December 12, 2000, 10:16 AM — Last week InfoWorld covered the basics on CI (competitive intelligence)
collection. This week we take you to the trade show on an intelligence collection
While your employees are picking up new coffee mugs at the next trade show, they
can also gather a little information, says John Nolan, principal at the Phoenix
Consulting Group, a CI firm, in Huntsville, Ala. Trade shows, industry meetings, and
symposia offer great opportunities to uncover strategic information about competitors,
customers, vendors, subcontractors, and regulators.
1. Recognize the opportunity
"Marketing reps, sales people, researchers, R&D [research and development]
professionals are all going to trade shows, professional meetings, and technical
conferences," Nolan says. Some, especially those waiting for others to validate their
research or technology, are eager to talk. Trade shows are also good opportunities to
learn how to sell against a competitor's new product launch, he says.
2. Brief employees before the event
Even if your employees are not trained in methods of intelligence collection,
they're hitting the trade-show floor gathering information for themselves and for the
company. "Put their time to good use. Educate them on the information that decision
makers need to know, such as a competitor's new price lines, intended mergers, or
changes in their distribution channel," Nolan says. "Marry these collection objectives
with the likely sources of information -- booth mavens, vendors, journalists, and
conference organizers." Nolan suggests looking for formal opportunities, such as
presentations, as well as informal opportunities such as after hours events to gain
important insights your company needs.
3. Protect corporate information
"Everyone knows something that businesses are after," Nolan says. "People give away
a terrific amount of valuable information simply because they don't realize the value
of it." Educate employees about the need to protect corporate information. Skilled
investigators will solicit key information without asking direct questions.
Often technical employees chat with colleagues at industry events about the latest
technology, Nolan says. Advise employees they can share information -- as long as it's
about another company.
4. Debrief employees at the event
Many organizations actually send a CI professional to the trade show. "This allows
the CI professional and the employees to participate in real-time intelligence
collection and first-line analysis. They also have the opportunity to pursue follow-up
intelligence collection efforts at the event," Nolan says.