Definition: The process of gathering actionable information on your business's competitive environment .
Competitive intelligence essentially means understanding and learning what's happening in the world outside your business so you can be as competitive as possible. It means learning as much as possible--as soon as possible--about your industry in general, your competitors, or even your county's particular zoning rules. In short, it empowers you to anticipate and face challenges head on.
One of best websites for gathering competitive intelligence is Hoover's Online, which, for a fee, provides in-depth profiles of more than 18,000 public and private companies. However, there is also free content available. You can research competitors, track stock market performance, and keep tabs on IPOs.
Other good sites include:
Dun & Bradstreet, which provides information on companies relevant to your business through a searchable database of companies in the United States and around the world for a fee.
Dialog, which has a pay-as-you-go option, called DialogSelect, that allows you to search through 50,000 objective and respected publications and documents online and pay for each article or report on a case-by-case basis.
Fuld & Co.'s internet Intelligence Index, which allows users to gather information from a wide variety of public services for free. It contains links to more than 600 intelligence-related internet sites, covering everything from macroeconomic data to individual patent and stock quote information.
KnowX.com reports on bankruptcies, liens, judgments and such against individuals and businesses. Some reports are free; others require a fee.
Reuter's Multex Investor site, which offers access to research reports produced by financial research firms. Some reports are free, but most require a fee.
Thomas Register, which provides listings of thousands of companies in a variety of industries for free.
Yahoo! Finance, which has everything from up-to-the-minute market summaries to stock research to financial news, and much of it's free.
Usenet groups for a particular industry can also be a great source of information. To find these groups, check out http://groups.google.com.
Also, don't forget to regularly check the national newswires and the press release newswires--PRNewswire.com and Businesswire.com. Also, regularly check the sites of your local chamber of commerce, Better Business Bureau, federal and state government, trade association, and trade magazines and newspapers.
Finally, make sure to consistently check the websites of your major competitors, suppliers and clients.