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In recent years, many companies have spent heavily on inward-looking analytics. We measure every mouse click, we log every website visitor, and then we use this data to help create better campaigns and improve our messaging. No serious marketing team would dream of working without access to Big Data. 

Our internal focus has often come at the price of external analysis. To be blunt, for many of us there hasn’t been much energy spent on external analysis. That’s mostly because, quite frankly, it’s much harder to collect and analyze data about your market and rival companies. It’s a job that calls for tools and skill sets that most marketing teams simply don’t have. 

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If your company doesn’t have a dedicated Market and competitive intelligence (M/M/CI) team, this is something you are  likely approaching half-heartedly. And if you’re honest with yourself, it shows in your results.  When as many as 75% of M/CI projects don’t produce information of value, you should know you're not alone. 

M/CI failure is often a vicious cycle: a M/CI project is hastily launched because of a “surprise” external event, after a few months and thousands of dollars are invested in data subscriptions, tools or external advice, the results are inconclusive or unclear. The lack of clarity leads to questioning whether or not these activities are really necessary or worth their investment.  

As CMO, one of your most urgent tasks needs  to be breaking this cycle, and delivering the value of M/CI work. As the only department in the organizations that connects with your customers from the beginning of their evaluation, through their buying process, and continuing on as delighted customers, you have a view nobody else does. No one else in your organization gets to see your customers and competitors as deeply as you do. That's why today, this is your responsibility.

You’re no stranger to automating low value work. Your MarTech stack allows you to automate scheduling your social posts, and blogs. Your SEO tools provide you with data from which to make decisions on how to optimize your website to drive visits. The correct M/CI platform will have a similar effect. Automating the necessary, but low-value, task of collecting information can provide an astonishing return on investment, saving time, effort, and money. Knowledge360 users, for example, save an average of over $315,000

Gathering market and competitor intelligence is essential for survival. Trying to do marketing without M/CI is like driving at night with your lights off. When you reboot your M/CI process, you’ll illuminate the road ahead and gain clarity. 

5 steps to rebooting the market and competitive intelligence process

Investing in an automated M/CI platform is a good start, but there’s more to competitive intelligence than software. You have to look at where you are, figure out where you need to be, and then start moving in that direction. It may sound like a cleshay, rebooting is going to require you look at your Process, People and Technology.  

1. Evaluate current collection  processes

Many  marketing teams lack a structured information gathering process. Instead, you’ll find a patchwork of ad hoc actions that people have cobbled together. For instance, your team may have a set of Google Alerts set up to monitor specific keywords. At best, the results of these alerts might appear in a shared spreadsheet somewhere. At worst, everyone is monitoring their own alerts in separate inboxes. Begin by defining the way your company will systematically collect information about it’s external environment.  This is the first step in defining how your business organizes the flow of critical information, focusing on information used to make important strategic and operational decisions. 

When you’re reviewing  your  current collection processes, there are four particular issues to watch out for: 

  • Signal to noise: Your current collect processes may return a substantial amount of data, but is that data useful? For instance, say your team is monitoring Apple by searching for all instances of the word Apple on social media. How many results refer to  the technology company, and how many are the fruit? An effectiveM/CI process has a simple method for tagging and classifying data. This step won’t  add too much additional labor and will dramatically reduce the time needed to review your data. Some teams spend 50%-75% of their time on manual data collection alone, which limits the time available for analysis. . 
  • Redundancy: A unified process helps you to avoid duplication of labor. Without such a process in place, you may find overlap and redundancy, with multiple people running the same or similar reports. 
  • No trend analysis: Trend analysis allows you to deliver value to your business. For instance, you may run a sentiment analysis report on a rival based on today’s data, and that will tell you how popular they are. But that data is simply a single snapshot in time. Are they more or less popular now than last year? Your M/CI function will have a more meaningful impact if you are reviewing actions over time AND performing the analysis of these actions as they relate to your business.  Information silos: M/CI depends on the free flow of data across the organization. When data doesn’t flow, it’s often because there isn’t a process in place to facilitate it. Competitive information is rarely hoarded within a company. It is simply not tapped because those that have it don’t realize it’s impact on strategic decision making. For instance, Sales may have vital competitor data, but they don’t know the best way to share it with the marketing department's M/CI team. The most important thing your team can do is establish throughout your organization a network of personal connections. This network can either provide the information needed or aid in identifying where the information can be found. 

Start by mapping out these processes and where gaps exist in each.  This  will make it easier further down the line to calculate the potential ROI of an improved market and competitive intelligence process. 

2. Do an inventory of your current intelligence

Now it’s time to do a comprehensive review of your actual intelligence – the live data about your market and competitors. 

You can start by cataloging   all of the data sources available to you. It’s a good idea to start enlisting  other teams as early as possible and helping them to understand your vision. Try reaching out to other leaders and asking for help in securing a comprehensive M/CI data sources inventory for your company. 

Once you’ve gathered your information, what does the data tell you? A SWOT analysis is a good framework for approaching this task if it hasn’t been done recently. Go through each rival firm and analyze: 

  • Strengths: In which areas are they excelling? What’s so great about their value proposition? How do they build customer loyalty? 
  • Weaknesses: Have you got any data that points towards market vulnerability? Do people complain about their prices, or are there any brand issues? 
  • Opportunities: What kind of moves are your rivals making? Are they promising to do something that might give them a competitive advantage? 
  • Threats: Is there anything likely to pose a challenge to your competitors in the future? Threats can include things like regulatory changes, supplier issues, or losing high-ranking staff. 

Do your best to bring all available data together, but don’t feel tempted to add to it just yet. The purpose of this exercise is to gauge the effectiveness of your current process. 

3. Identify and verify the gaps

Now that you’ve assembled all available information into one place, you can start to see possible blind spots. For instance, you may not have any data about potential threats for one rival. Is that because they’re invulnerable? Or is it a gap in your current collect method?

If you want to reboot your M/CI process, now is the time to try it out. Build a more detailed SWOT analysis of one of your rivals, using alternative techniques like automated data collection. When you’ve done this, compare the results of the old and new processes and ask questions like: 

  • Has the new process uncovered data that the existing process missed? 
  • Did the new process require less or more effort? 
  • Does your new process require less time to make data available?  
  • Which process is easier to scale up?

You’ll now understand the size of the gap between where you are and where you want to be. 

4. Tell the story of why

When you try to change any process or technology, you can expect some pushback. If you try to launch an automated M/CI platform, everyone will have questions relevant to their own roles, like: 

  • Executive leadership – What kind of ROI will we see from this investment? 
  • CIO and tech leaders – How will we integrate new software into our current tech stack? Is there a cheaper option that requires less support? 
  • Marketing leaders – How will we build M/CI information into our daily decision-making process? 
  • Other department leaders – Is this going to help my team, or is marketing just adding to our workload for their benefit? 
  • Employees – Will this new technology make doing my work more or less difficult? 

As part of your answer to all these questions, you’ll need to talk about why. Why are you changing the M/CI process? Why can’t it wait? Why is it a priority? 

Start by talking about where you are now and the issues arising from a poor M/CI process. The intensive manual work, the duplicated labor, the lack of collaboration, and, of course, the risks associated with not being able to adequately track your market rivals. Then talk about the benefits of the new process. Paint a picture of life with next-gen, automated M/CI technology, where each department has access to the information they need to make decisions. 

M/CI requires cultural buy-in. You need everybody engaged and ready to start helping with competitor analysis. The best way of getting that buy-in? The same way you market anything–by telling people a compelling story. 

5. Focus on low-hanging fruit first

Your new competitive intelligence process might take some time to become standard practice. A platform like Knowledge360 is highly collaborative, when information is shared easily across your organization key decisions are made with greater confidence. A good way to prove the value immediately is to focus on imminent problems that you can fix right away. Some issues will be very familiar, such as: 

  • M/CI researchers spending hours collecting and tagging data: Automate as much of the M/CI process as possible. Any repetitive task is an immediate candidate for automation. 
  • Other departments keep tapping marketing for M/CI reports: Use a M/CI platform that allows other teams to create custom views and reports. 
  • Data isn’t getting shared between teams: Lean into an M/CI solution that has extensive collaboration tools and clarify the process for sharing information. 
  • M/CI reports are not in a clear, compelling format: Look at your visualization tools and see if they’re fit for purpose. Make sure everyone knows how to present M/CI information. 
  • Intelligence is not prompting decisive actions: Check that decision-makers are getting relevant reports. 

If the new M/CI process offers immediate value, it will take root and grow. In time, everyone will start to understand their role in competitive intelligence. You’ll end up in a place where not just marketing but all teams play an essential role in M/CI.

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