5 Reasons Competitive Intelligence Teams Don’t Grow: B2B Market Research podcast

Sean Campbell
Authored bySean Campbell

Episode #90 of the B2B Market Research Podcast – 5 Reasons Competitive Intelligence Teams Don’t Grow

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We cover:

  • Why service – not products – needs to come first.
  • Why focusing on decisions you can impact is so important.
  • How easy it is to have various team members – “Playing out of Position.”
  • How focusing on just one buyer persona is harmful.
  • Why teams should focus on engagement, not building a kingdom.

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Speaker: Sean Campbell – CEO of Cascade Insights

What are five key reasons that competitive intelligence teams fail to grow? That’s the topic of today’s podcast.

Welcome to another episode of the B2B Market Research Podcast. Before we get into the heart of the podcast I want to cover a few brief programming notes.

This podcast is brought to your by Cascade Insights. Cascade Insights specializes in competitive intelligence services for B2B technology companies. Our specialization helps us to deliver detailed insights that generalist firms simply can’t match. To learn more about us, go to cascadeinsights.com, and also sign up for our newsletter. With that, let’s get into the topic for today.

Why Do Competitive Intelligence Teams Struggle to Grow?

When I talk to competitive intelligence teams, I find that in many cases they struggle to grow beyond an original kernel of a few people. They may be a three or four person team. They may quickly become a six or seven person team. They may only be a one or two person team. But in nearly all cases these teams struggle to grow.

Given that, I thought it would be important to spend a little bit of time focusing on what leads to these types of growth struggles. And that’s where we’re going to spend some of our time today.

Reason #1: Service – Not Products – Needs To Come First

First, teams struggle because they tend to focus on the types of “products” that they can produce. By products, I mean things like battle cards, newsletters, pitch decks, and summaries of the current market state. These are all solid intelligence products, and they’re useful, but if you focus on producing products over a service you are going to fail to develop a solid research agenda with the rest of the organization, and you are going to be commoditized.

Services have their own challenges of course, but the key thing to remember is that you were hired to provide a service to the rest of the organization. If you can package some of your services as products and they can be distributed in an efficient manner, that’s fine. But if you end up in a position where the “products,” these standard things you’re building, suck up 80 or 90% of the team’s time, you really need to think about what you need to cut. In short, you’re going to be valued more for the services you provide than the standardized intelligence products you create, no matter how heavily valued those are at their moment of inception.

Reason #2: Teams Fail to Focus on Decisions They Can Impact

The next roadblock that teams face when they’re trying to grow, is that they staff up their organization or they structure it in such a way that it makes it difficult for them to uncover the decisions they need to impact.

Think of this as somewhat of a client building exercise. If you don’t have people on your team who can effectively manage what are “client relationships,” even if they are internally focused, you’re going to struggle to find unique research efforts to undertake. You’re going to struggle to uncover the actual decisions that executives and leaders want your research to impact.

In some cases you might quickly fall into a model where you’re nothing more than an intelligence factory churning out data on a regular basis and you are measuring your success simply on the mass and volume of intelligence you create.  But you’re not really measuring your impact based on the decisions that you’ve been able to meaningfully impact, which in some ways is one of the best KPIs you can focus on.

Reason #3: People Are Playing Out Of Position

Another thing that stunts growth is this issue about playing the right position. Take a look at your average sport, for example. A second baseman can play shortstop. A shooting guard can play point guard. A left tackle might be able to right tackle. But you wouldn’t typically have your second baseman pitch, nor would you have your shooting guard play center, or have your left tackle try to be a wide receiver or a punt returner.

Unfortunately, what happens is that competitive intelligence teams staff up in such a way that they don’t have people in the right positions. They don’t have people who can meaningfully engage with clients internally. They don’t have people who can meaningfully collect human intelligence. They don’t have people who have the right kind of data science mindset. Everyone is congregated on a single lily pad.

In many cases, what you’ll find is that the leader of the team is either congregating people in an area because it complements their skill set really well. For example, maybe they’re the one who does a really good job engaging with executives so they have a lot of data collectors surrounding them. Or some variation on that type of theme.

What you really want instead is a good mix of people, and not simply focus on adding people that complement the team’s leader. You want the team to be a really well run engine that has everyone in the right position. This keeps you from forcing players to play in positions that they’re ill suited for.

For example, maybe you have a great analyst who really understands the industry, but they don’t give a great presentation. So perhaps you pair them with someone else on the team who has better communication skills but who maybe isn’t quite as deep on the industry. That type of paired research development and paired presenting is really, really useful – but so often it’s underutilized.

Reason #4: Is the Buyer Persona Focus Too Narrow?

Another thing to think about is that you should ensure that you’re not focusing on a single type of persona. For instance, make sure you’re not only focused on marketing – even if they were your initial customer.

Over time, your team should grow to embrace requests from product development, strategy teams, and from the sales team. It’s really important to do this, because what happens sometimes is that it becomes simply more comfortable to engage with the customer you’re most familiar with. It’s the same thing that consulting firms can run into. They end up being beholden to their main or sole customer. This is also true of product firms.

If you’re leading the CI team and you look around and you realize there’s only a few business functions that you meaningfully impact, for example you have a great relationship with sales and you have a great relationship with marketing, but you really have no contact with product development. That’s something you need to fix today.

Reason #5: The Focus Is On Kingdom-Building. Not Engagement.

The final thing that inhibits the growth of competitive intelligence, and even market research teams, in my opinion, is this focus on kingdom building vs. engagement. It’s perfectly understandable that you want your team to grow, and that you don’t want projects to execute around the company that aren’t benefiting for your expertise. But at the same time, if process trumps substance and if process trumps service to such a degree that other teams struggle to effectively work with your team to, in a timely manner, get their research completed, they’re going to go off and do things their own way.

You see this time and time again in larger companies. So don’t build a moat, build a bridge. Ask people to pause on the bridge. Ask people to understand what your organization can do for them, but don’t just build a moat.

With that, I want to review the five things that can inhibit competitive intelligence and even market research teams in terms of their growth.

  • A focus on products over providing service.
  • An inability to really decipher the decisions you need to impact, either due to an inability to see them at all, or just the fact that you have the wrong people in that they can’t help decipher those kinds of things.
  • Playing the right positions. Staff up your team so you have a mix of abilities that keeps you from having to put people in the wrong positions. Again, you don’t want that left tackle trying to play wide receiver.
  • Over time your group should mature so you have multiple stakeholders you’re reaching out to – not just one, not just marketing and not just strategy and not just sales.
  • Don’t focus on building a kingdom, focus on engagement. Leave the moats to others and just build some bridges.

With that, we’ll wrap up this episode of the B2B Market Research Podcast. Thanks for listening and hope to have you along on the next one. Don’t forget to check out all of our competitive intelligence and market research resources specifically designed for folks that work in B2B technology companies, at cascadeinsights.com.

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