Home > Competitive Intelligence > Dissing the competition through dirty tricks!

Dissing the competition through dirty tricks!

An article in the New Zealand Herald – Cloak & Dagger Tactics Hit the Office gives an interesting perspective on how dirty tricks, espionage and other unethical practices can hurt companies. Unfortunately there is nothing new in the idea that competitors and others can deliberately aim to hurt rival organizations using unethical and illegal approaches.

Competitive intelligence (CI) is primarily about finding information on your competitive environment – competitors, customers, suppliers as well as general business trends that could impact you. (AWARE‘s brief guide to competitive intelligence tells you more about this).

One common technique is to identify the key intelligence topics (KITs) that you need to focus on to give you that competitive edge. These KITs will are aimed at helping you understand competitor strategies and the reasons competitors are doing what they are doing – as one example.

One topic that all organizations should look at is what others are saying about you.

  • What do your customers think about your products and services?
  • What do suppliers think about your negotiating skills – are you a push-over?
  • How do competitors view your position in the marketplace – and what do they see as your vulnerabilities?

You need to do this globally. Don’t just focus on your key local competitors, but consider those from further afield. New threats could be coming from anywhere: Brazil, India, China…. In fact, CI is a truly global discipline, and it is essential to know thy competitors – wherever they are located.

Sometimes what you’ll discover may be uncomfortable. In 1993, Virgin Atlantic discovered that BA had gained access to confidential files and was using these to poach customers from the airline. This led to a protracted court case – BA lost.

More recently, the Canadian insurer, Fairfax, was the target of a campaign of malicious disinformation from a group of Wall Street Hedge Fund managers. The company is now suing them for $6 billion – claiming that their aim was to manipulate the market by creating uncertainty about the company and its future. These include a variety of dirty tricks – false emails and letters, espionage attempts and more.

The lesson from these two cases (and there are many more) is that it is important to watch out for what others are doing to you. Don’t assume that your competitors always play fair – some don’t.

You need to keep a look out for unethical practices:

  • the phone call from the “student” asking for help with a school project;
  • the visit from an “industry analyst” claiming to be writing a stock report

and so on.

Always check that they are who they say they are before confiding anything. If suspicious refuse to give any information away.

Even more important, beware of scams that may try and lull you into a false sense of security: the “official” who claims to be a government tax inspector, who then gives a phone number that you can use to check him up. Except that the people answering the phone are in on the scam! (For any official organizations it should be easy to verify that the phone number is real).

Or the organization using a fake, but official sounding name (e.g. in the UK, many companies are conned into paying more than needed by companies calling themselves things like “Data Protection Office Ltd” which sounds sufficiently similar to the real Data Protection Registrar.)

The old adage Buyer Beware (Caveat Emptor) holds. A key intelligence topic that all companies should include in their armory is the one that focuses on what competitors are doing aimed directly at you – what they are saying, what they thinking, and what they are doing, especially if they have a propensity to play dirty!

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