Business Plan Center

Business intelligence: Tactics and tools

Stay ahead of the competition by gathering and tracking information with these resources.

Understanding your target market, tracking industry trends, and keeping tabs on the competition is essential for your business's success. Some owners outsource these duties or purchase competitive intelligence tools, but with the right resources and techniques, you can be your own business intelligence agent.

1. Investigate your market

Once you've identified your target market, build and maintain a customer profile that contains basic demographic information: age, gender, family size, income, occupation, and geographic location.


  • Conduct your own market research through customer surveys, focus groups, and interviews.

  • Observe your customers while they shop to see how they make buying decisions.

  • Access proprietary demographic publications for free at your public library or online, and attend market research classes.


  • FedStats: Compiles federal data on a variety of market segments.  

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics: Reports on income, consumer prices, and consumer spending.

  • U.S. Census Bureau: Contains data on population and income demographics, the size of certain industries, and the products purchased by geographic region.

  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Allows you to access and participate in local market surveys through your regional chapter.

  • Pew Research Center: Provides public opinion research on consumer spending habits, social trends, demographic information, media, labor, and technology.

  • Experian Simmons OneView: Compiles data on products and their usage, as well as consumer spending behavior and media habits.

2. Research your industry

Emerging technologies, new products, and changing regulations can impact how you position your brand within the marketplace, so it's critical that you keep up with industry trends.


  • Read press releases and subscribe to the newsfeeds of companies that hold market shares in your industry.

  • Attend conferences, trade shows, and conventions.

  • Join national, regional, and local business associations.

  • Ask your banker or accountant for information on industry trends.


3. Track the competition

Use online tools to help you differentiate your business and stay one step ahead of rivals.


  • "Mystery shop" at competitors' retail locations, or by phone and online.

  • Look for real estate deals and building permits submitted by competitors.

  • Follow competitors' social media channels.

  • Set up Google alerts to read competitors' articles, press releases, and public correspondence.

  • Monitor competitors' ratings and reviews on sites like Citysearch and Yelp.

  • Ask your customers for their opinions on competitors' advantages and shortcomings.

  • Ask competitors directly. You may be surprised what they're willing to share.


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