Beth Goode, director of Competitive Intelligence and Price-To-Win with SOS International (SOSi), recently spoke with ArchIntel regarding how to find talent and construct a Competitive Intelligence team within a company, as well as how to gather and synthesize data to provide actionable insights to decision makers and stakeholders. Goode also touched on emerging technologies and tools she has used to organize data and conduct analysis.
“The Competitive Intelligence field requires a tremendous amount of trust –in the data you collect, the analysis you provide, and the reputation you’ve built. C-suite level executives & other stakeholders do not need to be overwhelmed with a surplus of industry data points.
What they really need is a clear, detailed picture of the competitive landscape that is honest and transparent. Every assessment and recommendation I provide puts my reputation on the line. It is a lot of pressure, but at the end of the day a strong Competitive Intelligence group is a balance of art and science, responsible for helping to inform the company’s strategy and drive decision making.”
ArchIntel: What are some of the essential characteristics of a Competitive Intelligence workforce?
“Intellectual curiosity is essential; I can’t emphasize that enough. A person that’s going to be effective within Competitive Intelligence has to constantly question and seek information. If they see something new, their first instinct should be to go research and gain a baseline understanding of the topic.
The second skill that is absolutely key is understanding how to do analysis. People tend to be great researchers because we grew up in the Google age. We all know how to hop online and type in a search engine, but it requires critical thinking to overcome assumptions, read between the lines, and collect a variety of rich data points to draw valid conclusions.
To establish ground truth, you must validate the points you’ve collected. To zero in on the truth, I think of it like GPS, using multiple facts to triangulate my position. Once I have multiple points validating that my data is correct and usable, I begin to look at it from a higher vantage point to extract the trends that inform my findings and recommendations.
This definitely takes quite a bit of practice and a developed understanding how to break things down, put them back together, and cut through the noise to find the information you need.
The third skill set is having the ability to communicate. If you are successful in the first two skills, but don’t know how to communicate your analysis to your stakeholders, then your work can go unnoticed.
Within competitive analysis, you’re trying to provide leaders and stakeholders with information so they can make more informed decisions. If I’m unable to communicate the ‘what and why’ from the data that I’m finding, it’s not valuable.”
ArchIntel: What challenges do you face within Competitive Intelligence?
“One of the biggest challenges I face is the sheer amount of data, the fluidity of information and working within a dynamic environment, especially with condensed timelines on a variety of projects across multiple markets and customer sets. In every business, there is a pressure to move quickly. It’s important to work with leaders across the organization to set appropriate expectations. My function is to help inform decisions.
This is not possible if leadership makes decisions on the fly, based on data that has not been validated. I find it incredibly important to build trust with leadership. There’s a significant divide between an educated guess, and an educated decision. My job is to make sure we’re making educated decisions.
With SOSi, I’m tracking specific opportunities that we’ve defined as “must win”, meaning they’re strategic and key to our corporate growth. I also track our strategic growth markets, and emerging technologies relevant to our portfolio. SOSi’s goal is to be one of the top 10 government contractors in the field, so we’re aggressively pursuing a multitude of opportunities to expand our footprint.
As you get closer to an RFP release date and proposal submission, there is so much information to capture, validate, analyze, and communicate. That can absolutely be a huge challenge, and it takes a lot of experience to translate that data into value for our leadership team in an efficient and quick timeframe.
One of the final major challenges is determining the most important information we need to make decisions. The objective of Competitive Intelligence is to arm the key stakeholders with actionable intelligence to empower them to make smarter choices. If you don’t understand the pieces of information that are going to be the most important and most impactful to those decisions, you’re not going to be providing anything useful.
In a lot of cases, leadership will have a specific information request, but I’ll have another view or set of information that I think is also imperative. At that point I need to be able to satisfy both their actual request, as well as present the additional information I’ve supplemented with based on my judgement and experience. We all come at each opportunity with different experiences and perspectives. I’m a data nerd, so I strive to get all the possible data points we need, then distill it down so the leadership team has a concise and complete view informing their decisions.
ArchIntel: How do you conduct an actionable Competitive Intelligence report with so much data available?
“It’s definitely a challenge. When I start a new Competitive Intelligence project, I work with the key stakeholders who will be the consumers of the report – what is the purpose and what is the objective for this information? The “report”, usually a PowerPoint briefing, is then structured to include information relevant to the purpose and objective.
Like most CI/PTW departments, I have basic templates I use for information that’s generally common across all briefings as a starting point. But then, it’s customized by adding or deleting information to ensure I include anything relevant, without including information that’s only going to be distracting. Each slide has a purpose and a “why”, and those all support the conclusion based on the original objective.
The report is valuable because the information has been tailored into an easy to consume, concise, format, removing all the distraction and noise. I also believe strongly in the power of a good visual or graphic to convey a message. I use a lot of graphics because I think most people generally respond well to “seeing” the data versus having to read a lot of bullets and that approach makes it easy to clearly articulate the main message.
For example, bullet points talking about revenue challenge your audience to hear the commentary, and paint a picture in their own heads on what is happening with the numbers. However, a bar chart displaying the revenue of a company year over year clearly demonstrates growth or reduction, clearly articulating the point of how a company has performed on that metric.
For collecting data, I personally use One Note and other basic Office applications (Excel, PowerPoint), from a very tactical perspective. I have tones of One Notes in one spot, so I can see it very clearly. I can create a tab for a specific company and then add more information like news articles, pictures, and any other tidbits.
It enables me to see it in one single viewpoint, from where it came from, when I got it and what they said, which helps me with the validation and allows me to communicate it correctly. I can use Excel to collect any numerical data points, such as contract values and spend. Finally, I use PowerPoint to summarize everything for leadership since that’s the most standard form for briefing in our industry.
ArchIntel: What are some of the challenges in implementing a Competitive Intelligence unit within a company?
“SOSi’s CEO Julian Setian has really put significant effort into hiring excellent talent to build out our mission, which is part of why our Chief Growth Officer Kevin Henderson felt that a Competitive Intelligence and Price-To-Win department was really important to support that growth.
One of the immediate challenges was building this unit from the ground up. It was a tremendous opportunity to put my skills to the test. I needed to understand the SOSi process, figure out how CI/PTW fit in, as well as build the actual tools I needed to execute. I spent time observing our Business Development team, working active captures and proposals, to really understand the process.
I then worked very closely with our Vice President of Capture and Proposals to integrate CI/PTW activities and deliverables into the SOSi Business Development lifecycle. During this time, I also drew on my professional experiences to tailor a CI/PTW process that would support SOSi’s growth strategy. From a tactical standpoint, I also created the PowerPoint and Excel templates needed to do my day to day job of actual CI/PTW projects.
Next, I had to execute an outreach campaign, educating the organization about my function and how we could effectively collaborate. Our business development team is absolutely fantastic, and they bring so much experience, but everyone’s experience with CI/PTW is very different. I worked to gather input and feedback, to ensure I could provide the most impactful and effective deliverables across the organization.
In addition to establishing a process and working cross-functionally to share our Competitive Intelligence and Price To Win capabilities, we also recognize the importance of creating an effective dissemination and feedback loop. This means specifically collecting, analyzing, and applying lessons learned to the next opportunity.
We continue to inform our decisions with real-world data we’re getting from our Business Development network, customer debriefs, contract awards, and competitive insights. By continuously including this information, we continue to refine our understanding and predictability of different behaviors within our market.
That has been a challenge, but now as an organization, I think we have a much deeper appreciation for what Competitive Intelligence can and should do.
You also have to know your own organization. SOSi has invested a lot in acquisition and we have a vibrant, entrepreneurial spirit. We’re looking into new markets and trying to make strategic partnerships, which gives us access to a variety of different vehicles, as well as a lot of growth opportunities.
With that, there’s also a lot of research that goes into some of those decisions. We have to prioritize which decisions are most impactful to the organization, which can be challenging. Our executive leadership is very invested in the importance of Competitive Intelligence and price to win. I could do everything else, but if I didn’t have their support and buy in, this function would never be successful.
You really have to work from the top on down to build trust and earn additional investments in the division. A company has to have that willingness to learn and understand that it is a new practice. Without that, you would not be able to grow as quickly and easily.”
ArchIntel: How does emerging technology play a part in Competitive Intelligence?
“Everybody wants an easy button. However, I haven’t found an artificial intelligence (AI) tool that I believe could replace human analysis. There are tons of CI tools specific to government contracting out there, where they will do web scraping for you, pull spending data, provide different visuals and build customized dashboards.
However, I know where to find everything that I’m looking for. I personally haven’t found a major tool that I feel is groundbreaking for me. When you’re doing analysis, one of your biggest challenges is making sure that you validate your sources, and with a lot of the AI sources that I’ve seen, I don’t necessarily agree with the algorithms that are making the assumptions.
For example, I’ve tested tools with incredible data visualization features like teaming partnerships, but there is little explanation about where that data came from. If I don’t know where the data came from, you can’t use it. If I don’t agree with the method behind it, it isn’t usable for me either. I haven’t found the perfect source there. Instead, I’ve done a lot more analysis on my own.
My plan has been to leverage our internal technologies that we’re using across the organization to work for my purpose, versus going out and buying something that I just don’t see as effective.”
ArchIntel: How do you measure success within Competitive Intelligence?
“First and foremost, success has been defined by demonstrating that my Competitive Intelligence has informed senior leadership with the information they need to make smarter decisions. If I have been able to contribute to and influence business decisions, whether it’s winning a contract, deciding to not build something or determining that we need a different teaming partner, I consider a huge success.
Other ways that I’ve measured success is whether the information is useful to me or not. I don’t think that it’s a fair metric to use win rate as a metric for success because there are a lot of times that your Competitive Intelligence will inform your final decision, but you still won’t win.
It’s more useful to watch the impact of how Competitive Intelligence is changing the way that we make decisions, such as watching and understanding that our leadership team is more able to look at data and use it to help them make those decisions. It’s more of an education process, which is really fulfilling to see your efforts integrated into company methodologies.
When we are successful, we’re able to leverage it to make those smarter strategic decisions. That’s so important for a company of our size: to consistently understand what our competitors are doing and what’s happening in the marketplace.
Competitive Intelligence is not just researching your main competitors. There’s so much more. I defined the successes as being able to really identify what we need to know and then providing that to my leadership.”