Agents are your “eyes and ears” at conferences, trade shows, and even at your competitor’s locations. They go beyond the analytics, charts, surveys, benchmarking, and other intelligence-gathering techniques.

They explore the human side of competitor intelligence by reporting on the behaviors and personalities of key individuals. Their primary tools are personal interaction and observation. Agents also screen and interpret events, news, and validate or dismiss information gathered by other means.

Before moving forward and employing agents, however, observe a few general cautions: First and foremost, make certain that you are not violating ethical and legal guidelines, as cited in the above examples. Check, too, that your use of agents agrees with your company’s policies. Second, assess prospective agents’ motivations, personality traits, and talents. Then, you can determine in what capacity to employ them. For instance, some individuals’ primary pursuit is money, and they have a minor i nterest in obtaining accurate information about the competitor. In such cases, question their integrity and take great care in using them. Third, develop a clear idea about the information you seek. Then make certain they understand what you want.

Among agents there are some whose only interest is in acquiring wealth without obtaining the true situation of the enemy, and only meet my requirements with empty words. In such a case I must be deep and subtle.

Sun Tzu

The following represents categories of agents, along with suggestions on how to use them.

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