“Inside outside, nowhere is home”

October 28, 2015

I recently reviewed the program of the recent PharmaCI USA Conference & Exhibition (2015). No, I really do have a life, but I find it useful to do some competitive intelligence for my firm’s own benefit. So that makes me a DIYer too.

I spotted of a couple of offerings that touched on a project I have been working on – the nature of the Ecosystem of competitive intelligence. Among the things that this working model of the CI Ecosystem illustrates is the importance of CI researchers and analysts accessing, directly and indirectly, all elements of the CI Ecosystem. It also shows that, among all of these elements, only 4 are capable of providing finished competitive intelligence, as distinguished from raw data or other inputs: (inside) centralized CI function, (inside) decentralized CI function, (inside) embedded CI personnel, and Outside CI specialists.

At the PharmaCI Conference, there were several events that touched on the systemic importance of Outside CI Specialists:

  • “Commercial Competitive intelligence [at conferences] in the pharmaceutical industry…is highly specialized in many respects, facing flexible demand, and often extends certain limits most ethical pharmaceutical companies have subscribed to[1]. All of which is reason for much CCI activity to be performed by third-parties retained by pharmacos, as opposed to the pharmacos themselves.[2]
  • “Collecting CI at a medical conference is too important a task to be left to the CI department and resources are too scarce to not include your entire congress team in the collection effort…. [T]he session will also discuss how to integrate a third party into the collection process.[3]
  • “Key areas of focus will include…Understanding how secondary CI vendors and/or sources can be used to triangulate primary CI? The role of secondary CI vendors in driving primary CI strategy?[4]

These presentations support my rough cut of the CI Ecosystem stressing the critical role of Outside CI Specialists. The question is whether there a growing recognition that, no matter how good an internal CI function, CI personnel, or even CI DIYers are, the smart use of Outside CI Specialists is essential to the production of first rate, actionable CI? I think so.


The title’s lyrics are from the album “Quadrophenia” by The Who.

[1] This probably refers to pharmaceutical firms that prohibit their employees from talking with employees of direct competitors, which eliminates the ability to do any elicitation interviews. Needless to say, it paralyzes much activity at industry conferences and meetings.

[2] Peter Barschdorff, VP Business Insights, Bayer.

[3] Erik Glitman, CEO, Fletcher/CSI LLC.

[4] Duncan Emerton, Ph.D., Senior Director, Syndicated Insights & Analysis, FirstWord.

What Isn’t Competitive Intelligence?

October 23, 2015

I spend a lot of time and text talking about doing a better job with competitive intelligence. One issue, not really a problem, is that there are several areas that are NOT CI, but sometimes look like it or even claim to be CI (sort of).

Let me be more specific. The wide variety of names that those in CI have used has caused, and probably will continue to cause, confusion between CI and other knowledge-based activities. The most confusion is with environmental scanning, business intelligence, knowledge management, and market/quantitative research.

Why should you care? Well, when you do your own CI, you want to make sure that someone does not tell you that “We are already doing that sort of thing here, so there is no reason for you to have to do it” when they are actually referring to something else.

Environmental scanning

As “environmental scanning” is used today, its emphasis is on the future, not the present or the past, while CI includes the present as well as the future in its scope. In addition, its stress is heavily on data acquisition to support an early warning of problems, rather than on data collection and analysis to support a wide range of decision-making. Adding to the confusion, some CI professionals “environmental scanning” for strategic intelligence activities to give a broader sense of mission to that work.

Business intelligence

“Business intelligence” is a particularly difficult term for those of us in CI to deal with. At one time, this term was used by some CI professionals to describe CI in a very broad way, and by others referring to CI supporting corporate strategy operations. It now seems to have been fully co-opted by data management and data warehousing, referring to

  • software used to manage vast amounts of data,
  • processes for managing that data, aka data mining, or
  • output of either of the first two.

Virtually all of the reported applications and successes of business intelligence deal with internally oriented processes, from process control to logistics, and from sales forecasting to quality control. CI is heavily externally oriented.

Knowledge Management

As for knowledge management, there are at least four key differences:

  • First, most knowledge/data management systems (KMSs) are essentially quantitative in focus; CI is most often qualitative in focus.
  • Second, most KMSs are keyed to storing and manipulating data. They rarely allow precise identification of a human source(s), much less information on obtaining immediate and direct access to him/her; those conducting CI often need to be able to access the people who provided the data as well as the data. Why? Data is past; people can help you to see the future.
  • Third, most KMSs are not set up to capture data on anything that does not involve the firm itself. Yet firm personnel, from the CEO down, interface daily with customers, suppliers, and even competitors, from whom CI can be developed.
  • Fourth, the sales force, potentially a very powerful source of data in support of CI, is rarely involved with KMS.

Market research

Finally, with respect to market/quantitative research, while CI does use some quantitative methods in its analysis, it does not do so to the degree that most quantitatively-oriented researchers do. To draw an imprecise line, market research focuses on competitors and the firm’s own interface with its customers on an historic and current basis. CI focuses on a broader horizon, including potential competitors, R&D, as well as supply and distribution chains. Finally, CI, because it is heavily forward-looking, is heavily qualitative (think “stronger”, “weaker”) in comparison with more market research and qualitative research (“up 15.3%” or “2.3 million units produced”).

Elicitation’s Secret Weapon: Politeness


After getting back from another trade show, I talked about it with my better half, Carolyn Vella. When I was (finally) done, we noted that a theme ran through it – other than the usual gripe about the size of the venue.

That theme was the power of being polite. Polite? Before I give a couple of examples of its power, I would note that its power is due to several different causes:

  • Not everyone in business is polite, even when his/her job involves customer/consumer facing activities.
  • For some of those who are polite, the politeness is not “native”. That is, there is no automatic “thanks”, “you are welcome”, “please”, or “could you help me”. It is forced – and people notice that.
  • And for those who have native politeness, smiles are not always present. (BTW – you should smile when you are on the phone. It impacts how you sound to others. Don’t believe me? Try it.)

That makes politeness, true politeness, rare – therefore appreciated, and effective.

So how did being polite pay off? A few examples:

  • At one target booth, the people manning it were all very busy, so I just stood around until one employee worked herself free and made eye contact. I did not immediately demand attention. I thanked her for coming over, she said she was sorry she was busy, and off we went talking about her company’s products, how well the trade show was going, the industry, etc. I thanked her for her time. Oh, when I came back for a follow-up the next day, I said that is what I was doing, could I take a minute more, and she could not have been more helpful then as well.
  • At another booth, I need to talk to a manager-level employee about some industry-wide (not his company) issues. In other words, not to just anyone and not about his booth or its products. As we started, I told him that I had a few learning questions, and that, of course, I fully understood that he might have to peel off to “do some real business”, so please do so – I appreciated his valuable time. My recognition of his real mission allowed us to talk freely for a few, enlightening, minutes – until he had to leave. I thanked him then for his time.
  • I was to meet my client in an industry association suite, where we had met a day earlier. Access was limited to association members and guests (only so long as they were personally accompanied by a member). I got there early and went immediately to the desk; I did not try to enter the adjacent lounge. I identified myself there, and noted that I had been there the previous day with “Frank”. I told the supervisor I was waiting for Frank, and asked if I could sit and wait inside right by the door. She said “yes”. I asked if I could borrow a newspaper from the desk to read; she said certainly, that is what they were there for. Each question was “Please” and each response was “Thank you”. I did not push – I asked. And I said I would return the paper (which I did). Ok, this may not have directly benefited my elicitation, but I was a lot more comfortable while waiting.

So, when involved in elicitation efforts, in person, on the phone, or by email, always be polite, patient, and smile.

Thanks for reading this blog.

The Power of Seeing What is Not There

October 6, 2015

With all of my emphasis on elicitation interviews as a critical input to actionable competitive intelligence, I do not want you to think that I am denigrating secondary (aka desk) research. Such research is also a critical element. In fact, it is an essential predicate to doing your primary (aka human) research. In some cases, careful secondary research, done with a knowledgeable eye, can develop vital CI on its own. To support that, let me give an historical example:

“In 1942 G. N. Flerov, a young Soviet physicist serving in the [Soviet] air force…wrote to Stalin personally that he was convinced from a study of foreign scientific journals in the Voronezh University library that their silence about nuclear fission mean that an American project [to build a nuclear weapon] was underway.”[1]

Note two important things:

  1. This conclusion was drawn by a junior physicist, not a senior one. Flerov was only 29 at this time.[2]
  2. The (correct) conclusion was drawn by the absence of something, not by the presence of something. Flerov’s conclusion was that the absence of these scientific articles meant that research on this subject in the US had become classified. And that, in turn, meant that the US Government was trying to build the atomic bomb.[3]

As I have said before, don’t sell secondary research short. And before you jump into your primary research, make sure you have completed your secondary research. [4]

[1] Alan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1992, p. 903.

[2] http://flerovlab.jinr.ru/flnr/history/flerov.html

[3] http://www.britannica.com/technology/nuclear-weapon/The-first-hydrogen-bombs#ref521147

[4] https://diy-ci.com/2013/11/05/secondary-is-not-necessarily-second-rate/