Within the totality of competitor intelligence is “foreknowledge,” which is composed of factual information and the more elusive area of market signals. It is in the competitive marketplace that pulsates with competitive actions where you can tune in to market signals. Here, you gain invaluable insights to enhance the accuracy of your decision making. It is also an area where qualified agents can offer valuable interpretations to feed the strategy process.

For instance, there are particular jarring signals that should alert you: Competitors open or close regional offices or plants. Sudden management changes are announced. New layoffs are revealed. Or upsetting rumors persist of new competitive alliances.

Not to be overlooked are the telltale signs of internal disorder and inept leadership as you observe competitors’ personnel. For instance, managers openly show discouragement, display low morale, or exhibit short tempers. Sales reps overtly look for other jobs, criticize working conditions, or complain about shortages of sales aids and supplies. They whisper about ineffectual leadership and cuts in wages. They whine about stringent rules restricting travel-related expenses. Or they object to executives excusing (or overlooking) abuses in corporate procedures.

At the same time, you may observe signs of general disorder, sloppiness, or indications of internal desperation. For instance, there may be signals that represent changes in a competitor’s traditional operating style, or in patterns of handling customer relationships, or in the general demeanor of executives as they interact with their personnel.

Other signals may come from customers who openly complain about the competitor’s policies, rules, and procedures. If pumped for detailed information, they often come forward with a flood of grievances. All these are signals of fear, uncertainty, insecurity, and a variety of deep-seated internal problems. It is in such a state of unbalance and discontinuity that you can spot opportunities.

Consider, too, the possible implications of the following market signals on your operation:

A competitor abruptly announces a new value-added service. As important, the news triggers sudden interest among your customers.

A competitor introduces generous financial incentives for distributors to aggressively push their products. And your customers show strong signs of responding to those incentives.

Unforeseen promotional bursts from competitors siphon off sales you counted on.

A competitor suddenly shifts sales and service reps to a market segment that you thought was secure.

An enhanced product quietly and abruptly introduced by a competitor to your customers suddenly stirs interest.

An organizational shake-up at one of the key competitors indicates a new leadership team is taking charge.

The significant point is that it is in your best interest to maintain open channels of communications from a variety of sources to flag significant market signals for priority handling.

It is sufficient to estimate the enemy situation correctly and to concentrate your strength to capture him. There is no more to it than this.

He who lacks foresight and underestimates his enemy will surely be captured by him.

Sun Tzu

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