The 5 W's of Competitive Intelligence for Advisory Firms

Kerie Kerstetter
5 min read

If you've had experience with journalism, academic research or even police investigations, you're likely aware of what's known as the Five W's: Who, What, When, Where and Why. The answers to these questions are core to problem-solving and storytelling. To ensure you have a full picture of market opportunities and competitive threats, you can apply these same words to your advisory firm's information-gathering and analytical activities. Here's how.


Consider the people and the businesses that are critical to your success (or failure). This might include key executives at client targets, industry powerhouses or your client's competitors. A robust competitive intelligence platform means gaining in-depth knowledge of and tracking the activity around key people and companies. Consider:

  • Executives/leadership: By developing detailed biographies, or even sending congratulatory notes when key leaders change jobs, you might just uncover the talking point(s) your advisory firm needs to build on current relationships or form new ones.
  • Current clients: Nurturing a relationship with key clients means having a keen understanding of their business, even if it's not directly related to the work you perform. By tracking key events, developing a strong understanding of their products and services, speaking often and following up on feedback, your firm is better positioned to support your client and identify potential future needs.
  • Client's competitors: It's not enough to simply know your client's business. To really gain a competitive advantage, you'll want to track the happenings of their competitors, too. In many industries, for example, a regulatory body might seek changes within a single company before moving on to investigate practices at other companies in the same industry.
  • Target companies: Where do you want to win new business? By creating a list of target companies and tracking key events and changes within those corporations, your firm might just uncover pivotal business development opportunities.


What matters to your advisory firm? It largely depends on your firm's areas of interest and expertise. Regardless of your area or industry of focus, however, you'd be smart to track and formulate strategy around these types of common events:

  • Corporate events: These events include a broad array of items and vary by company, but typically include things like mergers and acquisitions (What are the implications for your firm's related IP service?); financing activity (What are the risks of a client taking on additional lines of credit?); executive changes (What impact does this have on long-term contingency planning?); product/service announcements (What does this say about the direction a client or target might be taking?); and geographic expansion (What are the local rules and laws that could impact the way your client does business?).
  • Market changes: This is a broad area but could include anything from identifying the introduction of a major disrupter (think Uber and its impact on the taxi industry), to tracking the impact a significant change in interest rates could have on your client's balance sheet and long-term planning.
  • Geographic trends: In September 2020, major software company Palantir announced it would relocate its headquarters to Denver from Silicon Valley. News outlets described the move as the first in an expected exodus from the San Francisco Bay Area, a change that could have major implications on real estate, business development, and labor and employment. It's an example of how changes in physical location can open doors.


In many states, when hospitals or other healthcare organizations want to expand or add capacity, they must file what's called a certificate of need. While that filing happens at the state level, often the company first must notify the public of its intent via an old-fashioned newspaper ad. It's an example of one of the many unexpected places you can uncover competitive insight. Also consider:

  • News stories: Staying aware of current news is critical for any enterprise. It allows professionals to be proactive with a client's needs and demonstrates situational awareness and understanding. It also could trigger ideas for thought leadership and business development outreach.
  • Regulatory filings: Particularly for public companies, regulatory filings are a rich source of information about corporate structure and strategy. Annual and quarterly reports often include insight about planned deals, geographies of focus, and key personnel and products. Leverage these reports to better understand your clients and/or targets.
  • Analyst call transcripts: Sometimes it's simply a matter of keeping up with the experts. These calls include insight into a company's current and future financial situation.
  • Press releases: Sure, press releases can sometimes be boring, but just as often you'll find valuable information about changes in leadership, new products, geographic expansion, or a glimpse into how a company is responding to a challenge (i.e. a lawsuit or a regulatory investigation).


  • Ongoing: Particularly in today's environment, information changes at a rapid pace. What was true yesterday might no longer be the case tomorrow. By tracking information in real-time, your firm can ensure it is ready to move at a moment's notice.
  • Before key business decisions: Considering opening an office in a new market? Or purchasing a smaller competitor? Competitive intelligence (and particularly a SWOT analysis) can help ensure your decision'making is rooted in information.
  • Before meeting with clients and targets: Company dossiers and reports are a great way to prepare for meetings with clients and targets. While they can be a great source of talking points, they also tend you illustrate your firm is more than willing to do its homework.


Because having an active and in-depth competitive intelligence function within your advisory firm can help you foresee competitive threats and identify and win new work. A content intelligence tool like Diligent Manzama can help you keep track of the who, what, where, when and why that have an impact on your business and that of your clients.

Learn more about how Diligent Manzama can streamline your competitive intelligence processes today.  

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Kerie Kerstetter
Kerie Kerstetter is the former Senior Director of Content Strategy for Diligent and the Next Gen Board Leaders.