Dameka Thompson Williams, director of Market Research and Competitive Intelligence at Wolf Den Associates, recently spoke with ArchIntel regarding lessons learned, common challenges and talent within the field. She also discussed how to conduct research, develop a competitive intelligence report and how to gauge the success of your analysis and team.
“For most of my career, I have been focused on quantitative analytics. I’ve conducted primary data collection, created data collection tools as well as methodologies for collecting data and information. I have then converted that data and information into usable insights that support decision making.”
ArchIntel: What are some of the most valuable lessons you learned throughout your career in competitive intelligence?
“The best way to go about competitive intelligence, based on past experience, is keeping an open mind. I usually start with an agenda to ensure that my team is on the same page about what kind of information and data we should look for and why. Everyone has a unique opinion because people go into research with some preconceived notions based on their own experiences.
It’s very important to set a level playing field and let everyone know that we really need your ideas and your voice. The last thing you want is an intern sitting in the back of the room, who has a great idea, but they don’t feel empowered to speak up in a room full of CEOs and senior execs.
Once we get all that input, we put that to the side our preconceived notions don’t influence our insights. While that anecdotal information is definitely helpful, we want to make sure we have supporting information and that we are developing evidence-based solutions.
That’s probably the most important, but it’s also important that competitive insights in any kind of market should be integrated across the company. While you may not have those skills or experience in that particular discipline, everyone can have a competitive intelligence mindset.
In all of your interactions, readings, meetings and phone calls, it’s important to listen for anything that may give our company or clients a competitive advantage.”
ArchIntel: Do you face any challenges with preconceived notions, or do you collect data to drive insights?
“We try to do it both ways, so we want to hear the issues and initial thoughts about solutions because we want to provide an answer that is useful, but we also don’t want to get so hyper focused on that issue that we don’t see those other insights that may be influencing the market.
We want to give you some insights that you may not have even thought about, so we work to find that middle road and integrate all of those findings. It’s always great when you know we’re talking to someone and hear about their challenges.
We start with their insights and figure out what kind of intelligence we need to inform those decisions, but we also want to provide new information that could be an unforeseen influence within a specific market, which could completely change a perspective.”
ArchIntel: What experience and characteristics do you look for within a competitive intelligence workforce?
“When I look to hire new people, or even engage our current staff, I seek someone who is passionate and has some ability and passion over education, especially within competitive intelligence. While you may need a background in advanced math or statistics to deal with some of the quantitative analysis, we look for someone who keeps digging and is not satisfied until they find an answer that makes sense.
If you find conflicting information you need to dig a little deeper and find out why it’s conflicting and what the truth is within that information, instead of giving up because it’s too complex. I also need someone with critical thinking skills and the ability to think things through.
Within my team, I like to have people with diverse backgrounds, because that really changes the thought process. Everyone that has a degree in statistics has been trained to have a certain kind of thought process. I have that quantitative background, so my thought process automatically shifts to what the data says.
I need someone to say, ‘well, the data says this, but I also read these five articles that point towards this trend, which is not yet in the data.’ The data is from a historical perspective of what people have done or what people have said. I’d love to have different types of people on the team that have different mindsets that will offer different strategies so that we’re not always going down one path.”
ArchIntel: What are some of the common challenges you face within competitive intelligence?
“One of the most common challenges is the abundance of information available. You have to make sure that your source is reliable and unbiased. We use the term, ‘source agnostic,’ meaning we don’t stick to one particular source. We look at all the sources that we know about and if we don’t know about them, we try to find them.
Then we synthesize that information to develop a message or response to the competitive intelligence questions. That can become tricky, especially in the federal sector. We sometimes have to rely on competitor information published by the competitor to graft what we know about that competitor.
For example, we may see a certain company’s website that is full of a variety of capabilities, and we have to determine how that affects us. But if you did a little deeper, you discover they’ve actually never done this type of work, they’ve just plastered their website with it and they put out all these press releases and no but they’ve never done anything with it.
However, from that information, we can tell what markets they plan on entering. We then have to figure out what their market penetration may be around that new capability. You have to learn what is relevant and what is not, and determine if your source is reliable and unbiased. You also have to ensure that the information is timely because things change, day by day.
You don’t want to get stuck with something old. In gathering all of that information, the best thing to do is find a way to automate it. You don’t want someone spending three or four hours a day looking through the same sources.”
ArchIntel: What makes competitive intelligence unique in the government contracting (GovCon) sector?
“On the industry side, it can be difficult to find quantitative data that meets your specific competitive intelligence needs or goals, unless you collect it yourself, which can be very expensive and could have potential conflict because there’s an opportunity for sensitive data to kind to spillover.
In government contracting (GovCon), we try to rely on publicly available data because there’s so much of it. It’s almost like a one stop shop for quantitative information. There’s so much contracting data, but I find that can kind of be a double edged sword. Because there’s so much quantitative data, it’s easy to get lost in that. I emphasize that it’s really important to incorporate as much qualitative information as possible.
You can find this information through interviews, focus groups, general observation and other sources, which will tell the story that’s not in the numbers. That qualitative information will also provide context and fill any gaps in the quantitative data.”
ArchIntel: What are the important aspects of a competitive intelligence report?
“It’s really an iterative process. In a competitive intelligence report, first and foremost, you have to understand the focus of this intelligence that answers the questions you’ve built your research around.
Methodology is also critical, including your sources, the dates of these sources and your process for collecting information. You have to provide context to enable people to see where you’re coming from. It’s really important to answer those questions that drive the research up front because some people may just read the first page, so you want to make sure they have what they need up front.
If they choose to dig, and figure out why you’re making these conclusions, you also need to provide evidence to support that, including what led you to these answers and strategies, and how they connect to the recommendations.
We also make sure that that information is usable and use as many graphics as possible to show the data in a more visual way. We want to make it visual as well as interesting and actually show what’s going instead of just stating what is happening in a bulleted list.
And finally, you should always include the limitations in your report. If there were unanswered questions, it should be cited as a limitation, and there should be an explanation about why the limitations exist. The report should be presented in a way that answers any questions that may arise if your findings are challenged.”
ArchIntel: How do you personally measure success in competitive intelligence?
“That depends on the purpose of your competitive intelligence effort. If the goal is to win new business or keep business, success could be based on win rates. If the objective is to create or launch a new product, then you may measure that success by whether or not the intelligence gives you what you need to build a unique offering that sets you apart from the field.
In general, successful competitive intelligence provides accurate and reliable information about competitors in the target market that allows your stakeholders or decision makers to implement strategies that lead to successful growth.”
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.
Please join ArchIntel for its first virtual event on October 22nd to hear from some of the most esteemed minds in competitive intelligence on the opportunities and challenges arising from AI technology and how CI professionals can adapt and thrive in a post COVID-19 technological world.