Sunday, July 26, 2009

CI - Ringleader of the ultimate team sport

For the last 20 years I spent in the corporate world, I didn't have an organization - which is great because I hated managing that stuff. In CI I was IT.

Arguably I served the biggest customer list of just about anyone. I had the whole sales force. I had the whole R&D organization. I had all the commercial functions. I worked across 25 different businesses. I had all the consultants and access to an enormous number of knowledgeable people on the "outside". In each case everyone was both supplier and customer. You simply make them better and they always reciprocate in helping you better connect the dots.

I worked on/in all the processes: the forecast, the pipeline, the strategy, work systems and decision processes, qualifying product initiatives, scoping out new markets, the go-to-market plans, even keeping prying eyes/ears out.

What a simple, engaging, lifelong learning opportunity. Guess that is why I'm still at it. There simply isn't anything humanly known that you can't learn give enough time, effort, resources. Could be a great future in CI:-)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

CI - keeping measures real/dilemmas

Followup to yesterday. Examples:

1) Competitor X uses 50% less expensive scent in a household chemical product. This is worth $10mm/year. You prove it. Product development makes the claim.
2) Competitor Y has moved 5% of its product marketing budget to e-business tools and you know mix of them. Your marketing group is thinking about 1% as the right number. They move to 3% and get 200% ROI. Product manager goes to glory.
3) Competitor Z is presumably 2 years behind you in bringing new product to market and you discover in fact they are 2 years ahead. Product development got it wrong. NPV of loss is $xB. That's how CI started in one organization.
4) Competitor A is developing a new way of dosing an established drug on faster timing than expected. You save the company 6-12 months on timeline by clearly proving this. New drug form takes 90% of the market and accelerates market growth. What's your take?
5) Competitor B's ad agency is on location in Arizona shooting new commercial for revised household product. This means that new ad will be on air in x weeks and you anticipate key message based on product technology knowledge from another part of the world. You adjust your ad flighting accordingly. They get no impact on market share.

Easy to have impact. Often harder to stay on top of your organization's response and results and to remind organization why it acted.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

CI - how do you measure

The problem with measuring CI effectiveness is not that it's complicated. It's that anyone notices. At least in the work cultures I was a part of in corporate America, there is usually a "more important" organization which needs to take credit for something that benefited very directly from CI - and does so.

BUT, in the end, you simply have to carefully log what you uniquely accomplish and contribute to and make the case regularly and without fanfare. Specifically, you provide an early warning system to what competition is going to do which enables your org to react more quickly and be right more often because of the rigor time affords. You save your company tons of money by providing insights into better ways to do things (benchmarking) thereby enabling them to stop doing it the wrong way sooner. You are a key inputter to process improvement based on others you know who have "been there, done that". You help your organization get to market much more quickly and efficiently. When you know what competition is doing, it tends to focus response much more quickly vs. doing infinite scenario analysis that ties up far more resources. By uniquely articulating competitor's rationale for R&D choices, you also shape product development and innovation. Etc.

When you get it right, you build sales and market share and margin - and enter new businesses/relationships. It's that simple. And, you make sure your org does it more successfully more often. It's really no different than individuals on other successful teams who make individual claims built on team or organization success.


Friday, July 17, 2009

CI - Keep It Simple Stupid

Maybe it's just me but I think the CI world is really simple. There's a lot of common sense. Yeah the jargon helps write books and make cool models for the journals and big name consultants - and that's all good and genuinely helpful. And I realize I'm a sample size of one and a little self-absorbed, but here's what I think.

1) The best CI people are the ones with the most filters or perhaps the most diverse filters, the most perseverance, the most imagination. You need skeptical curiosity about a lot of things. For example this means, that you may need multi-functional, multi-site experience in your industry/company - international experience is probably good and getting more important. Perhaps even make sure that your background is far removed from the industry you study: a fine arts grad studying financial services industry, a mechanical engineer studying pharmaceuticals (me).

2) Democratize the filters and collectors and tie them to an hourglass. A CI person is nothing more than the one who sits at the hourglass watching all the pieces go through at the same time and trains and encourages everyone around them to identify and throw in the grains of sand that are worthwhile. But it's usually the CI person where all the grains get seen at the same time. If you have 100 people in your company and each spends 1% of their time on collecting the right CI, you suddenly have an extra FTE - that is collaboration. And, everyone of those people brings a different perspective to things, a different network, a different life experience. You likely have hoards of people looking at consumers and customers, but only you are looking at competition through this hour glass you create.

3) Value experience. The longer service folks in your industry have more stories (knowledge of history) and filters than you might realize. They also know a lot more people. They have provocative ideas no one has listened to. Find more boomers to talk with. This is also one reason why you often get better results if you keep people in CI roles longer...the learning is cumulative. It's not a project, it's a process.

4) Value the disconnected. Ever notice how appreciated your sales force feels when you directly contact them. They are out there in the middle of nowhere day in and day out. No one notices them. No one at HQ keeps them on the front lines of whats coming. And it's so easy for you to help them sell better by enabling them to know competition better and before they are known. Customer will prefer your sales person every time because they are better informed.

My musings for today.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

CI in economic development

A couple of events have provoked my interest in this subject: a colleague who consults on place marketing (Ed Burghard and an article in the SCIP publication by a Dutch colleague, Barend van de Kraats@

It's interesting to me that so many jurisdictions managing tax payer funds (your money) don't do more that is strategic in terms of identifying & then pursuing clusters of businesses/industries that deserve to thrive in their communities. I am neither an economist nor a politician. Just thinking out loud.

Now, supposing you are directly or indirectly leading the economic development policies and programs for a city, region or country. Does "competititive intelligence" play a role in your world. Specifically, do you have the discipline to deeply research how other cities, regions and countries are competing for the same jobs you want to bring and to retain in your jurisdiction. And then, are you analyzing this for sources of advantage. Michael Porter wrote about this in Competitive Advantages of Nations and developed his "diamond" model to address how to think about this - see

I would propose coming at this in some obvious ways and I realize we have to walk before we can run:

1) Study growing industries (w/i GDP per NAICS codes, movement of capital, industry studies from a balanced set of sources and SME's, etc.). This is pretty basic CI.
2) Find the ones or subsets that are most likely to thrive in your jurisdiction based on developing a deep insight into what it takes to be successful in those industries and ranking your jurisdiction's economic drivers, policies, capabilities, etc against those. Again this is a common CI skill set.
3) Work through the public policy apparatus to align government efforts against those
4) Populate (or connect) economic development offices to include people with deep insight into those industries so that deep and rapid engagement is more likely.
5) Strategically target companies in these industries most likely to grow and succeed. This part merely involves well-established CI practices from the private sector.
6) Win more often. (and if you are already doing this, I salute you)

In contrast, we should less often apply the same bus development efforts and direct investment (tax abatements, etc.) against jobs that will last 5 years vs. the ones that will thrive for decades. I realize that's tough to do in a political reality where political leaders are sometimes motivated to achieve rapid results to get re-elected vs. do the right thing for the long term...kind of like the private sector incentivizing on quarterly business results.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

CI - right brainedness

Daniel Pink's "Whole New Mind" lays out why America is headed for more right-brain thinking - a must read. He posits that inventiveness, empathy, meaningfulness will become more important than today across the board. Implications for CI?

1) CI is often more qualitative than quantitative. Qualitative is more right-brained. Obviously CI involves both, but at least in corporate America there are always organizations who get their ticket punched as the primary owners of the quantitative parts. They are often terrific allies (finance, market research, bus intel) but in the end it's up to you to connect many of the dots and confirm many of the answers with interesting tidbits and coincidences. How many times has someone pulled up a whole bunch of secondary market data as "here are the case studies" without talking to you about what's behind the numbers. That is where you come in. What were the events and how did they link the data - this gave meaning to the data.

2) CI is creative. You can be perfectly ethical and legal with this and still have a little fun. I used to introduce CI to new employees in group training sessions to which I wore a fedora and trench coat. May even have used Pink Panther music. It was memorable - they always remembered me and often called. Next I told a lot of stories about creative ways to get data.

Like the time I needed to know a competitor's manufacturing capacity. I knew their domestic and export shipments but I didn't know how many hours they operated - their production schedule. I needed to know what their cost structure would change to if they went 24/7. So I organized a multi-functional team working on this business to surveil a visible emission from the relatively local site of production (yes I got to do the midnight shifts). One of our senior exec's offices afforded a nice view so they took the day shift. Soon we calculated what we needed. Everyone got really motivated, had some fun and became extra aware of competition. Later on published reports or vendor literature confirmed our findings.

I also branded myself with the sales force with a catchy sales-sounding acronym (System of Competitive Observation to be Outstanding - SCOOP). Part of the program included an 800# which included this acronym. I mailed an 800# sticker to everyone in the field with this number to put on their mobile phones. I hung a catchy sign from the ceiling over my desk with the acronym on it. Yes the building management got upset!

3) CI is relational/empathetic. I already noted in my last post (re CI as an analgesic) that you have to find, and dare I say, FEEL, people's pain. It's also true that people you do primary research with won't talk to you if you can't readily relate. One of my favorite CI consultants was a middle aged, mid-western woman originally from the South. A one time heavy smoker, she had a gravelly voice that could be perceived as either male or female. She always adjusted her technique (voice, pace) for talking to Southerners vs. Northerners. She always remembered personal and family details learned from contacts on previous calls - even sent people little gifts (pictures, books). She always smiled on the phone. It was always more of a conversation than an inquisition. Contacts she made were always very tolerant of her more folksy than slick and efficient line of thought.

Don't forget your right-brain. There are plenty of left-brainers taking credit for all that stuff.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sell CI - it's analgesic!

I started a formal program on how to better sell myself, my business, anything. Found out it is really simple: just figure out where the pain is. Pain = especially the emotional reason to change. I'm still mulling that over. However, I think that this is substantially true.

I'm also told that people sell the way they themselves buy and that was an even bigger insight. The key is to sell people the way they buy. Apparently I sell to too small a minority of people because I'm very data based and demand "show me" demos based on specific real problems I am working on at any time. Sellers hate me. Now I'm on the other side.

Next steps reflecting on recent calls:

1) Schedule enough time. Cancel if you don't get it. Explain that you know from experience it will be a waste of their time which you respect too much - as you respect your own. It's the truth. Say it.

2) Listen 90% of the time...yes, that presumes good rapport and the right questions.

3) Maximum 2 slides...preferably none. If needed, send them ahead so you can get to conversation. Sell with a blank sheet of paper on which you sincerely (you authentically believe you can and want to games) and simply write key points you hear from clients about their pain. You are curious and empathetic. You acknowledge that maybe you can't help them - because they don't feel any pain - and that's okay.

4) What are your favorite questions: Ones I'm thinking about using more often -

- Who are the competitors of greatest concern to you (study ahead to provoke if
they don't readily know)
- What do you know/seriously suspect that you don't know about the market
landscape that would cause you to behave differently if you knew about (based
on the premise - state it- that everything really can be known)
- Do you qualify to do business with me (sic) re prior statement like "I work
best with companies who are dissatisfied with their business because one or
more competitors are outgrowing them, winning their customers, out-innovating
them - and they feel they need to find out why but don't yet know"

I'd like to hear from some of you. 36 of you read me last time. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

CI and innovation

In the past 24 hours I have had a couple of conversations with organizations that provide innovation services to small and large companies or to individuals. A common dilemma is how to accelerate innovation productivity - or the rate at which real value can be attached to inventions (selling them to customers, licensing them to someone else)... see Michael Lanning's description of what is "value" at(

In industries where an increasing amount of knowledge and expertise is being contracted out or outsourced, this means that innovation processes must be built around all experts - internal and external. While I had been thinking along the same lines, I came across an example today worth sharing. One Fortune 100 company is already doing this. Over about 1-2 days with significant pre-work they bring together chosen internal and external experts around a specific technical problem or unmet need in the market and through a structured multi-disciplinary process (e.g. ideation & analysis & scenario planning - this includes coincident access to on-line relevant data like Derwent patents, market research, etc.). The end result is usually a couple of judged most promising ideas which can be made into resourced projects (or companies).

Apparently a key part of the success of the process is to use a night-before event to help get folks more intimately acquainted in a way that cause hierarchy and egos ("I know more than you!") to be left at the door. Yes wine and spirits are sometimes important.

So what does this mean for CI:

1) We need to be at the table in these processes both to add perspective about competitor technologies, thinking processes, and current views of the issue.
2) Add the technical intelligence which is only available in viral, word-of-mouth format that many of our scientist colleagues didn't find in journals, meetings, networks of their own.
3) Provide benchmark insights into the most productive innovation processes being used across industries which your colleagues may not know about
4) Just be there for the experience so that when you are engaged in the subsequent more rigorous market assessment, you know the background, unspoken questions, strengths and weaknesses of the viewpoints and data.
5) CI tends to have a very multi-functional focus. You can likely add perspective that will help direct the conversations productivity across disciplines.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thoughts on overwhelming knowledge and info

I recently read a post by a college professor lamenting how hard it is to keep up with the exploding knowledge in his field. He acknowledged that undergrads could probably learn it faster on-line they he could learn it and retransmit or reframe it. I watched a YouTube video (circa 2006) which suggested knowledge in at least some fields is doubling every 72 hours and that interval is dropping.

Same problem besets competitive and business intelligence space. Here are some thoughts on principles to help manage this.

1) Define Key Intel Topics (KTIs) very carefully, clearly and regularly. If you are a full-time person in CI, typically 80% of your work should be defined by 3-5 key issues as agreed with your key internal customers and senior management. Context will be intimately linked to key results your organization has to obtain or has committed to over the next x months or years.

2) Use aggregating tools of your own design or a customized one (The ABIS Group in the Chicago area has a great product) to aggregate published sources. Build these around your Key Intel Topics. Tools that track web content changes are also useful though some. Industry meetings are aggregators in a different form. Think tanks, academics, associations are aggregators.

3) Always use Subject Matter Experts (SME) early in your process to steer you. Many of these have navigated, penetrated, and filtered the same overwhelming info environments and issues you are seeking to understand. Often they have already synthesized conclusions. But - they too don't know what they don't know if there networks are inadequate. By definition info is probably obsolete if it's written down. May more SME's are now more easily accessible on-line through Linkedin questions, blogs, twitter, Facebook, etc.

4) Think of yourself as the hour glass for CI in your organization. Train the entire organization to operate in a disciplined fashion of dumping things in the top of the hour glass while you watch everything going through. Make it easy for everyone to do so, to understand the value, to be recognized for doing so. Make this your CI brand.
CI at its best is completely democratic. Everyone participates (100% of 100 people giving 1% of their time to CI is 1 FTE!). Then extend this expectation to key regular business partners including suppliers and customers. Show them how to do this better for themselves based on what you are learning. They will reciprocate.

5) When your issues are very local to a specific region or city, tap into its local network. Look at local pubs, including e-pubs, contact Chambers of Commerce, local coaches and CEO forums, local journalists, community leaders, business networks, business incubators and other pro-entrepreneur and small business organizations, local librarians, venture cap sponsored events, events sponsored by mayor or local economic development officers (B to B events etc.), local business schools and exec mentoring events. Target local people who are former employees of a target organization (e.g. on Linkedin). Probably requires spending some time face to face in that locale - or find a local SME.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Scenario planning - organizational alignment

Re WSJ scenario planning article today…

In my experience the greatest value of scenario planning is organizational alignment. Rarely, otherwise, do all the necessary players across levels get together with enough time ( a measure of commitment), information and good will. Better yet, and increasingly important as businesses outsource "non-core" work, it really helps to invite allies like business partners, strategic suppliers and consultants and even customers, trusted outside subject matter experts. Make sure naysayers are heard. Make sure the final decision maker is there participating for key parts of the event including wrap-up. This exercise transcends writing many documents, making many presentations in its speed and impact - although it makes those documents and presentations better.

Benefits I've seen happen within hours with impacts in the 100 millions to billions of dollars.

1) Strategic marketing adjustment to focus on price/access determining channel vs. physicians in a pharmaceutical business probably a year faster than otherwise. (30 people, 1 day, 100 effort hours prep time)
2) Redefining a market segment(s) & product positioning from unique benefit x to a constellation of benefits the consumer really judged important as did many subject matter experts. Completely expanded our view of competitive set and how to win. (30 people, 1 day, 100-200 effort hours prep time)
3) Redefining role of sales vs. scientific liaison on pharmaceutical market to match market norm took 4 hours of meeting time with 15 people and had prep time of perhaps 20 hours. Critical to success of new product launch. Also occurred very quickly vs. developing case studies to illustrate same.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

When you talk to people who don't need any CI

I was "prospecting" for business today in the healthcare provider industry. A business planner explained their market to me effectively and efficiently and specifically why they didn't really have much in the way of competition. Made a compelling case. It was a quick conversation. Ever had one of those. I've had many.

Yet, at a high level today's conversation was a curious one:

US healthcare dollars are about to be squeezed as never before. Somewhere in that mix will emerge more competitors as pricing/reimbursement drops, care is managed in more restrictive algorithms, more standardized metrics on best outcomes/dollar are around the corner. In short the same number of players with high fixed costs will be competing for less dollars. In this case CI is should be about foresight in terms of how that will evolve and perhaps running all of those scenarios to net out which things you can/should do now regardless of which specific outcome eventuates. This provider even acknowledged that they are making as much per patient now as they probably ever will...only place to go is down.

Moral of the story: I should have known that a 30 minute conversation would never accomplish my objective and stated that upfront - even if it meant the call never happened. I likley could have used that time better on other things. I spoke with someone else in this industry earlier in the week who said there was no one he knew specializing in CI in this part of the industry. And, I landed a gig with another national level player in this space (because they get it).

CI & analysis sells when there is pain (aka surprise). CI sells when there is time for exploration and story telling and analogy development. CI sells when key decision maker is tired of being lied to. CI is a partnership. CI is not a project. It's a process. People don't know what they don't know. Haven't ever found that to be untrue.

Have a great 4th everyone.