competitive sales win rate and competitive marketing campaign results, help to bring your CI program up to the executive level of importance. Without KPIs to measure the impact of your CI program, there is no real way to iterate and improve, and iteration/improvement is at the core of a mature CI program. 

Leveling up the maturity of your CI program can be an uphill battle but it ensures the time you put into CI produces tangible results. Just like every other business function, simply “doing” CI will no longer be adequate as other companies begin to iterate and improve. Before long, optimized CI programs with an unambiguous connection to revenue will be the rule rather than the exception.

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Topics: Competitive Intelligence

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