24 Apr 12 Back to Basics

ABCCompetitive intelligence analysts must frequently remind themselves of their final objective. Time and again, I have seen analysts get so involved in the “activity” they do, that they forget why they do it. They optimise the process, perfect the mechanics, plan the logistics and polish the presentation templates. But they forget to stand back and look at the big picture. When they lose the strategy perspective, they miss the opportunity to make that critical value addition which converts research to insights and intelligence.

Here is how a conversation could flow…

What did you do? – “We found the market size, customer segmentation, names of competitors, their product portfolios, key customers, etc.”

Why? –  “Because XYZ asked for it”

But without knowing why XYZ asked for it, how can the analyst know if they helped XYZ? How did they even know HOW to help XYZ?

So lets revisit the basics…

Competitive intelligence helps companies meet their objectives, by showing them what strategy will work. The very basic objectives of every company are to increase revenues and profits.

What is strategy? It is the decisions that companies make on where to play and how to win in a  sustained manner over the long term. (Very eloquently put in this article) All activity undertaken by CI analysts essentially address these two key questions of decision-makers.

Where to play consists of product/service areas to be in, geographies, markets and customer segments  to target, their needs, buying patterns, etc. Companies want to “play” in places where they have a competitive advantage over their customers.

How to win consists of the USP of the company (from the potential customers’ standpoint), what value proposition it offers to the customers. The decisions here revolve around product packaging, pricing, positioning, branding, marketing, messaging, distribution, and so on.

Finally the keywords in the strategy definition are “sustained” and “long-term”. Strategy is not what “fly by night” operators employ, because they may make profits in the short run, but often don’t survive to see the long term. Wherever there are multiple options, companies need to choose those that will ensure company’s survival and maximize the value in the long term.

Whatever CI analysts do – news monitoring, product benchmarking, market sizing, price tracking, or any one of the numerous CI activities – they must ask themselves how the activity links to strategy – where to play and what to win? If they cant find the linkage, they will not be able to provide “intelligence” to the decision-maker.

If a competitive intelligence activity cannot be linked to strategy, the activity is a waste of time and should be abandoned!

Varsha Chitale

Varsha led the competitive intelligence practice at ValueNotes. As part of her drive to educate India Inc. on the merits of competitive intelligence, she often conducted webinars and seminars on CI for senior executives of Indian companies.

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