Businesses have more information at their fingertips than ever before...

Businesses have more information at their fingertips than ever before to keep abreast of what their competition is doing and react accordingly, say experts. Credit: iStock

Being a snoop in business isn't necessarily a bad thing, and thanks to technology it's now easier than ever to gain competitive intelligence.

Businesses have more information at their fingertips than ever before to keep abreast of what their competition is doing and react accordingly, say experts.

The volume of information available on private or public companies is greater than existed just a decade ago, says Leonard Fuld, author of "The Secret Language of Competitive Intelligence" (Dog Ear Publishing; $19.95) and president of Fuld & Co., a Cambridge, Mass.-based competitive intelligence consulting firm.

This is largely because of the Internet, which has enabled companies to access a wealth of information, says Fuld. That wealth, though, can be a "blinding nightmare," he notes, if you do an online search and end up with what looks like a million hits but offers little more than repetitive results.

"You need ways to sift, sort and analyze that information and make sense of it," says Fuld.

Online utilities
There are plenty of online tools available to help, notes Kevin Kelly, chief creative officer of BigBuzz Marketing Group, a Melville integrated digital advertising agency.

For starters, you can set up a Google Alert (google.com/alerts) to notify you whenever a competitor's name comes up in an online conversation, notes Kelly. The company also uses advanced social media monitoring tools such as the fee-based sproutsocial.com, says Matt Mooney, a digital engagement operative at BigBuzz.

Also helpful are Alexa.com and Quantcast.com, which are traffic-monitoring tools and will give you an idea of the type of traffic your competitors are getting, he notes.

Check out your competitor's website to gather information about products and services. On archive.org, plug the competitor's URL in the "Wayback Machine" to see images of its website back in time and how it has progressed, says Kelly.

Don't forget sites like yelp.com, which can tell you what customers are saying about you and your competition, says August Jackson, an associate director of market and competitive intelligence for Ernst & Young in McLean, Va.

"It's pure unadulterated customer opinion," he notes.

Follow competitors on social media channels (ie., become a fan on their Facebook pages and follow them on Twitter). Check out sites like listorious.com, which allows you to search Twitter profiles, and try to get on their email lists, suggests Jackson.

And don't discount offline methods, says Fuld. "What's on the Web is only the tip of the iceberg," he notes.

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