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The Smart Business Women\’s Quick-Start Guide to Competitive Intelligence

If the term “competitive intelligence” is not familiar to you, you
should learn about it right away. Competitive intelligence is a concept
derived from the manufacturing industry and military strategy, two
fields not traditionally associated with women. This concept is defined
as “a systematic program for gathering and analyzing information about
your competitors\’ activities and general business trends to further
your own company\’s goals.” Larry Kahaner, Competitive Intelligence
(Simon & Schuster 1996) p. 16. Although the terminology may not be
familiar to most women, “competitive intelligence” is a concept
business women can easily relate to if they reflect on their own
personal experience.

Women learn to compete with each other from infancy. As children, we
compete with our siblings for our parents\’ attention. We compete with
our classmates for our teachers\’ attention. Later, we compete for
boyfriends and husbands. When we have children of our own, we compete
with other parents to help our children get in the best private
schools. These skills and experiences transfer easily to the business
world, with proper management and some caveats.

Competitive intelligence rose to prominence in the manufacturing
industry after World War II, and in 1986, the Society of Competitive
Intelligence Professionals (www.scip.org) was formed. The SCIP\’s vision
is “better decisions through competitive intelligence,” and sets
benchmarks for proper performance of competitive intelligence. The use
of competitive intelligence has spread to many industries outside of
manufacturing. Even some law firms now have competitive intelligence
programs. Our firm, for example, has had a competitive intelligence
program in place for nearly two years.

Because the concept of competitive intelligence originates from
military strategy, there is a misconception that competitive
intelligence is “spying,” and that business people who engage in
competitive intelligence resort to “dumpster diving,” lying to
competitors, and other nefarious activities. This is simply not true.
Proper implementation of a competitive intelligence requires adherence
to all state, local, federal, and international laws. Business people
who implement a competitive intelligence program must take care to
comply with all applicable laws, including wiretapping, insider trading
and privacy laws, to avoid conflicts of interest, and to provide
complete disclosure when contacting competitors. The SCIP has
promulgated a code of ethics which should be applied to any competitive
intelligence program. Indeed, there are many publicly available sources
of information from federal, state and local government agencies. In
addition, there is probably a great deal of public information about
your competitors available through the Internet.

There is much more to competitive intelligence than just gathering
information, however. Essentially, a successful competitive
intelligence program predicts future scenarios by analyzing the
information gathered. In this regard, competitive intelligence is very
much like a chess game, with opponents envisioning how their opponents
will respond to each move. However, psychology also plays an important
part in competitive intelligence, as it does with business in general.
A good competitive intelligence program will take into account
personalities and their likely responses to organizational behavior.
For example, suppose you were meeting an important prospective client
whom you don\’t know very well. If you have mutual acquaintances, you
would probably contact them to learn as much about your prospective
client as you could. But suppose you didn\’t know anything about your
prospective client, and you didn\’t have any mutual acquaintances. You
might learn a great deal about your prospective client simply by doing
an Internet search on the person\’s name. You might learn, for example,
that your prospective client has competed in runs or walks for charity
(this information is often posted on the Internet). This information
will give you valuable insight into your prospective client\’s psyche
and give you ideas about his or her priorities. In addition, it
provides you with an additional topic of conversation at your
additional meeting. In our experience, most prospective clients are
impressed if you have taken the time to learn something about them and
appreciate it if you acknowledge what is meaningful to them. Hopefully,
this will translate into landing the client — if not today, then
somewhere down the road.

Competitive intelligence is certainly a tool every business woman
should have in her arsenal, and with proper implementation, the smart
business woman\’s competitive intelligence program will lead to more
efficient and effective business operation. The key, however, is to
conduct the program legally. On some occasions, such as where a
business is hiring an executive, searches may require written
permission, particularly if a credit check or criminal background
investigation is conducted. A lawyer can help the business woman stay
on the right side of the law.

Ms. Lambert rose to national prominence as a litigator with a focus on insurance law in an age when there were few women litigators, particularly in the area of insurance law. Ms. Lambert has spent the last twenty years developing what is now recognized as one of the largest insurance practices in the state of Maryland. She lectures nationally, has received a gubernatorial appointment in the field of insurance, and is sought for her advice by Fortune 500 companies.

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