Unfortunately, in today’s corporate world, most employees are being pressured to do more and listening carefully has fallen victim to the drive for efficiency. Frequently as a consultant, I can bring value to clients because I am concentrating solely on the competitors. I can gather together a number of secondary sources about a competitor and speak with industry experts. From these sources, I can note nuances and see patterns. Basically I am listening better because I am concentrating on the topic, not because I am a consultant.
As an employee, it is difficult to have this focus, but you can try by blocking out a half or full day on your calendar to really listen to these sources about your competitors. Create assumptions and try to determine if all the data points fit any of those assumptions. Use a simple framework such as Michael Porter’s Five Forces or a SWOT diagram to gain insights. Then you can apply your learnings to making your business better.
You do not need a consultant to help you if you really listen to what is being said about your competitors.