7 Top Competitive Intelligence Blogs Read in 2016

competitive intelligenceFour of the top 7 competitive intelligence blogs were written in 2009. 2 were competitive intelligence analytic tools, which the other 2 were relationship skills: emotional intelligence; and marketing, R&D and product development relationships. These topics are timeless.

Here they are in order of popularity:

1. Templates for Win/Loss Analysis – The Win Loss request I get asked the most often is, “Can you share your Win Loss templates?” I break down Win Loss analysis questions into 4 buckets: relationship health, company reputation, product/service attributes, and servicing issues.

2. How a Good Relationship between Marketing and R&D Improves Product Development – When both marketing and R&D focus on understanding and acting on customer needs, it makes their jobs easier and their results more productive. This is a powerful competitive weapon since this is not the case at many companies. Perhaps R&D can be masters of the Art of Possibility while Marketing can master the Art of the Possible – that is what your customers want and are willing to pay for.

3. Sharpen Your Emotional Intelligence Skills – In competitive intelligence, strong emotional skills are essential since we’re often delivering bad news to management or threats to the business, which causes stress since they don’t want to hear it, even if it is the truth. Be sensitive as to how management will react to our news and analysis, and don’t spring surprises. What’s neat about EQ versus IQ, is that we can learn and be coached to improve our EQ skills.

4. How You Can Become a Conversation Rockstar – So much about life revolves around effective communication. As a primary researcher, I look for ways to motivate people to share. You need to understand what makes them comfortable to share with you. One source I read in 2016 is Traci Brown’s book, Persuasion Point: Body Language and Speech for Influence. While the book focuses on closing sales, the same tactics will work to promote sharing when conducting competitive intelligence collection or Win Loss interviews.

5. 7 Timeless Competitive Intelligence Tips – Here are a few: Company insularity is not a competitive advantage. Don’t forget that your employees are smart. What ever happened to good old fashioned customer service? Let employees create and have access to customer, sales and market intelligence.

6. Visualize Your Competitiors on a Radar Screen Competitor Map, a Great Competitive Intelligence Tool – The Radar screen is a totally visual tool which fits on one page for easy digestion. It can be used both strategically and tactically, and is a great way to visualize how competitors are positioned relative to your company and each other. The uses for the Radar Screen are endless. It can be divided into 4 quadrants which might depict competitors by 4 separate business units, 4 geographies, or 4 different reasons why customers buy. Read more about the Radar Screen in Adrian Slywotsky’s book, Value Migration: How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition 

7. BCG Matrix Study: A Visual Strategic Competitive Intelligence Tool: Explanation and Case Study – Use the BCG Matrix to visually depict a share of market snap shot among competitors.

See you in 2017.

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7 Timeless Competitive Intelligence Tips

I have worked in competitive intelligence for over 25 years and here are some timeless key findings.

competitive intelligence tips

1. What Is Competitive intelligence Anyway?

Competitive Intelligence is NOT competitor spying. While competitors are definitely part of the external scanning and analysis process: customers, suppliers, regulators, new technology and so many more sources are part of the competitive puzzle.

2. Company Insularity Is Not a Competitive Advantage.

Too many companies spend too much time being insular since it is comfortable and are encouraged by executives who want to do it their way. Unfortunately many companies compensate their executives to be low risk takers since they get paid very well whether the company is doing well or not.

3. Don’t Forget: Your Employees Are Smart!

Yet, you don’t want to be too focused on the external environment so as to disregard what your employees are telling you. You don’t want to stifle their creativity by saying it won’t work, since it didn’t before or at company X. You want to give employees adequate time to be creative and exploratory, and to make allowances for mistakes: not just in research and development.

4. Let Employees Create and Have Access to Customer, Sales & Market Intelligence.

Customers are a key source for product development, competitive intelligence and the future of your marketplace. Don’t assume you know what your customers want: ask them. I notice that the the most successful companies are good at figuring out what will delight their customers–which goes far beyond “asking them”. This comes from letting the brains in the company be creative and develop neat products and services. Yet they need to have a tie to customers and other external sources to feed their creativity while internal marketing and sales people help them with practical things like pricing.

5. What Ever Happened to Good Old Fashioned Customer Service?

Many companies fixate on innovation at the cost of good customer service around existing products and services. One key learning from many Win/Loss interviews with customers is that customer service and company reputation are often the reasons customers buy and stay with you. Innovation and pricing are almost always lower in the decision-making totem pole. In a similar vein, some companies seem more eager to steal competitor’s customers than to retain their own. Costly move.

6. Many Companies Can’t Afford a Competitive Intelligence Process.

If your company doesn’t have the budget to sustain a competitive intelligence process, at least establish and maintain a list of internal and external experts who you can rely on when you have those competitive intelligence quick turnaround projects. Realize the value of cross-functional input towards key decisions, as cross-discipline output will reduce blind spots in your strategy. Input from external resources, who have never worked at your company, also reduces blind spots.

7. Be Actionable.

I have noticed that most companies actually have the intelligence they need about their marketplace to make smart decisions: they just aren’t willing to make the changes. Being nimble and willing to make organizational, product or service changes is a competitive advantage. Don’t get bogged down in organizational practices and procedures that aren’t necessary. Having management that is incented to make these changes is also a competitive advantage!

Extra Tip: Learn Why Your Competitors Got the Business that You Didn’t.

Win/Loss Analysis book gives you a process to learn why you’re losing business and how to keep more of it!

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Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want: Q and A

In May, I was honored to give a Win/Loss analysis webinar, as part of the competitive intelligence #IntelCollab series facilitated by Craig Fleisher, Chief Learning Officer at Aurora WDC.

You can view the slides and listen to the webinar entitled: Win/Loss Analysis Captures and Keeps New Business. You will get a sneak preview of my soon to be published book, Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want. (Amazon pre-sale until July 11 launch)

Since people often disconnect for Q&A, I am including them in this blog.

What internal group supports Win/Loss programs in your experience? If it’s not competitive intelligence (CI), as not all companies have a CI person or team, it’s usually a manager or executive in business development or marketing.

What are some of the best practices to break through internal company resistance to Win/Loss analysis? First, only one part of Win/Loss analysis targets sales performance and professionalism as you’ll see in the Win/Loss topics chart below.

win loss topics BIG

Other areas include product attributes, service issues and company reputation. Sales also is motivated to cooperate from this Win/Loss statistic: taking action from a formal Win/Loss program can improve win rates from 15 – 30%. On the other hand, know that Win/Loss isn’t for every company. As mentioned in the webinar, some companies have never heard of Win/Loss. Some think they’re doing it when they’re not. Others are going through the steps of Win/Loss, but aren’t making any changes from the results. Some are stymied by politics and/or arrogance to seriously consider a Win/Loss program.

When is the best time after the buying decision to conduct Win/Loss analysis interviews? Ideally it’s 2 to 3 months after the buying decision has been made, and people know you aren’t selling to them. If you wait too long, people forget the details of their buying decision, and sometimes they move onto another position within the company or leave the company. Sometimes I have great interviews when the decision-maker has left the company and I listen to the person who has been forced to adopt the solution or product. While I don’t learn about the decision-making process, I do find out how well the product is working, often in much more detail than I would have from the decision-maker.

Due to the sensitivity of Win/Loss analysis, is it better to hire a third party? First of all: if you conduct the interviews in-house, don’t have sales people do them. Customers don’t want to deliver bad news to sales people: it’s just human nature. You want to hear everything. Although it’s great to have sales people pave the way for whoever is conducting the Win/Loss interviews. In more complex deals, sales people might even be present for the Win/Loss interviews, but I would have someone else be the key interviewer. Marketing or Product Developers can conduct these interviews since they often have the product knowledge and the bigger picture of where your company wants to go. However, many of them are not expert interviewers, as this is just a small part of their job responsibilities.

Third parties are often preferred for two reasons: they are a neutral source so customers and those who chose a competitor feel more free to share; Win/Loss consultants are expert interviewers since this tends to be their full-time job. Their focus is customer intelligence. Don’t ask me why, but I find that when I conduct Win/Loss interviews, people are happy to share the good, the bad and the ugly with me, even though they know that my client is the recipient of all this information (although I do not disclose the names of the individuals interviewed).

I will include the next 5 questions in a future blog or on my LinkedIn blog.

To learn how to build your company’s Win Loss analysis program, check out my book: : Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want.

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Rocky Mountain #SCIP Meeting: Mar 30 #Denver

You are invited to our Rocky Mountain SCIP networking meeting on March 30.

Rocky Mountain SCIP MeetingWhere: The Bookbar MAP

Address: 4280 Tennyson St. Denver, CO 80212

Time: 6 – 8 p.m.

Cost: Cash bar. Food available too. MENU

 

Come to meet fellow competitive intelligence professionals.

We also want your suggestions for programs!

  • Where to meet?
  • What time/day to meet?
  • How often to meet?
  • What topics do you want to hear more about?
  • Which CI speakers do you want at future meetings?
  • Local speakers? National speakers? International?

We have a table reserved under Gordon’s name and SCIP. Feel free to reach out to Gordon or me (Ellen) with program suggestions, especially if you can’t attend our meeting.

BTW we have a Denver/Rocky Mountain LinkedIn group, where you can share ideas and pose questions.

Ellen Naylor                                                    Gordon Muschett

answers@thebisource.com                         gmuschett1@gmail.com

Be Smart: Be Human: Be Flexible

I read a moving post about the value of being flexible by my friend and book counselor, Judith Briles. She totally changed gears from talking about her book, The Confidence Factor, on a morning show in Cleveland due to a tragedy where some high school students had been killed the night before. The community was reeling from it. She decided it was time to talk from her heart. She had such incredible empathy from her experience losing her son at age 19, also in a terrible accident. The local community couldn’t get enough of her. The show extended her time by two segments and she was invited back.

manager woman doing yoga at white background

How flexible are you in competitive intelligence and Win/Loss analysis? We usually aren’t in situations where the daily news changes how we’ll be with people. However, it’s likely that no matter how much planning we do, there are surprises.

Flexibility at Trade Shows

In my first Neocon, the largest N America-based commercial interior and design trade show, I was asked to get specific information on three competitors. I had done my homework before the conference: I knew where are the competition’s exhibits were in the huge Chicago Merchandise Mart. I had memorized considerable facts about each competitor, and had my questions all organized in my head. I was sure of my game plan.

I came up to the market leader’s showroom and asked to have a tour of their space which featured some new products. The snooty sales person asked if I had an appointment. “Why no,” I answered. “I didn’t know I needed an appointment just to see your furniture display.” So I walked away feeling dejected.  To add spice to the day, I was rapidly losing my voice.

What was I to do? I could not succeed in my assignment unless I could get into the competitor’s showroom and get answers to our questions. Then I got an idea: “Why couldn’t I find a group who had an appointment and just tag along?” So I stood outside the market leader’s space until I saw a group of gentlemen from a well known software firm, heading to the competitor’s exhibit area. I asked if they had an appointment, and when they answered in the affirmative, I asked if I could tag along. “Sure,” they said. “Happy to have you join us.”

Ironically the snooty sales person was their account rep, who gave us the tour being as informative as she could be. She told us all about their new products, and why they were better than the competition, which answered most of my client’s questions. She glared at me, but graciously answered my questions, since I imagine this was one of her largest accounts as this software firm was expanding exponentially. Meanwhile her client had questions that I hadn’t thought of, as they were steeped in the commercial interior space. Their jobs varied among purchasing, design and decision-making, so you can just imagine how much I learned, all because I hung back and waited for a major customer to get the tour.

Flexibility in Win/Loss Interviews

In Win/Loss interviews, I like to research who I’ll be speaking to, and usually can find something about them from the sales team and social media, especially on LinkedIn. No matter how much you learn, you need to be flexible as soon as you connect with them on the phone, SKYPE or however you converse. Sometimes you cold call these people, especially in B2C Win/Loss interviews.

In one case, I was trying to reach those who used test and measurement tools. When the gentleman answered his phone I could barely hear him and wondered why he had even bothered. I could hear machinery very close by and asked where he was. “I am a crane operator, and that’s where I am.” I chewed him out for answering his mobile on the job and asked to schedule a time when he would not be operating his crane. We had a great interview during his lunch hour the next day.

In another case, I thought I was going to talk to a user of these test and measurement tools, which was the target of this project. Instead I got through to a person who repaired all the brands of these test and measurement tools. I revised the questions on the spot, and asked him about the repair track record of all the manufacturers’ test and measurement tools. This was one of the most informative interviews we had, since he had about 20 years of experience. Not only did we get the current trend in repair protocol and need, but we also got the history of how it had changed, and his future assessment of the industry.

Competitive Intelligence Collection

In another project, I was researching the glass industry. My client thought I might benefit from listening in on the quarterly earnings call. I thought I might just as well read the report later, and look at the slides. But he insisted that I should listen in. I was so glad I did. When the CEO was asked about the failing glass business, his tone of voice changed to a sad one. Yet he didn’t indicate any desire to sell it. A rational business person would have sold it a few years before I was hired to investigate this company. This made me wonder what emotional tie this CEO might have to the glass business. I found out his dad had bought the business, and that he wanted to keep it going for his dad.

So I told my client I couldn’t predict what would trigger the sale of this business, which was inevitable, but it would be a major event where the CEO would be forced to sell the business. Perhaps it might be a terrible accident in the glass factory. A couple of years later, some stockholders filed to force the CEO to sell this unprofitable business and won. My client was ready to capture this company’s glass business.

So the bottom line is as with many things in life. Do your homework and be prepared. Be flexible and swallow your pride, and let your heart speak when it’s needed. That way when the unexpected happens, you will have an ability to shift gears.

Check out our book, Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want.

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How You Can Become a Conversation Rockstar

So much about life revolves around effective communication.

As a primary research expert, I am always looking to for ways to motivate others to share. You need to understand what makes them comfortable to share.

Traci Brown Persuasion PointI recently read Traci Brown’s book, Persuasion Point: Body Language and Speech for Influence. While the book focuses on closing sales deals, the same tactics will work to promote sharing when conducting competitive intelligence collection or win/loss interviews. I will focus on speech, since we are often conducting these interviews over the telephone, so we don’t have the benefit of seeing the other person, although we can surely sense beyond their words.

One quick and easy way to start the connection is to match their speed and tone of speech. This also pushes you over to their side by being flexible, and forgetting about yourself.

Traci describes four communication preferences:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic
  • Auditory Digital

First, figure out your own communication preference, so you learn how to modify your language, tone and pace to match the other person’s communication preference. If you don’t, you’re apt to lose them in your conversation.

Visual people are quick as they are often competent and confident. They think and speak quickly. If you slow down, their mind will wander. They require less detail to process information, and when they change the subject you know they are ready for the next topic. They are interested in how things look or will look. They often focus on the future and have a big picture, strategic focus. They can easily think other are idiots. They are judgmental, very observant and don’t automatically like you or your ideas until you prove yourself.

Words/phrases to use: see, look, appear, show, dawn, view. “I see what you’re saying. It’s unclear. How does this look to you?”

Auditory people learn by listening, and are interested in how things sound. They are easily distracted by noise. Tone of voice is important, and they can be hurt by the wrong tone. They like sequence and order and to be told how they’re doing. They are less interested in how things look, and live in the here and now. Structure kills them as they like freedom. A plus is they automatically like you and your idea.

Words/phrases to use: hear, listen, sound, harmonize, music. “I hear you. That rings a bell. How does this sound? Clear as a bell.”

Kinesthetic people tend to speak slowly, in long phrases and breathe deeply. Slow your speech if you’re a fast talker and be patient as conversations tend to be longer. Listen for their deep feelings to emerge slowly. They’re often in occupations that use their hands: carpenter, chef, mechanic, artist.

They need more extensive detail to process information, and respond to touch. They tend to like you and your ideas, a plus. Like Auditories, they live in the here and now.

Words/phrases to use: feel, touch, grasp, get a hold of, slip through. “Does it feel right? Do you grasp this idea?”

Auditory Digital people like detail, structure and order. They are often lawyers, computer programmers, engineers or financial professionals. They often exhibit characteristics of the other three communication preferences.

They tend to be smart, curious and know a little about most things. They can operate in their own head, are often judgmental and don’t necessarily like you or your ideas, until you objectively prove yourself.

Words/phrases to use: think, learn, process, understand, learn. “So does this make sense to you? This is a great way to learn. Do you think this is a good idea?”

In reality, many people jump among these communication preferences depending on what you’re talking about. Sometimes you can’t detect a communication style quickly enough in a telephone conversation. So pepper words of each of the communication preferences, and note what they seem to resonate most by listening to their tone and words.

Win/Loss Analysis book gives you a process to learn why you’re losing business and how to keep more of it!

Receive our 6-page Win/Loss Cheat Sheets

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Win/Loss Analysis Q&A from July SCIP Webinar

Q & A from July 2015 SCIP Global Chapter Webinar: “Win/Loss Analysis: How to Clinch and Keep the Business You Want.”

Win/Loss analysis

  1. Competitor analysis comes from Win/Loss analysis (interviews) or comes from Win/Loss + research? If it comes from Win/Loss what is the weight?

Competitor analysis comes from many sources, and Win/Loss interviews should be a key source since they come directly from your customers and those who selected a competitor. I would give Win/Loss a high weight, but definitely continue other forms of research in your competitive intelligence operation. Win/Loss is another piece of your competitive arsenal to analyze the marketplace.

  1. Advantages / Examples of close ended questions versus open ended?

Close ended questions are those which can be quantified, often benchmarking such as comparing your company to the other competitors across a number of categories, such as clarity of sales proposal, effectiveness of the product demo, specific product features, and industry consultant assessment.

Open ended questions are qualitative and give your customers and potential customers the chance to share their buying process in their words and how they like to communicate. You often get incredible insight from the qualitative. Whereas you ask everyone the same close ended questions, and can pull out trends once you have enough interviews to analyze.

Examples of open ended questions are:

  • What compelling goal or event spurred this buying decision?
  • Why did you decide to include our company as a contender?
  1. Where did you get your information?
  2. What information source(s) were most influential?

      3.  Can you give examples of value propositions to use?

Value propositions are an individual thing, geared for your company, industry and your customer. I often ask Sales’ guidance in developing value propositions, since they know what will make their customers talk. Here are a few general ones you can use, but it’s more effective if you individualize your value proposition to maximize customer engagement.

  • We want to improve how we do business with our customers.
  • Our customers are our best source of intelligence. We continually strive to improve our sales, marketing and product development through your feedback.
  • Win/Loss gives you an opportunity for a frank discussion about how we can improve our relationship with you and your company.
  1. Is Win/Loss just for B2B?

Win/loss is mostly for B2B. However, I have had excellent learning from B2C on occasion. In one case we got names off product registration lists and cold called the customers. The weakness was that we didn’t interview enough non-customers. Yet we gained intelligence for this customer that they had been unable to learn from any other source.

   4A. If for B2C, do you think we can use Social Web Listening to do W/L? (Complementing interviews with social web listening)

Social media is a great source especially of complaints from customers, both of your products and your competitors. These comments can help you form questions to be used in Win/Loss, and beyond that product development and customer service improvements. Also you might be able to interview some of these folks, which extends your reach to customers and prospects you wouldn’t reach through more traditional means.

  1. Can you develop / give examples of causes why you “lose”?

Here are a few reasons from my experience: bad customer references, sales too pushy, unclear proposal, generic product demo instead of one geared to the customer’s industry, price, specific product features, competitor’s customer service is so excellent (competitor is incumbent and won the business…again). There are many more…

  1. How do senior executives benefit from Win/Loss?

Most are interested in trends, which might be early warning and new or surprise findings from Win/Loss. This will depend on your company’s goal in conducting Win/Loss analysis. What executives like is that one cannot argue with the results and analysis of Win/Loss interviews since they are fueled by your customers and those who chose a competitor.

For example, the executive might be interested in a new product’s market penetration. Win/Loss might uncover some unintended uses for the product where there is little competition.

An executive might be concerned that you are losing share in your flagship product. Win/loss interviews may indicate why, and what action(s) you might take to reverse this.

  1. In practice, how long does it take for the full Win/Loss process (Win/Loss cycle)?

You can learn a lot even from conducting of 10 – 20 interviews just once. However, you will gain the best intelligence by doing quarterly or monthly Win/Loss interviews over at least one year, and even more over two years and longer. Like competitive intelligence, Win/Loss analysis is ideally an ongoing practice.

Other factors to weigh in are length of the sales cycle, complexity of decision-making, and complexity of your products or service.

  1. If you outsource Win/Loss, how can you guarantee that the interviewer knows the business and does not bias the analysis, and can get to the bottom of things?

No one knows your business like you do. However, most Win/Loss interviewers can learn your business, as long as you’re willing to share the ins and outs of how you conduct business, the sales cycle, sales proposals, product demos, the competition, industry consultant assessments, and let them communicate directly with your sales, marketing and product managers, especially at the outset of the Win/Loss engagement.

There is so much information consultants can gather on the Internet and social media as well. Unless your business is extremely technical and complex, most consultants are capable of learning enough about your business to conduct Win/Loss interviews, and will get better at it over time, not unlike how it works when you use internal sources, who usually aren’t as good at interviewing customers since they don’t do it as a full-time job.

Those who conduct Win/Loss interviews continuously pick up on new industries pretty readily, and tend to be less biased than company interviewers. In most cases, customers and non-customers share more information with a neutral third party than they will with company employees, even though they know that the consultant will be sharing the results with your company.

  1. How much time is the customer willing to spend in Win/Loss interviews?

20 – 30 minutes is the industry average. People are so busy these days. That’s why you need to learn as much about each situation before you call the customer. “Know me before you call me,” is today’s mantra in Win/Loss interviews.

The length of time might differ depending on the industry, and the customer’s culture. Those in technology often are pressed for time, and thus it’s more challenging to get them to agree to a Win/Loss interview. It also depends on the position they hold in the company. Executives tend to give me less time, but they usually impart great information quickly which is spot on.

   10. Is Win/Loss an activity that is just for large contracts or unexpected losses, or can it be used on a much smaller level by sales reps looking to turn a small account around?

Win/Loss is best suited for larger, more strategic wins and losses. That said, Win/Loss can be used however you think your company will best benefit from it. It could be that what you learn from turning around that small account can be used for numerous other accounts, which might be highly profitable.

   11. Who should be involved in the Win/Loss process? My previous experience suggests that sales people do not take kindly to evaluation from other departments. Are CI teams well placed for this or should this be a bigger exercise involving sales, country directors, etc.?

This is a great question, and it involves assessing your company’s culture, and how best to sell Win/Loss to Sales and other departments such as marketing, product development, and your Web intelligence collectors.

Ideally sales, marketing and product development should be involved in setting up the Win/Loss process. CI is often part of one of these groups, and is well suited to do the analysis as long as they have the tactical knowledge of the company’s and competitor’s products and services.

Win/Loss is not just assessing sales performance. You are assessing marketing, product development and your company’s reputation. Most of the buying decision is made before Sales is contacted by prospective customers. A big part of Win/Loss is learning how your company made the short list before they called Sales. Sales is more challenged by this process since someone else is contacting their customers/prospects, and they don’t have control over this, and many in Sales feel they own the customer relationship.

A great way to get Sales’ buy-in for Win/Loss is to have them help set it up, and form the questions that they would like to learn from customers. In my experience over time, Sales will give you customers and lost customers they want interviewed for Win/Loss.

  1. How would you go about starting Win/Loss in a company that doesn’t currently embrace it?

Much of this is answered in question #11 above.

You need to assess your company’s culture, and figure out who is likely to support Win/Loss and who is likely to feel challenged by it. Win/Loss is a sales job, not unlike competitive intelligence.

There is much confusion about what Win/Loss analysis is. Part of the sales job is to educate people as to what it is, and what’s in it for them to cooperate, and specific benefits they can expect from the results.

It is the only form of competitive intelligence I know of that has a clear measurable ROI (return on investment). Following are some of the measurable benefits from Win/Loss analysis.

  • Increased revenue, profit or volume of sales.
  • Increased customer loyalty from interviewing wins means improved customer retention: how much repeat business is that worth?
  • Reduction of buying cycles: how much additional revenue or profit does that generate?
  • Reduced costs through insights into competitors’ value chains.
  • Identification of new markets and applications for existing products where competition might be low.
  • Increased sales force productivity.
  • Increased proposal win rate.
  • Improved product design by identifying features and functionality customers will buy.
  • Refined capacity for negotiation with vendors and buyers.
  • Better quality prospects: less time wasted on poor prospects.

To learn more about how to conduct your company’s Win Loss analysis, check out my book: Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want.

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