Imagine this: You've just spent thousands of dollars researching and developing a new product, and you're about to launch it. Suddenly, you learn from a colleague that your main competitor is about to introduce a similar product a few days before your launch. You know what you have to do: Find out everything you can about the company, whether the product is in its rollout stage and how much it's selling for--then prepare your troops for a counterattack.
One of the best ways to gather the information you need is through online competitive intelligence, the aggressive but legal practice of surfing the Internet for information about your competitors. While seeking information about the competition is a timeworn practice, the Internet is making the process much easier.
"The Internet lets you learn your enemies' plans ahead of time," says Richard Combs, president of Richard Combs Associates (http://www.combsinc.com), a competitive intelligence consulting firm in Chicago. He's also co-author of The Competitive Intelligence Handbook (University Press of America). "And when you know this information, you're way down the pike."
Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org