Market Intelligence For Small Business

By Mark Swartz
Monster Contributing Writer

A small firm must make business decisions quickly. It has to adapt to changing demand and new market opportunities. Anticipating and responding to competitor initiatives is imperative.  
Do you have the tools and people in place to process market intelligence? Information gathering can be divided among your existing staff. Meetings will need to be scheduled in order to collate their findings. And decision making protocols should be established.
Solid market intelligence can give you a competitive advantage. It needn’t be a costly or overly time-consuming operation.
Basic Market Intelligence
What kinds of information need to be gathered as standard market intelligence? For starters, who your main competitors are and what they’re doing to gain market share. Also how big your potential market is and what the key customer preferences are.
Other basic market intelligence can include:
·         What various customer segments are saying about your firm via social media
·         Regulatory or legal changes that affect your company
·         Market growth (or contraction) rates
·         Distribution channel effectiveness
·         Input cost trends which impact the bottom line
Your firm can use these findings to guide its investment decisions, such as inventory levels, staffing requirements, marketing and promotion activities, or related areas.
Divvying Up the Data Duties
Larger companies may have a dedicated market intelligence team. They might have people who gather external data, plus others who analyze and interpret the information.
Small businesses must divide these duties among existing staff. They could also outsource this to a specialist consulting firm, however that’s and added expense.
If you keep these duties internal, assign them to the appropriate people. Your marketing and sales people could track customer segments, patterns of demand and market growth rates. Someone in finance or production might monitor input cost trends. Whoever looks after legal concerns would keep an eye on regulatory changes.
Each of these people could also be made responsible for analyzing their data. They’d be expected to provide commentary and insights as to how these findings could affect the firm.
Coordinating the Intelligence Efforts
Once market intelligence is gathered and analyzed, it should be distributed internally to decision makers. This could be done via email or private posting on your firm’s intranet.
Regularly scheduled meetings could be established to discuss results. Those in attendance would review the data and their implications. How might this info impact the company’s strategic direction? Which tactics should be adjusted and who will be responsible? Attaching timelines to follow-up activities will expedite their completion.
Virtual Tools for Gathering Market Intelligence
Much of the information you’ll require is available online, for free. Not all of it though. So you’ll need both a virtual and physical data capture regimen.
On the virtual side, there are social media resources and direct data sources. For social media monitoring, you can track your brand with social listening tools. These enable you to see what people are saying about your firm.
As well, you can set up search engine alerts for your company and product names. Tracking of employee commenting sites, in addition to question and answer services, can keep you in the loop too.
Direct data sources provide info or statistics on selected areas of market intelligence. A good example is Statistics Canada. There you can find population estimates by locale, size of industry sectors, sales data by category of product or service, economic forecasts, and much more.
For competitor activity, monitor a company’s website, news releases, and social media postings. More detailed information can be found on Industry Canada’s Canadian Company Capabilities website.
Data Capturing Physically

With so much information presented online, it’s tempting to ignore the physical world. Except there’s much to be gleaned in that realm as well.
Attend a conference or tradeshow and hear from experts about industry trends. Meet with suppliers and chat them up for their perceptions about pertinent developments. Subscribe to relevant industry publications. Or ask your other employees for their input and observations about what’s happening “out there.”
Put Away that Crystal Ball
Obtaining data from multiple sources gives you a broader perspective. Combining virtual findings with physical feedback makes for robust market intelligence.
Knowing where you stand, and where the marketplace is heading, readies you to allocate your resources efficiently. The alternative is to guess your way to success. But given the high failure rate of small firms, you’re better off incorporating concrete data into business decisions.