Don’t start thinking James Bond thoughts. Instead, think of spying on your competitors and yourself. Illegal spying? Perish the thought. I’m talking about legal spying. Follow my reasoning here.

A 10-year old boy walks into a hardware store. He asks the person in charge if he might make a local call on the telephone. The manager hands him the phone. The boy dials the number and says, “Hi! I’m calling because I want you to have the most beautiful yard on your street.”

“We already have a beautiful yard,” comes the reply.

“I’m really calling to offer you the services of the best yard boy in town.”

“We think we already have the best yard boy.”

“Well, that’s great and thank you for your time.”

The store manager says to the young boy, “With an attitude like yours, you’re going to go far in this world. With that attitude, you’ll have a job as a yard boy in no time at all!”

“Oh,” says the kid, “I already have a job as a yard boy. I’m the yard boy for the people I just called. I was just checking up on myself.”

As the kid knows, a mandatory weapon in a guerrilla’s arsenal is a clear picture of reality.

Reality? What’s that? It’s the difference between the way your company is conducting business compared to the way your competitors are conducting their business.

The whole idea is to do absolutely everything better than your competitors.

But how can you accomplish that? Answer: by spying.

Guerrillas spy on their competitors, their industry and especially themselves. Business information is more plentiful than ever, and your competitors aren’t really dummies. They’re getting smarter every day, and the only way you’re going to know how you measure up to them is by actively engaging in regular spying. It’s a habit with guerrilla affiliates.

Contact a competitive company and request some information. If your voice is too well known by those who would deign to compete with you, have a friend make the call. See how you are treated on the phone. See how your information request is processed and how long it takes. See if there is any follow-up and how good it is.

Then, call your own company and request the same information. Again, since they probably already know the sound of your voice, engage a friend to help you spy. Are you treated as well as your competitors treated you? Is your information request processed as well and as fast? Is your follow-up better than your competitor’s?

If your competitors are doing anything better than you, make the changes so that you are doing everything better than they are. Because many sports are games of inches, being an affiliate is a game of details.

When you spy, direct your efforts at the best in your industry, your community, your chunk of the Internet. Seek out competitors in your own field, in your yellow pages, on your planet. If you ever find one who operates a business better than you do, feel good about it because you can learn from it, then make the necessary improvements.

Spying is both inexpensive and informative. It should be practiced regularly, at least four times a year, if you’re serious about being a wealthy guerrilla. Guerrillas know in their bones that the truth is a valuable ally. Truthfinding is a painful job, especially when you learn that you are falling behind, but the opportunities to transform that knowledge into profits make up for the pain.

Here are five ways you can snazz up your snooping:

1. Order something. Buy something from your own company. Then, buy something from some of your competitors. It always helps you to own the product or use the service of your competitors, because owning is the essence of down-and-dirty spying and enables you to spot your own deficiencies as well as your own advantages. Do it by phone or mail or in person. Keep an eagle eye for the smoothness or rough edges in the entire process. There will be more differences than you think. Note especially when they do their follow-up. If your competition is a public company, buy a share of stock so that you can spy by means of their annual report and shareholder meeting.

2. Visit your competitors. You or your trusted co-spy should visit your place of business as a customer might, and then visit the premises of your competitors. Note the little details that win or lose prospects. Keep in mind that all of them are probably nuclear-powered details.

3. Phone your competitors. Focus on the personality and attitude of the person who answers the phone. If it’s friendlier than the person who answers your phone, teach your phone answerer how to do it.

4. Request something. Maybe it will be a price list, a video or a brochure. Do you handle requests as professionally as your competition? If you’re a guerrilla, you handle them with aplomb.

5. Compare everything. Look through the eyes of your prospects and compare your own and your competitors’ service, pricing, packaging, people, selection, follow-up, signs, quality, delivery and attitude. Guerrillas know they compete in many arenas and must be the superior entry in all of them and at all times. Only spying will give you honest feedback on how you’re doing. The opposite of a spy is an ostrich.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but be prepared to face up to some awful truths about your business. Yes, I know there’s a tiny chance that you’re doing everything better than your competitors, but if you learn from your espionage, there’s a great chance that will happen. Guerrilla spies don’t have to cheat, don’t have to peek, don’t have to engage in sabotage. All they have to do is observe keenly, keep their minds open and be committed to improving.

JAY CONRAD LEVINSON is the author of the Guerrilla Marketing series of books, the most popular marketing series in history with 14 million sold in 39 languages. He also publishes the Web site