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Persuading through Competitive Intelligence Tools: the Cooperative Angle

Using Tactical Competitive Intelligence for Decision-Making alluded to the chart below, minus the weighting scales of this Company Comparison analysis. Recall this analysis portrayed and compared the top 3 PBX manufacturers according to customers’ top reasons for buying PBX equipment. These comparisons addressed the strengths that our key dissenter claimed for ROLM, but also illustrated some of the weaknesses that he was not previously aware of. The analysis supported the key dissenter showing that customers were very impressed with ROLM’s technical features. But since ROLM’s architecture differed from the other systems on the market, our installation, maintenance, and repair crews would have to be specially trained to support it, at additional time and expense—news to our key dissenter.

customerweightfeatures

This chart weighted each reason for the customer’s buying criteria. 1 is the highest or most important reason for buying. Customers highly valued Northern Telecom’s (Nortel) reliability and good service, which were perceived as average for ROLM. Our dissenter changed his mind when shown that customers’ buying decisions were minimally swayed by technology but hugely influenced by service and reliability, Northern Telecom strengths, not ROLM’s. With this presentation, the dissenter realized that his reasons for acquiring ROLM were not accurate from a customer’s perspective.

The Cooperative Angle

Our analysis allowed our key dissenter to change his mind with dignity, and illustrates cooperative intelligence practices as follow:

Cooperative Leadership: We acknowledged the leadership of our key dissenter by finding out his reasons for preferring a ROLM acquisition. On the flip side, our leadership skills were valued by our management since they trusted us to conduct the acquisition analysis.

Cooperative Connection: We connected with the key dissenter and addressed each of his reasons point by point, showing respect and acknowledgement. We connected with the right people both within our company, Sales; and outside the company, a reputable consultant, to gather the right information to put together a persuasive analysis in “executive speak”.

Cooperative Communication: The presentation to our executives consisted of just 3 charts which told the story persuasively and understandably: The BCG Matrix Share, The Telco Company Analysis Chart and lastly the Customer Weighting Chart. We could tell a story with each chart which built upon the preceding chart. People like stories, and I notice stories make it easy to avoid ego conflicts. Using the customer’s decision-making criteria rather than our opinions, was a gentle, yet persuasive way to communicate our analysis.

Don’t be so persuasive that you forget about the dignity of the people you are addressing. Tell a good story that leads them to your conclusions, as though your audience had thought them up themselves. This works with everyone I have ever addressed regardless of profession or culture.

Using Tactical Competitive Intelligence to Make a Strategic Decision: A Case Study

This post continues my story from the BCG Matrix Share discussion where we set the stage for an acquisition with a share of market visual.  This was a great start since it put everyone in the same knowledge place.  However, share of market by itself was not compelling enough for management to make its decision about acquiring Northern Telecom’s (Nortelinstalled PBX base in Bell Atlantic’s (Verizonterritory.

Management needed some more proof.  One key executive was keen on acquiring ROLM since he thought they were more technically advanced than Northern Telecom, and that the government would favor this solution since they had many ROLM PBX systems installed.  The government is one of Verizon’s major customers since their territory includes the Washington, DC metro area. The market leader, AT&T (now Avayawas not for sale, but it was essential to include them as the yardstick for the “big 3” PBX manufacturers.

To improve our analysis, we used sales intelligence by consulting with our sales force and a consultant who specialized in PBX RFPs (request for proposals).  We decided to posture a company analysis comparison based on key customer buying criteria, and decided it would be more credible if we represented the comparisons from a customer’s point of view, casting aside our blind spots and biases.  It would also be more pallitable for the ROLM supporter if we presented from the customer’s point of view, not our own.

companyfeatureanalysis

We agreed on 7 key reasons why customers buy PBX systems: features, technology, price, service, engineering support, reliability, and partners.  All 3 manufacturers were at parity in price and features.  AT&T had the strongest ratings overall in all 7 areas.  ROLM rated higher than Northern Telecom in technology, which supported the key dissenter’s view.  Meanwhile, Northern’s service, engineering support and reliability were stronger than ROLM’s.

At that time IBM owned ROLM, which was perceived by our ROLM supporter as a key strength.  We acknowledged that in this company comparison in the word, Partner.  However, we acknowledged that were we to acquire ROLM, then IBM would be out of the picture in our territory, so this would not be the strong advantage he had envisioned.  Also PBX customers didn’t value the IBM name as their strong brand ID was more in computers and data communication.

We followed the practices of cooperative intelligence as we presented this company analysis taking into account the dignity of the dissenter as we confirmed his beliefs about ROLM.  We could start to observe his change of heart as we delivered this company analysis.

This is an example of how using tactical competitive intelligence swayed executives to make the right strategic decision.  We brought in the voice of the customer and the reasons why they buy, very simply, and it engaged our executives.

In our next post, I will show the modification to this feature analysis that further swayed the board to acquire Northern Telecom’s installed base of PBXs in our region.

How have you used tactical competitive intelligence to influence strategic decisions?

BCG Matrix Share: A Visual Strategic Competitive Intelligence Tool: Explanation & Case Study

A strategic visual competitive intelligence tool I like is an adaptation from the Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) Matrix Share model which depicts share momentum.  You can see at a glance with little explanation how to read this model.  The size of the bubble or circle represents the company’s share of market relative to the rest of the competitors illustrated.  Those companies which appear above the diagonal line are losing share and those below the diagonal line are gaining share.  (See below)

bcg-matrix-share2

In competitive intelligence terms, the BCG Matrix Share is a great primer to communicate a snapshot of competitor’s share of market.  Many years ago when I worked at Bell Atlantic (now part of Verizon), we used the BCG Matrix Share model to show our management the relative share of market of our key competitors relative to the systems we marketed.  This was the starting point for a discussion about acquiring the installed base of Northern Telecom, a key PBX (private branch exchange) telephone system manufacturer.

In the spirit of cooperative intelligence, we chose this model since we heard that our executive team was comfortable with it.  It was often used in merger and acquisition decision-making, and this was supporting an acquisition that we were recommending. When using any model, I think it’s important to consider how receptive your audience is to it culturally, and if it’s the right model to persuasively illustrate your analysis and recommendations.

bcg-telco-example

Before we could get to the specific reasons why we should acquire Northern Telecom’s installed base in our region, we needed to set the stage, and give our executives a clear picture of the competitive landscape.  We focused on 5 manufacturers so as not to confuse our executives.  The big 3 PBX manufacturers—AT&T (now Avaya), Rolm (now part of Siemens) and Northern Telecom—would have to be included in any discussion about telephone systems.  Intecom and NEC were the two PBX systems we were marketing at the time.  The BCG Matrix Share clearly portrayed their weak positions as compared to the big 3.

From here we could jump off and discuss the specific reasons why we should acquire Northern Telecom and not Rolm, for example.  Looking at this BCG Matrix Share analysis, Northern Telecom’s share of market is larger than Rolm’s, but this alone was not enough reason to acquire Northern Telecom’s installed base.  In my next blog, I’ll show the next competitive intelligence analytical tools we used to persuade our management that acquiring Northern Telecom’s installed base was the right move.

How have you used BCG model with your management?  What do you see as its strengths and weaknesses?

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2014 Update: Books on Analytic Tools for Competitive Intelligence

This is a 2014 update of new and updated books on competitive intelligence tools and techniques from a 2009 blog.

Business and Competitive Analysis: Effective Application of New and Classic Methods by Craig S. Fleisher and Babette E. Bensoussan, 2007.

Strategic and Competitive Analysis: Methods and Techniques for Analyzing Business Competition by Craig S. Fleisher and Babette Bensoussan, 2002.

These above two books have not been updated, and are classic reference material and describe competitive intelligence analytic tools in great detail. These are written for the academic market as well as competitive intelligence, marketing and strategy professionals. There is no repetition of tools between the two books with about 50 in total. The authors also provide their assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of each tool. I have a copy of each book, since I use analytic tools when they help me tell the story of my research, interviewing or win loss analysis findings.

There are three more books on analytic tools and techniques which are a shorter and simpler read.  Analysis Without Paralysis was updated in 2012 and The Analysts’s Cookbook, Volume 2 was published in 2011.


Analysis w o Paralysis 2Analysis Without Paralysis: 12 Tools to Make Better Strategic Decisions by Babette E. Bensoussan and Craig S. Fleisher, Second Edition, 2012

The Analyst’s Cookbook by Kristan J. Wheaton, Emily E. Mosco and Diane E. Chido, 2006. (Mercyhurst University) (paperback only)

The Analyst’s Cookbook, Volume 2 edited by Nicole Pillar and Dominic Vallone, 2011. (Mercyhurst University) (Kindle only)

Analysis Without Paralysis is a great book to have your boss read or someone who would like a simpler explanation of competitive intelligence tools and techniques without as much depth as Babette and Craig’s previous two books. In addition to updating techniques, the second edition has included 2 more techniques than the original did in 2006.

The Analyst’s Cookbook is another favorite since it is easy to read and understand. Kris Wheaton, leading author, teaches competitive intelligence at one of America’s foremost competitive intelligence colleges, Mercyhurst. They breathe competitive intelligence for a living and it shows as they clearly describe 16 analytic tools in 164 pages. Mercyhurst students published a volume 2 to their Analyst’s Cookbook series in 2011, available only in Kindle format.

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Visualize Your Competitors on a Radar Screen Competitor Map, a Great Competitive Intelligence Tool

adrian-slywotskyThe Radar Screen competitor map is one of my favorite competitive intelligence tools.  It is totally visual, and fits on one page for easy digestion. It can be used both strategically and tactically, and is a rich communication tool. I first read about it in Adrian Slywotzky’s Value Migration: How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition  in the 1990s.

It’s a great way to visualize how competitors are positioned relative to your company and each other. The Retail Radar Screen example below shows competitors relative to Macy’s, the large retail store which offers a broad spectrum of products including clothing, housewares, bed & bath, jewelry, shoes, cosmetics, fine china, handbags, and various accessories. It could be argued that Sears and JC Penney are Macy’s most direct competitors, as they offer a broad spectrum of similar products in their stores. Thus they are placed in the middle of the radar screen to show their relative position as a more direct competitor to Macy’s. Wal-mart and Target might fit in the next tier as they both sell clothing and housewares, but also sell food and sporting goods where they don’t compete. Outliers include Costco and Sam’s Club as they compete across some products such as clothing and housewares, but don’t offer the depth in either area, and sell food where Macy’s scarcely competes, and offer other products that Macy’s doesn’t such as computers and automotive.

radar-screen-retail

Ideally you would have a cross-functional team create a Radar Screen competitor snapshot. There is rich discussion about where and why competitors should be placed which is extremely valuable to capture.  Some companies use the Radar Screen as the home page for their company’s competitive intelligence Intranet. They will re-position the competitors based on the news, and visually depict changes with a different color, for example. If you would click on each competitor, there would be the relevant news and a competitor profile explaining its positioning.

Be creative: the uses for the Radar Screen competitor map are as rich as your imagination. The screen can be divided into 4 quadrants which might depict competitors by 4 separate business units, 4 different geographies, and on a tactical level 4 different reasons why customers buy.

I have used the Radar Screen with companies who claim they have 20 major competitors in one business unit. This exercise achieves more focus, and we will often narrow that list to 6 – 8 competitors after some rigorous discussion.

How do you use Radar Screen competitor maps?  I would love to hear from you.

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Capture Competitive Intelligence from Sales: Switching Cost Analysis

How do you extract precious competitor and customer tidbits from Sales? The first rule with Sales is “You must give what they need in order to get.” Giving is one of the key principles of cooperative intelligence. It’s also helpful if you put yourself in Sales’ shoes. I was lucky in that I sold for a few years before I started our competitive intelligence initiative at Bell Atlantic, now part of Verizon. Thus I had credibility since I knew the challenges that Sales faced first-hand.

However, you who have no sales experience, can gain insight by accompanying Sales on customer calls. Other ways to connect with Sales include listening in on their challenges through Sales conference calls, attending Sales rallies, and perhaps getting on the agenda to speak at such a rally. It’s great if you can connect with Sales just as they’re hired by conducting some competitive intelligence training as part of Sales orientation. That way you can meet Sales people who may have come from the competition.

You gain sales intelligence and learn why customers do or don’t buy through win loss analysis. However, even though you include Sales in win loss, they may feel threatened when someone else calls their customer, treading on their precious relationship.

switchingcostanalysis

One tool that been very popular with Sales forces over the years is “Switching Cost Analysis.” The goal is to help retain your customers! As a competitive intelligence professional, you can help Sales boost their creativity in using this tool.

Often the purchase price for your product is more expensive than the competitor’s. However, once you identify all the hidden costs, the cost for the customer to switch to the competitor’s product might be more expensive than if they stayed with your company’s solution.

When I sold telecommunications systems, for example, my competitors only included the cost of the phone equipment and conveniently left out all the network fees required to make their phone system work. I included that cost. They also downplayed the cost and time to train people how to use new technology, not just the user’s but also the customer’s installation and maintenance people. You can help your sales force be more creative about what costs your competitor may be omitting, and perhaps cast a shadow of a doubt about the competition. If they forget to include too many costs, the customer might wonder what else the competitor is not telling them!

Take a Cooperative Approach to Conflict Resolution

Many in my fields of competitive intelligence and research have lost their jobs in this tough economy.  While cooperative intelligence skills of leadership, connection and communication don’t guarantee job security, they will help you stand out since many people have lower emotional intelligence: that is they have weak people skills.

I like the cooperative approach shared in Hot Buttons to solve conflicts with colleagues as it’s objective, focuses on constructive communication, and not “who dunnit?:

How did our conflict start? What hot buttons were pressed? Yours? Mine?

Which of your needs are not being met? What are your goals?

What do I need?

What am I doing, saying or not saying that is preventing your goals>

What is the cost of not solving this problem? Specifically…

What are the benefits of resolving the problem? What can I do?

How can we start?

At the heart of any organization is the connection between manager and reporting employees.  To improve the relationship and demonstrate cooperative leadership and promote loyalty consider the following 4 attributes:

Trust – is a two-way street.  Managers and employees need to express confidence in each other.

Respect – recognize your employee’s competence. Show thanks and appreciation for your employee’s work, in a note, a conversation…

Inclusion – include employee’s opinions and welfare in decisions that affect him/her.

Fairness – give all an equal opportunity to be successful. Be even handed, impartial and objective.

42-18327996Another pet peave I have is that many managers don’t give good feedback to their employees during their quarterly or annual review process.  Lousy feedback, lack of feedback or the destructive delivery of feedback is a form of disrespect and maddens people.

I had a difficult employee who I had to provide feedback to outside of the annual review process.  She wasn’t pulling her weight, and was certain that her contribution–based on her straight A’s in a decent college–was excellent.  I was at my wit’s end to get her to produce.  How could I cool my heels and get through to this woman?  I started with her place of strength: I complimented her on her wonderful grades and high IQ which caused her to relax and smile.

Then I asked her for the date to get her to realize she was now out of school and while the grades got her this job, production would be the key to keeping it since her co-workers completed their projects in less time.  I also implored her sense of fairness since the other workers had to stay late to finish work that she wasn’t, and she knew she didn’t want that.

We turned it around since we started with her strong point and built on it, and I knew she had a strong sense of fairness towards her co-workers.  She started to produce great work once she had time to digest that I valued her intelligence, and wanted her to apply it at work.

What stories do you have where you turned around a difficult situation?

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