Competitive intelligence (CI) is the systematic collection and analysis of information on an enterprise’s marketplace from a wide variety of sources, to aid an organization in making informed choices for their future. According to Gartner, “CI business goals may be offensive — positioning the company in the marketplace, plotting a course for future positioning, and allocating short- and long-term resources. Goals may also be defensive — knowing what is happening, what may happen and how to react.”
Competitive intelligence can be collected in a wide variety of ways, from something as simple as looking at a competitor’s website to something as complex as conducting an in-depth interview with a competitor’s current or former employee. A primary question we hear from clients at HelloInfo during project scoping is, “How can you possibly get a competitor employee to talk to you? Surely that is not allowed!?”
Collecting ethical competitive intelligence
Clients that question our approach are apt, as there are many ways that legal and ethical boundaries may be crossed when conducting CI research. Examples of this include researchers lying about their identity or intention to trick competitor employees into giving them trade secrets or paying competitor employees for information – approaches that quickly turn competitive intelligence into corporate espionage. Even mystery shopping competitor offerings is often a practice that can be ethically misguided. When interviewing a CI research firm, it is important to ensure that you are asking them about the approaches they use to collect competitive information.
At HelloInfo, we follow a strict set of guidelines regarding the collection of competitive intelligence.
The Strategic & Competitive Information Professionals (SCIP) community is a global non-profit group that focuses on “Accelerating the impact of intelligence on growth.” The organization looks to support enterprises in driving growth and reducing risk in strategic choices.
SCIP has created a Code of Ethics, a widely used set of guidelines for ethical competitive and market intelligence activities. These guidelines are meant to be a jumping off point for organizations to build their own corporate policies from, and it is what forms the basis of HelloInfo’s intelligence collection methodologies.
Here are the guidelines set forth by SCIP:
- Elevate the profession – To continually strive to increase the recognition and respect of the profession.
- Always in compliance – To comply with all applicable laws, domestic and international.
- Transparent – To accurately disclose all relevant information, including one’s identity and organization, prior to all interviews.
- Conflict-free – To avoid conflicts of interest in fulfilling one’s duties.
- Honest – To provide honest and realistic recommendations and conclusions in the execution of one’s duties.
- Act as an ambassador – To promote this Code of Ethics within one’s company, with third-party contractors and within the entire profession.
- Strategically aligned – To faithfully adhere to and abide by one’s company policies, objectives, and guidelines.
Check out SCIP’s website for other resources or for more information on their guidelines.
Conducting ethical CI research
SCIP encourages organizations to use this set of ethics to design their own standards which fall along the ethical spectrum. Here are some additional steps you and your team can take to ensure you are conducting your CI research ethically:
- Set realistic expectations – Do not make promises to clients or management that you cannot achieve or keep. Make sure there is an understanding that in most research endeavors, not all information will be attainable, especially “secret” information that is not available in the public domain. It is important to set clear expectations so that you are not misrepresenting what strategic research can achieve, and also to ensure that you do not feel pressure to push ethical boundaries.
- Check legality – Ensure that you are aware of any laws related to the CI activities you are conducting. If you have unanswered questions or are venturing into territory you are not familiar with, you may need to consult legal counsel. In addition, ensure that you are adhering to your company’s ethical policies.
- Avoid conflicts of interest – Be sure to examine whether you or your team have any conflicts of interest related to the projects you are working on.
- Record the process – Ensure that you are keeping a record of your CI activities and that you are not erasing important paper trails that track your transparency and accountability.
- Disclose all relevant information – Whenever you are conducting an interviews or other forms of primary research, ensure that you are being honest and transparent with interviewees about who you are, what organization you are with, and the intentions of your research.
- Use your instincts – If a situation feels wrong, ask yourself why that is. Take the time to check the legality or ethics of a situation and do not be afraid to ask difficult questions of your team or management.
HelloInfo has a strong commitment to conducting competitive intelligence research ethically. To learn more about our approach, or discuss ways that your CI program can align to a set of ethical standards, schedule a meeting with us here. Schedule a call with us.