Competitive Intelligence Pitfalls

Consider the following pharmaceutical competitive intelligence (CI) scenario:

You’re racing against 2 competitors to launch a gene therapy drug to treat diabetes. With so much at stake, your marketing VP gives you the green light to set up a CI program to gain a clearer understanding of these competitor threats.  Will you obtain the competitive information that you require to make the best strategic business decisions?  Although some pharmaceutical CI programs garner just the right competitive intelligence to allow companies to effectively fight back competitive threats, the majority fail.

But why do so many attempts by Canadian pharma companies to set up a CI program fail?

Wishful thinking, oversimplifying and lacking resources come into play.

Based on the scenario described above, we look at 5 frequent pitfalls to avoid when setting up your pharmaceutical CI program.

Pitfall #1 – Underestimating the commitment to develop a CI program

Flushed with the recent success of determining which key opinion leaders (KOLs) your competitors have relationships with, you figure setting up a CI program will not be that difficult. After all, getting the KOL information through an internet search and with the help of a few of your territory managers took only 2 days and your findings were well received.

Reality Check

Simply put, completing a one-time request for specific information on KOLs versus setting up an ongoing CI program is like comparing a walk in the park to a 7-day backpacking trip.

The only person involved in collecting that information on KOLs was yourself.

This is not the case when you set up a formal competitive intelligence in pharma program.  There could be 50 or more people involved; employees from various departments and levels within your organization (Sales, Medical Science, Market Access, Marketing), former competitor employees, vendors and companies that are partners.  The level of coordination to manage and discover appropriate insights from the influx of information from such a large group requires a dedicated team.

This is why so many programs fail.  Those requesting a CI program often underestimate the commitment and effort required.


Keep in mind that robust work by a dedicated team that is focused on collecting pharmaceutical competitive intelligence from multiple credible sources will provide you with the platform that you require to set up a successful short-term and long-term strategic plan.  The quality of the work that you do upfront will pay off later on.

Pitfall #2 – Setting Lofty Goals

Your goal is to set up and deliver a World Class CI program working with a cross-functional team to capture every possible detail about this upcoming competitor. You want all the nitty-gritty details of your competitor.

Reality Check

Think of your objective and answer the following questions;

– Do you need a “World Class” CI program to achieve your objective?

– Why do you need every possible detail about the competitor?

– Could pushing that hard for information risk tipping off your competitors?


We suggest focusing on the competitive elements that pose risk to your brand’s success.  To avoid making your competitors suspicious of your involvement, consider removing elements that you would not act upon.  In short, only focus on the ‘need-to-know’ elements that will impact how you design your competitive defense plan.

Pitfall #3 – Wording your request in a non-specific manner

You decide to involve your field employees to gather information regarding your competitors’ activities.  In the kick-off slides of your presentation, you write “Make sure to include a few observations and insights to the CI you provide” as a guideline. After you think about it for a minute or two, you decide to change it in order to avoid putting too much pressure on the team members.  Your request becomes; “If you are able to, add 1 or 2 observations to the information you have obtained.”

Reality Check

Not asking team members to reflect on the CI they provide opens the door to receiving a data dump of unfiltered information. Will you have time to go through each email to see if there are any meaningful insights to draw from?


If you are going to ask employees to find information for you, be very specific with your request.  Otherwise, you will end up with a lot of information that is nice-to-know but not need-to-know.  This does not form the basis for the development of an effective competitive defense strategy.

Pitfall #4 – Limited Pharmaceutical Competitive Intelligence Training   

You want to involve the field reps in collecting competitive information.  You are going to be very focused on what you want them to discover.  To help prepare the team, you develop 8 slides to help train the representatives: ”What is CI?”, “What Are Our CI Goals?”,  “What is the Difference Between Primary and Secondary CI?”,  “Best/Worst Practices”, “Tips to Source CI”, “Sample List of Key Intelligence Questions”, “Sample Email Providing CI Details” and “Summary Template”.

Reality Check

Company employees are usually eager to help but they have limited time to execute additional tasks effectively.  This is also outside of their area of expertise and they may feel uncomfortable with the request.  One cannot expect sales reps, medical sales liaisons or market access managers to know how to collect, analyze and report CI after reading a few slides. Don’t be surprised if you end up getting mostly secondary CI (e.g. internet articles, patient literature) and much of which is duplicated.


Investing in a trained, dedicated team will ensure that you receive the quality platform needed to set up an effective short-term and long-term business strategy.

Pitfall #5 – Putting an Inexperienced Person in Charge

You assign the task of setting up the CI program to your senior market research manager. Although she has proven skills in drawing insights about competitor activity from focus group discussions and physician interviews, her CI experience is limited.

Reality Check

The market research manager, busy in launch strategy and possessing limited CI experience, does not have the time nor the skills to do the job. A better approach is to have 2 people involved, such as a seasoned marketing manager to oversee the program, and the research manager to coordinate.

Recommendations when setting up a pharmaceutical competitive intelligence program

At the time of writing this article, there are only a few Canadian pharma companies with a full time, ongoing CI program.  Instead, CI typically gets done on an as-needed, one-time basis.  Most often, this frequency of pharmaceutical competitive intelligence program works well.

So before doing anything else, ask yourself if you will have the:

  1. Buy-in by decision-makers.
  2. Staff resources to build a CI program
  3. Prioritize your CI needs to ensure clear communication and focused data collection
  4. Structure in place to effectively sift through the competitor information generated by the team members
  5. Resources for a CI training program

If not, then address these issues before embarking further to ensure successful pharma competitive intelligence outcomes.

Market Alert Limited is a competitive intelligence agency with over 30 years of market-tested experience to meet your research needs.  Contact Us if you would like to discuss your pharmaceutical competitive intelligence research or training.