In this article, let us delve into the reasons why gathering competitive intelligence on private companies is so hard, as well as how to do it the right way to gain a competitive advantage. Let’s get started.
Why is getting intel on private companies so difficult?
Gathering information on public companies is comparatively less challenging, as there's an abundance of information available on and off the internet on public companies. With private companies, gathering competitive intelligence becomes a different ball game altogether. Primarily because data is scarce on private companies. Here's why:
1. A private company is not traded on any stock exchange. As a result, they do not have to file any documents with a financial regulatory body like the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
2. A private firm is also not required to issue an annual report (which is otherwise a great source of competitive intelligence.)
3. Private companies aren't obligated to disclose anything they don’t want to.
4. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the information they do end up sharing is scattered across multiple different channels, hence difficult to source, aggregate, and analyze by connecting the dots.
So, how do you enhance and improve competitive intelligence sourcing and analysis for private companies?
Approach to researching private companies
Before you begin the process of information gathering, it is important to keep a few things in mind.
First, you need to be very clear about why you're doing this research at all because the process is resource-intensive and can be time-consuming. The most common reason to research a private company is that they're your competition. Or it could be that you're conducting market research, and its name pops up, and you need more information on the company. Being clear about the purpose helps you define the research scope clearly. This also helps in designing an efficient research approach.
Secondly, you need a research plan. For that, you need to choose the right research method, prepare the brief, establish a timeline, and define how you’ll present your findings. It’s important to make sure your stakeholders are on the same page with regard to scope, timeline, and goals before you start.
When it comes to researching private firms, secondary research is much faster and less resource-intensive than primary research, which is why it is recommended that you go for it, or at least begin with it (in case you want to use secondary research as a foundation for your primary research).
Intelligence sourcing for private company research and associated challenges
1. Search Engine
- Most efficient and widely used source
- The majority of information about private companies may be readily available and accessible
- A simple web search may provide you easy access to their website, social media, or news about them
- Select information may not show up in the search result as it has not been indexed
- Search results are prone to lots of noise, making the process inefficient and prone to errors
2. Company Website
- Company websites are a treasure trove of actionable intelligence such as branding, messaging and positioning, leadership/executives, pricing, business model, existing products, feature upgrades, etc.
- Even the privacy policies and terms & conditions can reveal a lot about the company!
- The company’s version of narrative - reliability, rigor, and objectivity of the information gathered can be questionable
- Company website information is always a point of time /static information; does not provide over the period shifts unless you are tracking and analyzing the changes at the company website - which makes it a very effort-intensive process
3. Social Media
- Social profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and similar social media sites can provide lots of insights into their product, sales and marketing, and social strategy
- Often a manual process by following the individual companies and tracking their activity across channels
- Difficult to do for a large private company set; tracking, gathering, and analyzing all the information collectively can be difficult
4. Product/Employee Review Websites
- A great alternative source of insights on the company’s standing, strengths, and weaknesses
- Reviews are a pure source of market intelligence because they come directly from the customers and employees.
- You can glean some compelling insights from customer comments on review websites, such as benefits offered by your target company, what customers do not like about them, and the unfulfilled market or customer needs
- Reviews can be skewed in an organization’s favor using ORM (Online Review Management)
- Analyzing these reviews for spotting these early signals is an arduous task
5. News and Media
- You can find news on funding, partnerships, product advancements, scaling up, events, awards, bankruptcies, lawsuits, and disputes about your target company.
- Mentions of private companies in the news and media can help piece together their story, where they are headed, and what they value
- Private companies get much less coverage in news and media as compared to public companies.
- You’ll likely have to seek out local media near headquarters for the best coverage, making the manual research process cumbersome and effort-intensive
- Twitter feeds, LinkedIn profiles, blogs, and interviews of executives/leadership can be great resources to gather competitive intelligence on their company’s plans and priorities
- Manually looking at the profiles, feeds, blogs, and interviews of each leader in the company can be effort-intensive, particularly when done as a periodic ongoing exercise
7. Paid Subscription Databases
- Databases like Bloomberg Financial Service, Dun & Bradstreet, Factiva, and Crunchbase reach out to companies to seek information and validate it with the registrar of companies. They may be able to provide a unique set of information on private companies not available publicly otherwise
- They get this information primarily from business partners, government regulations, credit and commercial organizations that share data, utility companies, self-identification, manual collection, and internet activity
- Private companies' coverage for all such databases including those specialized in the private company space is limited because of the sheer size of the private company universe
8. Government Sources
- State and Federal regulatory agencies including EPA and other filing offices responsible for registering companies in the state will often have an online search that may provide unique information on the target company
- Other government sources to check would be local/regional chambers of commerce, secretaries of state, and patent and trademark offices
- Information is usually limited.
- Some sources provide PDFs of filings for the past few years, some just basic citation information, and others require a fee to even search, limiting their leverage and value
9. Trade Associations and Publications
- If a business is in a particular industry that has national or local trade associations and/or relevant trade publications, these can be a good source for company-specific insights
- Often a long shot.
- Even if the information is found, it is unlikely that it will be very comprehensive, thus making the effort vs. value equation unfavorable
Market and Competitive Intelligence platforms: A lever for enhancing competitive intelligence sourcing and analysis
Even when you know what you're looking for, you'll have to devote a lot of time and resources to squeeze out information from all of the sources mentioned above. Luckily, there's another lever for enhancing and improving competitive intelligence sourcing and analysis for private companies. One that is exceedingly being used by companies globally to collect and analyze information on their markets and competitors. That's right, market and competitive intelligence (M&CI) platforms or software.
M&CI platforms like Contifycollect intelligence from over 500,000+ sources including news websites, company websites, press release agencies, social media, industry databases, trade publications, regulatory and government websites, review websites, job portals, and more. This makes it easy for organizations to not just gather external information on their market and competitors, but automate its collection, simplify its analysis, and also facilitate its distribution to all the stakeholders in the organization in various forms.
Gathering information on a private company is just one of the many things an M&CI software can help you do, but since that is our focus today, let us now understand how it can be of help.
How Contify can improve the effort vs. value equation for your private company research
Smarter sourcing: Contify platform scans more than 500,000 sources including the most lucrative sourcing channels for private companies such as company websites, social media channels, third-party news and media. Leveraging a platform solution like Contify enables you to track as many sources as possible including niche sources like government websites and trade publications specifically relevant to your particular business context. This helps address limitations related to scattered pieces of information across a larger number of sources and a higher number of target companies to research and thus, makes a significant difference in the case of private companies' research.
Noise-free, context-relevant intelligence:The platform is able to track and monitor all hundred and thousands of sources and remove all the noise and irrelevant information leveraging its Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning capabilities. Clients can leverage the platform’s advanced sourcing and tagging capabilities to optimize the newsfeed based on specific business contexts, thus creating further efficiencies in the process. Thus, leveraging the Contify platform, clients can cover more sources with similar or lesser research effort, which again makes a significant difference in the case of private companies' research.
Accessibility and distribution: Organizations underestimate the importance of having a tool that can help all their stakeholders access relevant information and insights from one centralized location. A common problem stakeholders face is the inability to find the relevant information at the right time, because it is buried somewhere they’ve long forgotten.
Contify centralizes all the information it gathers from public sources, pulls information from premium tools or paid analyst reports you may have, and even integrates information from business intelligence tools your company may be using. This helps save time and effort spent in searching for information scattered across the organization. An organization has a large number of stakeholders, all of whom require different types and levels of information. A tool that can help streamline collaboration and knowledge sharing is a very handy thing to have.
With features such as sharing, commenting, and tagging within the platform itself, Contify creates a single source of truth for all your stakeholders, while also allowing CI administrators to push information out to teams in forms that are accessible, familiar, and relevant to their business function. For example, battlecards for sales teams, dashboards with analyses or charts for product teams, and newsletters for leadership/executives.
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