How do you conduct CI ethically?

Rule of thumb: Collect only information that is within the public domain. While there is validity in this guideline, it is simplistic.  It does not advise you how to collect intelligence ethically. The following TIPS do:



Avoid over-complicating CI’s role The more clearly defined the  CI expectations are, the less chance of going off track and overstepping boundaries. In other words point out to your stakeholder what you will be able to and not able to achieve.
Raise the issue of tipping off the competitor to      your stakeholders If you are being pressed to overreach ethical boundaries, advise the stakeholder that doing so risks tipping off the competitor. (This response has proven very effective when clients have pushed me to go beyond ethical boundaries).
Leverage your market research skills Think outside the box. For example, interview buyers / distributors at your trade booth for their insights about the competitor’s booth they visited.

Pay customers of your competitor an honorarium for their opinions.

Be a co-moderator of a focus group discussion so you can ask participants questions about the competitor.

Take advantage of information made public   by the competitor Become a shareholder of your competitor.

Buy your competitor’s product or service.

If your competitor is a guest speaker at a conference, take an advantage of being an audience participant and ask them questions.

Start with less intrusive sources and work incrementally Review internal reports and emails.

Conduct an online search.

Conduct internal interviews ( e.g. sales reps, ad agency)

Speak to industry contacts (e.g. customers, distributors, former employees)

Use a CI supplier to contact the competitor.
Use deductive problem solving For example, through your internet search, you discover that a potential competitor avoids markets < $100 MM, while your industry has sales of $75 MM. You conclude that is unlikely that they will enter your market.

This is an overview of understanding ethics in business.