(Some of) The Reviews Are In

May 8, 2018

As I hope most of you know, Carolyn Vella, my significantly better half, and I have a new book out: Competitive Intelligence Rescue: Getting It Right. We were very fortunate to get some pre-release reviews, which said, in part

“In this book you get to listen in on real conversations and solve real issues.”

“Long experienced in competitive intelligence, Vella and McGonagle provide insightful lessons for those who need intelligence to compete, profit, and succeed.”

“This is an essential addition to every librarian’s shelf.”

“Anyone involved in CI, or trying to rescue their CI program, will find Vella’s and McGonagle’s book informative, insightful, practical, and executable.”

For the full texts of these previews, just go to the publisher’s page for Competitive Intelligence Rescue: Getting It Right.

Since its release, the book has been reviewed several times, with all reviews saying very positive things (click on the quote to read the full review):

“Any knowledge producer — researcher, practitioner, or manager — will learn something valuable here. Likewise, the user of intelligence — business owner, executive, or investor — will benefit by becoming an “educated consumer” of intelligence work products and by seeing what is possible, even with limited resources.”

“This is a must read for strategic planners who want to understand why and how competitive intelligence is done, and how it enables smart decision-making.”

 “This book is designed for managers at every level of business, and for all size businesses from the smallest to the very largest.”

“Conscientious decision makers in large multinationals and/or do-it-yourselfers will glean valuable insights from Vella and McGonagle’s workbook/thinkbook.”

“[C]omprehensively breaks down what companies should aim for as realistic goals and how the market is affected by factors outside the company.” Reading Eagle, December 31, 2017, p D6.


To all these reviewers, thanks for your kind words. For my blog readers, why haven’t you purchased it yet? (VBG). To help you, here is a link to Amazon.com you can use. Thanks.

(End of shameless commercial plug.)


March 27, 2018

I have presented very frequently and continue to enjoy doing so. I would like to share with you a few tips. Some of these are my own; some come from my significantly better half, Carolyn Vella, who critiqued my early training presentations for the better; some are based on co-presenting with skilled presenters like Dr. Ben Gilad; and some are based on what I have seen and heard, liked and disliked. Here they are:

  • Check out the stage and the room 10 minutes or so before you start. Is everything plugged in? Does the mike work? How loud is it? Where can you move around? Are the floor mikes for questions working? Is your presentation really preloaded? (Hint: always bring a copy of the presentation on a jump drive in case there is a screw-up. It happens every so often.)
  • Help the audience. Tell them quickly what they will be hearing, and, at the end, remind them, in a sentence or two.
  • Continually reach out to the audience. If you are in a room, look at different individuals in the room from time to time. If it is remote, try to get responses, questions, and comments. Suggest that people “make a note of this”, or “raise your hand if this is not new to you”. If the venue’s technology permits, take polls, streaming the results live. Use short exercises that attendees can self-score and comment on. All of this keeps their attention and makes for a better learning experience.
  • You are a presenter, not a statue. If you can, move, at least a little. Step away from a podium, point to the overhead, or walk over to a table of attendees. Positive motion attracts attention. But never turn your back on the audience.
  • Make it clear. Avoid acronyms if possible. If that is not possible, at least define them on a slide when they first appear, and then repeat that definition to the audience again later.
  • Keep it short. PowerPoint slides have bullet points, not bullet essays. Keep the points around 6-7 words long. Don’t go down more than two additional levels. That is really getting in the weeds. It is also hard to read in hand outs or on a mobile device.
  • The overheads are just reminders – to you and to the audience. Write them that way and use them for that. If appropriate, use graphics and other attention-getting devices – but sparingly. They should remind you and them of your point, not just be cute.
  • Be careful of your slide contrast, pattern, and color selections. Avoid gaudy patterns, and stay away from flat, low context selections like black letters on a dove gray background. They can be hard to read in anything less than perfect light.
  • Moving transitions are nice – but only infrequently. Do it for ever slide and you are telling the audience to watch, but not to listen.
  • Modulate your voice. Not every word and every phrase is equally important. Using different tones and inflections communicates that. Besides, it keeps the audience awake.
  • Keep track of the time. Have a way to check the time while presenting and regularly refer to a sheet of paper in front of you telling you where you should be every 5 or 10 minutes, that is, “10:20 AM – Slide 26”. Always allow time for questions and comments at the very end. Note it on the overheads. End on time, no matter what.
  • Tell people that they can contact you after the presentation for any questions (and give contact details). Before you offer to give out a digital copy of the presentation, make sure that is ok with the event sponsor. Also, purge it of anything you do not want redistributed, such as exercises you developed and may want to use again.

The Big Picture (1 of 7)

August 18, 2017

Our new book, Competitive Intelligence Rescue – Getting It Right, is a powerful “how-to-do-it-better” book, the first guidebook on competitive intelligence that uses case studies to provide behind-the-scenes insights into how professionals can improve competitive intelligence processes. This unique approach 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, educating others to bring about improvements in a process, and testing and validating that the changes are working.

Several cases there show the problems and issues in creating a new competitive intelligence unit. In our experiences, and by our, I mean Carolyn M. Vella, The Helicon Group’s Founding Partner and my significantly better half, there are typically 7 major elements involved in that process: financial and personnelguidelines, training, internal marketing, networkingcustomers and their needs, and CI products and feedback. For those who would like to transition from DIY to full-time status, or for those who are already there, it is important to see the big picture so I will deal quickly with each over the next weeks.

The first element I will comment on is key financial/personnel issues.

From the financial end, a CI unit, even if it is made up of only one person, requires a commitment to proper funding for the unit, including for training, internal marketing, and networking. Ideally, the CI unit should have its own stable funding. That allows management to compare costs with results and for the unit to plan further ahead than one quarter.

From the personnel end, some one must be in charge, even if that is only one of his/her duties. Team responsibility means no accountability. And, the individual in charge must have direct, personal access to all internal customers, particularly the most senior or important. Filtering their needs often means failure to deliver. Also, once this is a full-time position, the individual there must be able to see a career path after CI. No clear path up means looking for a way out.

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

Likelihood of Success

Success is Fleeting

Another look at problems with competitive intelligence (part 1)

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.


Competitively sensitive data

August 18, 2015

The SEC announced indictments on August 11, 2015 for insider trading. What was unusual was that these were not indictments of corporate insiders, but rather of “hackers” who had been accessing corporate press releases before they were published.[1] These hackers hacked into information on earnings and arranged for trading on the impacted stocks before the releases were made public.

“In one particularly dramatic instance on May 1, 2013, the hackers and traders allegedly moved in the 36-minute period between a newswire’s receipt and release of an announcement that a company was revising its earnings and revenue projections downward.  According to the SEC’s complaint, 10 minutes after the company sent the still-confidential release to the newswire, traders began selling short its stock and selling CFDs [contracts for difference], realizing $511,000 in profits when the company’s stock price fell following the announcement.”

This case shows the value of sensitive information which is accessed before it is made “public” and also should reinforce the need to protect such information. In this case, there was only a short period of time before the information was made public, but, for those few moments, the non-public data was worth over ½ million dollars.

For those of us in competitive intelligence, there is a similar lesson. Competitively sensitive information must be kept from your competitors, at least so long as its loss would be damaging. However, very few firms work to protect themselves against CI (and, as this series of indictments shows, not always successfully against hackers, either).

Those of us who work with CI should be the most forceful advocates for the creation and maintenance of a business-wide program to defend against the CI efforts of our competitors.[2] Such a program is an invaluable supplement to your own (offensive) CI efforts.

“If I am able to determine the enemy’s dispositions while at the same time I conceal my own, then I can concentrate and he must divide.” — Sun Tzu, The Art of War

[1] http://www.sec.gov/news/pressrelease/2015-163.html

[2] For much more on that, see John J. McGonagle and Carolyn M. Vella, Protecting Your Company Against Competitive Intelligence, Praeger, 1998.

A meltdown or creative destruction?

April 22, 2015

Discussion, on and off line, surrounding a previous blog included references to a “meltdown” in competitive intelligence activities in the 2008-10 period. I am not sure that there was a meltdown.

Many businesses, during the period from 2007 through 2010, downsized or even closed CI units. But they took similar draconian, short-sighted, steps with respect to market research, human resources, strategic planning, business development and [here fill in the name of any other division where you know that heads rolled for cost-cutting reasons].

I do not think this represents limitations or even failures of CI as a process. It is more likely an indication of limitations or even failures within US economy, global economies, and governments’ involvement in economic matters, as well as the ongoing creative destruction, a hallmark of capitalism.

This is not the first time that an emerging business discipline has been characterized as being in a “meltdown”. In its earliest stages, strategic planning took off with an almost ballistic trajectory, leading to the creation of large, freestanding corporate teams across the board. There then followed the usual over promises and, the inevitable corollary, under deliveries. Strategy units were downsized/eliminated, and the professional society supporting and supported by strategic planning closed[1].

But strategic planning as a discipline did not vanish. Strategic planning made a comeback, but not at the scale and with the resources that it once possessed; rather it became, more integrated into general management. That is, a good manager, at whatever level, was expected understand the basic concepts of strategic planning and to be able to contribute to and be guided by the plan in his/her enterprise. And there is now another association, ASP (the Association for Strategic Planning), supporting strategy.

I think CI is going through that right now. There are many people, many more than a decade ago, who are line managers, whether it is in marketing, sales, product development, planning, finance, or whatever, who have CI responsibilities and/or tools available to them. And that is due to the development of CI as a separate discipline. That does not mean competitive intelligence has vanished – rather that it is morphing. If anything, it may not be as visible as it was in, say 2000, but it appears to be more widespread with deeper roots.

The challenge now is to make sure that you and others understand what CI is, how to do it properly, and how to utilize it. Also, as with strategic planning, you have to learn when to go outside for help and what kind of help to seek. In other words, what not to do.

[1] In the interest of full disclosure, Carolyn M. Vella, my significantly better half, predicted much of this for CI in her keynote address,  “The Rapid Development of Competitor Intelligence: Putting it into Perspective”, Society of Competitor Intelligence Professionals, Keynote Speaker, First Annual Meeting, Washington, DC., 1987.