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.


The Big Picture (2 of 7)

September 5, 2017

Our new book (by our, I mean Carolyn M. Vella, The Helicon Group’s Founding Partner and my significantly better half), Competitive Intelligence Rescue – Getting It Right, is a powerful “how-to-do-it-better” book, that uses real-world case studies (carefully masked) to expose common CI challenges and presents a simple methodology for spotting problems, understanding how to rectify each problem, and testing and validating that the changes are working.

Several of the cases there show the issues in creating or adding a new competitive intelligence unit. In our experience, there are typically 7 major elements involved in that process: financial and personnel, guidelines, training, internal marketing, networking, customers and their needs, and products and feedback. It is important to see the big picture, so I will deal briefly with each issue over the next weeks.

I have already discussed the financial and personnel issues.

Here, I will comment on key guideline issues. By guidelines, I mean both ethical/legal standards and mission statements/job descriptions.

Very few CI teams, or even individual analysts, are ready to issue a statement setting out the ethical principles that will govern the new process. Too many just default to adopting the Code of Ethics of Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP), either by reference or by just copying the text.

Do this only as a stopgap. The best way to do heave the right ethical and legal standards is to work with your company’s legal counsel, inside or out, to develop this. That way, it will reflect what you will be doing, as well as the environment in which you will be doing it. Doing it this way has the additional benefit of educating your legal counsel about competitive intelligence, so that they understand it better, to serve you and your company better.

The same is true of mission statements and job descriptions. The more specific, the better. These should be developed in cooperation with your internal clients. That will also help advance the likelihood that they will use what you provide.

This is not the first time I have commented on these issues. Check out my past blogs, including these, for more:

Company Policies on Collecting Competitive Intelligence (part 1)

Company Policies on Collecting Competitive Intelligence (part 2)

Company Policies on Collecting Competitive Intelligence (part 3)


Social Media

August 8, 2017

Recently, I participated in a survey conducted by Contify – Is social media a source of Market Intelligence on companies? The firm sent me access to the results and has allowed me to share them with you. It is a fascinating study. You can access the document here.

Let me make a few comments on it and share a couple of my own observations on social media.

One of the key take-aways for me was that using social media to do research for CI assignments and\or to conduct regular monitoring can be useful. My observation is that you have to be willing to invest a lot of time, seeking the proverbial needle in the haystack. But, if it is there, it is worth it (in retrospect).

Another key take-away is Contify’s conclusion that social media tends to be more valuable when you are targeting a smaller firm:

“For a given period, small companies have lesser number of business updates to share, as compared to large companies. However, small companies are more likely to announce an important business update on social than release a press releases in traditional media.”

My experience is that when you are targeting a family-owned business, which tends to be smaller, social media can be quite helpful by identifying who is who, and by providing photos of everything from other family members to the inside of factories to new products to key customers. But, again there is the time issue.

Finally, always keep in mind that what you are seeing is only what someone else wants you to see – well, not specifically you, but rather some other audience or audiences. Consider LinkedIn. I am sure you can understand how useful LinkedIn can be to identify key personnel, to spot the occasional brag that can uncover new facts, and to identify potential interviewees.

But consider that each LinkedIn profile is written by that very person. So? I can tell you, from experience, that just because a profile says that person is working as the VP of Whatever Company may not be true, or at least current. People who have been laid off sometimes keep the page content static to enhance their chances of attracting a recruiter or otherwise improve their job-hunting chances.

The same is true for all social media – particularly messages and pictures on Facebook, as well as videos on YouTube. With all social media, while you may think it is a look inside a target, remember, seeing is not always believing.


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  http://abc-clio.com/ABC-CLIOCorporate/product.aspx?pc=A5235C. It will let you see a little from the book.

You can preorder from Amazon.com now, at  https://www.amazon.com/Competitive-Intelligence-Rescue-Getting-Right/dp/1440851603/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1501184488&sr=8-1&keywords=vella+rescue.

Enjoy!


Ten Things Outside CI Consultants Do Not Want to Deal With

July 5, 2017

On the relationship

 

  1. “I’m not the final client for this work.” That makes doing the work harder, since the consultant is going through a filter – you. And that means no opportunity for effective pushback or digging into the end user’s real needs, as opposed to its (different) stated needs.

 

  1. “We’ll promise you more business if you’ll cut your fee.” Unless you have that authority, and there is more business in the pipeline, do not hold out this faux carrot. And don’t you think this will impact the current work? Remember the saying, “There are three things possible, but you only get two: fast, cheap, or good.”

 

  1. “Your relationship is limited to the person who signed your contract.” (This involves a sad story in which a client was fired in mid-project, and his successors initially didn’t want to pay a pending invoice.)

 

On the submitted bid/proposal

 

  1. “We’ll share your proposal and/or approach with other vendors.” In other words, one consultant is now working for its competitors? Increasingly, proposals are submitted to potential clients with language forbidding sharing the contents. Respect it.

 

  1. “We’re really just looking for good ideas for our own people.” Why not pay a consultant to work with your team to learn how to develop better skills and approaches?

 

  1. “You’re column fodder.” That means you need to get three bids, but want only vendor #1. The other two bidders are there to fill out the columns on the evaluation matrix. Don’t do it.

 

  1. “Your bid is a bargaining tool.” Sometimes bids are solicited on an existing piece of work to keep an incumbent “in its place” cost-wise and otherwise. See number 6 above.

 

  1. “You’re not bidding on the same scope of work as others.” It is amazing how few companies issue formal RFPs or other engagement specs for CI these days, so they are often getting competing “apples and oranges” proposals.

 

On fees and payments

 

  1. “We always bargain harder with small vendors.” High quality small vendors without big time “brand names” are often seen as more likely to cut fees to win work. See number 2 above.

 

  1. “We only pay on 45 (or 60 or 75) days.” When that comes from a (large) firm which requires its own customers to pay in 10-15 days net, it translates to “We ride our accounts payable to enhance our cash flow.”

Questions

May 19, 2017

This week I was reminded of law school when I saw an article mentioning the “famously demanding questions” of law Professor Arthur R. Miller.[1] As a victim, and beneficiary, of some of those questions, I commend the author for his accuracy.

But that memory got me thinking about “push back” in competitive intelligence. You know, when someone asks you to get (develop) some information (intelligence) on a competitor, your proper response, also called the drilling down. You have to find out what decision or action hinges on getting this CI.

If a decision or an action (including the decision to do nothing) depends on this CI, then it is actionable intelligence, able to be acted on. If not, it is not actionable. Recall, that this distinction is also captured by the contrast between “need to know” and “nice to know”. You do not want to waste your time and your firm’s resources on “nice to know”.

But doing this is not always easy, particularly if the request comes from a superior, not a peer. There are several questions you can consider using or adapting to ferret out this critical information, as follows:

  • “Is there a deadline or meeting that you need this for?” That is, is this a part of something larger? What is that?
  • “Why is this a concern right now?” Or, why now? You heard a rumor? A sales rep reported losing a long-time customer? Sometimes knowing the trigger helps lead you to the CI.
  • “Has anyone else looked at this issue before? What did they find?” In other words, is this just an itch that you are scratching – again? Or did prior research come up short? Can you get a copy of it? It sometimes helps to know what was not satisfactory to do it right.
  • And my personal favorite: “Therefore what?” (A tip of the hat to said Professor Miller) Once you have this, just what are you going to do with it? What does this all mean?

[1] David Cay Johnston, “Raising the Curtain on a News Blackout”, The Quadrangle, Spring 2017, 32, 35.