Small Businesses and CI

September 21, 2015

I recently received a copy of a thesis titled “Do Small Enterprises Study Their Competitors?”[1]

That has always been a question in CI – do small businesses really develop and use CI? Of course, those of us in CI believe that they should, but have not documented that. This thesis now provides at least a partial answer.

Dr. Barendregt divided his small business targets into those with “strong”, “medium” and “weak” positions in their market. Some of the findings of this in-depth research are quite provocative. Here are two  I found interesting:

  • Small businesses with “strong” positions in their market placed a “low importance on [their] competitors”. So they are “neutral or negative about the usefulness” of CI directed against competitors. Instead, they study new technology and other strategic subjects. They use the highest number of sources, including personal sources, external sources, and “external direct data sources” when developing CI.
  • On the other hand, small businesses with “weak” positions“ placed “high importance on competitors”, partially reflected in the fact that they cooperate with them more than those in “strong” positions. These businesses focus their CI on “tactical competitor subjects and are positive about [its] usefulness.” However, they use the lowest number of sources. Interestingly, the thesis also reports that they are “also responsible for most of the discovered unethical and illegal data collection practices.”

I contacted the author, Dr. Barendregt, and he graciously pointed out a few other findings, again about small businesses (enterprises) and CI:

“1. [T]he successful companies in the market use CI to spot and lure away the best suppliers of their competitors – thus becoming stronger and more successful themselves,
2. [U]nless a company has a competitive positioning in a market, studying competitors won’t help them survive in the long-term,
3. [T]he best data sources are direct contacts with the competitors”.

So now we know a little more about small businesses and CI.

[1] By Dr. Arie T. Barendregt, RM, MBA, 13 November 2010 at Kingston University, London. Copies and further information can be obtained directly from Dr. Barendregt at a.barendregt@dejongverpakking.nl.


Millennials and Competitive Intelligence (Part 2 of 2)

September 15, 2015

This is the second part of my blog on this topic. Click here for the first part.

As I noted earlier, there is increasing research to the effect that Millennials, and probably also Generation X, operate differently in the work environment than do members of other generations[1]: Baby Boomers, the Greatest Generation, and other generations.

Some of the key characteristics of Millennials in the workplace that can bear on competitive intelligence are that

  • they tend to work longer hours than other employees;
  • they are less likely to suggest or to participate in face-to-face activities;
  • they prefer their incoming communications to be written, which means they avoid phone calls and particularly make sure most calls are diverted to voicemail;
  • when they do talk they prefer to keep their talks short, so there is no “small talk”;
  • they are heavily involved with social media, both at their work site and in their private life, and usually include details of both in that media;
  • they prefer to be multitasking, or more accurately multi-conversing, which means they are not necessarily paying complete attention to each of the email, IM, Twitter, and telephone/online conferences that they are simultaneously engaged in; and
  • they are regarded generally as willing to “speak their minds”.

 

Here are what these characteristics mean when Millennials do their own CI collection or have to deal with CI provided by others:

  • Working longer hours – That can mean that they will take the time to go through a long report or PowerPoint deck that others might not. Also, when facing a deadline to produce work based on their own CI, they should feel less pressured. Whether that feeling is accurate depends on each person’s own discipline.
  • Avoiding face-to-face activities – This will impede them in collecting data via elicitation interviews at trade shows, industry conferences and the like. In fact, they may tend to avoid participating in them. It also means that they are likely to miss the additional CI analysis provided during a presentation they do not attend, but merely rely on reading the document(s).
  • Avoiding phone calls and preferring emails – Emails tend to leave a trail, which may not be a good idea when eliciting data from others. If they are not there to pick up the phone call replying to an inquiry, they may lose the chance to get data from that person.
  • Avoiding small talk – This can be a real impairment in doing elicitation interviews. It has no bearing on using CI received from others (so long as minimal politeness is still observed).
  • Social media preference – In doing their own CI research, they are more likely to troll these resources than are those of other generations. That is good. The problem may be that they could minimize using other (secondary) sources to their detriment.
  • Multitasking – Failing to pay complete attention, a major consequence of multitasking, whether when doing your own research or listening to someone else talk about theirs, means missing something – maybe a lot.
  • Willing to speak their mind – In elicitation interviews, this is not a desirable trait – it can bring an abrupt end to a useful interview. However, when discussing CI that they have received, this may result in a more probing review, rather than a blind acceptance.

[1] In addition to the sources noted in Part 1, see also https://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/wicworks/Documents/Millennial%20Generation/WIConnects%20Presentations/Communicating%20with%20the%20Millennial%20Generation.pdfhttp://www.hpu.edu/CBA/block-left-column/gibsonPublication.pdf; and http://rikleeninstitute.com/sites/default/files/images/rikleen.14millennials.pdf.


Millennials and Competitive Intelligence (Part 1 of 2)

September 10, 2015

Why this topic? I chose it because there is increasing research to the effect that Millennials, and probably also Gen X, operate differently in the work environment than do those of other generations: Baby Boomers, the Greatest Generation, and other species of dinosaurs.

Some of the key characteristics of Millennials in the workplace, at least as they bear on competitive intelligence, are as follows[1]:

  • They tend to work longer hours than other employees.
  • They are less likely to suggest or to participate in face-to-face activities.
  • They prefer their incoming communications to be written, which means they avoid phone calls and particularly make sure most calls are diverted to voicemail.
  • When they do talk they prefer to keep their talks short, so there is no “small talk”.
  • They are heavily involved with social media, both at their work site and in their private life, and usually include details of both in that media.
  • They prefer to be multitasking, or more accurately multi-conversing, which means they are not necessarily paying complete attention to each of the email, IM, Twitter, and telephone/online conferences that they are simultaneously engaged in.
  • They are regarded generally as willing to “speak their minds”.

In this blog, I want to indicate how this impacts the collection of competitive intelligence from them – having them as targets of CI activities. In the next blog, I will comment on what these things mean when they do their own CI collection, joining into the community of DIYers, as well as when consuming CI provided to them by others.

So let’s first take a quick look at how these characteristics change collecting competitive intelligence from them:

  • Working longer hours – if you are seeking to do an elicitation interview with one of them, you have a good chance of catching them either a little bit before the beginning of the regular workday or, more likely, after the end of the regular workday. They are more likely to be alone and presumably less distracted, making them better elicitation targets.
  • Avoiding face-to-face activities – they are not likely to be able to be easily engaged in conversations aimed at eliciting competitively sensitive information at a trade show, business conference, or the like.
  • Avoiding phone calls and preferring emails – this makes setting up interviews harder because it is not always easy to find individual business email addresses. That is not to say that they cannot be found. But if the only way you can set up an interview with someone who would prefer to have all of their voicemail diverted to record is through an email, you have to do the extra work.
  • Avoiding small talk – by its very nature, an elicitation interview involves some degree of small talk if for no other reason than to conceal the key question or questions that are driving the need for the interview. This means taking a more direct and almost abrupt approach in the hope of getting the data.
  • Social media preference – this makes it easier to collect information on a potential elicitation target by checking his or her Facebook, LinkedIn etc. account. It also means that, unlike older employees at the same enterprise, they are more likely to put competitively sensitive information on these public sites because they believe that all of their life drives the content of their site.
  • Multitasking – if you can get their attention during the combined IM, email or the telephone conversations, you are more likely to be able to elicit at least one or two pieces of competitively useful information because they are not paying full attention to what they are saying; rather their attention is divided between two or among even three separate ongoing communications.
  • Willing to speak their mind – from the point of view of the elicitation interview, that is delightful. Enough said.

[1] For example, see http://www.forbes.com/sites#/sites/jacquelynsmith/2012/09/13/how-millennials-work-differently-from-everyone-else/; http://blog.mltcreative.com/Baby-Boomers-Gen-Xers-and-Millennials-Their-Different-Communication-Preferences; and http://axerosolutions.com/blogs/timeisenhauer/pulse/307/how-to-communicate-with-millennials-at-work-18-surefire-tips.


It’s Showtime

September 4, 2015

One of the most effective uses of your competitive intelligence skills, whether basic or advanced, is to “work” a tradeshow or conference. I’m not to get into the details of doing that here, but will discuss it in some future posts. What I want to do now is to give you a couple of hints about how to prepare for such an event.

The first thing you have to establish is to answer the question: why are you going to this tradeshow?[1] If you’re going there solely to represent your company, and expect to be anchored to its table or booth or stand, then you have limited opportunities to develop CI. However, you should be prepared to listen carefully to what customers and potential customers of yours may say to you in their visit to your booth. In fact, if you can really engage them in conversations, try – very gently – to elicit from them what they may have heard from a competitor at the show.

Another option is to dedicate some or all of your time to visiting competitor booths, attending open sessions of the tradeshow at which competitors may be speakers or panel participants, and talking to people who leave competitor exhibits.

Your preparation for this should include a commitment from your company you will be doing this as your primary (preferably sole) mission. It is not an effective way to operate to get a commitment that “if we can spare you” you can then do some CI work. Realistically, at a trade show there is very little spare time.

What you should prepare for is a day (or days) of listening, note taking (your smart phone probably can get an app for this), and a lot of movement. One definite “to do” is to dress not to stand out. By this, I mean if you are wearing a shirt or hat or button at your booth identifying you with your company or product, lose it if you are working the floor, collecting competitive information. Alerting a competitor that your firm is now listening to one of sales person’s conversation or studying a new product makes it almost impossible to collect useful data. If that means you have to bring in extra shirt and change when you leave the booth, so be it.

Notice, I did not say pretend to be someone else, use false trade show id, etc. Legal and ethical is still the rule, as with all other efforts to collect data for CI.

Regardless of what you are doing, regularly collect and preserve your impressions and information, as you are going along if possible. If that is not possible, take time before you return to the office to record, either by dictation or in writing, all of your impressions and data collected, including an evaluation of any and all materials that you have collected while at the meeting. By the time you get back to your office, not only will there be other, pressing, demands on your time, you will begin to forget individual details that might have been critical had you remembered them.

[1] Throughout, I will “use tradeshow” also to refer to conferences that are attended by your competitors or other companies of interest.