Leonard Fuld is legendary for digging up everything you ever wanted to know about your competitors. More than 30 years ago, Fuld coined the term competitive intelligence (CI), and since then he has followed the business-as-battle approach to corporate survival.
He has combed pre-World War II literature for references to business or competitive intelligence to see how authors of the time used the phrases. He has conceived aggressive and creative ways to learn about competitors’ finances, marketing strategies, and operations along the way.
Today, Fuld still heads up his own CI consulting firm, Fuld & Company, in Cambridge, and is the author of numerous books, including The New Competitor Intelligence. He counts more than half of all the Fortune 500 companies among his clients.
Since the advent of the Internet, the rules of the CI game have changed: Anyone can play, the stakes are higher, and information travels at lightning speed. Fuld spoke with Business 2.0 on how the Net is altering the CI battlefield, and what you need to know about your competitors to succeed.
How do you differentiate between data, information, and intelligence?
Leonard Fuld: Data is raw, unconnected pieces of knowledge. It’s bits and pieces here and there: employment levels, inflation rates, number of cars in a parking lot. These are all pieces of data. Data is pooled into information so you can make some connections. Then it is analyzed further into intelligence. Intelligence is information that allows you to make decisions. It is analyzed information.
What is the reason for the rapid growth in CI?
Fuld: Once you know something is available you want to take advantage of it. A crude analogy is a fax machine or email. Before there were faxes and emails you had to write letters and have messenger services deliver packages. Now you have a smartphone at your desktop, or with email, you just zap things off and it makes things more expeditious. As soon as people knew they could actually develop this kind of precise intelligence on someone in the marketplace, they wanted more of it because it helps them make better decisions. And if they don’t do it, they know their competitors will.
What is the biggest mistake made by people who use CI?
Fuld: They’ve got to learn that paper is basically the death of good intelligence. People like to equate big, thick reports with good intelligence, when actually it’s quite the opposite. Typically, the bigger the report, the less it’s read.