Episode 69: – 5 Fundamental Truths of Competitive Intelligence Collection and Analysis
During this podcast we cover Five “Fundamental Truths” from one of the best articles ever written on intelligence collection and analysis efforts.
During this podcast we cover:
- Why the written product is forever.
- How the public segregates success and failure.
- How to build credibility – the “equity meter” – over time.
- The level of sophistication of your typical competitive intelligence “customer” in an organization.
- When product output is “optional.”
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Welcome to another episode of the Competitive Intel podcast. In this podcast, we’re going to talk about what I consider to be one of the best documents you can read about doing effective competitive analysis. That actually comes from, literally, the Central Intelligence Agency’s Public Center for Intelligence Studies.
We’ll talk about that in a minute. But first, a couple of brief programming notes. If you want to find past episodes of this podcast, you can find them on our site, on iTunes, or on certain podcast repositories like Stitcher Radio. Also, if you’d like to learn more about the podcast or if you’re interested in suggesting a topic for the future podcast, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com.
With that, I want to talk about what I find to be one of the most interesting documents that you can read out of anything that’s ever been written about CI. The document is entitled “What I Learned in 40 Years of Doing Intelligence Analysis for US Foreign Policymakers.”
If you’re instantly thinking, well, I’m not in public sector, this has no relevance, keep in mind we’re a firm that exclusively focuses on B2B technology. We have learned a lot from reading this document, and we continually come back to it in many ways when we talk about exhibiting best practices and doing competitive intelligence work. It has a lot to say.
I’ve also used it in a lot of different training environments and a lot of different conversations with clients and tech, and they all find that a lot in the document resonates. So much so, we’re going to actually make this a two-part podcast, where we’re going to talk about different pieces of the document at different points in time.
The first thing we’re going to tackle is this document, which if you simply type that title into Google, you’ll be taken to one of the pages that have it. There’s a PDF of it. There’s a web page version of it. All kinds of things.
Intelligence truth #1: The product is optional equipment
The document talks initially about five fundamental truths when it comes to doing intelligence work. The first one is “the product is optional equipment.” This is a great point, and all the more so if you are inside a CI team. It’s somewhat less so, honestly, from the vendor side. Organizations that engage with us to do a project inherently think that the output of the research is valuable because otherwise, they wouldn’t have commissioned an external party to go do it.
But what happens sometimes, and even from an outside perspective, is this issue that the person you present the findings to may consider the product to be optional equipment. This can be all the more so for smaller deliverables or targeted deliverables that internal teams sometimes do, where the sponsor sometimes sees it as somewhat optional, even though they asked for it.
The way this is summarized by the author, Martin Petersen, is, to quote him, “After all, I, the policymaker, am smart and have excellent sources of information.” Potentially, or at least the assumption may be, all the ones that they think the CI team has. “And I’m very busy, so why should I spend some of my most precious commodity, i.e, time, on you?”
This is a question you have to answer. You do. One of the easiest ways to do that sometimes is to simply say,”does my analysis tell the policymaker in Martin’s case, or the decision-maker in a B2B tech case, what they need to change today and what they need to be warned about in the future? Does it really do both effectively?” If it doesn’t, it may just be regurgitating, essentially, facts. We’ll talk a little bit about that when we get to the six essential truths as opposed to the five fundamental truths when we get to the second podcast, where we’ll talk about those six essential truths that the article talks about.
Intelligence truth #2: The written product is forever
“The written product is forever. Once it’s printed, there’s no taking it back or modifying it,” Martin says. This we know is true. It also creates a bit of a challenge because analysis sometimes, especially the kind of analysis sometimes put together inside a company, can sometimes lack a crisp point of view. It’s done by committee such that it lacks a clear focus.
There’s a tension here in the fact that you have to provide real insight, but you have to keep in mind that that written product, once it’s put on the portal, in some ways lasts forever. If it’s wrong, that’s going to hurt essentially … Failure travels farther than success in many cases. That’s something to think about.
Intelligence truth #3: Success is transitory. Failure is permanent.
Another point the author makes. “The public does not segregate success or failure.” That’s exactly aligned with what I just said. The quote says, “In the intelligence business, success is transitory and failure is permanent.” This is obviously true about any kind of intelligence work in business, and it’s obviously true about intelligence work in the public sector.
Intelligence truth #4: Credibility grows over time.
Another fundamental truth is to the fourth one, is “our collective credibility rides on every piece of intelligence that goes out the door.” You have to look at yourself as a service organization, fundamentally. You are serving the needs of others, and fundamentally the credibility that you have is gained over time.
As a matter of fact, we use a phrase around here that we’ve said for years. I’ve been a business owner for 14 years across two different companies. The equity meter. In essence, your equity with clients grows over time. You can also lower it by aberrant behavior, but the point is to grow it consistently and often over time.
Martin explains it this way. He says, “Our ability to raise the level of the debate, or to help policymakers make the best decisions possible, or to speak truth to power, however one defines the mission, rests on one thing and one thing only: our reputations for analytic rigor, objectivity, and total integrity. Lose that, and we lose everything.” That’s a great way of summarizing that, I think.
Intelligence truth #5: Our customers are more sophisticated than we think.
Then the fifth fundamental truth. “Our customers are smarter and more sophisticated than we give them credit for, and they have their own independent sources of information and analysis for which we are competing.” I think that last part of the sentence is really key.
Sometimes, you find competitive intelligence teams that forget how sophisticated the people they’re talking to are. They may have their own blinders. They may have their own inability to see truth. But that does not mean they are not sophisticated in their thought process. It may just mean they a binder. We all have blinders.
So you have to approach decision-makers appropriately. Maybe you truly believe a market disruption is occurring, but shouting it at the start of the presentation may not be the best way to actually get it across. Martin explains this a little further by saying, “We have to establish our credibility and usefulness individual by individual, administration by administration.”
This is all the more true for tech CI. In the last podcast, I mentioned the churn rate that happens in tech CI, where in essence there’s this kind of rapid, creative destruction of tech CI teams, where they rapidly are built up and then shrunk as their associated product teams and marketing and sales teams are grown and shrunk.
The cycling of this happens pretty fast in tech. I would hazard to guess that the lifecycle of an average product group in tech is no more than three to five years. Hence, the CI team that might be aligned with it, if it’s not at the corporate strategy level, might have a similar lifespan.
This creates its own problems because you have to, as Martin says, establish credibility and usefulness individual by individual, administration by administration. For a business to business company, I would say product group or solution group by solution group. This can sometimes be a problem for centralized CI teams because they feel they’re somewhat above that fray. They don’t have to necessarily partner with the individual product groups, and a somewhat adversarial relationship develops.
That’s really the wrong way to fly. You have to basically see yourself as a service organization first. What does that mean? Well, you have to partner. You have to enable these folks to make better decisions as best you’re able. That’s how you build up the partnership.
With that, I want to end this podcast. Thanks for listening. If you have any questions about it, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.