Tom Jennrich, senior manager of Competitive Intelligence with Accenture Federal Services, recently spoke with ArchIntel regarding how to build and manage a competitive intelligence team, such as finding talent, maximizing bandwidth, and gauging performance. He also discussed the challenges and lessons he has learned throughout his career.
“To deliver actionable intelligence, you need both data and analysis. However, analysis is the most critical aspect. We have access to data and information, but we cannot access effective analysis. We have to take the time to turn data into actionable intelligence, and that requires a unique skillset. Without that portion, you don’t have the value that you want to bring to your requesters.”
ArchIntel: What are some of the larger lessons you’ve learned throughout your career in competitive intelligence?
“Competitive intelligence is inherently critical in so many areas across the company, and I’ve learned that there are a variety of different ways to leverage it. Clearly, leveraging competitive intelligence is vital in every bid pursuit, but I also see it as instrumental in merger and acquisition (M&A) analysis. It enables you to understand competitor acquisitions, as well as internally determine potential acquisition targets.
Additionally, competitive intelligence is key in market analysis to determine market share, trends, and account planning support. We provide competitive intelligence in those typical areas, but we also see it in the C-suite, where leaders are interested in revenue share, corporate structure, or key hires.
Competitive intelligence is also tapped into by the marketing department to analyze competitor’s branding or by the HR department to stay ahead of the intricate web of companies that are consolidating all the time, as well as to see where to search for certain talents and capabilities. The lesson I’ve learned is that competitive intelligence is very valuable across all divisions.
I’ve also learned that it’s crucial to stay flexible because change is a constant. Whether it’s on the competitor side where M&A activity may alter competitors go-to-market strategy, or on the client side, where a change in procurement activity may require us to change the way that we compete.”
ArchIntel: In the federal sector, how does the confidential data influence the way you conduct competitive intelligence?
“On the commercial side of Accenture, you have a clearer view of who you’re competing against without your feet on the street intelligence. On the federal side, we’re going to start with publicly available data to determine which competitors have client presence in that market, or that have the capability to potentially work a deal.
From there we work with teams that are on the ground with the client, or attending events, to gather feet-on-the-street intel. We then marry the publicly available data and their feet on the street information to create more of a holistic view of the competitor landscape that will show who the true competitors are; from there you can start to work.
Once we have a competitor that is a confirmed prime, then we tier our competitors into a variety of classifications. From there we’ll determine teaming, and then hold a Black Hat to analyze our Tier One threats. These are the companies that we really want to analyze, but sometimes actionable intelligence is hard to find.
You have to look for that needle in a haystack, especially, when we’re working in the intelligence community (IC). A lot of that intel is simply classified, so there the balance is much more focused on ‘feet on the street’ than it is on publicly available information.”
ArchIntel: What are the more common challenges you’ve faced in collection, analysis and competition?
“While it’s a good problem to have, the most common challenge is bandwidth. There are so many uses for CI within a company that, even after we’ve expanded our team, it’s still a challenge to keep up with the requesters’ needs.
We’re really fortunate as a CI team because there are so many ways we can help, but prioritization is the biggest challenge, followed by shorter time frames. Competitive intelligence takes time. You need to do research internally and externally, assign action items, leverage your resources, interpret massive amounts of data, and you need to dig to find potentially elusive insights.
Another challenge is to ensure that you’re effectively communicating in a digestible manner. There’s value in the research and skill on its own, so when you have all this information, you then have to interpret why it matters and how it will increase win probability. Our audience varies from client site consumers to C-suite decision makers, so being able to tailor that information is crucial.”
ArchIntel: How do you measure success and progress in competitive intelligence?
“Winning a deal is key because it helps the company’s bottom line, but we don’t only do bid specific support, so we can measure success in a few different ways. Number one would be for bid specific support, and I would measure success by directly increasing our win probability.
When we create a competitive intelligence baseline and hold a black hat sessions, our aim is to help the team get better. We do that with actionable recommendations that are created in the competitive intelligence session, then implemented within a CI campaign. We can witness our win strategy change over time and our win probability increases due to our intelligence.
Secondly, I look at repeat buyers. I get requests from new people all the time that have heard from word of mouth, but we primarily have repeat business. Our CI team is consistently busy and we get a lot of good feedback. When we are consistently busy, I take that as a sign that we’re delivering something valuable.”
ArchIntel: How do you implement competitive intelligence within your company and for you customers?
“I was brought in to build the competitive intelligence function for AFS, and quickly found that leadership and users recognize the value of CI from the top, down. After I was hired, I walked through every office door that I could and asked them what they thought competitive intelligence meant, what they thought they were getting now, and what they wanted to see as an end goal.
Their answers varied wildly, but I designed a variable system that was delivered to the masses, but assured buy-in across the company. I created a 50/50 model that tied half our work directly to dollars (bid-specific work) and half of our deliverables to competitor landscape and market intelligence (account planning, C Suite support, etc).
I created a broad net of support, where people are able to see buy in value. This allows us the flexibility to deliver to a wide swath of requesters while also ensuring we directly impact the bottom line. We’ve seen a lot of success through this model.”
ArchIntel: How do you find talent in the competitive intelligence sector?
“I was allowed to invest internally as well as hire. When I first came in, there were a lot of outside sources being used. We were essentially outsourcing our competitive intelligence needs. I wanted to invest in hiring and building internally because that is a very successful model. We’ve been able to assemble an industry leading offering that aims to be a center of excellence level example within competitive intelligence.
The way we’ve been able to do that is by hiring key individuals, and continue ongoing training. The essential skills we look for when we’re hiring for CI really starts with a curious attitude. You need someone that wants to find the answer, someone who is creative, flexible and driven to determine how to best solve a problem.
It’s almost like being an investigator. You need to have that passion to search out answers. Then you have to take that information available and analyze it to determine the truth. You have to answer: ‘what does this really mean for the company? Why should we implement the action items identified,’ then communicate your findings clearly to increase the win probability.
In terms of creating a purpose built team, you need to find targeted, smart individuals that bring different aspects to your team. I’ve hired a team of all stars and it makes my job a lot easier. In my role, I’m playing a quarterback and coach. To be able to have different teammates with different skill sets or capabilities is ideal.
We align our CI support cross-portfolio and cross-capability so that we have people that specialize in certain areas like civil or defense accounts, but also in cyber or cloud. Then, each individual has time to branch out as well, so our bandwidth stays even and our skills are built as a unit. At the end of the day, it really comes down to the quality deliverable that each team member can create.”