26 May 11 Should you trash competitor profiles?

stressed businessmanCompetitor profiles is possibly the most frequently produced competitive intelligence output. But it is also perhaps one that is least critically evaluated. It is one of those things that are done because we have always done them; it never occurs to us to question why.

Some CI gurus have questioned the very need for creating competitor profiles. There is certainly some merit in the argument that mere compilation of information that is easily available on the Internet, is of little use. It is the analysis and recommendations that are valuable to an organisation.

However, in order to do good analysis, good information is required. Competitor profiles cut out the “noise” to provide relevant information on the competitors and flag off areas that require further investigation. They thus form the basis for competitor analysis.

Since different users of competitor profiles (and analysis) within the organisation have different needs, creating a common output for all of them also results in information overload for them. There is value in appropriately slicing and dicing a profile in order to give the users just the right amount of information they need.  And to that extent, competitor profiles do need to be rethought.

We recently had an opportunity to confirm our belief. We conducted an interactive session at the SCIP 2011 International Annual Conference in Orlando in May 2011.

We divided the attendees into teams. Each team put itself in the in the shoes of a particular functional user group – Operations, HR, Sales & Marketing, Finance and Product R&D. They discussed, debated and critically evaluated various items from a laundry list, to zero in on the elements that they would like in a competitor profile. Next, a “pain point” or a key area of concern was introduced for each function. The attendees then prioritised the information areas that were critical for addressing their respective pain points. Each team then presented its conclusions, and described the discussion and debate that led to the conclusions.

We had interesting and similar insights from participants in both the main and encore SCIP sessions. The team presentations highlighted the following learning on competitor profiling:

  • Different functional groups have different “needs” as far as the contents of competitor profile are concerned.
  • Some information areas are required by multiple functional user groups, but each of them looks at the information from a different perspective. Each functional user group therefore requires a different set of analyses. A generic macro-level SWOT analysis, which is traditionally included in most competitor profiles, has limited utility across functions.
  • Most teams found that it was challenging to put themselves in the shoes of a particular user group. However, once the pain point for each function was introduced, participants found that it was easier to prioritise the information needs of the function. This demonstrated that CI analysts need to a) have a deep understanding of their own business and the issues faced by different user groups in the organisation; and b) communicate closely with the user groups to ensure that the intelligence delivered to them is relevant and useful.
  • There were differences of opinion within the teams on the contents of the competitor profile that arose from differences in individual industry perspectives. In other words, information needs vary by industry, business model, customer characteristics, etc. Therefore, it is not possible to create a standard template for competitor profiles that can be used across industries and companies. The contents need to be customised for each organisation.

To conclude, in order to facilitate actionable competitor analysis, it is essential to adopt a granular approach to competitor profiling.  We need to pull out relevant parts of a competitor profile for different sets of users within a company – and technology can be used to do this very neatly!

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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