Dorothy Koch, head of Business Research and Competitive Intelligence with Sagacity Operations Solutions, recently spoke with ArchIntel regarding how competitive intelligence and analysis has driven the commercial sector.
She discussed how to build out new solutions, gather information and measure success within the market. Additionally, she addressed how companies can build competitive intelligence units and hire the right talent for the division.
“Early in my career, I realized that we needed to keep tabs on how the industry was changing, what players were coming in and how they were disrupting the scene to make sure we didn’t become irrelevant or weren’t missing out on opportunities that were going to help us become a better player in the field.
What I have found is that with competitive intelligence, you can work with stakeholders in your company to drive strategic decisions and value drivers, not only to be more competitive in your market, but to hone your suite of products and your offerings. Competitive intelligence also enables you to engage with your customer and promote your product.”
ArchIntel: How do you measure success within competitive intelligence?
“It’s really difficult to measure the correlation between success and competitive intelligence because success in CI is the way the insights that the intelligence provided shape the strategy. Then, how that strategy proves positive or results.
One of the things that people struggle to understand with that method of measurement is you’re not going to gather your data, write a report and see results in two weeks. This is a long value driver and a long road.
In a world where we want to see a quick turn around, we want to see key performance indicators (KPIs). If we conducted research that took two months to promote and implement a new program, you won’t see results of that program implementation for months, maybe even a year to come.
If you’re going to measure success, you do need to have a long term view. If you do want to do it in a short term view, you would have to look at the way that the research and the insights you provide affect decisions by various stakeholders on different teams.
You have to look at how your report begins to shape their strategy and how a strategy is formulated by your research, which is hard to measure because there’s not a KPI to measure how strategy was formulated.”
ArchIntel: How does competitive intelligence help you form partnerships?
“For example, let’s pretend that you want to create the best basket-weaving program in Tennessee. You have to find out if there is a basket-weaving market in Tennessee.
First, if there isn’t, you have to go find out where the best market is and then you need to find out who else is offering basket weaving programs, how are they marketing and how you can differentiate your program.
From there, you determine: who wants the baskets? Who wants to hire the basket weavers? Then you have to market, saying ‘we have the best basket weaving program and want to hire basket weavers.’
You have to determine what you want in your curriculum to make the best basket weaver and incorporate that in the curriculum.
You create a partnership with the community that will help you train the workforce to meet the employers needs and bridge the skills gaps. You can also ensure that the curriculum is relevant to the changing industry knowledge that can become antiquated in a traditional curriculum.
Construction is also driven by partnerships. One general contractor doesn’t do the plumbing, the HVAC, the wiring or pour the concrete. They partner with people who do all that.
If you can figure out how to sell yourself and how to show that you have the experience to work with these partners, when that design partner gets a job, they call you instead of the other general contractor because you have created that partnership and you have proven your value.
By using competitive intelligence, you’re able to show how you perform better than your competitors.”
ArchIntel: How do you build an effective competitive intelligence team within the commercial sector?
“The first thing that you need to do is hire well. You need to hire the most curious, most flexible people you can find, who are willing to do anything. If you hire a data analyst who does not want to read journal articles, you’re not going to have a team that really goes down the rabbit hole.
You need someone who will use databases, read articles, make phone calls and ask questions because you never really know what data is going to lead you to the right insight. Budget is important. Researchers can only do so much with Google and the telephone.
A lot of web data is behind a paywall. A lot of that information really is important to lead into that insight of what your competitor’s doing and get an idea of their strategy, so having a budget to make sure that you give resources to your researchers is really important and it will change the quality of the insights that you get.”
ArchIntel: What are some of the challenges you face in collecting competitive intelligence?
“In the beginning, I found that getting the buy-in from leadership can be difficult. You have to explain to them that this doesn’t look like traditional brand market research; you can’t run a study and get immediate results. The results can be fuzzy because it’s more qualitative and you don’t have KPIs around it.
Secondly, conducting valuable research takes time. You can’t just Google who’s the leading company in X industry and then learn about the industry and where it’s headed. You need to dive deep to learn and understand the information before the pattern starts to emerge.
If you can get people to see that competitive intelligence is a strategic process to streamline how to gain market share, or offer a better product, they’ll begin to see the value. That’s also a really hard buy in when our world is so KPI and data-driven.
This isn’t a direct process that results in a monetary win. It leads to the monetary win, but it’s more on the back end. I think it’s really hard for people to see where that fits in the realm of a business structure.”
ArchIntel: How do you begin to integrate a competitive intelligence unit with a business?
“For me, competitive intelligence builds itself out organically over time. It wasn’t until it became a competitive intelligence program that we’ve recognized it as such. For a while, nobody really knew what to call it.
For a CI program, you have to say, if I want to know this, I need to partner with the data analytics team, or the product team. Eventually, we put our unit together to build out the environment and holistically understand what’s happening. That’s how we came up with a CI role.
From there I started developing our vision, how we would implement the processes, how to document those processes and how to make sure everyone else was on board with those processes and really to get people involved.
We have a data-driven process that doesn’t always align with your gut, so we have to get people to drop that gut feeling and be able to substantiate their gut feelings with information, which is part of implementing that process.
Our unit emerged naturally as a need for a single source of truth and then was built out with standardized processes around it.”
ArchIntel: Have you found that analysis is the stronger aspect of competitive intelligence or vice versa?
“It’s the chicken or the egg, right? You can’t do one without the other. If you hire the right person, collection is easy. What is difficult is connecting and triangulating the information so it fits in the environment. If you are ignoring an entire part of an industry, then you’re not making that connection.
If you don’t have the data, you can’t make that connection. If you do have the data, but you’re not skilled in making those connections and creating those insights, then it’s not really going to do you any good.
Finding someone who is really good about connecting the dots, seeing the big picture and understanding how each piece fits into the picture is the critical component of making CI actionable and successful.”
ArchIntel: What skills are essential for someone in competitive intelligence?
“For a career in competitive intelligence, you don’t need to be specifically educated in a certain topic. You need to be skilled in differentiating fact from fiction, and fiction from opinion. You also need to identify valid sources.
I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve had someone come to me and say, ‘I saw this information, it’ll be great for promoting our product or helping us tweak our strategy. But if they found that information on Wikipedia, that’s not going to get us where we need to go.
You need a good bit of curiosity, but you also need to be able to distinguish fact from fiction and the internet is full of fake news. So you have to have that astute ability.”
ArchIntel: What are some of the larger lessons you had to learn as you got your experience in competitive intelligence?
“First, you need to keep an open mind and be creative. Data doesn’t just come from a database, it comes from job postings, opinion articles and more. You have to be really creative about what you can research that might drive insights. You have to write everything down and create a library of the sources.
If you come across a source that was helpful for a project, you have to document that information, what you used it for and what it says, because six months down the road, it could be relevant to another task.
It’s also important to document your process from the start, and you can always modify that process. If you’re going to replicate it, you need to write down exactly what you did and then cite it. If you do not cite things, you cannot find it again. Information is constantly changing, updated, amended, modified and deleted.
If you don’t have that citation of when you got that data, it’s hard to go back and say, well, it was here on this date, but they pulled it. And that’s also telling, really interesting information. Why did they pull it? What’s changed?”
On October 22nd, ArchIntel Events will host the ArchIntel – AI in Competitive Intelligence Forum as its first virtual event featuring August Jackson, senior director of Marketing and Competitive Intelligence for Deltek, as the keynote speaker.