16 Dec 11 Talking to Strangers – for competitive intelligence
Have you talked to a stranger today? Yes, I know what Little Red Riding Hood’s mother said, but if you are a competitive intelligence analyst, you are not doing a good job if you haven’t!
Competitive intelligence is all about gaining competitive advantage (for your organization). For doing this, you have to be doing something different from what your competitors are doing.
You need to look for more and better intelligence than what is available to everyone else. What you can find on the internet and other secondary sources is also available to every other analyst in your industry. Talking to (the right) people is the only way to get more than what everyone else has…
Besides, not all the inputs you need for decision-making are found from secondary sources. This is true in under-documented sectors or unorganized industry segments, particularly in emerging markets like India. There is simply no data being collected on large areas of economic activity in India.
Deep insights on industry and customer dynamics are almost never found documented neatly on easily accessible web pages. When they are, they are generally outdated. Further, hearing it from the horse’s mouth has much more value than reading it in a report. Here is one example… You may read a report on a financial services company that tells you that its customer service is poor. On the other hand, a customer may tell you that “The people at the company’s office are very arrogant. They act like they are doing you a favour by giving you a loan.” The customer may go on and in the same breath tell you contrasting experiences with couple of the company’s competitors. The latter certainly gives you more insight into what the customers experience on the ground.
Yet, I have seen that most competitive intelligence analysts shy away from reaching out and talking to people they don’t know. There are several reasons for this. You feel diffident if you are approaching the wrong person for the information you need. Why will my competitor tell me anything about himself? He wont. But you can ask someone else, who knows the competitor intimately.
Another common reason is the fear of talking to strangers – what if they reject your approach? Making a stranger comfortable talking to you, is not easy for everyone. Some people naturally put others at ease and are able to chat with almost anyone. Others are not able to do this. But talking to strangers to collect competitive intelligence is not all art. You can learn how to do this, by systematically planning who to approach, and how to approach them.
So don’t miss the most valuable source of competitive intelligence… talking to strangers.