Working trade shows (Part 3)

February 26, 2013


So you’re at the trade show. What you do now?

First, take care of your business, the reason you are there. You do not desert your booth or exhibit space to check on your competitors unless you have someone else, a qualified person, covering it.

Second, think out your approach. What is it you are trying to find out?

  • Is it the presence of new competitors? If so, carefully go over the show catalog and plan to work the aisles where new competitors might be housed, particularly if the show is organized by type of product or service.
  • If your concern is new potential competitors, you have to allow more time. Review the ads in the show catalog. Do any of these sound like they are attacking your niche? If so they deserve attention.
  • Are there key suppliers of yours at the show? If so, you should visit them to keep the lines of communication open. Also, that is a great time to find out from them if they have been contacted by any of your competitors. It does not help you gain new business if one of your key suppliers suddenly switches allegiance from you to a competitor.
  • If your concern is new products from existing competitors, then you’re going to have to focus your time on going to the exhibits of each of your existing competitors and making careful notes of what is going on. When you go there, if you can, take pictures. Do not be shy. You are not doing anything improper.
  • If you can, you, or another member of your team, should circulate through the venue at the very beginning, so that you can pick up copies of all merchandising, product, and capabilities materials at every key stand. Remember, the longer you wait the more likely it is that something that could be critically important to you will no longer be there.

Working trade shows (Part 2)

February 21, 2013

 One thing you have to be sensitive to, when planning to work a trade show, is that your competitors might be, in fact should be, working against you. What can you do about that?

You could bar them from entering your area. That really is not feasible if you have a very large exhibit. If you have a small one, and you see someone of them hanging around, you could politely ask them to leave. If they don’t, frankly there’s nothing you can do

What else you can do is to pay attention – look at your exhibit area. Of course, it was set up to attract customers by showing them new and different things by emphasizing new features of products, etc. But by doing that are you giving away vital information to competitors?

Your approach should not be to deny them all information. That is pointless and impossible. Also, in so doing you going to deprive your customers and potential customers of information as well.

What you must do is determine what is competitively sensitive, at least for short period of time, and work to keep that away from competitors. Arrange your exhibit space to do that.

Make sure that your people will realize that their job is to talk to potential customers, actual customers, the press etc. but not to competitors. At a trade show there’s probably no such thing as a safe conversation with a competitor.

In particular, talk to your salespeople. In many industries, it is common for the sales staff to concentrate on “qualified leads”. That is all well and good, but to some salespeople this means that any person who is not immediately seen as a qualified lead is to be handed off, however gently, to someone else, very often a technical person. This is not a very good idea.

From personal experience, I can tell you that the technical staff are more than happy to talk about your product, in fact to brag about it. The problem is they could be talking to the wrong person. In addition, since they are often add-ons to the tradeshow staff, they feel somewhat neglected and easily respond to elicitation techniques.

After you have reviewed your tradeshow exhibit center, we can turn to other issues dealing with working tradeshows.

Working trade shows (Part 1)

February 18, 2013

One of the most productive ways to do your own competitive intelligence is to learn how to work the trade show, or expo or conference A recent issue of Bloomberg Businessweek praised one entrepreneur as “an old hand at tradeshows” noting that “and as we walked the Expo floor he checked out his competition”.[1]

“Checked out his competition”, a wonderful phrase to hear.

Exactly what should you be doing to check out your competition at a trade show. First let’s touch on what not to do: do not pretend to be something or someone you are not. In most trade shows you have a badge identifying you by name and organization, that is, probably color-coded as well when to indicate whether you are a vendor a potential customer the media and attendee etc. Honesty is the best policy. Be who you are.

Now, once you are there, you should do is take a look at the list of vendors and determine which of your competitors are present and, perhaps as importantly, which ones are not present. Did you expect to see particular firm there? Why are they not there? That may mark the beginning of an inquiry into a potential new opening in the market space.

Now take a quick look at the floor plan. Who spent a lot of money on space and who seems to be spending less money than last year? Those buying more space or more expensive space than last may be more dangerous to you in the near term than they are now. The reverse could be true for those that cut back on marketing expenses at the trade show. Does that mark something significant?

Don’t be afraid to walk around and look at your competitors’ displays. Even take a picture. It is an open session and you are behaving openly. If you are working with a number of people at the trade show, it would be useful to detail one or more of them to actually visit the booths, displays etc. and listen to what your competitors are saying and to see what they are displaying.

What else should you do? I’ll cover that in future blogs.

[1]Matthew Power, Apocalypse 24/7, Bloomberg Businessweek, Feb. 18-24, 2013, 63.

Where is competitive intelligence going? (Part 2)

February 15, 2013

One of the factors affecting where competitive intelligence will be going in the next 5 to 10 years is the growing, albeit slowly, presence of courses at the college and university levels dealing with competitive intelligence. That growth can be seen, indirectly, in the growth of the International Association For Intelligence Education.

Through these courses, the cadre of people available to conduct some CI for businesses, nonprofits and the like will be growing gradually. But the CI business will have to adjust and adapt.

In the past, those entering the CI business have been either self-trained or government trained. In the former case, they represented people from a wide variety of disciplines including market research, the law, statistics, library science and the like; in the latter case they represented national intelligence, both military and nonmilitary, as well as state and local intelligence, typically law enforcement.

That meant people who were working in CI were already used to functioning in the business and government environments. With people coming out of colleges and universities having had courses in CI, we are dealing out with a group of people who are not yet used to working, but understand, perhaps more clearly than some of the dinosaurs, the principles of and best practices in CI.

So what does this mean? It means that those in the CI business, whether in company CI units or working as outside consultants/contractors, have to look at the way that we recruit and integrate new members of our teams. In the past, we were recruiting and working with people who knew how to work, while perhaps not being familiar with CI. Now, in some cases, we’re looking at the opposite.

My concern is that not all of us are in the position to do this. The ones best positioned for this are company CI units, where the corporate culture is more used to bringing in undergraduate or graduate level entrants, training them in the “company way” and utilizing them while developing their skills.

This is not a methodology which many of those in the CI business on the consultant/contracting side are probably familiar with. This, coupled with the coming influx of individuals who are government trained, I think will result in a change as follows:

For those in the CI units, they will see a building up from the bottom, bringing in individuals knowledgeable in competitive intelligence, but not experienced in it. That could mean that the awareness of CI throughout businesses will expand as these new employees disburse throughout the enterprise – even if they do not do CI on a full-time basis.

For those on the consultant/contracting market space, it means continuing to bring in individuals with more work experience, but still with little experience in competitive intelligence. In the past, as CI was growing, it was easy to integrate people like this because, frankly, we were all developing competitive intelligence to the point where it stands today. But tomorrow? Will that mean that this wave will continue to add to building CI? I suspect that we should be able to see a change in that those coming in are not building competitive intelligence, so much as refining it and applying it differently.

Will this mark a divide in the backgrounds of the CI units and consultants/contractors? If so, what will that mean? I suspect it will make a significant difference in the next 5 to 10 years.

CI and your career (Part 1)

February 11, 2013


The most recent issue of InformationWeek has a featured column counseling information professionals on planning and pursuing upward mobility[1].

Several of the points dealt with the specific questions raised by a senior IT official was looking for a “C” position, but have general application. The first one was to take care of the fundamentals of his/her job. Absolutely. The second was to spend more time with business counterparts, in other words, to network and market yourself. Again, yes. The third was to focus on the core business of the firm and to build your future work to support the firm’s direction. Yes. The last one was for the questioner to hand over day-to-day management of a particular project to focus on advancement, not on management. Not really applicable here.

Of particular interest to us is his fourth recommendation:

Research your competitors. Determine if they had key IT initiatives that threaten your company. Present this information to your management team and proposed a counterstrike.”

In your situation, just substitute your area of expertise (marketing, product development, HR, etc.) for “IT”. And note that the direction was that “you” determine what your competitors are doing and for “you” to propose a counter strike. In other words, do your own competitive intelligence – DIY CI.

Good advice and well presented. Your career development depends not only on doing your job well, but also making sure that those above and around you see in you the potential to do a higher level, broader job better. Just doing everything you do as well as you can is not enough today. As this column suggests, you have to look outside your company at your competitors and determine how, using your existing career skills, your firm can compete better – thanks to you!

[1]John McGreavy, “Dear John: Our Secret CIO’s Steps to That Big Title”, Informationweek, Feb. 11, 2013, 8.

Where is competitive intelligence going? (Part 1)

February 8, 2013 

I’ve written a couple of blogs on the origins of competitive intelligence and probably will add to them in the future. However I would like to offer a thought about the future of competitive intelligence.

If you read the previous blogs you know that, from my point of view, one of the contributing factors to the rise of competitive intelligence was the mustering out of US intelligence officials. That, I believe, had several impacts. Among them were the presence in the market of people with a skill, but without current employment, looking for something to do. Fortunately for business some of them migrated to competitive intelligence, and we benefited from that.

Why raise that particular point? Right now we’re looking at a budget situation that the federal government faces which is, in a word, terrifying. It is not just a matter of what the official federal deficit is or even the federal debt. It is also a matter of what the other obligations of the federal government are, such as the unfunded liabilities for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. If you thin that is not an issue, please note there are claims that the National Flood Insurance Program is broke – so that the Congress had to send money there. The same is also true for state governments with their massive underfunded or unfunded pension plans.

Regardless of political party or persuasion, this should and soon will impact federal government spending. Whether this is good is undetermined. But, we already hear the potential new director of the Central intelligence agency state that he will not apply across-the-board cuts in the agency but rather go program by program.

What is unstated here is the fact that he assumes, properly so, that there will be cuts – if not today then tomorrow. When there are cuts in programs there are cuts in people. Given this is the federal government it is unlikely that people will fired, but many will feel decide to retire.

I suspect that this is going to bring a new wave of intelligence-trained individuals into the private market space. I do not know whether this is good or bad for competitive intelligence. The technology involved in governmental intelligence these days is radically different than it was 30 years ago 40 years ago and it is unlikely the private sector can or will gear up to provide equivalent technology. But the skill sets are there and the people are there. I expect that competitive intelligence in the coming 5 to 10 years will again change. How and in what direction I do not know.

I certainly would love to get your views on this. 


February 5, 2013

 In the most recent issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, an article on honesty in the workplace[1] states

“Apple has been reported to spread false rumors to throw off the press and has fired employees for leaking even most quotidian of news items.”


Well this short quote, assuming it is correct, actually involves at least two separate concepts for those of us with an interest in competitive intelligence. The first is disinformation, and the second is the impact of a founder or other powerful personality on the direction of an organization.

With respect to disinformation, again if the article is correct, the spreading of these “false rumors” is a form of disinformation. In the case of a public company, disinformation is not the same as the release of non-public information. Why? Because it is not really information. How or even whether the US Securities and Exchange Commission would go after such activity is not clear. If intended to disrupt competitors, it is hard to say that it is principally aimed at manipulating stock prices.

But in any case, as I have explained, disinformation is an exceedingly corrosive activity.

The second concept is the impact that one person can make a large, even gigantic, organization. The stories about Apple founder Steve Jobs and his impact on the culture at Apple are numerous, and I suspect in some cases are even accurate. Among them are stories about his personal domination of the organization, as well as his intensely negative attitude towards competitors. Again, this short quote reflects that.

Certainly it is true that Jobs is no longer at Apple, but the people that he trained, hired, and his allegedly handpicked successor are still there. They would not be expected to stray far from his philosophy, at least not in the short period of time that has passed since his death.

This is not to say that the passing of a strong personality or founder does not eventually lead to changes in the organization. One only has to look at the case of Walmart, which under Sam Walton was proudly declaring that all of its products work made in the USA. Now, Walmart is reportedly the largest single importer of products from China.

So what does this mean? It means that, when you were doing your own CI, you have to understand your target, and its people, and you can’t accept everything out there as the absolute truth.

[1]Christopher Bonanos, “The Lies We Tell at Work”, Bloomberg Busienssweek, Feb. 4-10, 2013.