The nasty word 'spying' conjures up images of hidden cameras, microphones and James Bond. "Hey, watcha doin', spying on me"? For some reason one is supposed to feel very much intimidated by being spied upon. A big social issue in the United States is how much surveillance should be "allowed" by government and business?
Certainly in business big thefts do occur. Employees sell trade secrets, foreign spies dig through dumpsters and hackers break into computer networks. But for most businesses, all that is Hollywood, James Bond and Technobabble.
What isn't Hollywood is that all businesses need to know certain information and data such as their current market position. To obtain this information one has to have data about the competition, something many competitors will not give out freely or willingly.
But no need to bother Mr. Bond at the roulette table as most of the information you need can be had by simply looking.
Seek and ye shall find or, if it sounds more intriguing, you can call it spying. Most of the information you need is available but you just need a way to access it.
First you have to know clearly what information you need. If the information is not relevant, it isn't of value. Once you know what is needed you can develop a plan.
Go first for the easiest and quickest which is the Internet. What you need to know may be posted on a website or blog. Easy, fast and efficient. Google and Yahoo the business and personal names of your competitors. Try some other search engines or meta search sites but start with the big two.
Make a digital file folder where you can put the information and keep it handy and available. A spy's worst nightmare is to have important information but not know where it came from.
After going online, pick up your phone. The phone is a great way to find specific information quickly. When you need a specific bit of information, try phoning.
It's also a good way to help you 'fill in the dots' when trying to determine a competitor's strategy. Always make sure you look at pricing and staffing; simply looking at pricing and strategy often reveals strategy.
Surprisingly, many employees will freely tell you whatever you want to know. Learn from this and make sure your people don't dish out confidential information. Make sure you know what your people are saying and they know what not to say.
If you are looking at a competitor's strategy, put the pieces you can get and see if you can fill in the blanks and connect the dots to form the strategic plan. Look at each competitor as a project and build your intelligence over time. You will be amazed at what you can learn in several months.
You will also be amazed at how quickly information can become obsolete. The rule is everything changes and the relevancy of your information dates from your last update so keep working on it whenever you can. Online it is called a 'refresh'.
Oh, and by the way, while you just happen to have your five senses directly focused why not see if you can learn something too. Maybe it's a marketing trick or sales approach or different way of packaging your product and service.
If you find a better way of doing things, do it. He who hesitates here is lost in mediocrity...or someplace like that.
Now that we have opened up Pandora's Box you might as well jump in. Jumping is the key to successful entrepreneurship. Call it curiosity or call it spying or call it whatever you like but knowledge is power and knowledge can give you an edge.
And if you really think about it, what's not to like about having an edge?