Covering Tracks

January 25, 2018

I have been running into an interesting phenomenon – more and companies are taking steps to conceal their major construction/renovation filings made with local governments. It has been going on for a while, but seems to be increasing in the last 2-3 years.

That raises two, no, three questions: Why, How, and What Can I Do About It?

Why?

Major construction/renovation filings with local governments, such as building permits, zoning applications as well as applications for state waivers, such as dealing with highway/rail access or environmental issues, are all “tells”. That is, they indicate the coming of an important action which the target, your competitor, does not want the public, and certainly its competitors, to know.

To be fair, such actions usually do not prevent the release of such information – but they substantially delay that release, whether to competitors or to the local press.

How?

Here we are not talking about abusing open records acts by tactics such as improperly claiming ordinary data is confidential or a trade secret. What is done is making the filings under other names, to foil inquiries for or even attention paid to these records. That is done in at least two ways. One is to make them under the name of a subsidiary not identified with the parent. Another is to have another party to the transaction, such as the company managing the construction project, make the filings under its own name.

Cute.

What Can You Do About It?

Well, not a lot. If you suspect that a competitor is going to engage in such a project on an existing site, you can ask the local government for filings covering the current address, as well as adjacent properties. If the issue is a competitor which may be building a new facility at a new address, then try to determine what areas are likely sites, and then follow real estate sales and leases on a micro level – checking local papers every week for “suspicious” transactions, and then drilling down at the municipal or county level, as appropriate.

Defense against CI is always improving which is why our CI strategies and processes must always try to get better, too.


Confirmation Bias

December 12, 2017

Last night on the Fox News Show “The Five”, Greg Gutfeld, one of the hosts, commented on recent instances of US media, including CNN, having to retract or correct stories about President Trump. One of his observations was that some in the news media suffered from “confirmation bias”. That is these reporters or editors were, to his point of view, tending to interpret the information that they received in a way that was confirming their own pre-existing anti-Trump beliefs.

His suggestion, as I recall it, went something like this (my words not his):

When a reporter comes across a story that his or she just knows must be true, that is the time to stop and do everything in the reporter’s power to try and prove it wrong. That is the way to deal with the possibility of confirmation bias.

Now substitute the word “analyst” for “reporter”. Think about it.


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!