How Intuition Can Guide Your Research & Research Business

I recently was the recipient of the AIIP’s Connections Writer’s Award, which is presented to “the writer of the best original article published in AIIP Connections each year.” Unfortunately you have to be an AIIP member to access this article. However, in the spirit of cooperative intelligence, I will provide a summary, and encourage you independent entrepreneurs to consider joining AIIP to help you grow your business. This is a group of people who want to help you succeed in your small business, whether you’re just starting out or have been in business for a while. In addition to full members who own their business, AIIP also offers associate membership to those who work in larger companies and student membership.

Critical thinking and intuition are two skills that are often overlooked in this information explosion. We often jump to conclusions with more certainty without testing our conclusions by standing back and questioning our assumptions in a broader context. Likewise, many of us have lost touch with our intuition, which I consider the barometer of veracity. Nothing replaces the gut reaction that tells a researcher that something doesn’t feel right, something is missing, or that she is confident with her findings.

I recall a project where I couldn’t understand why the target company would remain in the glass industry when they were losing more money every year in this business. I learned that the company had invested as little as it could to keep the operation running, that there were occasional accidents, and that many glass products were trashed since the quality was so bad. There were glass trash piles around the factory and it sounded like an awful place to work.

The company was making money in its other divisions, and was publicly held so there was scrutiny by analysts about its operation. My client suggested I listen to a quarterly earnings discussion, which I reluctantly agreed to as I figured I could more quickly read it later. Boy was I wrong. One analyst asked the CEO about the failing glass business. The CEO’s voice turned emotional as he skirted the question in a mournful tone of voice. His Dad had bought the glass business, and the CEO was emotionally attached to it. He would feel like a failure were he to sell this business.

My intuition told me that it would take a major bad event to push this CEO out of the glass business, such as a bad factory accident or a disgruntled stockholder. A couple of years later, a disgruntled stockholder, an investment company with a large share of stock ownership, issued a formal written complaint (Form 13D) with the SEC. Divestiture followed. My client was ready to grab the business.

I have been in business for almost 20 years, and still make mistakes when I don’t listen to or trust my intuition. Listening to your intuition is one of the most precious gifts you have in life. It can save you a lot of time in the research and competitive intelligence processes, and can help you qualify your sales prospects and deal with people authentically.

Personality Profiling: Gauge Your Competitor’s Management Team

Last week I attended AIIP’s annual conference in Indianapolis, IN. I learned so much about running a small business better!

I gave a talk on competitive intelligence, and how information professionals can make a decent living by adding this skill to their research toolkit. Many are good at the collection and organization of findings. However, one area that folks seemed less familiar with was analytic tools, which allow you to communicate findings more persuasively if you use the right tool. In an earlier post, I described the Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) Matrix model  and how I used this to set the marketing stage for an acquisition some years ago.

Another great analytic tool is personality profiling. Most often companies study their competitor’s management team or key employees such as the head of R&D. Usually their strengths and weaknesses follow them from job to job. It’s good to understand their predisposition; what mistakes they have made in the past; and what blind spots they might have. You can obtain the intelligence to develop personality profiles easily enough for executives in publicly held companies since you have plenty of sources such as speeches made to various audiences such as industry conferences and the financial community. It can be trickier to find information for executives running privately held companies. I find that local sources are the best, such as local newspapers and magazines, the chamber of commerce, economic development offices and perhaps their schools. In some cases you will get lucky and locate a chatty employee or ex-employee through a social network such as LinkedIn, Twitter, an industry Ning, forum or association.

Don’t just focus on their professional experience as their personal life is just as important, and often highly influences their professional decision-making. Sometimes you get great intelligence through an executive’s favorite charitable cause or hobby. The non-profit that they make donations to probably has some information on this executive, since they will need this information to pitch their cause to him or her.

My favorite grid for organizing what you need to collect and how to organize it comes from Walter Barndt, Professor and author of User Directed Competitive Intelligence. This is one of my favorite competitive intelligence books since Walter gets the reader to empathize with the user of competitive intelligence, rather than simply describing how to conduct competitive intelligence.

For those who want to read some books on analytical tools, I have listed three favorites here. Just recently, another analytical book, Analyst’s Cookbook, Volume 2 was published by Mercyhurst College for the Kindle. I have not read it yet but see that it’s a short book, less than 90 pages and retails for $4.99. Here is the Amazon connection to purchase it.

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