Competitive intelligence can seem more like a to-do list item than a business function. You might read analyst reports, check some CRM data, and maybe do a once-over of your competitors’ websites. From there, you might even create battle cards for the sales team and update them once a year. But strong competitive intelligence–the kind that impacts marketing and communications strategy for years to come–is more than checking a box.

For competitive intelligence to make an impact on your business, it needs to be embedded into your culture. Across departments, every employee in your organization should be a competitive analysis detective, constantly looking for clues on what’s coming up in your industry. But they also need a central team of experts to share those clues with. If competitive data is everyone’s job, it’s no one’s job.

In order to build a competitive intelligence culture that sticks, you need a team of high-achieving analysts who live and breathe your industry.

But first, what is competitive intelligence?

Competitive intelligence is the accumulation of data on what’s happening in your industry. It can be your competitors’ social media presence, brand positioning, pricing strategy, product tiers, or even their recent job postings. These individual data points paint a clear picture of who your competitors are, where they’re going and how your company needs to respond.

Assembling a competitive intelligence team: Selecting your players

I spent five years in public relations before moving into competitive intelligence. The exciting thing about this field is that a wide variety of backgrounds make a stronger team. The key is looking for a few core traits.

Relentless researchers

Competitive data doesn’t come easy. It is a fallacy to think that all of your competitor’s key information will be readily available on the first page of Google search results. Every member of your team needs to be a little too curious and prepare to dive deep into the backlinks to find the information they crave.

Conscious communicators

It’s easier than you think to get stuck on one interesting piece of information about a competitor–especially if you have a hunch that it could be a game-changer. But competitive intelligence is a long game. Your team has to be okay with holding back information until they have the full story. You need people who are methodical and won’t jump to conclusions based on one juicy bit of intel.

Jack of all trades

Competitive analysis touches the entire business, so you need team members who can speak everyone’s language. Each member of the team needs to be just dangerous enough to understand everyone’s role—whether that’s product, sales, marketing, customer success—and what information might matter to them. They need to know the core competencies, goals and needs of the teams that they work with.

Master distillers

Simply put, you need good writers. If you’re doing competitive intelligence right, you might end up with 100 small pieces of information that tell a larger story. It’s imperative that your team is able to synthesize large amounts of data into a short memo for a busy executive. All of your research is useless if you can’t succinctly disseminate it.

The best sources for competitive intelligence

Once you have your team, it’s time to start compiling your competitive data. It’s tempting to choose every competitor in your industry, but you’ll get better results by focusing in. Especially when you’re first building out your program, hone in on your top two to three competitors and let the others go. Once you identify your targets, there are a variety of sources you can use to start building your competitive analysis library.

Your CRM

Setting up your CRM to capture who your brand goes up against is a great way to benchmark against your competitors. At Sprout, we capture the competitor products prospects currently use and who else they’re evaluating. When we win a deal, we know that we’re competitive with both their last system and the other competitors in the deal. Keeping score is a great way to measure your success and prove the ROI of your competitive intelligence team.

Your sales team

Sales calls can be a treasure trove of information about the way your prospects perceive your competitors. Listening to recordings gives you a direct line of sight into how customers feel about certain product features, brand positioning, and pricing structures compared to your competition. Plus, you can get some great pull quotes for internal briefings.

Social media

Social media happens in real-time, which makes it a great place to get up-to-the-minute information on what your competitors (and customers) are prioritizing. Checking out your competitors’ strategy and engagement metrics can give you a serious edge and help uncover new opportunities. If you pair your manual search skills with a tool like Sprout Listening, you can get detailed reports on how well your content is resonating compared to your competitors.

Chart ranking how social data informs marketers' understanding of their competitors

Creating a culture of competitive intelligence

Once you’ve built out your team and started creating your library of competitive analysis, you’ll be ready to create a culture that thrives on competitive data. Equipped with this information, you can prepare your teams to think about how your organization can beat the competition in every decision they make.

Competitive analysis is the investment that keeps paying dividends. With a solid competitive data foundation, your business will be positioned to win across every department.

This is just the beginning of what competitive analysis can do for your business. Read more about how social listening can help you go even further with your strategy.