Episode 67: – B2B Technology Companies and Competitive Intelligence – The Good and the Bad
During this podcast we cover:
- The Good – What Technology Companies typically get right when it comes to Competitive Intelligence efforts.
- The Bad – What Technology Companies typically get wrong when it comes to Competitive Intelligence efforts.
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Welcome to another episode of the Competitive Intel Podcast. In this podcast we’re going to talk about a subject that I’ve been asked about a fair amount over the last few years. What have I seen in terms of the good, the bad, and the ugly in the way that CI teams in tech companies seem to operate?
Obviously I’m going to generalize here. I’m not going to point to any particular organization. But, I will give you some trends that I’ve seen and I’ll actually do this over a couple different podcasts over the upcoming next few months. We’ll just hit a couple highlights in this podcast.
Before I get into that I want to talk about a few brief programming notes. One, if you want to find past episodes of this podcast series you can do so on iTunes or on our site. Also, if you’d like to suggest a topic for the podcast or if you just have questions about the podcast, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com. With that, let me get into the topic for today.
One of the first things to realize about competitive intelligence is it varies quite a bit based on the industry that you tend to find yourself in. This is somewhat obvious but the differences sometimes are quite stark.
If I talk to a CI team in an oil and gas company the shot clock that they operate on is just going to be much longer than one in tech. Now that’s not a right or wrong kind of thing. It’s not to say that oil and gas CI teams don’t have thing that they have to do tomorrow morning that are urgent. It does mean that the frame of the analysis is just much greater. You might have a 30-year-long look at something if you’re in the oil and gas industry and looking at something with a 30-year time horizon.
Unless you’re in very niche research teams that really look at prospectives that far out in a tech company, it’s just not going to happen in a tech company. Most CI teams don’t look 30 years out. They’ll be lucky if they have the ability to look five years out.
The reason for that, is the industry just fundamentally changes so fast. If you were on the bottom of the industry three years ago in a given category, you might be able to vault your way to the top. This just doesn’t happen in oil and gas. It doesn’t happen in pharma. It doesn’t happen that quickly in areas like manufacturing. Some of that’s because of the assets they have to build up to even get there. They’re just physical assets. Sometimes it’s other factors at play.
With that, given I think it’s fairly accurate to say that tech, much like the other industries, have their own flavor when it comes to CI, I wanted to talk about a few of the things in terms of the good and the bad – we’ll save the ugly for a subsequent podcast – that I’ve seen competitive intelligence teams in tech companies do. Again, I’m just generalizing here but I think there’s a lot to learn overall.
B2B Technology Competitive Intelligence: The Good
Let’s start with the good. CI teams in tech seem to know about the products their companies ship than their counterparts in other industries. I don’t really know why this is so in a quantifiable sense, but what I do know is in general is it is very difficult to be a participant in almost any role in a technology company without a higher IQ about the products the companies ship. I think it just has to do with the cadence of the industry.
I think you actually see somewhat similar things when you go to folks that are health care-related. I think there’s just a level of industry knowledge that’s essential to even understand what the company itself is talking about when you’re inside the four walls of it. I think you just find this slightly deeper set of experiences and knowledge about the company’s products when you look at tech-based CI teams.
Also, CI teams in technology tend to be embedded just as often in a product group as is a centralized function, and it’s also very common for me to see teams that have essentially almost embedded reporters in the product group that also are still heavily connected to the centralized team.
By contrast, in other industries I see more often these centralized teams that are actually somewhat disconnected again from the sales motion, the go-to-market strategies, and the actual key buying criteria of real customers. They tend to be very strategy-focused to the exclusion of everything else. At some point I would make the case you can’t really make good strategy unless you know fundamentally how the company buys, goes to market, sells solutions, etc. You can’t overindex on that either. That’s the same thing you see when a team focuses too much on sales and deal support. I think a balance here is good and I see a lot of that in tech companies.
B2B Technology Competitive Intelligence: The Bad
Now, moving to the bad. One of the things I think hurts tech companies is they don’t do a lot of longitudinal studies. Win/loss is really the only example I ever see of this. I think that’s where the rapid cadence of the industry, the pace, that short shot-clock, is maybe taken too much to an extreme. There’s a sense that there’s really no point in doing quarterly or yearly studies because so much may change. Well that’s not really an accurate reflection of reality either. Everything’s not changing on a daily basis or even on a quarterly basis that dynamically. Longitudinal studies definitely have their place outside of just win/loss, so looking at things like scenario planning, looking at competitor analysis with a larger frame in mind – these are all good.
The other thing that I think also comes out of this kind of shot-clock mentality with a really short shot-clock is that frameworks are rarely used. I think it’s true to say that generally speaking across most tech industry CI teams, a framework is really nothing more than the presenter’s style masquerading as such. You don’t really see concrete frameworks in use. Worse yet, a lot of times when teams ask for new frameworks and you really audit what frameworks they’re using, they’re not even using the frameworks that have been long-standing that would really help them to use.
There’s this disconnect in how the team processes and analyzes intelligence. That can create some real challenges for the team when it comes to actually putting together impactful findings.
Those are just some of the things that I’ve noticed CI teams in tech companies do that are maybe a little different than their brethren in other industries. With that, I want to wrap up this podcast. In a subsequent one we’ll get to some of the more ugly things that we’ve seen and what lessons can be learned from that. Thank you for listening and hope to have you along on a subsequent podcast.