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Gathering International Competitive Intelligence on the Web

By David Gikandi

For almost every business, finding out competitors' identities, pricing, plans, strengths, weaknesses, suppliers and customers plays a very important part in formulating a business strategy. In fact, having or not having adequate competitive intelligence could mean the difference between success and failure, especially in international markets where the costs of making mistakes and the rewards of doing the right thing are much higher than in the domestic situation. Competitive intelligence allows a business to learn and profit from a competitor#s mistakes and successes. A business with good intelligence on the competition will know better when to enter a market, what entry strategies to use, when to raise or drop prices, improve customer service, repackage their offer, protect from various risks, undertake more attractive product adaptation, break up its competitors' alliances and supply chain, and so on.

Before the Internet, businesses had to invest considerable sums of money in international competitive intelligence gathering. The process was slow, tedious, expensive and cumbersome. Businesses had to rely on the telephone, fax machine and interviews as their main competitive intelligence tools. Only the largest companies could afford to do adequate intelligence gathering. Today, just about anyone with a PC can conduct a substantial amount of international competitive intelligence gathering all within a matter of hours. Of course, the multi-nationals still have far much better research resources at their disposal, but small import-export businesses can now get almost all the intelligence they need for successful world trade, at a price they can easily afford.

Information on the Web is available from many different sources ranging from personal home pages to corporate Web sites and professional statistical and information services. As a rule of thumb, you are more likely to find current, accurate, objective and in depth information from Web sites run by professional information services and government bodies. Not only do they congregate and categorize the information into easy to use formats, but they also have a profit motive that drives them to make sure they provide the best information available. Before the advent of the Internet, you would have expected to pay a few hundred to several thousand dollars for competitive intelligence in printed and CD-ROM format. Today, the Net has enabled information companies to provide you with the same information online for prices starting at under $8 dollars a month for online access to a range of databases. Plus, you have the free resources and your competitors promotional materials and Web site, all of which may hold information useful to you.

To start off your online international intelligence gathering, begin with free resources that give you a cursory analysis of the competition in general. A good place to start is your competitors and their suppliers and customers Web sites. By browsing through these, you should be able to quickly guess what their business models are, their offering, structure, pricing, relationships and the like are. Keep in mind, however, that information generated by your competitors will often be more subjective and #rosy# than those prepared by a neutral third party. You can also collect a fair amount of free financial information on your competitors if they are publicly traded companies. Most countries now have the profiles of their publicly traded companies online. In most cases, you can get summary financial information on any public company free of charge, with more detailed analysis costing some money. In the USA, for example, you can get such information from Web sites belonging to various financial houses such as Fidelity and E*Trade, and from the SEC. One other great free resource to use is online business directories. These are slowly becoming more detailed and powerful as time goes by. A good example of one is the Asian Sources directory (www.asiansources.com) which has a very large catalog of products and profiles from Asian suppliers. At Asian Sources, you will not only be able to get a free short profile on thousands of exporters of a wide variety of products in Asia, but you will also be able to see these products in full color and get a price quote on them online or confidentially by email. When using online business directories, keep in mind that they could be inaccurate. A free resource is almost always bound to have more mistakes that one that charges money. All the same, they are a great resource. A full list of such directories worldwide is available at the Global Business Toolkit (www.access-trade.com).

The U.S. Department of Commerce#s STAT-USA service (www.stat-usa.gov) collects business, trade and economic information from 40 government agencies. Although it is more of a source for country, industry, economic and market intelligence and reports, it is a great place to get a general idea on an industry as a whole and its export-import trends and statistics. (Discounted access to STAT-USA is available at www.access-trade.com).

Once you have a general idea on the competition, it is now time to get the critical details. For this, you will need to use fee-based intelligence from services such as Dun & Bradstreet, Dow Jones, Hoppenstedt, Kompass, Teikoku and the like. These services can give you detailed financial, historical and credit information and evaluations on companies worldwide. The cost for this information ranges between $5 and $230 per report, depending on the level of detail required and the location of the company being researched on. Generally, reports on companies in the USA cost the lowest because of the lower cost and difficulty of obtaining corporate data there. All of these services can be accessed centrally from the Global Business Intellibase (www.agte.telebase.com).

Looking at customs or port records of imports and exports flowing through a country is a great way of knowing who the major buyers and suppliers in your industry are, what volumes they trade in and with whom. One service that provides such information is PIERS (Port Import Export Reporting Service), available online at the Global Business Intellibase (www.agte.telebase.com). A third resource for industry analysis would be the archives of business publications, industry journals and newspapers of a particular country. Going through past articles on your industry will give you a picture on the trends, business practices and general environment in that industry. These archives are available either directly from each publication#s Web site or from archive search services, such as the Global Business Intellibase (www.agte.telebase.com).

As a new international competitive intelligence tool, the Internet benefits everyone. The information suppliers are able to offer more selective, dynamic and up to date information to a larger number of users while saving on publishing, distribution and other costs. Users worldwide are able to get information that was previously impossible or too expensive to come by. And they can get it right from their PC 24hrs a day at a reasonable cost or free of charge. But the biggest benefits go to the small importers and exporters, giving them a fairer playing field, the power of information, and access to new markets worldwide.

David Gikandi is the President of Access Global Trade Exchange (http://www.access-trade.com), a comprehensive online provider of international marketing tools, information resources and affordable international business solutions for small, medium and large companies worldwide.

Article by Access Global Trade Exchange (http://www.access-trade.com), a comprehensive online provider of international marketing tools, information resources and affordable international business solutions for small, medium and large companies worldwide.

Tags: Sales and Marketing



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