21 Feb 12 Having trouble gathering CI information? Try trade shows

gsma-world-mobile-congress-barcelonaGathering competitor information, identifying industry and market trends, profiling potential customers and suppliers, assessing technology, conducting economic and political analysis, etc. These are only a handful of the many CI focus areas that attending a trade show can help with. If properly organized, an intelligence team can gather adequate useful information to suffice a company’s intelligence needs in few days at a trade show.

Attending a trade show just for the sake of it might not only prove futile, but also turn out to be detrimental for business. This can happen as one may unknowingly reveal key information to a competitor who is thorough with elicitation techniques. One needs to prepare thoroughly before attending a trade show. Identifying objectives and having a checklist in place (to be presented in the subsequent posts) will help achieve maximum value out of a trade show. Here are some pointers on how to make the most of a trade show to gather information for your CI needs.

The first step is identifying the right events that are most beneficial for your organization, this decision can be based on factors like, who is organizing, who is attending, cost, venue, potential benefits, etc. Once the events are identified, preparing in advance might help you cut down the attendance cost by half, by registering as an early bird, booking travel, lodging in advance.

It is vital to have an intelligence team in place for attending the trade show. The team should be created keeping in mind the demography of the tradeshow. This team typically comprises of people who are clear about the company’s critical information needs and are well versed with elicitation techniques, so that they are able to probe, observe keenly and obtain answers to the predetermined questions.

Being familiar with elicitation techniques ensures that the team member does not disclose key company information. It is imperative that the team be briefed thoroughly on the information they are to seek and where to focus their collection efforts, also about the history of the trade show, layouts, and protocols and procedures to follow during the trade show. It’s crucial that this intelligence team work hand in hand, meet frequently to discuss findings and identify gaps.

The key to collecting information at a trade show is speaking to the right people. For instance, talking to the junior people like technicians, engineers, analysts working with your competitor can be more rewarding than talking to the managers who are usually experienced exhibitors. Here again, use of proper elicitation techniques is the key. Blending in the crowd is essential in any trade show, this provides you the perfect disguise, without appearing conspicuous, while silently observing a discussion without contributing much to it. Attending seminars, presentations and speeches especially the ones delivered by your competitors can be gratifying.

The most critical job is to methodically debrief and report the observations and findings of the team after the event. It’s crucial to document everything so that the important information is available for future reference.

On the information gathered ask the questions “so what?” and “now what?”. Information gathered from one trade show can push you miles ahead of competition if you know where to look and what to look for?

If you don’t have an intelligence team in place you might consider hiring trained intelligence research professionals for the more critical events.

Ashwin Susarla

Ashwin was a research analyst at ValueNotes.

  • Wal-Mart for CI
    Posted at 15:41h, 14 March Reply

    […] economic and political analysis, etc.  – these are a handful of the many CI focus areas that attending trade shows can help you with. If properly organized, information that will otherwise take a long time to collect, can be […]

  • Mahendra Dodke
    Posted at 10:35h, 24 February Reply

    Surely the points mentioned above would help a lot in obtaining competitive intelligence in a structured manner during trade shows. But Observing Silently without contributing much to the discussion wouldn’t prove useful in my opinion. Because trade shows are a give and take affair. Every other person has the same motive as you have. The only thing to be kept in mind is that the information you give should seem to be of some value to the other party even though it may hold very less importance to you. Therefore, it should not be about how much you reveal but about what to reveal and what to hide. Also, information may get distorted by the time it is documented. Therefore, it is necessary that you get it right at the source. Make use of PDAs to record, update the information at the shows itself.

    • Ashwin Susarla
      Posted at 10:55h, 24 February Reply

      As rightly pointed out by you trade shows are a give and take affair and everybody has similar motives. That’s why it is so important to know how much to put on display and contribute to a discussion, without revealing useful information to your competitor.

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