An out side the box strategic discussion by TS Galpin
The Problem with CI
When keeping up with the CI practice, a common theme is CI falls on deaf ears and is heavily under utilized. How do you fix that?
In a nutshell, if you don’t maintain a close relationship with your CI customers, especially executives, how do you know you are giving them what they need, and why should they trust you? It’s important to know that in CI, executives are very complicated and important customers, not static subscribers to a newsletter or blog.
The CI Mind
The Executive Mind
Turning Enemies into Friends
Primary Intelligence and Secondary Intelligence.
The Best Practice
For those not familiar with CI, CI is competitive intelligence. Defined by the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals as: “Competitive intelligence (CI) is the process of monitoring the competitive environment and analyzing the findings in the context of internal issues, for the purpose of decision support.”
Literally, keeping leadership informed on everything they need to know to keep the business competitive and successful. CI according to that definition needs to know how everything in the company works, everything that happens inside and outside the company relevant to the business, what the needs, expectations, and desires of leadership are; and what needs to come to the attention of the decision makers to make informed decisions. Good intelligence often has summarized analysis, options, recommendations, and the risks and consequences associated with them.
The CI Mind
Competitive Intelligence professionals are smart.
Let me take that back. CI professionals are VERY smart. They are up there with scientists and engineers. They tend to be very technical, precise and wonkish (technically pedantic). So just like scientists and engineers they tend to be very good at what they do, understand all the details, intricately comprehend the value or their work, and can’t fathom why anyone wouldn’t appreciate and understand their work and utilize it properly.
But there is a problem with being the smartest guy in the room.
The Executive Mind
Now consider for a moment the typical executive mind. They are obviously smart and good enough to get and keep the job, they are not dummies. The average executive is equal parts arrogance, ability, overworked stress and insecurity from fighting to get and keep their job. Most executives are not trained or groomed for the position. The get promoted on merit and do their best to keep up (Google “Peter Principle”). Most of the execs I’ve worked with put in 60 — 80 hours a week, answer several hundred emails a day, and have to keep track of several hundred responsibilities and issues, including little things like budgets, hiring and firing, responsibility for profit and loss, and surviving competitive internal politics on top of competitive business. They answer work emails on their blackberries on nights and weekends. Its always interesting to see a string of emails that started at midnight, bounced between 10 people in the middle of the night and hits you in box at 4am with a note from your boss saying — “Urgent, address this first thing when you get in the office.”
It’s a very hard job, but good for workaholics, and many use perks like golf meetings, lunch meetings, generous vacations, Marriott points and big bonuses to manage stress.
Here’s the point, say you are a experienced executive, you’re under the gun trying to compete and and prevent layoffs in a difficult economy. The CFO keeps beating you up on your budget, the VP of HR is hounding you to get evaluations out, and the CEO wants to know why your group isn’t performing as promised. You are under tremendous pressure and have plenty to lose (all the perks and that great salary).
Then some geek from some dark corner of competitive intelligence walks in, quickly compresses 6 months of research and analysis into a 10 minute power point summary, and then expects you to do something with it. You think there’s probably something to this, this CI guy is certainly smart and could probably do your job. And worse, while you’ve spent the past few months in meetings and fire fighting, here’s some genius analyst that had the luxury of a few months to figure out everything you’re probably doing wrong or ignoring.
How do you take advantage of this without looking stupid? How do you explain this to anyone else when you’re not quite sure you get it? How do you maintain authority if you start asking CI dumb questions? How the heck do you know you can trust this CI? Where did it come from? Is it worth risking your career to stick your neck out acting on this intelligence you barely understand done by somebody you barely know?
Even worse, say the presentation is done to a room full of competitive and nervous executives. Nobody wants to appear stupid or weak, executives already know everything right? So everybody pretends they understand, talks around the issue, and unless they are part of a very progressive and sophisticated corporate culture, odds are their best self interest is to simply ignore the intelligence report after the meeting, maintain the status quo, and hope either it goes away or the CEO does something with it. Acting on it is not worth the risk, even if it looks good.
CRM in this case is customer relationship management.
CI professionals, like their engineering and science cousins, tend to enjoy research and analysis. CI can never understand why nobody uses their analysis when it’s obviously very right and very important. “If I’m right what does politics and relationships have to do with anything? It’s sitting right there in black and white; just read it!” That’s classic engineer mind.
CI will happily spend months in a dark basement doing calculations and figuring out answers to questions. However in the same technical personality, most CI professionals don’t seem to take the time to understand their audience, the corporate politics, or more importantly how to get their customers of intelligence to value and utilize the product. No marketing or sales, just the thud of the report on a desk. That’s why competitor profiles are so popular an intelligence product, they may be next to useless and time intensive, but everybody at least understands them.
And If I’m an executive that instinctively hates and fears every group of smart people that threaten my ability or political position, keeping a group of expensive CI analysts busy doing work with negligible return on investment is a good way prevent CI from becoming a threat, and maybe even get rid of them during the next budget cut.
So how do you win over an audience that probably hates and fears you?
Turning Enemies into Friends
Fundamental Sun Tzu, this is Psyops 101. The Green Berets actually have many books on the subject and call it counter insurgency. A politically savvy CI group will engage and communicate with it’s executives and decision makers in person on a regular basis. That means stop by their office at least once a week, talk to them, get to know them, understand their needs, and support them directly. If you are located to far away to talk in person, phone calls work too (They did for me across three time zones and 5 states). For CI to survive, they need to embed themselves into the leadership process and mind of the company. That’s internal customer relationship management. In fact using a CRM tool to track and prioritize internal needs for CI may be appropriate in large organizations.
The take away here is competitive intelligence needs to work their audience like human intelligence assets. You need to keep them happy, secure, informed, and even dependent on you.
Primary Intelligence and Secondary Intelligence.
For those unfamiliar, Primary intelligence means getting information by talking to people, Secondary intelligence basically means reading it some where (often on line). Modern CI practice is overly reliant on secondary intelligence, and from what I’ve seen with SCIP (the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals) Primary intelligence is actually rarely if ever used in the current competitive intelligence practice.
Most Savvy CI folks know that executives and anyone with customer or vendor contact are an invaluable source of primary intelligence. Easy primary CI is called having lunch with business development every week.
No decision maker is going to trust secondary intelligence from some analyst in another department. But if your CI liaison that visits your office three times a week volunteers useful information on that new account your working, that’s a totally different animal.
And if CI actually comes to you as a source of Primary intelligence on a regular basis, trusts your insight, and is happy to talk shop, exchange notes, fulfill ad hoc requests and feed your ego; of course you trust them, their work is based on your input and you talk to them often! Executives need participation with and ownership of CI to trust it. Depending on the size of your team and organization, the CI leader may just walk the halls and stick his head into every office everyday; or maybe you need to assign analysts to stop by every stakeholder in the company, then coordinate CI needs and strategy in a CI staff meeting based on liaison internal primary intelligence. Maybe based on personalities of CI staff, some people will stick to full time secondary sources and analysis while others maintain CRM with the CI audience. A simple best practice is to have everyone in CI maintain an internal primary intelligence network of peers in every department of the company — this will provide invaluable primary intelligence, give multiple stake holders into the CI process and product, and keep CI very familiar with the “context of internal issues.”
But however you do it, CI needs to think more like spies, and start treating any stakeholder in CI as a primary intelligence human asset that needs to be maintained, supported, and utilized on a frequent basis if CI really expects to have a large impact on executive decision making. If everybody knows and trusts you, the research and analysis becomes the hard part of the job. If you use your network to informally support research and analysis; you can get informal buy in early on at multiple levels in your intelligence cycle. Imagine having different executives explaining different parts of analysis to the group in an executive intelligence review meeting.
The Best Practice
If you work in CI, and you’re not the first person your executives call when they need an informed opinion, you’re honestly not doing your job. Imagine you stop by a VP’s office, and he is frustrated by a problem. After letting him vent for ten minutes, you as a CI professional can quote him what the Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, and Stratfor have to say on the subject, plus you can quote the internal metrics, compare them to industry benchmarking, mention that a guy down in IT you talked to the other day was working a similar problem for HR, and maybe we could get some synergy by expanding the scope on the HR solution to support a competitive need. And you know from research for the annual competitor analysis, that if implemented well, the solution would actually give a good edge on your primary competitor. You know some of the strategic initiatives are under budget, and you think there may even be available budget for it. And you are practiced at articulating these insights to the VP that you talk to often and share a common vocabulary with.
CI should be in so tight with executives, that they are familiar with the content of intelligence presentations weeks before the meeting, so your audience is informed and taking action at the meeting, not confused virgins trying to figure out what it means. You do that by maintaining the customer relationships, knowing their expectations, and keeping them constantly informed, in person, by talking to them.
That’s what CI should be. If you are still maintaining static reports that get published to people with no time to read them — guess what, your CI has little if any impact on the company; it’s tactical or random at best. If you can informally form strong relationships with all your stake holders, literally by just walking into offices and saying, “Hi, my name is Bob, I’m with competitive intelligence, my job is to answer questions, what do you do, do you know where I can get information? How can I help you?” and go from there. Don’t show them your CI products, just learn their job, form a relationship, and see what problems they have that CI can help with. Simply engage their ego and get them talking. You’ll be surprised what happens from there.
It worked for me on more than one occasion. I’m hoping it can work for you.
Thanks for reading,
Your humble strategist,