University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Competitive Intelligence on a Shoestring

by Shel Horowitz

Quick: What are ten things you'd dearly love to know about your competitors? Chances are, you get many of the answers - easily, legally, and from public sources.

It's called "competitive intelligence" (CI), and if you aren't doing this, your business could probably be a lot more profitable without much effort.

The Family Business Center got to hear how to gain CI - and why we can benefit from it - from an expert: Fred Wergeles, a Connecticut-based CI professional and owner of

Although he's an 18-year CIA veteran, Wergeles stays away from the cloak-and-dagger stuff. "We promote the legal and ethical CI. No espionage, no theft of trade secrets or violation of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), not even any dumpster diving. Discussing recent scandals such as the Lockheed/Boeing corporate espionage, Wergeles noted, "there are a couple of people who will be going to jail. Microsoft was bribing janitors at Oracle to give them the garbage bags. We stay away from this. Thou shalt not get thy client in legal trouble or on the front page of the Wall Street Journal with a hand in the cookie jar."

The good news: there's no reason to go out in a trenchcoat or attach a hidden microphone. " Almost all the information is public. It may not be published, but it’s public. It’s there for the taking. The Internet has radically affected the amount of information that’s out there. There are a lot of things you can do on the cheap that help you understand your market better."

How Can This Information Help You?

A few among many possibilities:

  • Be prepared when your competitor launches a new product or enters a new territory
  • Understand the opportunities and threats posed by your competitor's strengths and weaknesses
  • Know when organizational shifts create power vacuums or new directions and centers of influence
  • Watch technology trends that could create an upheaval in your industry ("Look what Napster did to the recording industry - who could have predicted? The industry was caught by surprise and is still recovering after 5 years.")
  • Know how to protect your company's uniqueness: the "special sauce" or "crown jewels:" that differentiate you from everyone else in the market

How do you Gather the Information?

Among many other techniques…

  • Examine the company's own website
  • Collect information from trade shows, industry journals, etc.
  • Ask questions of former employees - that don't violate their NDAs (for instance, "Who are the rising stars, what makes them tick? You’re not asking them to show you the blueprints, but the contextual info can help you understand what they’re going to do next".)
  • Visit job websites such as and see what kinds of positions they're listing
  • Put their company names into news alert services and receive a notice when they get press
  • Ask journalists who've interviewed your competitors about the back story that didn't make it into print
  • Look on business portal and information websites such as and
  • Ask their customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders

Of course, to make best use of all this, it's not enough to gather the data; you also have to analyze it and implement - at every level of your company - new strategies and tactics based on what you've learned.

To get you started, Wergeles provided a list of over 50 good websites for researching competitors

Internet Research Websites

Company and Industry Information: Hoovers:

Corporate Information:

Dun & Bradstreet:


RefUSA (via Public Library servers)

Industry Links:

Associations Gateway:

Industrial Newsroom – Optics & Photonics:

Industry Links:

Public Records:

Industrial Research Institute:

Web Page Change Monitoring:

Financial Sources:

IPO Monito:r

Ten K Wizard:

SEC Edgar:


Yahoo Finance:




Financial Analysis and Spreadsheets:

The Scannery:

News Sources:

ABC News:

Rocket News:

Newspapers Online:

The American City Business Journals:

New York Times:

Newspaper Links:

Boston Globe:


New On the Net:


Great Free Resources:

Connecticut State Library:

global Edge:

Search Engines:



Alta Vista:



Public Documents Search Engine:

Portico Industry Searches:

Weblog Search:


UCSD Reference desk:

Corporate Library:

CEO Express:

Internet Public Library:

American Society of Executive Associations:

Government Sources:

US Government Portal:

Patent & Technology Resources:

Patent and Trademark Office:

World Patents:

European Patents:

Japanese Patents:

World Intellectual Property Organization:

Prior Art Database: -- or --

National Science Foundation:

Patent Alert:

Business & Technology:

Wiley Interscience:

Commerce Business Daily:

Metric Group Patent Citations Tool:

R&D Magazine:

Competitive Intelligence:

Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP):

Competitive Intelligence Sources:

Competitive Intelligence Information Sources:

For more information, contact:

Fred Wergeles & Associates
Fred @

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