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Why You Need Competitive Intelligence

Competitive intelligence should be moving up your list of entrepreneurial priorities.

By Mark Henricks

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For a long time, Lois Melbourne didn't worry much about competition. When she and her husband, Ross, started TimeVision Inc. in Irving, Texas, in 1994, they were pretty much the only company using human-resource databases to create specialized software for organization charts and corporate phone directories. Today, however, the 28-person company has at least two direct competitors, a Canadian company and a Belgian firm that popped up in 2000.

Now, says the 36-year-old CEO, "we look at a lot of things when we look at our competitors. We look at who they're selling to, we look at feature sets, and we look at service offerings." Melbourne searches the Web and employs a clipping service to gather news about her rivals. She visits competitors' booths at trade shows and quizzes others in the field to see what they know about rival products. She calls competitors' support lines to see what help she gets.

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