Brian Greenberg, head of Marketing Competitive Intelligence with Aruba Networks, subsidiary of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), and member of HPE’s Competitive Intelligence Council, recently spoke with ArchIntel regarding how to develop trust with stakeholders and decision makers, how to remove data bias and build an effective team. He also discussed success within competitive intelligence and lessons and challenges faced in the field.
“We’re in unprecedented times. The requests we have today are unlike any in the past. We’re searching for different types of data. We’re looking at things from a vertical standpoint, we’re looking at things from different angles than we ever have just in the past nine months. That’s going to require us to evolve as an organization, and data integrity is going to be more important now than ever.”
ArchIntel: What are some of the larger lessons you’ve learned throughout your career in competitive intelligence?
“There are four larger lessons I’ve learned in the competitive intelligence field. The first is to understand the ‘why’ of what you’re doing. In order to conduct useful competitive intelligence you have to understand the value of your report and how it can be leveraged.
Marketing campaign intelligence teams tend to be fairly lean, so you have to stay on point and be strategic about your competitive intelligence activities. You also have to be able to show what your value is immediately, so we can produce immense amounts of information.
You can produce immense amounts of analysis, but if we don’t understand the end goal, there will not be value in those reports. The second point is you can’t automate everything, even though we’re in the age of technology.
I’ve learned that nothing can replace a strong analyst that has strong Rolodex connections, who can communicate clearly and who understands how to leverage data and someone that really can become a subject matter expert in industry. They don’t have to be a subject matter expert, but they have to have the ability to become one.
The third thing is you have to check your biases. We all have them, whether we came from a competitor or we’ve been at the same company for 10 plus years. Biases become embedded in us and we need to challenge ourselves on what we think we know.
We have to create uncomfortable conversations and questions. We also have to be open to new ideas and thoughts. I often find that there’s a lot of pushback on that. We have to look at the marketing competitive landscape through different lenses, which help keep us honest.
Finally, as a company, we have to respond to a trend or competitors mood. If we have to respond, we’re a bit behind. We need to be at the forefront of trends. That’s our responsibility. We help put the company in a situation where we’re positioning ourselves versus responding to our competitors.”
ArchIntel: How will technology help make better decisions within competitive markets?
“I receive three to five emails a week on new AI based platforms that will help us automate things and improve our competitive and marketing intelligence processes. Nine times out of ten, I find them to be overpriced and lack the value that we need to meet our intended goals.
You have to understand the ‘why’ of what you’re doing. There is a ton of data out there. You have to know what’s good data and what’s bad data. Data integrity is such an issue now, not just in our space, but across the world. We have to be picky with our tools. There are plenty of great business intelligence platforms out there.
There’s a lot of AI washing available, whether or not it’s true AI or not. There are strong machine learning opportunities out there as well, but it also comes down to the fact that you can’t automate everything at the end of the day. I need a really strong analyst who understands how to use data.
Analysts understand what’s useful to us and what’s not. We can very strategically pinpoint our goals. We can go out and focus on the right data sets. Then, if we need to leverage the tool, we will, but we’re not going to rely on the tool or automate everything.
You have to trust the analyst on the team. If you can hire a good analyst, it will drastically improve your competitive intelligence reports. That’s really important.”
ArchIntel: What skills do you look for when hiring a competitive intelligence analyst?
“When I’m hiring a new analyst, I look for a specific set of skills. The first is the ability to tell a story. They have to be able to put a narrative together. You can have the best data in the world, but if you can’t spin that into something that is meaningful, it’s useless.
These analysts will go back to the data and apply strong quantitative skills. They have to be comfortable with the numbers, data sets and tools. They will leverage new tools and to derive meaning. Deriving meaning and being able to communicate it with presentations and writing is key to our end goal.
Analysts not only have to challenge themselves on their methodology, but they also bring in other perspectives that may have contradictory points of view in terms of what the data means. By making sure that we challenge ourselves and challenge each other, it will help you understand contradictory data sets.
You have to find multiple sources to see how they compare, then conduct analysis with that data. Analysts dive deep with the animals to reproduce that data, which is key to success.”
ArchIntel: How do you train analysts to be successful in this environment?
“If you come with the foundational skills, we can train them to meet our specific qualities. We’re a large organization, one of the largest technology companies in the world. Our Learning and Development (L&D) support system is very extensive. We were very fortunate in that we can train on the technology very quickly.
However, if you don’t have those foundational skills, it can become challenging. Those foundational skills are really important. The ability to build a Rolodex and ability to communicate is essential in this field.
Once we can find someone with those skill sets, the sky’s the limit. They can be very successful and be very good competitive intelligence analysts. It’s also important to have a team that is really well rounded. We try to mix our team with people that have experience with people who have a fresh set of eyes.
That being said, the easier route is obviously to bring someone with experience. If I can recruit someone from our largest competitor, that would make the process easier. While they’re going to provide value, they will also come with some significant biases.
If I can get someone with fresh eyes, who has those really strong foundational skills, they will bring something different to the table. We’ve had a lot of success with younger employees. They are hungry to learn something new. When you bring those people in, they’ll challenge you. That’s really important and has made a difference for us.”
ArchIntel: How do you check biases in a world of data?
“The higher up on the executive suite, the harder it becomes. They have a narrative in their head and when something contradicts that narrative, it’s very difficult for them to change their perspective. They have metrics and goals that they have to hit. When the data doesn’t align with that, it can become very difficult.
Bias checks truly come down to education. If we don’t understand the data, or clearly articulate what it means, it’s not going to go well. We have to be the experts in the data. We have to have alternative forms of the data to confirm our analysis.
We also encourage our analysts to each other. We foster collaboration and teamwork. They tend to look at a lot of market for cash, market share data and sales data. We make sure that we have multiple data sets coming in from different vendors, and create different teams to challenge each other.”
ArchIntel: How do you develop an effective competitive intelligence team?
“Our organization’s vision is that everyone owns a piece of competitive intelligence. While we have a dedicated team, competitive intelligence is owned by everyone. We have our competitive intelligence team, but we also have multiple competitive intelligence councils throughout the organization. HP has a broader competitive intelligence council, where we unite each business unit.
Within Aruba Networks, I run a council that is represented by product management, product marketing, solutions marketing, partner channel and executive staff to ensure that competitive intelligence councils are on the same page. We meet regularly to merge our perspectives, which is very important to our success. That’s our opportunity to have them as an audience.
The council is almost like a consulting company within Aruba, consisting of our stakeholders and our partners. The competitive intelligence Council meetings are an opportunity for us to discuss our positions and understand their ambiguous requests. We challenge our stakeholders and they challenge us. It creates a two way street for competitive intelligence sharing.”
ArchIntel: How do you build a culture within competitive intelligence?
“If we can build trust within the organization, it becomes a lot easier. You have to be willing to listen and not only challenge your stakeholders and internal customers, but to let them challenge you. If we can build that trust with the organization, they are less likely to try to do the analysis on their own.
Challenge them on what they want, why they want it and how they’re going to use it. Then if we produce something, be very clear about what it is, how you use it and how you can derive value from it.
We get to learn about our internal stakeholders, what they need, and what they’re working on; then we can be very proactive in terms of what we produce. They’re very comfortable coming to us with a lot of ambiguous requests, which makes us successful.”
ArchIntel: How do you measure success within competitive intelligence?
“First is a physical sound revenue profitability and growth market. I view our as an internal consulting operation. At the end of the day, it comes down to the support our stakeholders to achieve the goals that we were asked to do.
If we challenge them, and they challenge us, we’ve built trust. That’s how we measure success. I’d say eight to 10 years we developed a formula that we conduct every fiscal year to ensure that we’re hitting all of our metric marks. It’s really what we focus on is ensuring that you know we are supporting our internal stakeholders, because we’re an internal consulting team.”