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Spy Away What you don't know <i>can</i> hurt you.

By Mark Henricks

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When Jay Bloom leaves a trade show, his pockets are stuffed withhis competitors' brochures. When he reads trade journals, hescans the pages for new products, promotions and other changes atrival firms. A clipping service sends more articles containingselected key words. If the customers who call his service centermention competitors, he asks for details. Partners and investorsprovide gossip about rivals. Employees patronize competitors toinvestigate others' offers and service from a customer'sangle.

Bloom is no spy, merely a practitioner of competitiveintelligence, or CI. Keeping tabs on the competitive environmenthelps the 32-year-old founder of Pet Assure Inc., a provider ofprepaid pet health plans in Dover, New Jersey, with everything frommarketing to acquisitions, explains Bloom.

"We want to know what our competitors are doing, what theirproducts are like and what their offers are," says Bloom. Thatsounds sensible, but annual surveys by The Futures Group, aHartford, Connecticut, CI consulting firm, find that only about 60percent of respondents have organized CI operations, and those aremostly large companies.

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