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Oct 24, 2016
By Ann Schiola, CPSM, CIP, Finley Engineering Group
Has your A/E/C firm ever been surprised by market trends or
the competition? Is the abundance of information available
making it harder for your firm to succeed? As Peter Drucker
states in his classic book, Management Challenges for the
21st Century, “The purpose of information is not knowledge. It
is being able to take the right action.” Competitive intelligence
helps A/E/C firm leaders identify risks and opportunities in the
market before they become obvious so they can act to gain a
Competitive intelligence (CI) is the action of defining, gathering,
analyzing, and distributing intelligence about clients, competitors,
and any aspect of the environment needed to support executives
and managers in making strategic decisions for a firm.
The main driver for CI is increased pressure by firm leaders to
anticipate external business challenges and take action before
it’s too late. Firm leaders don’t like surprises. CI can help with:
¡ Providing an early warning system for future threats such as
industry trends, new entrants in a market, or regulatory changes
¡ Supporting strategic and tactical decision-making for mergers
and acquisitions, expansion into new markets, and pursuit
An Emerging Practice at
Professional Services Firms
East Studio, Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington,
IN. Design Architect: Flad Architects; Landscape Architect and
Architect of Record: Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf; General
Contractor: The Hagerman Group. ©Susan Fleck, fleckphoto.com.
40 SOCIETY FOR MARKETING PROFESSIONAL SERVICES
¡ Competitor analysis and learning what the competition knows
about your firm
¡ Supporting strategic planning
Marketing professionals are in the best position to provide CI
to their firms.
Many A/E/C firms conduct market research but that is usually
backward-looking; there are little or no causal links, such as
current market conditions, competition’s past performance, or
client feedback. Competitive intelligence is about the future and
can help a firm proactively forecast events.
While we often don’t hear the term CI, this is an emerging
practice at some professional services firms.
Are Professional Services Using Competitive
In an effort to answer this question, I conducted a survey.
Professional services firms are using CI; however, it is an
informal practice. Twenty-six firms responded, ranging in firm
size from 10 to 10,000 employees.
Respondents were given the definition of CI as stated in
the second paragraph of this article. Over 65 percent of
respondents indicated they perform CI, but it was referred to
as market research or strategic planning. Other terms included:
competitive analysis, go/no-go decision, or capture planning.
Regardless of size, firms are using CI for many activities as
shown in Figure 1.
Jarden Home Brands, Fishers, IN, makers of the iconic Ball® Jars, selected Axis
Architecture + Interiors to renovate its headquarters. ©Susan Fleck, fleckphoto.com.
“Rapid changes in market conditions, increasing
competition, and fast-paced technological
advancements are driving the demand for
competitive intelligence programs at A/E/C
firms. Marketing professionals are in a unique
position to lead this forward-thinking initiative.”
— Theresa M. Casey, FSMPS, CPSM
President, On Target Marketing
& Communications, LLC
Figure 1. Activities supported by CI.
Client & industry trends
Mergers & acquisitions
Early warning systems
Ad hoc basis
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%
MARKETER OCTOBER 2016 41
Two large firms (500+ employees) report having a competitive
analyst position. Other firms report that this position is shared
across more than one job function. As shown in Figure 2, 85
percent of marketing staff are responsible for collecting the
information and the majority report performing the analysis.
Regardless of firm size, 56 percent of respondents indicate
the success of the CI effort is driven from the top down by
management or an executive champion who is an advocate for CI at
the firm. Nearly one-third of respondents, 32 percent, indicated that
someone is tasked with CI on a full or part-time basis.
One of the biggest challenges that firms have is sharing CI. Only 20
percent of firms indicate they have a central location or process for
Most firms acknowledge the value of CI, but a return on
investment for this activity is difficult to quantify. As shown
in Figure 3, firm leaders are finding value from CI to help
with their strategic planning process, market positioning, and
Getting Started with CI
Hopefully this article has provided background and an argument
for CI. But to get started, management support and involvement
is critical. You must have at least one executive who is a
corporate CI champion.
A 2011 SMPS Foundation Thought Leadership Series paper, Best
Practices in Competitive Intelligence, by A. Krista Sykes, Ph.D.,
and Scott W. Braley, FAIA, FRSA, provides a comprehensive
overview, ethical best practices, and list of resources for you and
your corporate champion as you start the CI process.
The challenge for any firm is to find a sustainable competitive
advantage. Marketers are in a unique position to fill this need
and help management mitigate risk, plan for the future, and
avoid surprises. Good luck on your journey. n
East Studio, Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. Design Architect:
Flad Architects; Landscape Architect and Architect of Record: Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf;
General Contractor: The Hagerman Group. ©Susan Fleck, fleckphoto.com.
“The marketing professional can help
its firm gain a competitive advantage by
analyzing the business environment and
the firm’s optimal position in relation to
your competition, client, and market.”
—Mindy M. Bacon, CPSM
Vice President, Bacon Group, Inc.
Figure 2. Job functions responsible for collecting and analyzing CI. Figure 3. Effectiveness of CI for firms.
Technical, Senior Leaders
Knowing what issues can impact
our ﬁrm in the next 2–3 years
Understanding our competitors
Identifying new opportunities & markets
Very limited impact
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%
42 SOCIETY FOR MARKETING PROFESSIONAL SERVICES