10 Tips to Find Competitive Intelligence Online

Yesterday I listened to a most engaging and informative AIIP webinar presentation by Arthur Weiss of CEO of Aware. I have taken many of Arthur’s Internet tippers especially to beef up Google Chrome searching and connection to improve my specialty,  primary research, that is finding information by talking to people. In a spirit of cooperative intelligence, I share these tippers which will help you both locate better information and identify relevant people more expeditiously.

The 10 Tips

1. Know What You are Looking For. Switch your perspective and look at the target company as though you were them, their competitor or a customer.

2. Create a Collection Plan. Identify sources: Why will the information be available? Where will you find it? How can you find it ethically?

3. Use Advanced Search Techniques. Start with the search engines & take advantage of the innuendos of key word searching, advanced search techniques and language translation. I like Wonder Wheel which visually mindmaps your Google search, which I didn’t realize was so easy to enable through Google Chrome. Arthur also reminded us to search Amazon for sources and to take advantage of the Even More features of Google and Google Labs. One Google Chrome extension I like in particular, is the Augment Search feature, which allows you to add/change search engines to your search.

4. Search the Deep Web. Arthur shared numerous Deep Web sites. Some of my favorites are NorthernLight, Deep Dyve, Biznar, Highbeam Research and Silobreaker.

5. Don’t Ignore Competitor websites. Aside from reading them thoroughly, don’t forget Domain Tools and Open Site Explorer since sites linked to your target company can be very telling, and may also provide you people to talk to. Don’t forget to search cache memory for some history of the website over time on Archive.org.

6. investigate Social Media. Aside from Twitter, LinkedIn, Xing, Facebook and industry Nings, don’t forget Slideshare, YouTube and Glassdoor. One of my favorite takeaways was the Rockmelt browser, a one stop access to all your social networks! Talk about a time saver!

7. It’s the people that make the difference! In addition to the common social media connections, Arthur recommends Quora. Other people search tools include Jigsaw, Yasni, Wink, Spokeo. Arthur wasn’t as keen on Zoominfo, since they have converted to fee based mostly. Be aware that these sources all need to be cross-checked. Look at your own profile and note the errors.

8. Remember the Quality of Paid Databases. Many of us at AIIP take advantage of the discounted rates from these service providers such as Dialog, Factiva, Skyminder, Morningstar and Lexis Nexis to name a few.

9. Keep Up-to-Date! I particularly valued Arthur’s tipper to follow industry and competitive intelligence experts on Twitter. This is so easy and you can clump their Tweets so easily in a Tweet Deck column. I also like to stay current with CI Ning, SCIP, AIIP and IntelCollab.

10. Think Differently. Look for things that are odd or out of place. If something doesn’t look right, feel right, or sound right, find out why.  Be a critical thinker.

This is just a smattering of what Arthur shared! These webinars are one of the key benefits of AIIP membership. They are all taped so you can listen to them anytime, and AIIP members can download a copy of the slides as well.

Do You Question Your Assumptions?

How often do you read articles from the same sources and continue practices that you are comfortable with—without questioning your assumptions? I focus on research, competitive intelligence and cooperative intelligence and found “Think the Answer’s Clear: Look Again” a recent NY Times article a great example of questioning your assumptions.  Dr. Donald Redelmeier, a physician researcher published a study in 1997 in the New England Journal of Medicine which concluded that driving while talking on a cellphone was as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. While commonly believed today, this was news in 1997!

Dr. Redelmeier has conducted several studies around behaviors while driving since he believes “Life is a marathon, not a sprint,” and “A great deal of mischief occurs when people are in a rush.” One of my favorites is around the psychology of changing lanes in traffic. “You think more cars are passing you when you’re actually passing them just as quickly. Still, you make a lane change where the benefits are illusory and not real.” Meanwhile, changing lanes increases the likelihood of a collision about threefold!

Dr. Redelmeier says it so nicely, “Do not get trapped into prior thoughts. It’s perfectly OK to change your mind as you learn more.” He extends this belief not only across his research quests and findings, but also in his practice as a doctor. He is more likely to intercept diagnosis and treatment errors at an earlier stage since he is willing to change based on new information. I want to be treated by a doctor like Dr. Redelmeier.

Dr. Redelmeiers’ practices can be adopted by competitive intelligence and research professionals. He is a critical thinker who observes behaviors, questions them and conducts research which proves or disproves his beliefs. He has learned that so many accidents in life happen when people are in a hurry. This is true in competitive intelligence research as well as most business functions. We are in too much of a hurry to produce our work, and the quality suffers. We don’t learn from our mistakes since we’re too busy and onto the next project.

In “One Upping the Competition,” Ken Sawka suggests that companies also focus on post-strategy early warning. In simple terms, it’s recognizing the patterns of what a competitor might be planning based on their actions in real-time, and changing your strategy and tactics based on these observations. Does your company recognize the pattern changes of your competitors and your marketplace? Or are you too impatient and insular to do this? Once you recognize pattern changes, is your leadership nimble enough to change your behavior in time?

If you want to stay in business for the long haul, you need to be observant about your marketplace, question your assumptions, and be willing to make changes based on what you learn in time!

Sales Intelligence from the Competitive Intelligence Expert Panel at SLA 2010

I had the pleasure of moderating the Competitive Intelligence Expert Panel at SLA’s (Special Libraries Association) annual conference in New Orleans. All 3 experts were GREAT! Claudia Clayton has a strong marketing, strategy, and sales background as well as financial services expertise. Jan Herring is one of CI’s pioneers with a strong military intelligence background which he successfully transferred into corporations as he started one of the first CI programs at Motorola in the 1980s. Arik Johnson is a visionary in this field, the consummate consultant, always reaching out for what’s next, and the instigator of Competitive Intelligence Ning with almost 1500 members.

We spent 1 ½ hours taking questions from our live and virtual audiences. In the spirit of cooperative intelligence, I will share the panel’s wisdom through my blogs.

There were two related questions around Price to Win (PTW) and the trade offs of conducting win loss analysis using internal people versus outsiders.

Claudia says there are restrictions once the RFP is out, so much of the monitoring and analysis needs to occur in between RFPs. That way when the RFP is issued, your company will have a good idea of how low the competitor has the capability to bid. Jan recommends PTW guru, Michael O’Guin.  Michael wrote a couple of PTW articles for SCIP’s Competitive Intelligence Review in 1996, and presents at APMP (American Proposal Management Professionals) conferences. APMP is the society to join for PTW. The essentials behind PTW are to learn the competitor’s cost structure and the customer’s decision-making criteria. Arik recommended another PTW guru, Jim Mathews currently Director, Competitive Intelligence & PTW at TASC.

Claudia shared 3 ways to conduct win loss analysis:

  1. Use internal sources with/without assistance from a third party in development
  2. Use a third party while revealing your company’s identity
  3. Use a third party without revealing your company’s identity

Claudia prefers the third option to learn more objectively what the buying manager was thinking when s/he awarded the contract. If you chose option 2, sometimes the buying manager will give the ‘party line’ due to their bias around who is asking for the interview. I like option 2 since it is biased: your customers are biased in their decision-making. A skilled interviewer gets past that bias so quickly. I like to include Sales in this process to identify the gaps between Sales and their customers as to the customer’s decision making criteria and values. Sales can share their customer’s personality and motivation so I get the maximum value out of each interview knowing the customer’s preferred communication style.

Some companies split their win loss interviews among internal sources and a third party. The benefit of using internal sources is they know your products, your company’s culture and can keep building a relationship with that customer. All panelists agreed NOT to have Sales conduct win loss interviews since you won’t get an honest representation of what really happened! Jan’s best practice for win loss analysis: your company conducts its own win interviews and a third party conducts loss interviews. I think a third party should do some win interviews to avoid being blindsided by internal expectations.

Most importantly, use the results and take action. It’s remarkable that only 20% of companies even do win loss analysis given its great insight into customers and competitors, and many of these companies do nothing with the findings and analysis!

Jan Herring’s Words of Wisdom for Info Pros

I spent most of this week in New Orleans at SLA’s annual conference. I really enjoyed it, and this blog hails competitive intelligence pioneer, Jan Herring. While his communication was geared to information professionals, competitive intelligence professionals take note!

Jan is so supportive of the competitive intelligence profession and I think is a true cooperative intelligence practitioner in that he is so giving. He was the CI division’s breakfast speaker, as well as a panel member on two consecutive panel discussions, Ask The Competitive Intelligence Experts and Competitive Intelligence Transitions for LIS Professionals. Jan is regarded as the father of modern competitive intelligence as he started Motorola’s first formal program, after a distinguished first career with the CIA.

Behind each successful CI process is a corporate library or at least librarian support, as timely, focused secondary research is a valuable component of CI. Bonnie Hohhof of SCIP fame, was the corporate librarian at Motorola that Jan selected to help form the CI team. Jan still quotes Peggy Carr’s 2003 book, “Super Searchers in Competitive Intelligence” as a good resource on how research and CI are tied together.

Jan reviewed the basics of competitive intelligence including the traditional intelligence cycle and the knowledge pyramid to build insightful, actionable intelligence. Intelligence is the right information, delivered and prepared for the people in the company who have the authority to make decisions. In this vein, Jan shared former Motorola CEO Bob Galvin’s parable. Bob had made a bad decision around a market entry. There was one employee who didn’t share some key information, and Bob wondered whose fault it was that the employee hadn’t shared this information. His or the employee’s? Jan asserted that it was the employee’s and honed in on connecting with the right employees around key decisions.

Another gem was, “Get your information and insight into the Heads of decision-makers, not just their Hands.”  A great quote he shared from Robert Steele, “Information costs money. Intelligence makes money.” Jan recommends is that the insight created by intelligence findings and conclusions be measured or valued through ROI. Jan wrote an article on this topic in the Mar/Apr 2007 Competitive Intelligence Magazine published by SCIP.

Jan suggests that you learn to think like your leadership and communicate with them in their words being careful not to insert competitive intelligence verbiage. Know how they are motivated since what makes the management team successful isn’t what makes Info Pros or CI professionals successful. Tim Kindler of Kodak ties his CI deliverables to corporate management’s calendar of needs and events. Respected CI professionals are humble as they set aside their egos and false assumptions, but not too humble so as not to persuasively communicate findings to management.

There are three areas where information pros and CI professionals can improve:

  1. Financial based reporting – work with the finance department to develop and monitor financial benchmarks against your major competitors
  2. Early warning – build innovative secondary source monitoring as a base for your primary researchers to verify findings through people to develop early warning alerts
  3. CI software – develop software applications to support the monitoring, collection, storage and dissemination of information. More refined software is developed all the time such as Link Analysis and Evidence Based Research. A supplier to consider which assesses almost all CI software providers is Eastport Analytics. You can find some individual CI software providers at SCIP’s website.

A final key finding that Jan and Paul Houston uncovered during their research of 20 companies: it’s most important for firms to have a savvy CI manager/director who produces what management wants/needs. You need to do CI on your own leadership to keep a pulse on their ever changing needs.

Use Rivalry to Spur Innovation & Competitive Intelligence Sharing

In a recent McKinsey Quarterly, Mark Little, head of General Electric’s Global Research Group described how GE uses rivalry to stimulate innovation. I think these practices help GE be the powerhouse in the many fields where it is a market leader. Rivalry can mean outright competition—a zero-sum contest in which two individuals or teams go head-to-head and one is declared the winner at the expense of the other. But in the case of GE, rivalry is linked to a second notion, called paragon which means comparison. The motivation behind collaboration often is rivalry as two or more teams compete to develop the best product.

Scientists are motivated a lot like anyone else in that they want to be the best: yes, they’re competitive! Due to my love of aviation, my favorite example cited was the GE90, the large, high-thrust engine developed in the 1990s for the Boeing 777, which was developed by two independent teams. While one team won the competition, the other was assigned to challenge and push the winning team. While this pushing process made the teams uncomfortable, it made the GE90 a better engine and helped advance product development.

In the competitive intelligence field, I think of wargaming as a similar exercise where members of each team collaborate and role play as if they were specific competitors, so there is a healthy rivalry among the teams. However, the goal overall in a war game is to help your company be more competitive. More specifically the goal might be to prepare for a competitor’s new product launch, so it isn’t just the competitors who are represented by a team. One team might represent the marketplace which might include customer’s reactions and regulatory hurdles, for example.

Another example where rivalry works is in sales intelligence, when you reward individual sales people for being the best competition detective. Winners might share information around a new competitor entering your company’s space; a significant change in a competitor’s management team; how a team achieved a win back against a key competitor; new innovation in the marketplace; or how to win sales in spite of regulatory constraints. This is fun since most sales people like publicity and you can lay it on thick through your company’s communication channels: sales rallies, sales teleconference calls, complimentary write ups in the company wiki/newsletter or intranet and a handwritten letter to the sales person’s boss and others like the VP of Sales! While your reward system will never compete with a sales person’s commission, this publicity can. This playful rivalry will only grow over time if you figure out different ways to let Sales compete and continue to publicize your thank-you to the best competition detectives.

The real learning is you can use healthy rivalry to stimulate various behaviors since most people are naturally competitive and want to be the best. You need to figure out how best to motivate individuals to reach your company’s goals whether it’s product innovation, competitive intelligence or sales intelligence, the examples cited here. Depending on an individual’s personality type, this healthy rivalry might be fun or it might make them squirm a bit.

In the spirit of cooperative intelligence, here is an article on sales intelligence for your reading pleasure.

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