Tapping Competitive Intelligence To Drive Product Success
The Boston Product Management Association and the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals co-hosted an event last night titled “Tapping Competitive Intelligence to Drive Product Success”. Here’s my summary…
What is Competitive Intelligence?
No surprise, when I hear “competitive intelligence” my brain immediately starts thinking secret agents.
Sadly for my fantasy life, CI is almost the complete opposite:
Competitive Intelligence (or, “CI”) is information obtained legally and ethically, used to identify risks and opportunities in the external marketplace before they become obvious.
An example from the event’s moderator: The new Red Sox logo was big buzz in Boston media when it was finally unveiled. However… the new logo had actually been freely available for 3-4 months ahead of the public unveiling. If you knew where to look. (In this case, on the government’s trademark office website.)
Who Lead Last Night’s Discussion?
The event featured several product management and competitive intelligence professionals, including:
- Andrew Hally, Vice President, Product Marketing & Strategy, Unica
- Todd Lombardo, Marketing Manager, Agencourt Biosciences
- Michael J. Salerno, Product Strategy, Oracle Corporation
- Brad Lovoi, CI Analyst, Fallon Community Health Plan
- Michael Levy, Product Marketing Manager, OneSource
Douglas R. Wolf of intellectual property law firm Wolf Greenfield served as moderator.
How Do I Gather CI?
Depends on your budget, according to Salerno. And what your intended use for the information is.
Lombardo points out that some companies purchase competitor products to break them down and see if patents are being violated, or simply to understand them better.
Don’t spend too much money on industry reports without understanding the scope and contents of the report. Otherwise, you pay thousands of dollars for a bunch of graphs and only a few nuggets of real information. Bad ROI.
How Do I Gather CI For Free?
A number of ways…
- Set up watches on patents because these may tip where the competition is going
- Ditto for watches on trademarks
- SEC filings
- Investors & venture backers will sometime spill info
- Search the web for presentations that reference competitor products
- Search job posts — job descriptions may actually describe the products, and you know if a competitor is staffing for this product, they’re serious about it and you need to understand it
Google can be your best friend. One panelists found a posting by an analyst with a competitor’s base pricing. A separate government site posted information about this same competitor’s product with discounts applied. With this information, the panelist was able to to reverse engineer the competitor’s pricing and discount model.
Twitter came up, too: A competitor hosted an event, and an invited analyst tweeted about it live! Ooops.
How Should CI Be Parsed?
Everyone on the panel had experiences with intranets, and the majority of the experiences were negative: No one used them.
Recommendations from the panel included:
- Create a living Knowledgebase: not just for competitor information, but also customer snapshots, news feeds about prospects, landmines for sales to exploit (Fear, Uncertainty, & Doubt)–and make sure it automatically broadcasts updates via email.
- RivalMap – web-based, hosted solution
Organizationally, Who Should Own CI?
- Single-person clearing house works best, so everyone knows who to turn to for information.
- CI is best utilized when someone in senior management champions CI and validates its utility.
How Do You Filter Out Bad Information?
- Try to verify from other sources: Don’t panic! Make sure negative news is real.
- Never take action on any one piece of information. You need two data points to make a line.
Can Sales Help With CI?
Absolutely. But be careful.
With sales you’ll only hear about the wins, rarely the losses. Big meetings might make people reluctant to talk about why an account was lost. Socialize with sales. Get to know them, so they can help you and you can help them.
Win/Loss analysis often left to sales. The panelists agreed that this was not a great idea (“So, why did we lose that account, sales person?” “Oh. Uhhhh. Price. And our product lacked the right features?”) Win/Loss should reside with Product Management.
Can Customers Help With CI?
Absolutely. But be careful.
Ask the customer, have you tried Company X’s product? Find out from the customer what they like about it.
Don’t automatically trust pricing from customers: They may be trying to get a better discount from you!
Go to the accounts, the ones you win and lose. Customers very forthcoming with information. Use Sales to understand the customer before contacting them.
Examples of Unethical Methods Of Collecting CI
- Pretending to be someone else: Masquerading as a customer of your competitor and attempting to pump their customer service team for information.
- Industrial espionage (eg, theft of trade secrets).
One of the panelists said that he knew of companies that debriefed new employees who came from competitors. The “share as long as you don’t feel you’re violating your NDA” approach. Personally, that sounded pretty gray at best.
If you’re the victim of an unethical CI attack, make sure everyone knows what’s happening and set simple guidelines (eg, “If anyone calls looking for this kind of information, send them to me.”).