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I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing one of the most respected and experienced minds in CI and was able to pick her brain about the greatest challenges that face competitive intelligence leaders and teams today. 

Read below to learn more about what she had to say, and how she has overcome some of these challenges in her career.

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About Alysse

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Alysse has been building and leading competitive intelligence teams for 15 years, holding CI leadership positions at McAfee, Intel, and Lockheed Martin. Most recently, she is building the Competitive Intelligence function at Tanium. 

She is an accomplished speaker, leveraging her years of experience building CI programs, researching competitive landscapes, forecasting competitor software releases, influencing product direction and company strategy, and developing competitive positioning for sales and marketing teams. 

What are the greatest challenges facing CI teams today?

Alysse has found that the biggest challenge which surfaces across different organizations is almost always that most companies have the information they need, it just lives within siloes within the organization.

In general, the CI function has become one that is easily abused by other departments within the organization. Departments or specific individuals will submit request after request for information, but never contribute important data back to the CI team. Additionally, these requests were often repetitive and ultimately provided little value to the organization.

Because employees across the organization are such a treasure trove of information, Alysse has worked to create a different relationship with departments company-wide. Her hard-and-fast rule is: you can’t consume information from the CI team unless you contribute.

This simple change has helped her to create partnerships with other departments, rather than having her team be seen as “servants” or “errand boys.” Now CI is seen as a community effort and is part of everyone’s role. She’s led a culture change that has taken her competitive intelligence team from “request fielders” to “essential” for strategic direction.


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Why are competitive resources scarce?

One of the most interesting things I originally took from Alysse’s session at the Council of Competitive Intelligence Fellows 2020 Summit was how scarce competitive resources really are, so I made sure to ask about it in our interview.

Particularly in the Tech space, the competitive landscape is always changing. There are mergers and acquisitions, there is competition for VC dollars. And there are only so many buyers that can pick between a vast array of competitive organizations. 

Investment dollars and customers are both resources that are scarce, and in order to get the share of them that you need, staying one step ahead of the changing landscape is vitally important. As such, competitive intelligence is no longer a “nice to have” but an “absolutely must have” if you are to compete.

Additionally, there are so many companies entering the space on a regular basis, it becomes an added struggle trying to track every single one of them. In most cases, you have to make some decisions and try to focus on a set of competitors you deem as “important.” 

However, using the right CI tools and software can help ensure that you are at least alerted to major changes that happen outside of your set of “important” competitors.

How do you solve issues with organizational silos?

Alysse, being an absolute boss, has found ways to break down organizational silos to make her CI teams successful to a degree that I’ve never before seen. So I wanted to find out exactly how she was able to pull it off.

Alysse found that the biggest issue with competitive intelligence groups on the whole was they failed to leverage the resources of the entire organization, and take advantage of the network of knowledge sitting right at their fingertips. So she changed it.

She works closely with the leadership of other departments like marketing, sales, product marketing, and even HR to create a true culture around CI information sharing. She refers to her approach as “deputizing” individuals within the organization as a part of the CI team.

Her rules of engagement:

  • Collect everything you can within reason
  • Feed the information to the CI team
  • Understand rules around ethics (and what you should do if you run into an ethical dilemma)

So how do you do it?

Start with the departments you already have the best relationship with, or the ones that send the most requests in to the CI team. Alysse began her quest with the product marketing and management department herself.

Create collaboration with these departments first, get some initial wins, and then move to the departments that are a bit more removed from you. Alysse actually cites HR as one of the best providers of CI to her team as they were able to provide intel on who had the best hiring packages, who was poaching our employees, and who was hiring in a particular region.

Another great byproduct of this collaboration was the ability to improve the analysis the competitive intelligence team was able to produce. For instance, Alysse’s team was able to collaborate with the Finance department to help interpret earnings reports released by competitors and glean real intelligence out of them.


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Where is the ideal place for a CI team within an organization?

This particular question is absolutely one of the most common that Alysse has been asked, and she has a very simple answer: it doesn’t matter.

She firmly believes that where CI lives within the organization should have almost no bearing on the success of the team. What really matters is how direct leadership allows the CI team to operate.

Having been through 13 different bosses within the same organization, Alysse has really honed her “managing up” strategy. She always approaches new leaders the same way: “I need to be able to talk to everyone in the organization, and I can’t go through you to do it.” 

She works with leaders to ensure she has autonomy and the leadership chain won’t create a bottleneck for her team to get things done. She makes clear from the beginning that bureaucracy will be a deal breaker, and proves it with results when her team can work the way they want.

Another common misconception is that competitive intelligence needs to report into the C-Suite. Alysse’s take on this particular opinion is that it is usually driven by ego or arrogance. If you can’t be impactful as a CI team multiple levels below the C-Suite, you won’t be any more successful when you are placed right underneath them, and you’ll be subject to more scrutiny and have to spend a heck of a lot more time in meetings (and who wants that?).

What are the most common things CI practitioners usually get wrong?

While it isn’t always fun to shine a light on our mistakes, it is the easiest way for us to improve and grow. So what does Alysse see as the biggest things our industry gets wrong?

1. Ego

This one is pretty simple and ties right back to her answer about where the CI team should sit within the organization. One of the biggest mistakes is having an ego of any kind.

A common approach from CI leaders is to try and grab up as much budget and resources as they can get their hands on. Unfortunately, this sets you up for future failure more than you’ll know. It places you squarely on the chopping block anytime budget cuts are a question. You will constantly be fighting to keep your budget.

You need to be crafty. If you can’t provide an impact with a small budget and prove your worth, you won’t be any more successful with a large budget. Focus on providing value rather than amassing resources.

2. Failure to “work the chain”

Another challenge for most competitive intelligence leaders is working the chain of leadership appropriately. You need to make sure you approach your leadership, as detailed in the section above, about where CI should fit within the organization.

In addition, be weary of aligning yourself with a single leader or department. Make sure you diversify to reduce risk. Create relationships with leaders across multiple departments. Leaders will come and go (very frequently), so having your only champion leave can be a career killer. Make sure you have more than one.

3. Fear of the ROI conversation

Unpopular opinion: if you are being asked to prove your ROI as a CI team, you have already lost.

Let me unpack that a little more. Alysse believes that showing ROI is valuable, but you need to be highly proactive about it. If you are doing great work and providing valuable insights, nobody is going to ask you for ROI.

Some ideas for ways you can measure your own ROI as a team include:

  • Monitor the usage of your CI portal and see how many people are logging in regularly
  • Track the number of suggestions provided by the CI team that are actually implemented
  • Tie CI inputs to changes in your win/loss ratio

Ultimately Alysse’s take is the biggest ROI you can provide is never being asked to provide an ROI.

How important are CI tools?

In a word: vital.

In almost no situation should your CI team operate without tools to make you more efficient and effective. 

In Alysse’s opinion, the most valuable tools will help you automate data collection and organization. While being up to date on the most current news and changes in the industry is a key part of a CI practitioner’s role, the act of searching every source and combing for the needles in the haystack is low value work.

Automate the low value work. Get your data coming into your system in real-time and be able to turn around requests faster by focusing your team on the analysis process instead of the data collection process.

Final Thoughts

The most important takeaway I had from my conversation with Alysse: take ownership. Alysse is the epitome of a #bosslady and she owns the success of her CI team like nobody else I’ve ever seen. 

She fights for what she needs to make her team successful and doesn’t let bureaucracy or anything else stand in her way. Her steadfast focus on providing her value to every part of the company has made not only her, but the CI function as a whole a vital (and non-negotiable) part of the organization.

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