The Problem with Competitive Intelligence

An out side the box strate­gic dis­cus­sion by Ted S 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,

Ted S Galpin

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