Jennifer Marrion, director of Competitive Intelligence (CI) at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), recently spoke with ArchIntel to discuss building a team within the company, common challenges faced in the division, as well as developing a culture within the workforce.
“In this field, we understand data must be collected ethically. You’re not going to go try to sneak around, steal information or secretly get information out of somebody in a conversation.”
ArchIntel: What are the most common challenges that you face from your clients within the competitive intelligence community?
“When we’re working on a bid, our internal teams really know the customer and understand the competitors as well. It can be very challenging when we present our internal customer with information that may be different than what they expected. They might not want to accept it.
Our role is to come in as an objective voice and give them our perspective, which may be different from what they think. We don’t want them to be blindsided, so we need to provide them with a thorough analysis and supporting justification. By providing them insights early, they will have the option to change their strategy and better position themselves as needed.”
ArchIntel: What skills do you think are essential for someone who wants to do CI?
“We look for people that have the ability to analyze qualitative data, not just quantitative data. The ability to analyze both qualitative and quantitative data and report that back out in a meaningful way is incredibly valuable.
Analysts need to look at the data, question it and try to understand how and why a competitor might take an approach. They should be able to provide the ‘so what’ or ‘what does this mean to me’ to our internal customers. This is key, especially communicating this out through visualizations and graphics to easily present the necessary information.
As far as education, a lot of schools now offer competitive intelligence degrees. While beneficial, I don’t think it’s necessary. Having a business or business strategy background would be a great start. The Academy of CI is fantastic and provides valuable training and certifications as well.
The people on my team have received CI training, though not prior to taking a CI role. I have team members with a price-to-win background, who are used to analyzing competitors and trying to assess their approaches. We also have some people from a market research background. They bring a familiarity with the government contracting industry, an understanding of what information and data is relevant and have that desire to learn more.
I look to build a team with people from different backgrounds because people see and think differently. For me, it’s been very beneficial. My team is made up of individuals who have strong marketing and market research backgrounds, as well as skill sets in analysis and visualizations. I also focus on personality. Critical thinking and an analytic mindset combined with a personality that will fit within the existing team is crucial. I am a big believer in teamwork and collaboration.
The combination of those people who know how to think strategically, think outside the box and work together is helpful because your team will have a variety of strengths and they will bring in different aspects to that team.”
ArchIntel: How do you build the culture of SAIC’s competitive intelligence workforce?
“My team spends their time working on tactical deliverables mixed with special projects to support the larger BD community. I try to be conscientious of workload to ensure no one person is overwhelmed at any given time.
I’ve been extremely lucky with my team. Everyone seems to really enjoy working with each other and wants to help each other out. I try to pair individuals together to work on a specific project, either so that they can get to know each other better or to combine insights to ensure well-rounded intelligence.”
ArchIntel: How do you train your team to understand when to stop looking for data and how does Porter’s Model play a part in that decision?
“As we work through projects or deliverables within my team, we communicate often because I don’t want them to waste time. There is so much information out there. You don’t want to get stuck in the weeds or continue spinning because the information is endless.
Porter’s model, his four-corners model, is something that I embrace because it’s a valuable framework that provides you guidelines for how to start looking at your competitors and the landscape.
Having this framework helps you think about aspects such as – how to better understand competitors, their motivations and how they may approach a bid or other strategic moves. As an example, does this bid align with the company’s goals? Is it within one of their key customers or capabilities? Are they growing or struggling to grow? Are they happy with their position or should you expect a change in their strategy to help them increase or gain a footprint?
My management approach when working on our deliverables is frequent communication. My team and I work very closely together. We try to have discussions as a group to get other people’s viewpoints so at least everyone is heard. Because a single interpretation is not necessarily the right one. Someone might have a different take on a competitor’s approach or strategy. We want to explore all ideas to ensure we are providing our customers with a thorough analysis.”
ArchIntel: How do you build relationships and trust within the competitive intelligence field?
“A lot of relationships and trust is built off of your confidence in what you’re showing them, and also being able to support what you’re telling them with data. You’re not going to know exactly what a competitor is going to do. You’re doing an analysis of what you believe they will do.
For example, if you’ve been looking at trends and have seen them do something multiple times with consistent success. By having that supporting documentation and backup, your customers are going to believe you and know that you were thorough in your research and analysis.
It will also be beneficial because you’ll know that you’ve considered all different aspects. It shows that you’ve put in the work, time and effort. That really builds that trust with our customers and within the team as well.
We aim to provide actionable intelligence. And by that, I mean providing enough insight for the team to say, ‘I need to change my strategy because of what we believe the competitor is going to do’ or ‘I’m on the right track to be successful.’”
ArchIntel: What are some of the unique challenges that you’ve faced concerning ethics?
“In this field, we understand data must be collected ethically. You’re not going to go try to sneak around, steal information or secretly get information out of somebody in a conversation. In my experience, people tend to act ethically, but challenges occasionally come up.
We have people that have worked for our competitors, are subcontractors or consultants. Sometimes people want to be helpful and share, but you have to make it clear that we don’t want them to share proprietary information.
We’ve always tried to make it clear that if people are unsure of their information, we connect them with someone in the legal department to see if it’s okay to share that. We make sure that we cultivate a relationship with our legal too. If we need to reach out to them, we can do that.
If you’re not sure, don’t share it until you can be sure. We take the approach of not trying to gather intelligence that could be considered unethical or proprietary information of someone else.”
ArchIntel: How do you measure success with competitive intelligence within the government contracting (GovCon) sector?
“If our insights have led to the development of a strategy or an approach, especially if it resulted in growth for the company, that is a really good measure of success.
I also view success in having repeat customers (and new customers through word of mouth). If they have found value in what we’ve done for them in the past and continue to want more and more, then we are successful in what we are providing.”
About Jennifer Marrion
Jennifer Marrion is the director of Competitive Intelligence at SAIC. Marrion joined SAIC through the Engility acquisition, where she served as the senior manager of the Strategic Analysis and Competitive Intelligence team. She has created and leads a strategically-focused CI team, developing processes for efficiency, tools, analyses and special projects.
Marrion has over 20 years of competitive intelligence/price-to-win and business management experience within the GovCon industry. She has a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University and a master’s degree in business administration from Strayer University.