Welcome to the age of intelligence. In the 21st century business success is dependent on knowing
how to cultivate intelligence and use it to your advantage. Intelligence is what businesses need to compete. Companies will need to become increasingly sophisticated at collecting and processing information in order to remain truly competitive.
The other side of Competitive Intelligence is the process our customers undertake daily, that is comparing one company to the next. They compare the five “P’s” - products, prices, practices, promises and most of all people. They leave your front line personnel with an impression that often leads directly to or away from a buying decision. Knowing how your five “P’s” compare to the competition is also an important function of your Competitive Intelligence initiative.
Before you read further, there are five common misunderstanding about CI that must be clarified:
1. Competitive Intelligence is spying.
Competitive Intelligence is really an information gathering process that goes beyond snooping around your competitor’s booth.
2. Surfing the web gives you Competitive Intelligence
The web tells you what the organization you are researching has done. It doesn’t tell you what they are going to do in the future.
3. Industry leaders are not at the same risk from competitors as other industry players.
Everyone needs intelligence to make good decisions whether they are industry giants or upstarts.
4. Competitive Intelligence requires volumes of data.
It’s easy to get so overloaded with information that it leaves you speechless. A good Competitive Intelligence program focuses on the information that is relevant.
5. Competitive Intelligence gathering is expensive.
It doesn’t have to be. A well-structured Competitive Intelligence strategy will incorporate your existing resources along with whatever outsource professionals you deem appropriate.
Yet, while the need for competitive intelligence is apparent, often businesses grapple with the reality of inexperienced staff, lack of time and lack of resources to gather unbiased information. In order to carry out this crucial function an outside vendor can help with the Competitive Intelligence function. One process they use to gather information is called “Mystery Shopping” and the best place to implement a mystery-shopping program is at trade shows and events.
There is no one solution that works for everyone. Much depends on the objectives of the marketing program, the allocation of resources and the seriousness of management. There are three major steps that need to be considered.
1. An agreement on the scope of the mystery shopping activities. Here the consultant and client will define which of the marketing elements are to be evaluated. This can include such things as personnel, signage, graphics, location and competitor activities. Once this is determined, a formal mystery-shopping plan will be created and approved by the client.
2. The actual mystery-shopping schedule will be established. This will include the times, locations and staff schedules. The client will determine the number of intercepts necessary at any one location. The consultant will then arrange to have trained staff available. The people will conduct the mystery shopping exercise as if they were ordinary customers. They will keep meticulous notes and when appropriate take photographs.
3. A report will be developed for each location which will summarize the findings. These will be presented to management within 7 days of the mystery shopping exercise to give the client time to implement the recommended changes.
A well-thought-out mystery-shopping program is an excellent tool to gather competitive intelligence. Consider adding it to your marketing plan.