It’s Out!

July 27, 2017

We have just received the authors’ copies of Competitive Intelligence Rescue – Getting It Right from our publisher. This is the latest book from Carolyn M. Vella ( Helicon’s founding partner and my significantly better half) and me. We are very excited about it.

It takes you behind the scenes of CI rescues – case studies of efforts to help clients get it right. It is an easy read, but filled with useful tips.

For more complete information on the book, you can go to It will let you see a little from the book.

You can preorder from now, at


Free DIY CI Webinar Posted

June 9, 2017

The Competitive Intelligence Division of the Special Libraries Association has posted my DIY CI webinar at . This free webinar is the one I noted in my blog last week ( ).

The 1 hour session attracted over 300 registrants. Enjoy!

Free do-it-yourself competitive intelligence webinar

June 2, 2017

This week, I will be presenting a free 1 hour webinar on DIY CI. It will start on June 8 at Noon ET. I will be providing on everything from finding and using the best data sources to how to market your skill set throughout your company. You’ll find practical suggestions and “how to” strategies to get your CI trajectory not only on course, but on the rise!

This presentation revisits my very well-received half-day Competitive Intelligence Division’s continuing education course held last summer at the Special Libraries Association’s annual conference.

Register now:

Pushing Back

May 5, 2017

One key skill among competitive and strategic intelligence specialists is mastering the art of the “push back”, also known as drilling down. That describes the vital interchange between the end-user (AKA customer) and the analyst (AKA provider) of the intelligence at the beginning. The goal is to make sure that the analyst provides actionable intelligence to the end-user.

So how does this relate to the DIYer? In many cases, you are both the analyst and the end-user. No, I do not expect that you will talk to yourself – although we have all been there, haven’t we? What I do believe is that there are lessons to be learned from the push back process to help you sharpen your own research and analysis processes.

Let me be a little more specific. In the push back process, here are a few, almost predictable, exchanges, which I will briefly dissect here. Now view them from you own perspective, when you are starting a research and analysis project. Are you at the beginning, the middle, or the end of this dialog?

An intelligence task is being presented in very general terms: “We need some current information on the Competitor”. [Bah!]

First push back: “What kind of intelligence – sales, new products, investments, new hires?” [Note the switch from “information” to “intelligence”.]

“We are concerned about a rumor that they may be acquiring one of our distributors.”

Next stage, push back a little more: “Do you know which one?’

“Yes, well, we think so.”

Press a little more: “What did that rumor come from? How did you hear it?”

“In a sales field report last month.” [Warning! Why so long to have the question come up? Is this going to be an unnecessary super rush job?]

Again: “Why do we need to know this” [What this means is “What will we do with the intelligence that we cannot do right now?” but you cannot usually speak that bluntly.]

“We may have to buy another distributor, or bring some of the logistics in-house.” [Now, we are getting somewhere.]

Closing it up: “Is there a meeting scheduled to consider this? If so, when?” [Setting a likely deadline]

“Yes – in 3 weeks.”

Now wind it up: “So we need to confirm the possible purchase of this distributor? Anything else?”

“Yes. Also, it would be nice to know [Warning! Keep vagueness from creeping in at the end.] what they are paying in case we want to make an offer as well.”

“Is that important?”

“Oh, yes, very.”

Bingo! Now we have a clear direction, with the goal of getting actionable intelligence to support identifiable action, and, not surprisingly to those of us who have been through this, which is well off on a tangent from the original, vague, directions.



Tag – You’re It!

February 16, 2017

I was reading the most recent issue of Successful Meetings. Why, you ask? Because if I am going to work – or protect – a meeting, conference or trade show with respect to CI, I should how they are being run and how they are changing.

Anyway, it had an interesting article for people who are being told that they are now doing meeting planning in addition to everything else they do[1]. Taking it as inspiration, here are a couple of tips for DIYers who are (suddenly) told “Well, you know all about competitive intelligence, so why don’t you provide us with some in addition to everything else you are doing”:

  1. Be prepared to get going; While this may not have happened to you yet, the operative word here is “yet”. While it is not always true for CI teams that “If you build it, they will come”, when you are doing your own CI, eventually others will (a) figure out that you are doing this, and (b) some will realize that the CI is adding value. Then, it is but one step to being drafted, so prepare for it. Look at the next 8 tips and see where you stand now with respect to each one.
  2. Take advantage of training and education:: Take a hard look at any groups of which you are a member. Then check on groups that your organization or other employees are members of. Have their newsletters and magazines dealt with CI? If so, start checking the latest issues. Have they offered sessions on CI or related areas (strategic intelligence, war gaming, scenario development, long-range scanning)? If so, see if you can take a webinar of a past session. Also, check the agendas of their forth-coming meetings for sessions on CI that you can attend. There are also a variety of groups that run formal training programs and even annual sessions on CI. Among them are the Institute for Competitive Intelligence[2] and the Fuld-Gilad-Herring Academy of Competitive Intelligence. Check them and others out.
  3. Stay current: There are numerous websites and blogs – such as this one – that you should tap into for current developments and discussions about CI. Staying current on CI is now a part of your job – it should have been at least a small part already.
  4. Identify internal and external partners: Here is where your networking is key. If you already have an internal network, use it. If not, start developing one now. Look around for potential external partners for your future research: think trade associations, affiliates and subsidiaries, academic research centers, suppliers, customers, and government agencies.
  5. Find out the reasons for the assignments: To do your best CI research and analysis, you must know not only what they (whoever they are) want, but, more importantly, what they intend to do with it. Knowing that, you may often be able to suggest an alternative line of research or research target that is faster or cheaper or more reliable.
  6. Show ROI: It helps to try to show the return on your investments (ROI) in CI. For example, if your analysis shows that a planned new venture is very, very risky, casually note that the15 hours of work you did will save the organization $6.2 million it would have spent on going forward with a failing venture.
  7. Be smart about non-ROI statistics: ROI is not all that your CI can provide and not the only thing to point to. How about time? If your CI doubles the time that your organization now has to respond to a competitor’s forthcoming new pricing regime, when compared with the last time this happened, tell people.[3]
  8. Improve your existing skills and add new ones: You already are doing some CI so you have some basic knowledge – I hope. So first, work on improving your existing third-party skills, such as working with others, managing meetings, and communication, both written and oral. Good CI that is not properly communicated is not useful or likely to be used. Then work on adding new skills such as interviewing third parties, team management, improved technical expertise on what your firm does, and working meetings and conventions.
  9. Promote your value and CI’s value: Do not be shy about what you are doing and what value the (new) CI is bringing to your team/organization. Diplomatically use phrases such as “Our blind spots were…”, “Filling in the following gaps…”, “Providing us with an opportunity we were not fully aware of…”, and “Avoiding a previously unexpected threat…”.

[1] Andrea Doyle, “Planning for Double Duty”, Successful Meetings, February 2017, pp. 12-15.

[2] In the interest of full disclosure, I am on the faculty of ICI.

[3] For more on this, see John J. McGonagle and Carolyn M. Vella, Bottom Line Competitive Intelligence, Praeger 2002.

CI Skills and Education

A couple of additional thoughts on CI education/training:

  • Merely learning about CI “on the fly” or “as we go” is almost never sufficient. In fact, it is rarely even marginally satisfactory. That does not have to happen, since there are many good sources for improving your research skills and honing your analytical talents.
  • Education with respect to research and analysis should never stop. But the requirements for such continuing education differ with these two steps.
    • Education on research, both sources and techniques, should be ongoing. There are great books, blogs, training courses, webinars, and sessions at annual meetings of all sorts of organizations that can help. If you cannot find them, you are not looking. Education on research should be ongoing. No one can stop doing this – no one no matter how skilled or experienced.
    • Education on analysis is different. That is because intelligence analysis is not so much a skill that can be acquired, but a talent that can be nurtured and honed. Education on analysis should also never stop, but it is significantly different from education on research. Yes, you should look to the same sources as are available for education on research, but you must go further, deeper, and wider. To properly nurture and hone such analytical skills as you possess, you must continually expose yourself to a variety of intellectual challenges and eye-opening data. Try reading different books and magazines from what you do now; then change that next year and the year after: move from history to news to archeology to science fiction to psychology, etc.

Connecting Dots

November 2, 2016

Over the last two weeks, I first reviewed AFIO’s Guide to the Study of Intelligence and then dealt with a couple of important lessons from that book. In this blog, I want to point out yet another one. This one deals with analysis[1] – always a subject of interest.

Carl Ford, a retired intelligence officer, provides a pointed comment about analysis:

“Intelligence collection’s scatter-shot nature also makes it easy for analysts to fall into the ‘connecting the dots’ fallacy. Just because one has a dot does not mean it is, or can be, connected to other dots.”

When collecting your data, particularly if you are a DIYer, you must refrain, not an easy task, from jumping to conclusions about what that new dot means. It may mean nothing – it may mean something. But if you immediately categorize it as one or the other, you are engaging in weak – at best – analysis. In such cases, your own blind spots, biases, group think, etc. can quickly take over, causing your already weak analysis to become flawed analysis.

Not only should analysts keep this in mind, but their clients should be educated on this as well. This is particularly critical for those CI clients who demand regular reporting if “what you have found so far”. They, just as the CI analyst, can often be swayed by what dot is first found, even when that dot is later found to lack relevance or even credibility.

[1] Carl Ford, “My Perspective on Intelligence Support of Foreign Policy”, pp. 159, 160.