Perhaps you run a small business and have a belief that you simply don’t have the time to consistently monitor your competitors and your market as you should. Keeping the business afloat is paramount to you, and hiring additional staff to address this area isn’t an option at this juncture. Consultants aren’t an option either because they’re costly, or your company can’t sacrifice the time necessary to properly educate an outsider about your inner business workings. For any of these situations, there is an alternative if you truly want to keep tabs on your competitive landscape: have your current employees take responsibility.

Tasking your existing employees with developing competitive intelligence for small portions of the overall endeavor isn’t that time consuming, and it will allow them to feel like they are part of the strategic planning process. If your company has a sales or marketing department, these employees serve as the ideal candidates for undertaking competitive analyses. They should be familiar with the market to begin with and have contacts throughout the territory which may provide some inside information. To think your sales or marketing staff doesn’t communicate with a competitor or two is rather naïve—it happens, and it’s a reality you can use to your company’s advantage if it’s encouraged instead of frowned upon.

What kind of information do you need from each employee as it pertains to the competitive landscape? Capturing the following competitor data is a good start:
• Strengths
• Weaknesses
• How your company can take advantage of their weaknesses
• How your company can minimize potential threats from the competitor
• Product and service offerings & changes
• Pricing structure & fluctuations
• Plans to expand or consolidate operations
• Management & staffing changes

Most top sales and marketing reps will know this kind of stuff inside and out (on your strongest competitors) without having to do a ton of “homework,” but that doesn’t mean the information is being shared throughout the ranks. Often times it’s not, and that’s a contributing factor as to why there is typically a great divide between the top and bottom performers. This presents an opportunity to improve overall sales performance in addition to other benefits mentioned in this article.

Once you’ve gotten your employees to gather and analyze competitive data, how are you going to efficiently distribute it amongst the ranks? Why not host mandatory weekly strategic meetings to feed this information into your organization’s collective mindset? As co-workers demonstrate a solid understanding of a specific competitor or issue, they become the so-called defacto in-house “expert” on that competitor or issue which their co-workers will value. It will raise mutual respect levels and give employees the opportunity to develop better presentation and teaming skills. Other workers will follow suit, thus increasing your entire company’s competitive intelligence. Choose to focus on one competitor or issue per week, and the meetings won’t infringe too much upon the normal work day. The weekly strategic meetings could be conducted over lunch, as an internal lunch and learn, where you order food for all in attendance in exchange for their undivided attention. Yes, you’ll have to pay some money for food, but it’s cheaper than hiring additional staff, and it raises the bar across the board for your organization to become a more competitively focused entity.

To summarize, the resources are likely within your reach to gather and distribute competitive intelligence throughout your organization if you desire to make this important for your organization. Smaller companies simply don’t devote enough attention to expanding their competitive intellectual capital, and this is a creative way to get more people involved in your strategic efforts and team build while maintaining some cost control.

Roger Bauer is Founder and CEO of SMB Consulting, Inc., a Louisville, Kentucky based small business consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, web design, SEO, sales and marketing, and business analysis. To learn more, point your browser to Business Consulting. To contact a small business consultant today, e-mail