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Reviewing Early Chapters of “Competitive Intelligence Advantage”

I am reading Seena Sharp’s book Competitive Intelligence Advantage. In the spirit of cooperative intelligence, I am reading a couple of chapters at a time and will share what I like in this blog.

Her introduction is compelling. Seena enumerates what questions a person might ask who will benefit from competitive intelligence. Here are my favorites from her list of 12:

Have you been blindsided by the loss of a sale to a competitor—especially one who is unknown, emerging or to a substitute?

Do you question if your assumptions are still valid about your industry, competitors, customers and products?

Have you noticed possible signs of an opportunity, but aren’t sure if it makes sense for your company?

In her first chapter Ms. Sharp explains the dilemma we face when we deal with company executives who are often arrogant and overconfident and don’t want to hear bad or contrarian news (even though that’s what they pay us to do in competitive intelligence). While those who lead companies are often brilliant, all can benefit from better intelligence when making strategic decisions.

I particularly enjoyed chapter 2 which provides the most thorough definitions around competitive intelligence (CI) that I have read anywhere. In an effort to describe and define the benefits of CI, Seena describes other more commonly understood processes such as knowledge management, market research, scenario planning and business intelligence. I especially appreciated her distinctions between market research and competitive intelligence. Both include research on the market while market research tends to focus on consumers or business customers and is more quantitative while competitive intelligence is more qualitative and future oriented as it looks at what is emerging in a market or an industry, and considers other external factors in addition to customers.

Did you know that only 38% provide correct phone numbers all the time? 60% don’t always provide accurate info about their company’s size. 45% do not always provide their company’s true name. These are interesting facts in connection around how consumer technology buyers fill out registration forms, a common form of market research. (Source: a survey by Marketing Sherpa and KnowledgeStorm.) These findings make me question the validity of market research findings taken in isolation. That is why it’s often valuable to include market research as a component of CI. I recall our market research team at Verizon benefited when we added some competitor questions to their major annual survey to our strategic customers.

Also in chapter 2, I enjoyed Seena’s example of knowledge management which started as a simple suggestion box at a company. Due to the company’s sharing and expansion of these suggestions at lunchtime sessions, this process was encouraged and became engrained in this company’s culture. People who made suggestions were positively recognized. This reminded me of similar programs that companies have put in place to gather good sales intelligence from Sales about competitors, emerging competitors, product development and industry trends. If you give employees the freedom to communicate their ideas and drill down deeper, it’s amazing what you learn, and a little recognition and thank you goes a long way.


SCIP 2010 Meskerem: A Mopping Good Time

Following the first full day at the SCIP 2010 Conference, a large group of us competitive intelligence managers enjoyed an Ethiopian dinner at Meskerem which was organized through our Intelligence Collaborative group. For the uninitiated, you mop up your food by wrapping the spongy bread around the food you want to eat. So the bread replaces all eating utensils. So no worries about bad manners. We were all eating Neanderthals! My favorite foods are the vegetables, although I seemed to eat everything that was put in front of me: chicken, lamb and egg. It’s communal dining at its finest as our large plate was shared by 4 of us, and we each had our own piece of flatbread for mopping!

Lest you think we’re a stuffy bunch check this out. 14 of us firmly RSVP’ed at the Intelligence Collaborative event site, so I figured 25 would be about right…and we had 37 diners! This is very #intelcollab, as we don’t want too much structure lest we be mistaken for anything that resembles bureaucracy! In the spirit of cooperative intelligence, here are some of the cool people that were there!

I sat with my new friends from Tokyo, most notably Masaaki Hasegawa who has been a SCIP member since 2001! His colleague, Yoshihito knew one of my best friends, Masa Asai, Professor Emeritus from Nihon University’s psychology department. The world continues to shrink: Nihon University is Japan’s largest and the odds of these men knowing each other is pretty remote! This story reminds me how you always keep reaching and stretching in life since you never know the connections you will make!



Here is a picture of August Jackson who is our leader at SCIP 2010! He also recommended the Meskerem, right on August!

August Jackson

Below is Max Nelson and a lovely lady, whose name I forget!

Max and friend

So we wound up our dinner and some of us headed over to the Bossa Bistrot & Lounge as recommended by Eric Garland. I was asking Arik Johnson where Eric was hiding out as he was nowhere to be seen at our table. Unbeknown to me, he was the lead guitarist in the band! Way to go Eric!

Eric at play!

So tonight there are more festivities related to our SCIP Conference. I’ll be joining the Fellows in welcoming our 2010 Award winners: Martha Matteo, Jonathan Calof and David Gibson over dinner at Café Paradiso. There will also be a fun party at the Marriott Wardman Park in DC hosted by Aurora WDC which celebrates its 15th birthday and the promotions of its key officers, Derek Johnson as CEO and Arik Johnson as Chairman. Congratulations guys!

Assess Your Effectiveness at Trade Shows

In honor of my competitive intelligence colleague, Jonathan Calof, I am writing this post on his subject of expertise, trade shows! Jonathon just won SCIP’s esteemed Fellow’s award which will be officially presented at SCIP’s annual conference in Washington, DC which takes place from March 9 – 12. Trade shows are one of the best venues for cooperative intelligence practices since if you display cooperative connection and communication skills, the floodgates of knowledge will be yours!

Most discussion around trade show analysis measures their effectiveness in ROI terms:
How many sales did we close as a result of connections at our booth? How many new connections did we make that represent customer prospects?

Many of the other benefits are more squishy to measure:

How much scoop did we collect on the competition, market trends, technical innovation, product development, or new technology that helps us develop a better strategy or adjust our sales tactics?

What infrastructure do we have in place to quickly report our findings to those in our company which might engender further collect during the trade show? And after we return from the trade show?

What infrastructure do we have in place to qualify prospects for our business?
This can start right at the booth as you can qualify the better prospects and have coffee or drinks later, since you don’t want to spill all your company secrets right at the booth area since you never know who might be listening in who is not a prospect, but might be collecting on your company!

I like to prepare a cheat sheet which helps me qualify customers when I exhibit. It’s kind of cumbersome, but it is fail proof since people’s answers to these questions guide me on how and if we should further our relationship.  Remember customers aren’t the only great connections at trade shows. For example, industry experts, newspaper reporters and bloggers help sell your company too. They have their biases just like anyone else, and you want to influence them to favor your company and your products and services so they write good things about you. Think: who else do I want to connect at this trade show mecca where people are so pre-disposed to share what they know?

Lastly, I assess if this was even the right show for the company to exhibit at. Many companies don’t think about this as much.  We tend to exhibit at shows since, “We’ve always had a booth at ‘X’ show.” Each year I like to assess our effectiveness at trade shows we’ve attended. Sometimes I use an ROI calculation. Sometimes I realize I can’t afford not to be at a trade show since all my competition is there connecting with a finite number of potential and existing customers. At other shows, product announcements are made: can you afford not to attend this type of show and blow your horn? Where it gets gray in decision-making is when results are gradually getting worse: do you just pull out of the show or do you change your behavior and tactics in hopes of improving your results? Marketing through social networks is also competing with in-person events like trade shows, which could be the subject for another day.

How do you assess your effectiveness at trade shows?

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