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How Internal Competitive Intelligence Teams can Use HUMINT to Achieve Maximum Advantage

As part of our work, we come across internal CI teams of all shapes, sizes, and mandates. For large enterprises, the focus of the majority of these teams tends to favor what we call ‘data-centric market intelligence’. Their focus is primarily on internet research (competitor press releases, websites, webinars, crowd-sourced vendor comparison websites, social media intelligence on brand reputation, etc.).

Most teams at large enterprises will complement their internet research with available reports and interactions with pay-for-play analyst firms.

There will typically be the occasional industry trade show or a competitor’s shows that they will attend to gather anecdotal information from their competitors or their customers.

Then there are smaller organizations with a few thousand employees that have smaller, more focussed CI teams. These CI teams have fewer resources at their disposal and, therefore, are more tightly integrated into the product or strategy mandates of their organizations.

These teams will usually hire analysts who take a more nimble approach to CI, not relying too much on online resources and favoring pay-for-play analyst firms together with the knowledge of their company.

Most often, CI teams at large and small organizations report to the Marketing VP, and, therefore, much of what they do can be thought of as ‘Marketing Intelligence’ and not ‘Competitive Intelligence’, which should facilitate the product and strategy departments.

Why HUMINT is Important for Internal CI teams?

We know this is a bold statement to make, but we can’t tell you how many times we have encountered clients whose internal CI teams are nothing but analysts that troll publicly available information sources or expensive subscriptions to analyst firms research, repackage it, and call it ‘Competitive Intelligence’.

Until it is too late.

We had one client (one of the largest global telecom vendors) that got rid of its entire Market Intelligence unit (about 15 people) precisely because their executive and product management teams felt that the ‘intelligence’ they were getting from this process, was not very useful.

In our view, quite often, internal CI teams get so caught up in the sophisticated online tools they are using or in the ‘marketing’ mandates of their organizations, that they don’t take into consideration the bigger picture about what a competitor is doing in the field. Important questions such as product packaging, product features & functionality, pricing, sales tactics, R&D efforts, product roadmap plans, dynamics of relationships that competitors have with key accounts remain unanswered for most companies that become our clients.

And these are precisely the questions where an evidence-based HUMINT can help internal CI teams. The only way to obtain answers to these questions that are confirmed and unbiased is to talk with vendors' executives, or competitors' customers, or competitors' channel partners. And these are precisely the people that internal CI teams cannot talk to directly for obvious reasons.

Another very important point is that in almost all cases, internal CI analysts do not necessarily know the ‘art of the interview’. Being business analysts, they have been trained in analyzing information, not extracting intelligence.

How Should HUMINT Be Performed? Diversify Your Understanding.

HUMINT is evidence-based information extracted from interviews with managers with specific experience and knowledge in the field, enabling them to develop strategic and tactical insights.

The method is based on three primary sources:

1. Interviews with executives (development, product, sales, marketing) who have worked for your competitors will provide the inner angle of competitors.

These will answer questions such as:

‘What is the competitor's strategy?’

‘What needs does the competitor's solution partially meet?’

‘Which of their products is going to be upgraded next year?’

‘In what geographical area in the world do sales falter, and why?’

2. Interviews with executives who are currently working for the clients of your competitor.

These will provide the customer's point of view: their experience with the competitor's products, preferred needs, the value in the customer’s eyes, the structure of the engagements, what’s missing etc.

3. Interviews with executives working at partners (technological / business) or distributors of your competitors. Distributors can tell about difficulties in selling the product, positioning it in front of others, etc. Technological partners know about the guts of a competing solution.

To read more about CI Processes, click here.


We can help you to gain this 'under-the-hood' information about your competitors. Book now a free 30-min confidential webinar with our Chief Analyst where we can determine together if our unique HUMINT* approach can have an impact on your organization.

​*What is HUMINT? Our experience has taught us that non-public and internal information can be gathered only by interviewing the relevant executives. Insights developed by HUMINT (Human Intelligence) about pricing models, sales channels, product roadmap, etc., would bring knowledge that can be extremely valuable to you when struggling to perform in the competitive landscape.

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