Competitive Intelligence: A Beginner’s Guide

Gather intelligence and get in front of whatever your competitors are up to.

Written by Shirin Shahin
Published on Nov. 02, 2022
Competitive Intelligence: A Beginner’s Guide
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If you’re a startup founder or early employee, chances are you’ve heard the term “competitive intelligence.” Perhaps your investors have stressed the importance of competitive intelligence, or maybe you’ve read about the term. 

What Is Competitive Intelligence?

Competitive intelligence is the discipline of knowing where and how you stack up against competitors on all aspects relevant to a business.

You may be less clear on what exactly competitive intelligence means, however. Furthermore, how do you know if your company is ready for competitive intelligence? If you are ready, how exactly do you begin?


Are You Ready for Competitive Intelligence?

Competitive intelligence is the discipline of knowing where and how you stack up against competitors on all aspects relevant to your business. Below are a few of the signals that your company is ready to conduct competitive intelligence in depth: 

  • When your sales and/or customer success teams start hearing about your competitors more in their conversations. When other companies begin to regularly grab your customers’ attention, it’s time to prioritize competitive intelligence.

  • A heightened awareness of competitors, or even a palpable panic, emerges across your company. 

  • Your product suite is growing and evolving. This indicates that your competition is likely growing and evolving as well, so prioritizing competitive intelligence is key.

Before immediately diving in, however, it’s critical to first understand your company’s own competitive differentiators. Your uniqueness in the market is likely the reason your company even exists. Until you do this initial work, you will be less clear what characteristics of your competitors are worth tracking. 

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How to Get Started With Competitive Intelligence

Once you’ve identified your company’s differentiators, it’s time to get started. Here are four best practices to get you going quickly.


Set up Google Alerts

This may seem basic or trivial, but it’s crucial. Write down your top five competitors and the keywords that best relate to your business and your competitors’ businesses. Then set up Google Alerts for these terms to start to get a pulse on what’s going on in your market. Over time, you can adjust your alert terms and incorporate new ones, too. For instance, perhaps your sales team starts to notice customers talking about certain competitors all the time. Add those new competitor names to your Google Alerts.


Establish a Communication Channel 

Competitive intelligence requires regular communication across the entire company. Make a formal policy for teams like sales, marketing and customer success to regularly share what they’re hearing from customers so corresponding terms can be added to your Google Alerts list. Take five minutes out of team and/or all-hands meetings to share any new competitive information internally. Set up a dedicated DM channel or email newsletter that includes a weekly roundup of major competitor findings to get everyone in the company accustomed to the importance of regular competitive intelligence updates.

Watch and listen as author Shirin Shahin moderates a panel on competitive intelligence.


Stick to the Facts 

Some startups fall into the trap of sugarcoating their competitive intelligence or leaning too much on opinion, but this isn’t productive. When gathering competitive intelligence, it’s imperative that you objectively state exactly what’s happening with each competitor before you share your analysis. How exactly does a competitor stack up against your company’s offerings? Where exactly are they winning and where exactly are you winning? 


Create High-Level Collateral 

The content possibilities are truly endless for competitive intelligence, so the best place to start is by creating one-pagers for each of your top five competitors. Each of these documents should specifically state how the competitor stacks up against your business, your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and your company’s strengths and weaknesses. 


How to Leverage the Data  

As soon as quality competitive intelligence begins regularly rolling in, more and more people across your company will be  interested in the information. Some may even feel a bit nervous or overwhelmed by it, so it’s important to proactively guide specific teams on how to best leverage the information that comes out of your competitive intelligence efforts. Here’s some guidance:

Product teams: Use competitive intelligence to influence the company’s product roadmap(s). 

Customer success teams: Use competitive intelligence to direct customer conversations by allowing customer success team members to highlight the value your product provides and explain how it’s superior to other products. 

Sales teams: Competitive intelligence is absolutely paramount, as prospects will always ask about competitors and why they should choose your product or service over others. 

Marketing and product marketing teams: Competitive intelligence should directly inform all product and corporate messaging.  

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Final Takeaways 

In today’s volatile business climate, conducting competitive intelligence is more important than ever. No matter what stage of the competitive intelligence process you’re in, remember to prioritize objective data over what sounds good. Keep any biases about competitors out of your efforts, and plan to eventually hire a dedicated resource to conduct competitive intelligence more effectively. 

Most importantly, you’re not going to gather every data point perfectly every time, and that’s okay. To scale your business and compete over the long term, you simply need to consistently track your key differentiators against your top competitors and regularly communicate those findings to both your employees and customers via thoughtful, objective messaging.

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