Competitive Intel Transcript – #35 – HUMINT inside the 4 walls

This is a transcript of the CI Life Podcast, Episode 35. If you’d rather listen to the podcast, click here.

Sean:  Welcome to another episode of CI Life. In this episode, we’re going to tackle a subject that I think is really important, for basically every CI team that works inside a company. Especially a larger company. Which is the role of internally oriented human intelligence.  And by that we mean, talking with someone versus searching the Web.

Human intelligence is an interesting piece of the CI process, because at the end of the day there are certain types of externally focused human intelligence efforts that may be harder for you to do from inside of a company.

But internally focused human intelligence is something that anyone can do. I’m constantly amazed, honestly, by the number of times when you ask people, “How many people have you contacted recently, inside your company, to gather human intelligence?” and sometimes the answers are quite small.

Scott:  Really small, as in, zero. Yeah, it’s pretty interesting. When we go out and do human intelligence, we talk to a lot of people outside of the company, for example, the competitor’s customers, their partners, those kinds of things. But we also try to also interview people inside the company, in a wide variety of roles.

It’s always apparent to us that when we bring in these broad viewpoints, they know things that the person who commissioned the project doesn’t know. Some of the intelligence is already in the company, it just hasn’t been collected.

Sean:  One of the things I wanted to do here is talk a little bit about the roles inside of your company where CI might exist.

Let’s just talk about salespeople. If you do not have a salesperson in your speed dial list, that you feel you can talk to on a semi‑regular basis, that’s available information that you’re not utilizing.

To have some people in the sales team that you can call. These folks can give you a lot of insight into how products are being marketed, sold, and even, to a degree, what’s making the competitor tick.

Scott:  Yeah, think about your people who touch the market. There’s a lot of people in corporate who, they never talk to a customer, they’re very, very insulated. There’s a lot of people in your company who touch the market.

Sales is the nerve endings of the company. They are on the surface. If you think a little more broadly, you may find people in product development who go on customer visits regularly.

People who are in something like an executive briefing center, who are giving briefings to CIOs or leadership of companies that might be buying your products. There’s all kinds of people who are touching the market.

Sean:  You may even talk to a partner manager, who basically is responsible for interacting with your partner community.

Fundamentally, there are people in the company that basically talk to other people, who have some understanding of how money flows in your industry. There’s people who maybe work with your development partners, or people that help facilitate the creation of your products and services and solutions.

On top of that, though, there’s even some spaces that you might not traditionally think. Looking at your own internal HR team, they probably have very good lists of people who have certain levels of expertise in certain products. You may find that inside your company are a couple of geniuses on a given product or industry or initiative, and you don’t even have to look outside the company for this.

It’s not about how much knowledge they have about your company, it’s about the knowledge they have, in this case, about the industry. Talking to these nexuses of folks who keep an inventory of what the company has as human assets, is another good person to talk to.

Scott:  If you’re in a conference room with nine people, and you’re all debating, “Customers think this, the market wants that,” you look around the room and none of these people touch the market, they’re all insulated inside the corporation – that should be a bit of a red flag.

Sean:  Exactly. At that point, you shouldn’t be having a meeting that is somehow trying to come to a decision about that.

It’s OK to have a meeting about anything, I guess, but if you’re trying to decide, “What do customers think? What do our partners think? What is the competitor doing?” and you have somebody who, functionally, has not really interacted, ever, with any of those people. Nor ever really was one of those people. In recent memory, of course.

We’ve all seen the meetings where somebody used to work there 20 years ago, and they keep leveraging that experience. It’s hard to understand how you really would get to productive insights without some of that externally oriented information filtering into that conference room.

Scott:  Yeah, how do you think groupthink happens? People are forced to make a decision, but they live in a bubble, so as a group, you just talk yourselves into stuff. It can be completely divorced from reality.

The people in the room, obviously you’re not necessarily going to have people in the room all the time who have customer contact, or have gone on customer visits, and those kind of things. At least one level removed. At least they’ve talked to somebody who’s doing that all the time.

Sean:  I guess another big thing is understanding where your organization sits on this. What level of perspective do you have about the external environment? That’s pretty important. Are you regularly in meetings where you feel like no‑one has that external perspective? That’s important to fix.

Then there’s obviously people in other roles. You can talk to people in marketing, and depending on their experience and their interactions with the rest of the world, they can also give you a really good insight into, potentially, the dynamics of where the market’s going.

Same thing with people in product development. They may have a propensity to support the company solution, but on the other hand, maybe not. Maybe you find people in product development that are more invested in that space. They just believe in that type of product providing a need.

Those folks can be invaluable, because maybe they’re fairly upfront about where the company’s products are deficient, and what solutions they think really might change the market in the future.

Scott:  The other thing you brought up that I thought was somewhat brilliant is the notion of going to HR, and asking who’s been hired recently. If HR was tasked with finding somebody who was a subject matter expert, and they did their job, and four months ago somebody was brought into the company who worked for a partner, worked in the industry, did whatever, they’re going to be chock‑full of information.

Sean:  They have resume databases, they have all kinds of things. To that end, maybe one of the last things we should talk about is, especially for these larger companies, they’ve been developing these portals for quite some time that basically will list out who are your colleagues, who works in your group. You see this a lot in really large companies, and even smaller companies are getting into the act now.

These are basically mini LinkedIn‑style portals. You can basically use them to try to surface people who have meaningful information. If you’re in a CI role, it’s not just about the people who are on your floor or in your building, it might be the guy that’s in Lisbon that’s 10 time zones away from you, that you need to talk to in the company.

Scott:  You bring up something else that I think is fairly brilliant. Most people don’t know this, but LinkedIn has launched a feature called “LinkedIn Contact.” LinkedIn is going down the CRM route. The great thing is, when you tell LinkedIn who all your contacts are, you can then do searches against it.

You can say, “Who in my network used to work here?” or used to do this, or used to do that. You’ll find people that you know, you may interact with, or you may have bumped into. When you look at who they are, you say, “Wow, I had no idea that nine months ago they were doing that.”

Sean:  With that, we should probably let folks get back to work, since we’re almost out of time.

Sean:  Thanks everyone for listening, and we’ll hope to have you join us on the next podcast.

By Sean Campbell
By Scott Swigart

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