Competitive information vs. competitive intelligence: Effectively using what you find

November 26, 2012

L-378667_RTR23GK8This post was written by Janet Bennett, national manager, Monitor Suite

As I’m meeting with firms to discuss business development and competitive intelligence tools, I’m often asked, “What are other firms doing?” The answer varies greatly between firms. Some large firms are quite sophisticated in their practices, preparing briefing books for their attorneys that include heavily synthesized competitive intelligence, business intelligence, financials, market analysis, internal and external relationships, and more for a company. Other firms provide little more than basic information that could be compiled from a company’s website.

I think most firms recognize that practices vary widely and the questions they are really trying to ask are:

  • I know other firms are compiling this information, but how are they using it?
  • How are the most successful ones compiling it and delivering it to their attorneys?
  • How are the best ones utilizing competitive intelligence products in their firms to successfully grow business?

According to a colleague of mine, such questions represent the difference between competitive information and competitive intelligence. It’s not necessarily how you put it together or how you deliver it, but it’s how you use the information that makes the difference. Your firm could have a very sophisticated process, or client team intranet pages loaded with information, but if the attorneys aren’t using the information in the right way, it doesn’t matter. It’s truly how you use the information you have that matters most. Are you using the information to better understand the client’s needs? Are you using it to speak to the issues that keep your client up at night and offer suggestions on how to help? Are you setting yourself up to be viewed as not just another law firm with highly skilled attorneys, but as a firm with attorneys that care about the client’s business and issues and can offer real value? Are you making yourself memorable?

I’ve attended numerous conferences where I’ve listened to general counsel panels talk about how they hire outside counsel, and the comments are always the same:

  • Know my business.
  • Know what issues keep me up at night.
  • Don’t come to me and tell me how good your firm is, tell me how you are going to help me.

The bottom line is really this: regardless of your firm’s sophistication level for delivering competitive intelligence, the real measure is how your attorneys are using that information to empower relevant and meaningful conversations with in-house counsel. They must do their homework. They should be utilizing the information to understand their client’s needs. Competitive information truly becomes valuable competitive intelligence when used to empower conversations that allow your firm to be viewed not just as another firm pitching for business, but as a true business partner.