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As industries become increasingly competitive and companies experience unprecedented levels of disruption, the role of Competitive Intelligence (CI) has never been more important. An effective approach to conducting CI demands a balanced skill set that pairs hard data and analysis skills with the ability to drive strategy and build relationships across an organization. 

It used to be the case that CI was seen as a career destination. People were recruited into the CI function and would spend years there, gradually becoming more senior within the department, but never rising to the C-Suite level. 

CI professionals have always been great at what they do and have played an important role in defining organizational strategy. But in many organizations, it’s rare for CI professionals to be placed into a fast-track career trajectory that propels them toward a top leadership role.

In our modern era of fast-paced disruption and intense market competition, the skills of the modern CI professional mean the CI function is an ideal training ground for the leaders of tomorrow. Across every industry, leaders face the same issue in identifying and nurturing top tier talent that will eventually take their place at the helm of the organization.

The leaders of the future could well be working studiously away in your organization’s CI function right now, reliably producing high-level insights that drives meaningful strategic decisions. The skills honed here are effective well beyond the realm of CI, applying to marketing, sales, product development, corporate strategy, and more. 

Let’s dive in and explore why your next CEO should come from the CI department. 

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The Changing Role of Competitive Intelligence

The field of CI today is dramatically different than it was ten or fifteen years ago. CI is no longer a bookish function that focuses on taxonomies and tactical insights. Today, CI functions apply best in-class technology to rapidly assess markets, infer insights from raw data, and produce meaningful competitive intelligence that drives a firm forward.

The amount––and complexity––of data available to CI functions continues to multiply, and this trend shows no signs of slowing anytime soon. CI today is a technology-driven field, and it’s clear that to succeed, the leaders of tomorrow will have to be comfortable leveraging big data to uncover definitive insights.

The traditional view of CI as a function defined by librarian-style approach focused on efficiently managing taxonomies is becoming increasingly outdated. Organizations that hold on to this view will fall behind. To be successful, it’s important for organizations to prioritize the role of CI, actively nurture their future leaders, and expose the executives of tomorrow to the critical work being conducted in the CI function.

CI Skills Are Leadership Skills

The CI function is no longer characterized by monthly reports read by a few leaders. Rather, it is a continuous, always-on function that delivers cutting edge insights to sales teams, product managers, and other decision makers right as they need them. 

The skills needed to do this shouldn’t be overlooked. From the technical skills to source, process, and analyze data, to the softer skills required to build a CI culture and drive organizational support, the modern CI professional brings a well-rounded skill set to any leadership role. 

Cycling future leaders through the CI function offers an invaluable learning experience and a major development opportunity. The CI function offers leaders a unique, 360° view of an organization’s operating environment. 

CI professionals enjoy a true view of the entire market the organization competes in, and possess in-depth knowledge on the core competencies, known behaviors, and future plans of major competitors. They understand the customer experience on a deep, empathetic level, and know the steps that need to be taken to drive meaningful improvements to customer journeys. They’re keenly aware of the regulatory environment and know how to navigate complex regulations and contextualize information.

In addition to the skills honed from this level of exposure to the organization’s external environment, CI professionals also build a keen understanding of the internal architecture of the organization. They work across organizational silos, building relationships in different business units and functions. They understand how to contextualize competitive intelligence and craft and share a powerful narrative that brings key stakeholders on board. 

All told, the skills developed in the CI world translate to the C-Suite. Many of the analytical skills that drive effective CI can be taught, but the intangible skills learned, and the experiences gained, are invaluable in shaping the leaders of the future.

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The Complete Guide to Market and Competitive Intelligence

Read the Guide: The Complete Guide to Market and Competitive Intelligence

A New Approach to Developing Leaders

The new paradigm of CI has driven a huge change in the profile of the personnel required to lead the function. To be successful in this new environment, CI leaders require organizational and strategy skills just as much as they need analytical and technical skills.

Employees who excel in the CI function are tailor-made to be fast-tracked into important leadership roles throughout the firm and, eventually, into the C-Suite. The CI function exposes future leaders to the entire market landscape, the approaches taken by key competitors, and the customer experiences that define success. At the same time, CI leaders are building a network of relationships across the organization, partnering closely with key functions like sales, marketing, and corporate strategy, and honing the wide range of strategic and operational skills required of a CEO. 

Nurturing the leaders of tomorrow requires an updated, nuanced approach that shows a true understanding of the competitive environment firms operate in today. Executives should prioritize cycling promising talent through their CI functions, ensuring that the leaders of the future spend time developing the skills needed to make well-informed strategic decisions with high levels of confidence. 

To learn more about the future of CI, read our new report, The Future of M/CI in 2021 (coming soon!).

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