Your team (or just you) has been struggling to meet the competitive intelligence needs of your organization. Early on, members of your team were tasked with information-gathering activities and you analyzed the information gathered. For a while, this worked. But recently, your organization’s market and competitive intelligence (M/CI) needs have changed. For example, in addition to supporting traditional business functions (strategy, sales, product, research) you’re also receiving requests from your organization’s internal incubator, and this week, you received a request from the organization’s venture capital team.
It’s clear something needs to change.
While you are successfully delivering market and competitive intelligence for the organization, on a long-term basis it will have detrimental effects on your team and, more broadly, on the company overall. Morale has suffered in the marketing department due to the inordinate amount of time staff are spending on mundane information-gathering activities that are vital but time-intensive.
One way to break this spiraling "CI cycle of Death" is by leveraging technology, specifically Artificial Intelligence in the form of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML). These technologies offer the promise of correcting an untenable workload where too much attention has been diverted from the more high-value analysis of the data gathered, not to mention from other necessary marketing activities.
You have been given the responsibility of assessing the intelligence needs of your organization and identifying a solution. It’s important to understand why a competitive intelligence software tool may be the right next step for your company.
Traditional competitive intelligence tactics are no longer as effective as they were a few years ago. The advancement of technology has demanded the parallel development of competitive intelligence practices.
If companies want to compete, they can no longer rely on traditional methods. Cisco predicts that the world will reach 2.3 zettabytes of annual Internet traffic by 2020 (one zettabyte is equal to about the information found in 250 billion DVDs).
Today’s intelligence-gathering requires sifting through an almost unfathomable amount of information to glean actionable insights. The amount of work required to do this is simply too much for many companies to handle manually, as it takes focus away from higher-value tasks, ultimately decreasing work quality and productivity.
Tech is breaking down barriers to entry and changing the way companies compete. Technology-fueled startups are delivering market shifting disruptions and changing consumer behavior efficiently and quickly. These companies -- think Uber or Netflix -- have an inherent advantage over established companies with a more traditional outlook, making it difficult for them to compete. Further disruption is caused by the fact that many of these start-up tech companies will later be bought out by larger organizations, creating yet more competition.
Competitive intelligence is no longer a matter of tracking the activities of your three or four primary competitors. By one report, companies today have an average of 25 competitors. And with the rapidly changing marketplace of today’s global world, in most industries new competitors are bound to pop up regularly, as others are driven out or merge.
With so many competitors in the game, and the rapidly changing playing field, you must actively participate in data-gathering and analysis if you want to avoid being blindsided.
A competitive intelligence software tool may well be the ideal solution to help you accomplish your intelligence goals, but no tool will be without its drawbacks. No one product will be the perfect fit for any organization. That means that when your practice does make the transition to add a software tool, you will face some challenges.
These problems almost always have solutions.
Here are six common issues we hear about when companies implement a market and competitive intelligence software tool like Knowledge360®:
You thought you could customize the software yourself. You confidently begin the onboarding process, but as you work through it, you have the dawning realization that you’re in over your head and you need help. Now you’re faced with hiring a software company or freelancer to make the customizations you are looking for and neither of these expenses are a part of your budget.
No, the sales rep didn’t mislead you, nor did you misunderstand the information you were presented. The fact is, many things on the surface seem less complicated than they actually are. So, if a particular customization is important to your ability to gather the market research you need, make sure you have a clear understanding before purchasing the tool of what needs to happen, and who is going to do what.
It is imperative that you ask questions, plan in advance, and budget for any additional assistance you will need. Being thorough now will save you a lot of stress and time later. Do not count on it just “working itself out”. Things rarely do.
The tool may be advertised as being off the shelf, but keep in mind that the software’s main function is to gather, filter, and distribute data. The intelligence you deliver is still going to require some level of analysis from your team. So… it’s not really off the shelf.
Well, yes and no...
The right competitive intelligence tool should provide some valuable information with little or no setup. It may not be somewhat generic and you probably won’t have many/any options to customize it, but it will provide value. However, receiving out of the box (OOTB) insights or intelligence from a new software tool is not a realistic expectation.
You might think, “But in the demo…” Don’t even go there. Demos are about as realistic as a reality TV show. When the representative showed you how to find a particular data set, it came up immediately, right? That’s because it was scripted, and the script ran perfectly. Do you think Chip and Joanna Gaines remodel a house in 30 minutes? Of course not. There are hours of behind-the-scenes work going on. The same was true for your demo. This doesn’t mean that you were mislead nor does it mean you won’t achieve that level of perfection; you can. You just need to remember that it is going to require time and iteration.
Remember to look at the long-term gains and understand that the payoff will come -- and make sure your superiors understand that as well.
If you’re considering a M/CI software tool as a replacement for the Google alerts you have set and for the third party reports you purchase: stop right now.
M/CI software is not a replacement for either of these things. It’s true that some tools include notifications and alerts and some provide access to data sets that require subscriptions, but that’s not where their real value is found.
Do you really care which terms you used previously or why you’re not getting the same query results with your new M/CI software tool? (By the way, it’s because you’re using a different system! No two systems are the same.)
Keep your focus on the final outcome: the insights you’re capable of delivering, not the individual search terms or particular search results used to identify the information you gather and analyze with your new tool.
Beginnings are full of optimism; everyone is on their best behavior in a new relationship. The excitement of “something new” can be blinding… and then, suddenly, the honeymoon is over and work needs to get done differently than it was before. It feels unfamiliar and uncomfortable and less efficient. You're tempted to go back to the way things were; at least you knew what you were getting.
Remember all the time spent during your selection process, the demos and evaluations you did before making your selection. Have confidence in your decision-making process, just like in a marriage, this too takes work.
Stay committed to your decision, and remember the solution you had was quickly becoming a failing practice. A change was necessary, dedicating this time and energy will provide a sustainable long-term market and competitive intelligence solution.
Until now, I’ve talked about the problems inherent to the tool. To be fair, the problem isn’t always the tool. Sometimes the problem is the user.
When you were evaluating software, you said you wanted more than a vendor. You may have even used the p-word. You knew you needed to invest time in onboarding to a new tool, learning how to implement it, making the best use of its functions… but then one thing came up, and then another, and suddenly you aren’t able to dedicate adequate time to the implementation process. The investment of time you had initially planned is no longer feasible.
It’s time to ‘fess up. Stop blaming the tool and pick up the phone. You asked for a partner, right? Well, a partner will help you figure out how to be successful with their tool.
Most of the companies we work with are large, multi-billion dollar corporations, implementing enterprise marketing and competitive intelligence solutions. The one thing that is consistent, across the board, with these types of companies is change. The change may be a new department head or a new CMO. Maybe it’s a game-changing merger in the industry.
Any major change has the potential to instigate trickle-down change, all the way to your competitive intelligence initiatives.
The change may be the available resources on your team, or a shift in the types of intelligence needed. Changes like these have the potential to fundamentally alter your M/CI strategy. If they happen while you were evaluating software, you may find yourself needing to go back and reevaluate your decision criteria or include different teams in your initiative. If this happened after you implemented a software tool, it’s time to talk to your partner about your new mission.
No software tool will have exactly everything you want. Market and competitive intelligence work is by nature complicated. Your company has its own unique needs, and no two companies require all the same features.
Our advice? Find a partner who listens to you. And one whom you trust and are willing to listen to.
When evaluating tools, begin with a clear understanding of what your future success will look like. From the outset, ask where problems typically exist, and what can be done to avoid them. Collecting the market and competitive intelligence your organization needs will always require change, and finding a tool and a partner you trust is a good place to begin investing your time and energy.
Todd Smith is an accomplished enterprise sales professional with more than 20 years of experience. He specializes in helping enterprise teams evaluate and implement solutions that make their jobs easier. In his role as Enterprise Account Executive at Cipher, Todd is responsible for developing new sales of Knowledge360® by supporting potential buyers through every stage of their buyer’s journey. Prior to joining Cipher, Todd worked in various sales and leadership roles providing solutions to state and local government agencies. Todd holds a BS in Business Management from UMUC.