Boost Competitive Intelligence Effectiveness through Databases

Last month I blogged about “5 Tactics to Research Your Marketplace using Competitive Intelligence Skills” originally published by Adam Sutton of MarketingSherpa.  As promised, I am focusing on each tactic. This week’s is #4.
Tactic #4 Build an information database
I look at building two databases: one as a repository of data that you gather on the competitive environment either through daily monitoring or analytical reports which can include material that is externally generated such competitor data, industry reports, relevant articles, regulatory trends, technology trends, distribution channel news, financial reports and relevant economic news as well as internal reports such as competitor profiles, win loss analysis, trade show analysis, product plans, strategic plans, technical assessments, wargame results, scenario planning results…all the material that you need at your finger tips for those quick turnaround projects as well as to detect patterns in the marketplace that make you pause, stand back and say “ah ha, something is up” or “something doesn’t look right”.
When selecting a software solution, you need to keep in mind the technology your company is already using, and piggyback off something that already exists, such as salesforce.com to get the scoop from Sales. Perhaps PR uses software for delivery of the news, which you can extend off of. Perhaps your industry relations folks get financial reports from Thomson, which you can build from. Get a grasp of what’s already out there and build rapport with your IT people since you will need to work closely with them for installation, depending on the size and complexity of your software solution. There are competitive intelligence software providers you might consider: I have a partial list here.
There are a few things I look for when building an information database for competitive intelligence other that installation and cost!
1. How easy is it to browse and find what you’re looking for?
2. How easy is it to update the system and refresh the data? How much time and expense do you need to factor in for updating? Many people underestimate both, so the system becomes outdated quickly and loses credibility with users for obvious reasons.
3. Is there a process to delete data when it becomes outdated?
4. How will the system maintained?
5. What are your security considerations around a software system?
6. Who will you allow to make changes to the system?
7. How will you control the integrity of the data?
8. How will you encourage people to make contributions?
A contact database is the second type of database and is crucial for competitive intelligence personnel and anyone who does research. This database contains contacts both internal and external to your company who are great sources of information about your industry, the marketplace, the competition… Mine is organized by skill set, and how and where I met each person. Perhaps your company’s directory lets you do this: you still need to connect with external contacts continuously to keep from being blindsided.
Quick access to people and information greatly speeds up your research timeline! I also keep track of my projects through my contact database, and specific topics my clients have queried about. That way when I find cool stuff, I can quickly sort those people who are interested in this topic, and communicate with them directly. Clients appreciate this since I don’t send them irrelevant stuff, but rather build on what they’ve asked for in the past. This promotes cooperative intelligence since it’s cooperative communication. I like to use ACT! http://www.act.com/ for my contact database although there are plenty of options: just pick one and learn how to use it!
Social media has opened up ways to connect and be found. I also use Twitter’s Tweetdeck to sort comments by the category where they’re an expert, which I perceive as another form of connection. LinkedIn groups are another great source of connections by subject matter expertise. You can use LinkedIn’s advanced search option.

Use Trade Shows as Fact-Finding Missions

Recently, I blogged about “5 Tactics to Research Your Marketplace using Competitive Intelligence Skills” originally published by Adam Sutton of MarketingSherpa. As promised, I am focusing on each tactic. This week’s is #3.

Trade shows are a Mecca for competitive intelligence. Nowhere are there more people who want to share their knowledge and insight with you: industry experts, prospects, competitors, other industry participants such as suppliers and distributors and journalists. This is cooperative intelligence at its finest since everyone is marketing to you whether at formal presentations, exhibitor booths or even informal places like the conference bar or hotel café.

Here are some tippers to help you be more productive at the trade show:

Beforehand: Do your homework and prepare a game plan that includes both formal and informal intelligence gathering opportunities. Study the exhibitor floor plan and all the presentations to decide how best to use your time. Write out the questions you will ask to the various audiences to help you be more articulate.  Keep your action plan rough as you’ll need to be flexible to jump on opportunities as they arise. For example, you might find out about a cocktail party that you didn’t even know existed until you arrived at the conference! You don’t want to miss it since alcohol consumption makes loose lips. Just make sure they aren’t yours and drink very little or none. I learned that lesson in the late 1990s when I was invited to a cocktail party and had to return to the scene the next day. I was lucky that the show was on for that third day. The competitor’s employees were quite attentive as their exhibit area was almost empty except for me. I don’t recommend what I did there, although I made good connections and got great information!

At the Conference: Be observant. Most people think about gathering competitive intelligence from competitors’ exhibit areas and formal presentations. However, I have found the best intelligence is gathered at informal settings such as the conference coffee shops, the conference hotel cafe, the elevator, cocktail parties, the bus ride to the airport, even during the airplane ride–by simply listening.

It’s a great time to practice your elicitation skills. I spend my time sorting out how I will approach each competitor or press personality prior to the show and often have to revise my approach mid-stream since I meet so many people for the first time, cold. If you read body communication you can figure out who is most approachable and how they might be motivated. Who is leaning forward as they talk to the booth visitors? Who is the technical person you see fiddling with cable and the computer at the booth? They probably have technical knowledge and are willing to share.

Be creative: If the booth staff doesn’t seem friendly, just wait, in time they’re likely to be relieved. Perhaps you can ask another booth visitor if you can tag along with them. Be smart about who you pick: I accompanied one of the competitor’s key clients, so the account rep answered all my questions and remarks to impress the client. The client had a number of additional questions that I would never have thought of since my product knowledge in that industry was not as deep as his!

After the Conference: Start writing up your findings during the conference and see if your home office has more questions based on what you’ve uncovered. You can pull more information out of a conference especially if you have a few people’s input, even if you’re attending by yourself.

I have even ducked into the ladies room to write out some technical details after a booth visit before I forget. I review my findings every night and often wake up with better questions. I don’t write up anything in the airplane ride home since there might be other attendees around and I don’t want to arouse any suspicion. Also they might start talking about the conference among themselves. Share your findings ASAP with co-workers upon returning to the office!

Note #1: Your competitors and other industry experts are collecting information about your company at trade shows too. How do you qualify who you will share what, and how much to share? Your booth personnel are a target, as are your company’s presenters. Have you thought about how you will answer difficult questions in public? Have you trained your employees not to have private conversations in public places like the elevator, the restroom, airplane or restaurants?

Note #2: Here is an article with more detail on cooperatively collecting at trade shows.

Connect Cooperatively to Internal & External Experts

Recently, I blogged about “5 Tactics to Research Your Marketplace using Competitive Intelligence Skills” originally published by Adam Sutton of MarketingSherpa. As promised, I am focusing on each tactic. This week’s is #2.

Tactic#2 Talk to internal and external experts

If you work for a company versus consulting, your co-workers can be such valuable sources for scoop on the competition and trends in your marketplace. Sales is one of the best places to start since this is part of their job, to win business over the competition. Many folks have trouble getting sales to cooperate, but that’s usually because they don’t understand Sales’ point of view, and expect Sales to cooperate without giving them useful information in return.

A good way to think about who to connect with internally is: who is dealing with my competitors, customers, the investor community, suppliers, distributors, regulators or attends trade shows? This list of internal connections is longer than you would think and includes: investor relations, product managers, product developers, market research, and trade show personnel.

Externally, you need to consider who tracks the marketplace you compete in, in all its aspects: technology, innovation, the environment, economic conditions, politics/lobbyists, regulatory, social issues and the competition. When you’re new, you find these people gradually. I found that product managers, investor relations and market researchers often subscribe to publications and connect with many of the same external people I want to meet. Our incentive for knowing them is different, but why not be cooperative and share your external people sources, and buy fewer copies of the same report.

You can also find these experts using social networks such as LinkedIn groups or #Twitter groups such as #prodmgmt for product management or product development. You can find experts through the Question & Answer sections of LinkedIn. Sometimes someone else has already posed your question on LinkedIn, so no one can track your interest in that topic or competitor. You need to be wary of this since the Q&A on LinkedIn forms a permanent record. The same this is true of your Twitter Tweets.

Use a cooperative connection approach with internal and external experts regardless of how you reach them. I noticed when email came into vogue in the mid-1990s, people tended to be quite rude sometimes. They would email messages that they would never have delivered face to face. I notice that people using social networks can often be quite rude, and just push stuff at me without any regard for my actual interest in the topic. Next thing I know I’m on someone’s newsletter list, and they’re a recruiter or a business coach looking to expand their business. I’m not a good prospect.

Here is a little test to think about before you issue communication: Put yourself into the receiving end of your communication, and think how you would feel.  If you still email, pare down the list to those who care. If you do social media, share other people’s blogs, news, and comment on other’s Tweets, blogs etc. Social media is meant to be shared, but for many it is one-way, SELLING!

Be sure to thank your experts and send them information you come across that they might find helpful. This two way communication and connection is invaluable to your knowledge pool, whether co-workers, folks you deal with regularly outside your company or your social media contacts.

5 Tactics to Research Your Marketplace using Competitive Intelligence Skills

Recently I was interviewed by Adam Sutton of MarketingSherpa, and in the spirit of cooperative intelligence I am sharing some highlights. For the full article you need to subscribe to MarketingSherpa. Check out MarketingSherpa’s free trial. It is chock full of marketing information, studies, white papers and current articles like this one. I will summarize each of the five tactics, and then blog on each of them individually this month.

Tactic #1 Conduct win loss analysis
Interview new customers and prospects you lost to the competition. Your goal is to uncover the motivations behind their decisions and to learn whatever great information they impart to help improve product development, tweak your existing products or service, change your marketing message, learn how your competitors are successfully unseating you and so much more.

I recommend you conduct these interviews in cooperation with your sales force, rather than behind their back. Building trust with Sales is the biggest reason to include them as part of the win loss analysis process. Sales can save you so much time by telling you how the people you’re going to interview are motivated to share. Wow, that reason alone is enough to work with Sales.

Tactic#2 Talk to internal and external experts
Use a cooperative approach when connecting with internal and external experts. People inside your company tend to know a lot about your industry and can connect you with external contacts who might be helpful. Be sure to thank your experts and send them information you come across that they might find helpful. This two way communication and connection is invaluable to your knowledge pool.

Tactic #3 Use trade shows as fact-finding missions
Trades shows are the biggest Meccas for competitive intelligence. No where are there more people who want to share their knowledge and insight with you: industry experts, prospects, competitors and journalists.

Do your homework: Prepare a game plan before the conference. Study the exhibitor floor plan and all the presentations and decide how best to use your time and write out the questions you will ask to the various audiences.  Keep the plan rough as you’ll need to be flexible since you’ll need to jump on opportunities as they arise, which you can’t predict.

Be observant. Most people think about gathering competitive intelligence from competitor’s exhibit areas and formal presentations, but sometimes the best intelligence is gathered at informal settings such as the conference coffee shops, the conference hotel cafe, the elevator, cocktail parties, the bus ride to the airport, even in the airplane.

Tactic #4 Build an information database
Build a database for all the information you have on the competition and the marketplace that can easily be browsed and that is easily kept up-to-date. Also build a database of contacts both internal and external to your company who are great sources of information about your industry, the marketplace, the competition…and make this sortable as well! This quick access to contacts and information greatly speeds up your research timeline!

Tactic #5 Remain ethical and avoid deception
Make sure anyone you use to collect information is operating under the same ethical standards as held by your company. Check out SCIP’s website for its code of ethics.

Remember I will provide more detail about each of these 5 tactics in future blogs.

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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