Sun Tzu Strategy

The Value of Competitive Intelligence

“To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.”  

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The head of enrollment management stood before the Cabinet and explained: “…we’re seeing a larger number of our prospective students enroll with Competitor A and the reason cited by the student is that their cost per credit hour is about $100 lower than ours.” 

Panic, as they say, ensued. 

Later that afternoon, a Cabinet member sent out an email with the following information. 

“So that we’re all on the same page – Competitor A is on the quarter system, so their undergraduate degree requires 180 credit hours vs. our 120 credit hours. That makes their cost per undergraduate degree about $10,000 more than ours – not the bargain these prospective students expect!” 

“If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” 

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Take the above example.   

If the institution had a formal, ongoing competitive intelligence program in place, this “defeat” would not have occurred.  How? Because that information would have been known throughout the organization and used to train an enrollment/admissions team, so they could address the prospective students’ misconception and help them make a better-informed decision. 

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” 

Sun Tzu, The Art of War


Let’s say some of your key performance metrics include increased revenue, increased profits, lower cost to enroll new students, increased retention rates, increased graduation rates, and increased referral rates. 

How will you achieve these metrics without knowing what’s going on in the market with your audience? 

Take the earlier example of the enrollment team not understanding the competitor’s pricing strategy – they lost a great deal of revenue, profits, etc. If they had understood the competition, they would have been trained to address the issue, and that would have helped generate more enrollments. 


Every institution has limited resources to achieve its mission – and success can be achieved with greater ease and efficiency if you are offering your audience a unique, valuable solution. 

And that’s a nice way of saying “instead of going toe-to-toe with your competition on every possible enrollment, offer what the audience wants, but the competition does not and/or cannot offer so that, in essence, you have no competition in the mind of your audience.” 

“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”  

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

To accomplish this, you need to know your competition. 

Who is their target audience? And what target market (geography) do they focus upon?  

What programs and services do they offer their audience? Admissions requirements? Admissions process? Courses and course outcomes? Modality? Locations? Faculty experience? The technology used and how they use the technology? 

You need to know the competition as well as you know your own institution, so you can make the strategic decision that we both offer a B.S. in business administration, but our program is uniquely valuable to our audience because of the following factors… 

Once you are making conscious, strategic decisions based on your audience’s wants and needs, your strengths and the competition’s weaknesses – you are helping your audience realize that you offer them the unique value they desire. 

And it beats the heck out of dropping tuition 70-percent

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Strategic turnaround consultant and writer.

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