Every business company understands the importance of acquiring knowledge about competitors: pricing structure, product development plan, sales status, and more. The collection of such information must be based on the human experience of executives (Human Intelligence, aka HUMINT), who brings with it an understanding of subtleties and not just a secondary collection of information. In this article, you can read the important points to address and the critical factors for success.
Every executive understands the importance of acquiring knowledge about the competitive environment; About competitors, customers, distribution channels, regulation, and more.
Automation based on artificial intelligence (AI) is standard today and appears in information gathering methodologies. It contributes to faster decision-making on a scale not previously possible. The easy access to data today causes companies to engage in what we call 'data-oriented market intelligence’. This mainly refers to online sources such as competitor’s publications, webinars, vendors’ comparison sites in a mass wisdom model, social networking intelligence, etc.
Sometimes executives will acquire the required information by purchasing subscriptions from research firms, reviewing available analyst reports, and gathering information at exhibitions and conferences.
However, this is far from what you really need to know about the competition. Usage of human resources is essential here. Good decision-making must be based on human experience that brings with it an understanding of subtleties, not just a secondary collection of information.
In international marketing, there are five key decisions: selection of the target market, product definition, price determination, distribution channel, and demand production channels. Each of these decisions consists of a series of sub-decisions. The executive’s decisions on these issues will affect the realization of the potential in the target market.
To have an informed discussion on each issue, while considering the interrelationships between them, the decision-maker must hear opinions from first-hand factors in the competitive environment, who know it and live it intimately.
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.
Key Factors for Success: Accuracy, Collaboration, and Conversation Technique.
Building a quality database of relevant factors requires research work and not just LinkedIn.
Obtaining cooperation from managers is not trivial. A senior manager is reluctant to spend 60 minutes talking to an unknown person. The way you approach the interviewee to achieve collaboration is of great importance. Sometimes it is necessary to offer him/her payment.
The way the interview is conducted has an impact on the ability to extract the information. Analysts trained in analysis assignments do not always know how to do this. Prepare before each interview specifically to tailor the approach and structure to each interviewee.
It is important to emphasize that it is possible and obligatory to carry it out legally despite the difficulties involved in operating HUMINT.