4 Minute Read

One of the greatest barriers to successful competitive intelligence (CI) efforts in organizations of all sizes is the existence of silos. Silos are the enemy of many modern businesses, and not just in regards to CI. 

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First, a definition. When discussing silos, we’re referring to individual functions, departments, or teams within an organization that are relatively insulated from other departments. These departments operate independently, communicate infrequently, and are seen as opaque black boxes by others. 

Many organizations are further handicapped by system silos, where information that’s readily available in one area of the organization is not accessible to other departments. Silos have many negative effects on organizations, which have been explored in great depth in various books, journal articles, and blogs

In our experience, organizations have 75 - 80% of the information they need to start benefiting from competitive intelligence already resident within the organization. The issue is that this information is scattered all across the organization, living in email inboxes, internal chat forums like slack, shared team drives, or individual employees' heads. For many, the major issue is tying these insights together. Combined, all these individual pieces of knowledge are far more powerful than the sum of their parts, but the lack of a system and culture that supports information sharing holds many organizations back. 

If this sounds like your organization, Cipher is here to help. In this article, we’ll explain the importance of breaking down CI silos, and explore strategies to get organizational buy-in and drive real change. 

So let’s start breaking down those barriers!


The Importance of Breaking Down CI Silos

Many departments within organizations are guilty of information hoarding. Teams and individuals, particularly those in the sales function, perceive their value to the organization to be quantified in terms of their relationships and the knowledge they possess. Because of this, they can often be resistant to efforts to share knowledge. 

However, salespeople (or anyone, really) don’t stick around forever: they might transfer to another team, move to another organization, or retire. Without sufficient knowledge sharing, when they go, all their information and relationships walk out the door with them. 

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When stakeholders across an organization share insights, it’s far easier to spot patterns and trends that individuals cannot realize alone. By centralizing all information in one shared platform, it’s much easier to spot changes to competitor pricing, the release of a new offering, or a change in a competitor's messaging. 

Organizations—especially those that enjoy sustained competitive advantages like proprietary technology or patent protections—often become complacent. But it’s inevitable that the competition will catch up at some point: everyone knows Blockbuster wasn’t worried about Netflix until it was too late. 

Organizations must pioneer new business models, keep their finger on the pulse of the market, and maintain a comprehensive knowledge of competitor activity in order to be successful in the long-term.

It’s imperative that organizations constantly innovate to stay ahead of the competition, and not just in a product sense. Organizations must pioneer new business models, keep their finger on the pulse of the market, and maintain a comprehensive knowledge of competitor activity in order to be successful in the long-term. These kinds of activities are only possible with comprehensive market and competitive intelligence practices. To execute those, it’s critical that organizations break down internal silos. 

Getting Organizational Buy In for Breaking Down Silos

Driving buy-in across the organization to a united competitive intelligence effort is no mean feat; for many organizations, this represents a major culture shift. At Cipher, we’ve seen this process play out time and time again with our clients, and there are a couple of proven strategies we recommend to overcome barriers to adoption. 

The first is to pursue quick wins that immediately demonstrate the value of CI to the organization. Most of the time, this effort is centered in the sales organization and focuses on producing actionable insights that have a tangible impact in helping salespeople win their next opportunity. The sooner the sales function realizes that embracing CI and information sharing can help them sell more effectively, the quicker they will buy-in.

The second strategy is more difficult and is often a challenging subject to discuss. Not everyone will embrace the new culture of information sharing. But, for this cultural change to be successful, everyone has to buy into the new strategy. It may be necessary for those resistant to this change to transition to a new role or organization where they can thrive. This is a painful conversation for many companies. Often, the people who should transition to a new role can be experienced, productive employees, so it’s worth noting there’s a fine line for organizations to walk.

Driving Change: Who Is Responsible?

Like any major organizational change, clear, consistent messaging from the leadership team is critical. Organizations must identify key stakeholders across the organization who will be responsible for driving this change, and empower them with the necessary tools to shift the mentality in their teams. 

Key stakeholders have to lead by example and embrace this new intelligence culture in a very visible way.

Key stakeholders have to incorporate CI insights into presentations, ask employees questions about them, and recognize and reward collaboration to highlight that this new way of doing business is here to stay.

It’s often the case that employees at lower levels of the organization will be cognizant of the fact that the organization has issues with siloization. Chances are they’ll be pleased to see a coordinated effort from leadership to reduce these barriers and bring about meaningful change. Introduce the CI culture with coordinated training and hiring programs that explain new practices, the rationale behind them, and educate employees on how to use the platforms that power CI. 

Taking The First Step

With any journey like this, the first step is often the hardest to take. In large organizations, changing culture is an intimidating task, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Begin with a clear plan, and take care to consider these three steps right at the outset of your journey:


  1. Build a stakeholder map. Identify the key players in different functions who will need to be bought into building a CI culture. Consider their motivations, potential objections, and start to formulate a plan about how to best engage with them.

  2. Determine where CI can deliver value the fastest. The best way to encourage people to buy into a CI culture is to quickly demonstrate value by identifying low-hanging fruit where CI can deliver quick, tangible wins. Our advice? Look to the sales organization first. 

  3. Identify a technology platform to act as the cornerstone of your CI function. Advanced knowledge and data sharing at an organizational level is made possible by sophisticated M/CI platforms like Knowledge360. Start exploring the best tool for your organization.

With these first steps in mind, you’ll be well placed to start breaking down CI silos in your organization and building toward a future where your organization is more competitive. If you’re in need of further guidance, don’t hesitate to contact our competitive intelligence consultants - with years of pioneering CI changes in a variety of industries, there’s no problem they can’t help you solve. 

To learn more about competitive intelligence software, schedule a demo with our team today.

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