Intelligence Needs are Consistent
As an American who conducts many training seminars on US competitive intelligence and marketing for non-American managers, I have observed that many knowledgeable and experienced managing directors, marketing managers and business development specialists do not take advantage of the wealth of competitive information available on US companies. This is especially true when the American competitor is a privately held corporation, where the manager outside the US imagines that an "iron door" exists, preventing them from obtaining even basic competitive information as it is not published in US government records such as the Security and Exchange Commission's "EDGAR" (www.edgar-online.com) site . Such conclusions are far from being correct, limiting the non-US manager's ability to effectively compete in the US market.
Our experience in training and consulting to non-US managers interested in CI on US companies has uncovered the following key issues requiring attention by managers based outside the US:
They Don't Know the Secondary Sources - A tremendous number of online data bases, Internet sites, industry directories, trade magazines, published reports and other sources exist for many US industries, many of which relate to specific players in the market. CI professionals know that often one must seek out many secondary sources to find that "golden nugget" of information one is seeking. A recent project we completed in the US consumer electronics industry required using many published sources until a trade magazine article was found highlighting the competitor we were targeting.
Many Suffer from "Net Disease" - Non-US managers, located far from the US and often not fully comfortable in English, conclude that all competitive information they need can be found via the Internet. Their actions display an attitude which says "if it is not on the Net, then the information doesn't exist". These same managers would never use this approach in their home markets where they obtain competitive information from their network of human sources such as industry experts, distributors, consultants, sales representatives, former employees of competitors and others.
The Freedom of Information Act - Offices of the Federal Government in the US are obligated by law to release a wealth of information to the public, some of which may interest non-US companies as it relates to their competitors. Documents from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US Patent Office, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and others may include information on your US competitors not available from other sources. If your competitor was investigated by a US Government agency (such as OSHA) or applied for an approval from the FCC or FDA, these documents may reveal information not found in the competitor's web site or even in their reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission (for publicly held companies).
Economic Espionage Act (EEA) - Before getting aggressive in US competitive intelligence activities, non-US companies should also be familiar with the Economic Espionage Act which outlines the types of information gathering activities that are considered illegal in the US. Government officials are especially sensitive to illegal intelligence gathering from non-US companies as foreign competition was a key motivation in passing the law. Learn the rules of the game to ensure compliance with all relevant US laws.
Tips for non-US Managers Interested in CI on American Companies
Identify all relevant secondary sources from electronic and paper sources. Always ask yourself, "who else needs this information".
Concentrate on using human information sources. Our experience has shown that interviewing industry insiders is extremely valuable in finding out future plans of competitors, obtaining pricing information, pinpointing their marketing strategy and other critical information.
Use experts in the US market. A great CI researcher in Holland may not have the experience to find critical information on a competitor in Chicago. Either develop your own in-house expertise or find an outside expert.
Don't give up. Although not all competitive information desired can be found, persistence pays off.
There is no question that extensive competitive information exists on US corporations, even privately held firms, if you know where to look. Non-US companies should avoid their tendency to suffer from "net disease" by using a variety of secondary and primary information sources when targeting US competitors and not simply depending on Internet search engines and online data bases. And if you are uncomfortable with all of this, keep in mind that your American competitors are probably doing the same thing to you!