More Skills?

January 9, 2018

In Time, Harvard Professor Steven Pinker recently wrote about how the media impact human cognition (don’t yawn). Specifically, he points out that people tend to “see their lives through rose-colored glasses”. Yet, when discussing others (people, countries, etc.), they see “everyone is miserable…and the world is going to hell in a handcart.”

He attributes these “biases”, his word not mine, to the “bad habits” of the media as well as our own “morbid interest in what can go wrong”. The cure? Numeracy – literacy about numbers. That skill, he contends, helps to develop and maintain a quantitative mindset, which is not just “smarter” but “more enlightened:”.

Does this mean that quantitative skills should be added to the list that CI analysts, collectors, and even end-users should consider as “must haves” and not just “useful”?

I vote yes.


Staging CI Development – From the Now to the Future

December 6, 2017

So, you want to grow your personal competitive intelligence expertise, or maybe grow what your CI team can do for your company? Doing that often takes you and your team through several stages of development, each of which requires additional skills and work, but which also provides increasing benefit to the ultimate end users of the CI.

Stage One

This is where you produce and use of CI to understand what and who is going on – here and now. You would be surprised (then, maybe not surprised) how little some companies know about their competition, or even who their major competitors are. Don’t believe me? Let relate a real experience with a client.

A business development manager at the client, a new hire, wanted us to help identify the firm’s top competitors in each of its 4 key markets. What she wanted to see was what strategic moves they had made in the past few years, and how well those efforts turned out. The goal was to learn from their successes and failures.

She told us that, when she went to senior managers, what she got was confusing and conflicted. (Everyone who is surprised, raise your hand) The executives did not agree among themselves who they were competing with and in which market niche.

So, we did our research and gave her a list of the top ten current competitors, by gross sales, for each niche. The results were interesting.

Of the 10 competitors, the senior managers, as a group, identified 6 or 7 in each niche. So far so good.

In each niche, they had identified 1 or 2 firms as competitors who were not currently competitors and had not been in that niche for a minimum of 2 years. Bad. Obviously, they were not paying close attention to what was happening in niche by niche.

What about the others, the missing 1 or 2 in each niche? They were firms that were current competitors that no senior manager, let me repeat that, no one, identified as in the top 10. Even worse, in 3 of the 4 niches there was one of these “stealth” competitors among the top 5! Talk about blind spots.

Stage Two

Now you begin to understand the history of the key competitors, which can lead to at least a partial understanding of its culture and its view of the world. Businesses and their executives and managers are molded by what they have succeeded (and failed) at. This stage should include a look at key executives, particularly those who have joined the firm in the past 2-3 years. They were hired for a reason. What was it?

Don’t think culture is important (or even real)? Consider the attempt by Kraft Heinz to acquire Unilever. According to a report in Fortune, one of the several reasons that the Unilever board rejected the offer was the radical difference in corporate cultures. [1]

Stage Three

This stage involves identifying the capabilities or potentialities of your competitors. What can they do that they are not doing how? How skilled is the workforce? How good/efficient is its supply chain? What strategic alliances do they have or might they logically create?

Stage Four

The final stage involves ascertaining your key competitors’ intentions. That is, now that you know where they came from, what they are really doing, and what they can do that they are not yet doing, you start analyzing available evidence to determine where they are going to go tomorrow. Now you are at the top of the CI food chain. Congratulations! From here, lies the world of early warning systems – another important topic.

[1] “Change World”, Fortune, Sept. 15, 2017, p. 82. “Unilever’s board rallied behind [the vision of ‘making sustainable living commonplace’] to help stymie an unsolicited takeover bid from Kraft Heinz.”


The Big Picture (7 of 7)

November 29, 2017

As I have noted, in our experience, there are usually 7 major issues involved in creating or adding a new competitive intelligence unit:

  • financial and personnel
  • guidelines
  • training
  • internal marketing
  • networking
  • customers and their needs, and
  • products and feedback.

In this blog, I have previously discussed the financial and personnel issues, guidelines , training, internal marketing, networking, as well as internal customers and their needs.

Several of the (masked) cases in Competitive Intelligence Rescue – Getting It Right, our newest book, deal with CI products and feedback as do several chapters in Bottom Line Competitive Intelligence. Here are a couple of the key high-level issues you should consider:

  • What products are you providing now? Who uses which products? Why don’t others use them?
  • Are you providing a newsletter? Is it really providing value to the readers or is it just a convenience for those readers?
  • Your product mix should change as your targets – and customers – change. And you should be changing your targets. They are not going to stay static just for your convenience.
  • Feedback from your customers is critical. Get it on a project by project basis, if possible, and, in any case, quarterly. And get it from ALL customers. If they are too busy to talk about your work, how much time do they have to absorb and use it?
  • Feedback should include reviewing what products to add as well as which ones to stop providing.

Also check out this past blog. among others: Answers and Questions.


The Big Picture (6 of 7)

November 14, 2017

As I have noted, in our experience, there are usually 7 major issues involved in creating or adding a new competitive intelligence unit. They are

  • financial and personnel
  • guidelines
  • training
  • internal marketing
  • networking
  • customers and their needs, and
  • products and feedback.

I have previously discussed the financial and personnel issues, guidelines , training, internal marketing, and networking issues earlier in this blog.

Several of the cases in Competitive Intelligence Rescue – Getting It Right, our newest book, deal with managing internal customers and their needs, as does chapter 5 in Bottom Line Competitive Intelligence. Here are a couple of the key high-level issues in that process:

  • Who are your customers? Who else should be customers?
  • What do they really need? How does that differ from what they say they need?
  • How are you helping your customers determine their needs? Small investments here can pay big dividends in the long run.
  • How good is your direct access to your customers? How can you improve that?

Also check out this past blog – Ten Things Outside CI Consultants Do Not Want to Deal With.


Toxic Environments for CI

November 7, 2017

In the past I have commented[1] on the fact that competitive intelligence cannot thrive in contexts where there is imperfect competition or an outright monopoly situation.

Now consider this observation from a recent issue of Time:

“[T]he leaders of other emerging powers – not just Russia but also democracies like India and Turkey – are following China’s lead in building systems where government embraces commerce while tightening control over domestic politics, economic competition, and control of information.”[2]

So, to the above environments where CI cannot thrive (or perhaps even function), add those situations where government is not only involved in controlling commerce, even without the presence of oligopolies and monopolies, but where it is also controlling much of the data, the raw material from which CI is developed.

“Withholding information is the essence of tyranny. Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship.” author Bruce Coville.

[1] See It Is What It Is and  Why No CI?

[2] “Advantage China”, Time, November 13, 2017, p 42.


The Big Picture (5 of 7)

October 17, 2017

In our experience, there are usually 7 major issues involved in creating or adding a new competitive intelligence unit:

  • financial and personnel
  • guidelines
  • training
  • internal marketing
  • networking
  • customers and their needs, and
  • products and feedback.

I have already discussed the financial and personnel issues, guidelines , training  and internal marketing.

One of the cases in Competitive Intelligence Rescue – Getting It Right, our new book, deals with internal networking and CI, as does the more technical chapter 6 in Proactive Intelligence: the Successful Executive’s Guide to Intelligence. Here are a couple of key high-level issues:

  • Internal networking is a way, like training, to continue to bring CI to everyone’s attention. That can be critical during the start-up period of a CI program when its impact, even existence, may not be evident.
  • Networking can multiply the effectiveness of a CI team or program. It creates and maintain a quick connection to people inside of the company who may have access to critical bits of data. With networks in place, they may feel that there is someone that they can “alert”.
  • Members of the sales team can be valuable members of your network. However, it is not unusual for managers to object to this, on the basis that it “wastes” the time of the sales personnel. Do not try and make the sales force into a CI data collecting force. Rather, provide members with some help so that they feel freer to reciprocate.

Also check out  some of my past blogs, including Tag – You’re It! and 10 Commandments for DIYers.


Law Firms and CI

October 10, 2017

A local legal publication noted[1] the release of a study on competitive intelligence and large law firms. Among its findings was that “[l]aw firms are thirsty for data that could make them more competitive, but few are using it for proactive, strategic planning….”

First. I commend the full text of the report to you – it is thoughtful and enlightening. You can follow the links from the story to get it.

Second, I was taken by some of its observations:

  • 2/3rds of the firms in the study staffed the CI function with people whose background was “library or research”, while only 1/3 hired “professionals with CI background.”
  • Interestingly, about 1/3 of the firms reported that their CI teams’ ability to “connect the dots” was something in which they excelled. Hum.
  • And how about this: almost 2/3rds of the firms said that the CI teams’ work was more tactical than strategic. See anything now?

I would like to add to this some observations.

My qualifications? My background, in addition to decades in CI includes working in 3 law firms and in 2 corporate legal departments. (highest positions being Resident Counsel in the former and VP/General Counsel and in the latter). In fact, I have even written a couple of articles on CI for law firms, before it was a popular subject for discussion.[2]

One unidentified source of a drag on some CI programs is the client himself, herself, themselves:  the lawyers in the law firm themselves.

Let me explain (by generalizing overly broadly):

  • Some partners tend to possessiveness of information on “their” clients, because information is seen by them as power or at least a route to success.
  • Most associates at law firms are not heavily (or even at all) involved in business development, so CI is almost irrelevant to them. That also means that associates becoming partners will not usually understand anything about their firm’s CI process and what to expect from it.
  • Withholding some client information or access from other lawyers in the same firm is frequent, particularly when there is partner hunting/poaching by that firm and/or competing firms going on.
  • Lawyers live in world of confidentiality – they tend instinctively to give little information out (which impedes developing proper KITs and KIQs by the CI team), and, in turn, they often expect to receive little. Then, these diminished expectations mean they have less interest in becoming involved with CI.
  • Lawyers usually believe that only lawyers, or at best paralegals, can understand the law, and therefore the legal business – despite the apparent high correlation between success and the use of experienced CI people by large law firms noted above.
  • Legal research is different, very different, from CI research. Put another way, elicitation is not likely to be seen as a way to gather competitively sensitive data by those familiar only with using depositions to gather information. Also, the bulk of legal research is now done using commercial online services (LexisNexis, Bloomberg Law Westlaw), so some lawyers may have a perception that secondary research is the only way to go rather than being, well, secondary.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141).

[1] Lizzy McLellan, “Report Finds Law Firms Playing Catch-Up on Competitive Intelligence”, The Legal Intelligencer, October 3, 2017.

[2] “Knowing Your Competition: Can Competitive Intelligence make your firm extraordinary?”, Legal Management, Nov.-Dec. 2011, 35-39; “Competitive Intelligence: A New Tool For Lawyers”, Legal Times, May 19, 1986.