Living Agents

These agents usually provide the most credible information. They are generally experienced, talented, and loyal individuals who can gain access to, and become intimate with, a competitor’s high-level executives. They sit in a position to learn their plans and observe movements. These individuals are truly the eyes and ears and often enjoy the closest and most confidential relationships.

And therefore only the enlightened sovereign and the worthy general who are able to use the most intelligent people as agents are certain to achieve great things.

Sun Tzu

Perhaps the one unsettling issue to cope with when using agents is which one of your employees, knowingly or inadvertently, passes on your company’s sensitive information to competitors. Where possible, make every effort to find out the perpetrators and obtain clues about

Create a Lifeline to Business Strategy: Employ Competitor Intelligence • 79

TABLE 4.1

Questions You Should Ask of Agents

What are the competitor’s overall business strategies, particularly ones that would impact my plans?

What is the competitor’s financial picture, including breakdowns of costs and sales by product lines?

What new products or services are under development?

What new markets are expected to be targeted?

How are the competitor’s business units staffed and organized, especially in marketing and product development?

What is the caliber of the competitor’s leadership?

What market positions or market shares do key competitors hold within each product segment? Are there plans to increase, maintain, or reduce their respective positions?

Where are the competitor’s vulnerabilities, which could represent a decisive point for a concentrated effort, e.g., product depth, product quality, customer service, price, distribution, marketing, and reputation?

what motivated their behavior. It may be comforting to know that many of those individuals are often exposed—ideally, before too much damage has been done.

Table 4.1 provides general questions for guiding you “to use the most intelligent people as agents.” You may wish to add your own specific questions for agents to probe that would further pinpoint a unique strategy advantage.

Now the reason the ... wise general conquers the enemy whenever they move and their achievements surpass those of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.

Sun Tzu

 
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