In the spirit of cooperative intelligence here is my ***** Amazon review for Seena Sharp‘s book, Competitive Intelligence Advantage where she provides incredible wisdom around the practice of competitive intelligence and draws upon her wisdom from over 30 years experience.
Seena defines competitive intelligence (CI), an unfortunate word combination which is why I believe it’s made such poor inroads as a commonly practiced and understood discipline. There are relatively few CI degree programs globally and many schools, including leading MBA programs don’t include much CI instruction in their curriculum.
Executives like most people misunderstand CI and often focus on monitoring competitors, a subset of competitive intelligence which should include a robust external dive into all the factors which can affect your company’s success — starting with your customers. Too many executives claim to know what customers want better than the customer, and don’t listen or query. While customers can’t always articulate their needs using your company’s products, it’s up to you to figure out and develop products or services that will solve customer’s problems in these changing times. In this vein, I loved Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ attitude, “Figure out what they (customers) want and figure out a way to do it.”
Let’s face it you want to sell more to your customers and grow your customer base. If you can learn enough to think like your customer, and recognize market changes and develop opportunities to meet or exceed your customer’s needs, you will maintain a competitive advantage. But if you just look into the rear view mirror at your competitors and ignore looking forward and improving your customer’s experience with your products and services, you will lose market share.
Seena correctly defines competitive intelligence to include analysis of customers/prospects, buyers, suppliers, distributors/channel, technology, culture, regulation, demographics, the economy, substitutes, other industries and competitors.
The book is chock full of examples and case studies on the benefits of using CI, including details supporting each of the components above.
Another point Sharp emphasizes is the need to re-examine our assumptions in these changing times. To make this point she quotes Will Rogers, “it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Likewise, when examining competitors, consider “what they know that you don’t” to uncover new markets, applications and customer niches.
Remember that your competitor’s focus may be different from yours. Their priorities and strategy may be different from yours and they also make mistakes, so be careful what practices you adopt from them.
Seena also gives tippers on starting a CI initiative in your company. One of my favorite practices she recommends is: re-evaluate what you “know” every year: question conventional wisdom and the culture behind “this is the way we have always done it.” Another is to use customer complaints as an opportunity.
In the realm of CI, Sharp focuses on gathering “need to know” rather than “nice to know.” In the later chapters of the book, Seena focuses on how to collect CI, ranging from open sources all the way to identifying and querying people sources for collection.
I believe that the quality of your answers is directly related to the quality of your questions and CI people need to be persistent in questioning to get at what decision-makers really need. Sharp provides lists of questions for readers starting with good questions to ask about competitors, but also relevant questions to ask by categories like “Tracking Change” and my favorite list on page 163 “Questions a Company Should be Asking Regularly.” This list is provocative and gets the reader to reach out for people, relevant information from many sources and question anything that’s new or looks odd. Answer the questions on that list, and you will eliminate nasty surprises!
CI only produces good news–even when the news is bad and avoids the cost of making ill informed decisions and nasty surprises. In the new world economy can you afford not to conduct CI before making pivotal decisions? What is the cost of NOT having the necessary intelligence for your important decisions? How much does it cost to make a blunder in the marketplace?
Read Seena Sharp’s book and follow her advice and you will improve your company’s competitive advantage!