4 Key Questions For A Good SWOT Analysis

For individuals who are new to the field of intelligence gathering, be it competitive intelligence, marketing intelligence or business intelligence, there are some basic information product deliverables that should be mastered regardless of the industry.

These deliverables include:

  • Competitor profiles
  • Industry profiles
  • Internal newsletters
  • SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis

Of the four deliverables, the first  three items may be customized based on the needs of internal clients within a company.   As result, gatherers can used specific templates to provide timely intelligence.

On the other hand, the SWOT analysis framework is rigid and may cause issues for some gatherers.

On a recent Google Plus stream post, I was reminded by fellow competitive intelligence professional, Ellen Naylor, that some competitive intelligence practitioners may not have the experience to perform a proper SWOT analysis.   With a background in marketing, I took it for granted that anyone who is responsible for gathering information for business purposes should be able to collect the right details.

Individuals which are not familiar with providing information for SWOT analysis should be place themselves in a mindset to find details to reply  to the following four key questions:

  • What does the company do well? (i.e, Strengths)
  • What can the company improve upon internally? (i.e., Weaknesses)
  • Which situations can the company take advantage of? (i.e., Opportunities)
  • Which situations should the company avoid? (Threats)

Below are some of the possible sources that an information gather may look at to gather such answers for the four core questions regarding a competitor.

What does the company do well? (i.e., Strengths)

On the surface, finding answers to this question can be easy.  Companies are not too shy at making it known about what they do well on a frequent basis.  Visiting their website will lead gatherers to discover certain aspects of the company’s strengths that it is utilizing to compete in the industry.   A very good starting point to identify strengths is corporate reports (i.e., annual report, balance sheets, income statements, etc).  Such documents can be provide insights in terms of what the company is current doing and which types of resources are being used to sustain the strong position in the industry.

What can the company improve upon? (i.e., Weaknesses)

Identifying weaknesses of a competitor is not an exact science and may cause some challenges, especially for researchers who are new to the industry.  Unless you are a former employee of the competitor, pinning down the exact weaknesses may involve making assumptions that will have to be substantiated with facts.  These facts can be found in financial statements (i.e. decreased sales levels) and articles written by industry analysts “in the know”.

It is advised that before commencing the research for weaknesses, be sure to talk to colleagues who are familiar with the competitors’ products and services and the industry as a whole.

Which situations can the company take advantage of? (i.e., Opportunities)

To answer this question, researchers have to be able to spot opportunities in the external environment that will aid the competitor in attaining their objectives.   The opportunities can be in the form of prevailing trends in the industry or a gap left by other competitors in the marketplace in regards to products and/or services.  Scanning the external environment for the opportunities should prompt gatherers to conduct a broad search of the web and premium content databases to uncover potential trends and gaps in the sector from articles and market research reports.  Finding current industry outlook reports is another outlet to consider.

Which situations should the company avoid? (Threats)

Threats are the external factors that companies are always seeking to avoid.  These factors can range from changes in consumer behavior to modifications in trade policies in countries.   Such intelligence can be gathered via proactive monitoring of industry-specific news sources.  Relevant information can serve as a basis to make informed decisions about the environment that the competitor is dealing with in the short  and long term.


The SWOT  analysis framework is one of the basic strategic assessment tools that information gatherers should be familiar with.  The information that is gathered for the analysis is the foundation in which strategic options will be based upon.   Failure to provide to right answers to the questions that is the foundation of the framework will lead analysts and decision makers to select the wrong avenues to obtain company’s objectives.

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