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How to Use Free or Nearly Free Data Sources and Analysis for Competitive Intelligence

How to Take Competitive Intelligence into Implementation

Your role in implementing strategic initiatives developed through competitive intelligence is to serve as trusted advisor to the executive team and your internal customers. You’re uniquely qualified to serve in this role because of your work leading up to this point and your position in the organization. How so? Consider that

  • Your research and analysis has made you the one person in your organization who fully understands the implications of the intel and the urgency in which change must be implemented.

  • As a member of a team that serves all areas of the organization, you may have the connections and influence necessary to help the decision makers deal with internal political obstacles and other barriers they face — or that they perceive they must overcome in order to implement the recommended changes.

Here’s what you can do at each stage of the process leading up to implementation to help your company’s leaders take action on your analysis.

  1. Prepare a clear and convincing intelligence briefing.

    Include a one-page executive summary that clearly identifies the opportunity or threat. Use plenty of white space and avoid extensive detail.

  2. Share your analysis, conclusions, and recommendations with your inner circle — CI team members and sponsors who are trustworthy and can help you identify risks or political land mines in the organization that you may encounter.

    People in your inner circle support your efforts but often feel the need to remain anonymous due to internal politics or sensitivities. They won’t take a bullet for you, but they’ll do everything they possibly can, short of that, to contribute to the success of the CI team.

  3. Brief each member of your CI cluster (key executives and others) individually, obtain feedback about your conclusions, and try to gauge how strongly each person feels about the need for action.

    Members of your CI cluster generally work openly with the CI team, primarily by helping them gather intel at trade shows through their participation in groups that set industry or technology standards. They may also support the CI team’s efforts overall.

  4. Extend your intel sharing (confidentially) to sponsors and internal CI customers who are likely to benefit most from it and collaborate with them to develop an approach for sharing the intel with the key decision maker.

    CI sponsors, typically senior managers, are generally part of your intelligence support network. They see the value in your work (as do your internal customers) and are usually willing to support the CI mission openly. They probably know whether the intel is going to ruffle feathers and why and how to communicate it in a way to make the key decision maker more receptive to it.

    As a member of the CI team, you can’t push a solution, but you must make sure that your sponsors and customers really have a grasp on what you present to them. If you have additional information that allows you to estimate opportunity cost related to the issue, explaining that is probably okay, but stop short of making policy.

    Opportunity cost reflects the potential profit to be made from an opportunity or the loss from not responding to an opportunity. By running the numbers, you can show the financial impact of an opportunity or threat more objectively without telling the decision maker what to do.

    If you’ve done your job effectively, you now have a group of key stakeholders who buy into your intel long before you present it to the final decision maker. Always keep your CI sponsors and internal customers in the loop; you never want them to find out about your intel by surprise.

  5. Present your intel to the key decision maker for consideration.

    Serve as a consultant, providing internal customers and sponsors with resources and advice.

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How to build a competitive intelligence support network

Don’t try to fly solo when you’re shepherding intel through your organization. Start with an inner circle of trusted advisors and work together to form a support network — a group of allies who team up to overcome internal resistance and other hurdles standing in the way of change. Your support network should include representatives from the following three groups:

  • Interested executives who are willing to sponsor initiatives.

    If you can involve the CEO in your network, overcoming resistance to change becomes much easier.

  • Pathfinders and listeners, whom you can always rely on for support.

  • Internal customers, including department heads, who have a stake in making sure that issues are correctly dealt with from a strategic standpoint.

How to use your support network to develop a plan of attack

Convincing someone that action is necessary often comes down to how effectively you communicate your case. A good rule of thumb is to approach communication with humility. Don’t assume that you know the best way to convince people to take action.

Seek the counsel of others who may have a better sense of how to approach people and build consensus in your organization. Your support network is a good place to start:

  • Get the support network’s help in identifying any potential areas of resistance or political pitfalls.

  • Ask members for advice on how to present the information to decision makers most effectively. Some decision makers prefer audio/visual presentations, others prefer single-page briefings, some may expect in-depth data dumps, and so on. Consider your audience and its preferences.

  • Investigate the possibility of getting a senior manager or an internal customer to serve as sponsor for taking the information forward. (Consider approaching the CEO directly, especially if the issue is extremely urgent. Of course, this meeting is much easier if CI has been briefing the CEO all along.)

    If your organization’s strategic readiness score is below 50 percent, or if you’ve discovered very high levels of internal resistance, your CEO will probably need to spearhead the initiative in order for it to succeed.

Consult with your support network and internal customers to develop an effective way to introduce the intel and your recommendations to the organization. Your plan of attack should account for the following:

  • Who, what, and when: Whom do you tell, what do you tell them, and when do you include them in the process? Also consider which individual(s) you ultimately need to convince in order to move the intel forward.

    If your organization has a formalized process in place for communicating intel, start with that process.

  • Politics: Office politics often change with any given situation, so consider how the dissemination of the intel is likely to play to the intended audience.

  • Urgency: Consider how quickly your organization needs to act in order to take advantage of an opportunity or avoid a threat. Urgency may influence how quickly you need to pass along the information and how assertive you need to be.

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