"Competitive intelligence is the practice of using processes to monitor and collect data that provides not only insight but the foresight to bring the future into the present.”  -James Robert Lay

Competitive intelligence is an often neglected and misunderstood aspect of succeeding in the digital financial landscape. If you ask 100 bank executives what “competitive intelligence” is, you’ll probably get 100 different answers.

Let’s define it and discover why it matters. 

Is Competitive Intelligence the Same as Social Monitoring?

For some, competitive intelligence is a new term. It’s the practice of using systems and processes to monitor and collect data that provides insights and foresight into the future. It’s about watching emerging trends and seizing a competitive advantage in a digital-first, data-driven world.

One popular type of competitive intelligence is social monitoring, which involves using online monitoring tools to turn comments and opinions into data. The idea of social monitoring or social listening often comes across as somewhat dystopian. It sounds a bit big brother-ish and maybe even a little creepy.

Truth be told, there’s nothing creepy about it. James Robert prefers to think of it as a way to “transform creepy into capability.” 

Social monitoring gives proper value and context to your customers’ opinions. It allows them to speak directly to your financial brand’s executives, sharing insights these execs wouldn’t be able to access any other way. In turn, your brand has a chance to act upon the desires of its most loyal fans.

This means a credit union could set a Google Alert that shows when people mention its name. It’s also possible to monitor and aggregate brand mentions from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and more using tools like Sprout Social, HootSuite, and Buffer.

Regardless of the channel or listening tool, the goal is to get the beat on the street. The simple act of listening is what fuels “going all in” on future growth opportunities. It’s a great way to spark buy-in for digital transformation at financial brands.

How Should We Track Industry Trends?

The next question is about how to use competitive intelligence tools to monitor the competition and track industry trends. What are some best practices for deploying competitive intelligence tools?

Automation and AI are providing an opportunity to do this at scale. It would be nearly impossible to track all intelligence about a financial brand, or even numerous brands under the same flagship, without the help of automated tech tools. 

One strategy is to develop a list of your competitors in the fintech space, which can be called a competitive set. Use your AI tools to track what the other members of your competitive set are doing online and how they’re getting mentions in the press. 

At some brands, competitive intelligence teams are working as empowered marketing, sales, and leadership teams to avoid getting blindsided. They receive dark updates, which deliver data while distinguishing important signals from noise in the marketplace. This is a fine-tuned form of intelligence that can be quite powerful from a competitive standpoint.

How Will This Enhance Relationships With Existing Customers?

Maybe you’re wondering how all this social listening and competitive intelligence will benefit your existing customers. Will it help your company maintain these important relationships?

Complaints about customer experiences are often voiced through social channels. When your existing customers are frustrated with something about their experience with your brand, there’s a good chance they’ll express it on social media rather than contacting your customer service department. It’s a vulnerable time when you’re at risk of losing them.

This is also an opportunity for you to track your customers’ big life moments, matching them with the major products they might be interested in exploring. Maybe they’re starting to feel ready to buy a home, get a new car, or launch a small business. Social listening clues you in.

Even when someone wasn’t thinking about your brand as part of their special moment, you can gain insight into what it would take to join their exciting experience. Or if their special moment is a time of fear and uncertainty, like a divorce or loss of a job, you can become a trusted partner offering them a ray of hope and help.

Of course, these things are only possible when your brand has a cultural commitment to serving its customers rather than selling to them. To put it another way, “help first, sell second.” 

How Can We Use Social Listening for Prospecting?

Finally, let’s take a look at the potential to use social listening tools to gather information that helps with new customer prospecting. This is a tremendous opportunity to empower sales teams to make fresh and lucrative connections.

James Robert advises sales and marketing executives to listen to customer complaints with an empathetic ear. Instead of viewing customer frustrations negatively, view them as positive opportunities to problem-solve and build trust.

You can also use social signals to connect with people who are frustrated with your competitors’ offerings and customer service. Tread lightly and keep these caveats in mind: Don’t rush in. Don’t make it awkward. Take a gentle approach.

When you come across someone complaining about a competitor’s brand, wait a day for them to cool down, then play a game of what James Robert calls TAG: thank, ask, guide. Thank them for their time. Ask if you can help. Guide them to a solution.

For example, you could cultivate a LinkedIn connection by reaching out to the person, thanking them for connecting with you, and saying you’re looking forward to learning together with them. Later, you can reach back out and ask if they have any questions you can help with. If so, you have an opportunity to guide them to a solution and forge a stronger bond with them.

The “guide” portion of the interaction is best handled by providing quick, digestible bits of information. Share a video. Send a link. Direct them to a blog post. Try not to sound overly wordy or preachy because this is a delicate new relationship.

Remember, you’re not connecting with these prospects through a faceless corporate brand account. You’re a human being using your real name and real personality to build human connections. It’s a progressive idea, but it’s rooted in the very real concept that human connections make all the difference in the digital landscape of tomorrow.

Do you have a question about digital transformation? If so, please text it to 415-579-3002. James Robert’s team may feature your question in an upcoming podcast episode.