Inc. has a very interesting piece written by a former journalist who works as a “competitive intelligence consultant,” which basically means he gets hired by a company to learn proprietary information about the company’s competitors. Here he is getting sales information from Talbots, a women’s clothing store:
As the sales manager and I surfed Talbots’s website together, looking for the green mini my wife saw on the website earlier that day, I mentioned offhand that I had just graduated from business school. I talked about how tough it had been to find a “real” job and said I did some business research now, casually identifying the analysts out in California who had hired me. I mentioned that I was really interested in retail stuff—that, heck, I was helping write a report on it for investors, in fact. And wow, isn’t the retail world weird these days with the recession and all? Thus began a conversation about the business.
It’s not all undercover conversations with a hidden tape recorder. A lot of information can be found searching the web—especially the profiles of employees:
A word about LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
You may want to ask your current employees to keep confidential data out of their profiles. I find financial and operational detail in people’s LinkedIn profiles—and in resumés on Monster or other job boards—that should make anyone playing intelligence defense a little uncomfortable.
Sometimes people put things in their resume like, “Managed a team of 25 people in the marketing department,” and if a competitor found that resume online, it would know that whatever company that person worked for had a marketing department with a team of at least 25 people. Basically, if you’re good at finding information on the Internet, you should consider becoming a competitive intelligence consultant.