Episode 82: – Competitive Intelligence Thought Leaders – An Interview with Wayne Jones of IBM
- How do CI teams disseminate information and interact with a large organization?
- Why a knowledge management system is a core piece of the puzzle.
- Why CI teams need a stakeholder relationship matrix.
- How to disseminate important CI information to stakeholders.
- The role of outside competitive intelligence vendors.
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Welcome to another episode of the Competitive Intel Podcast. In this episode, I’m interviewing Wayne Jones from IBM. We’re going to be talking to him about some interesting subjects when it comes from how you disseminate and interact with an organization the size of IBM when it comes to CI. Before we get into that, a few brief programming notes.
First, if you want to find past episodes of this podcast, you can do so on our site, on iTunes, and on Stitcher Radio. You can also find a bunch of free Competitive Intelligence resources on our site at cascadeinsights.com/resources. If you want to subscribe to our newsletter, I’ll update you on new blog posts and new podcasts. You can go to cascadeinsights.com/subscribe. With that, let’s go ahead and get into the podcast. Wayne, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself.
Well, thanks. I am currently Global Marketing Insights Lead at IBM, and have a responsibility for software CI, primarily. I focus on IBM’s large traditional IT vendor competitors, as well as emerging players who may be partners, who may be acquisition targets, and who may be competitors in one of the many, many spaces IBM covers competitively. There is a huge span of things that I’m worried about and like in any organization, far too few resources to do it effectively.
A common problem that CI teams have is, how do you effectively disseminate information?
When you talk about the dissemination of information about competitors, what do you think are the best practices given the size of the organization you have at IBM? I assume it goes beyond just putting stuff on the portal and sending a newsletter, right, which is what you’ll hear about if you go to a competitive intelligence conference. Outside of portals and newsletters, what do you do to effectively interact with an organization the size of IBM?
Well, Sean, it’s really a layered approach. As much as we denigrate that portal or that newsletter, those are core pieces of the puzzle. It’s necessary to have a knowledge management or a knowledge-based foundation behind everything you do. That’s the final resting place. That’s the official location for something.
There’s always going to be this froth of documents, PowerPoints, slides and calls, and stuff happening, but it is very important to have that core common foundation of reference. Ideally in an organization, you can get people to proactively look there. Frankly, that takes years.
It’s a process I’ve gone through at a number of companies, trying to build focus and attention and confidence in a core knowledge management system. Once that culture exists, it can be a tremendous relief for organizations because at least you know that I may not be able to reach every one of the 400 and some odd thousand at IBM. But they, on the whole, should know that there is a link prominently displayed on their home page that they can go to where they know that market insights and competitive intelligence are available. That’s maybe 5% of the answer, but that 5% really does have to be there.
On top of that, I would say, is relationship building and follow-up in among key constituents and competitors. I think one of the big things I see in competitive intelligence is that can go either really right or really wrong, is finding who those connectors and who those constituents should be.
Some competitive intelligence organizations spend, I think, too much time on senior executives. They’re constantly getting meetings with the SVP, or the VP, or whoever it is in the organization, and preparing all these great slides that are being seen by that executive. But then they forget that that executive does not typically take it upon themselves to distribute the material.
The people that actually need the insights, or can consume them, are usually much further down the chain. They are often peers of the CI organization, or managers and sales organizations, or marketing teams that are geographically dispersed, or dispersed by brand.
Making a stakeholder relationship matrix, and saying, okay, we have this knowledge management foundation, but then I need people feeling that it’s their responsibility to follow up and communicate to the organization about what’s out there and about what’s relevant to them.
I can’t know every geography and every language. IBM operates in 160 plus countries, there’s no way that my small team can reach all of those people. Who can, right? It turns out that even in a huge organization the size of IBM, the number of stakeholders that you need, if you make a matrix of by brand, by geo, by level of organization, whatever, is actually fairly small. You get down to a stakeholder list of about 200 people, right? They themselves are hubs of communication for thousands beyond them, right?
I’ve seen a similar dynamic in other companies. For instance, there’s one company that will go nameless. It’s a little smaller than you guys, but not by a massive amount, and every time I talk to these guys, the central competitive intelligence team tends to have this body language of, ‘we just got out of a meeting with the VP,’ almost like they’re collecting VP baseball cards, or something.
For these teams that have this senior executive orientation, it might be good for them if they weighed into the fray with the product groups and the marketing groups. However, one challenge with that is that they might get inundated with requests and they’ll hence become overwhelmed with the level of activity required to meet those demands. I think that’s a separate problem, which is how do you deal with inbound requests.
Exactly. If you have a strong research agenda, if you proactively creating good insights that are relevant to the business, people are going to want to consume that and communicate it regardless of whether you answer their mail back. And you have to answer their mail back. There needs to be a way. Even a small organization is responsive to requests from the field, and requests from product organizations, and whatever sort of level you’re talking about.
There’s the communication and broadcasting dissemination channel, which really does require the CI team to know its matrix of counterparts at their peer level and even possibly one level below, depending upon where you’re placed. As much as the VP’s at IBM love to hear me talk, even they would say they would rather have me out with their directs and their direct’s directs, working on the local problems that relate to execution, at least as often, or more often than problems of high level strategy and planning.
I think part of what helps CI organizations address that balance is being in a more proactive mode as opposed to a responsive mode. I see a lot of competitive intelligence teams that go up to the business and say, ‘which competitors should we cover?’ Where they go to a product group and they say, ‘what do you need to know?’ That can really hurt an organization’s ability to deliver high quality deliverable in value because you’ll end up getting whatever is top of mind, to whomever you ask at the time.
However, if the CI organization goes out to this matrix of say, a couple hundred people, and says, from an IBM context, ‘we’ve been working on insights about the analytics market, and insights about the services market, and insights about the hardware market, and this is what we’ve collected. This is what we have to say, and we’d like to find venues to tell your folks about this. We believe it’s relevant to them. How can we best communicate it to them?
That brings an agenda and a point of view that will then guide the follow-up and the types of requests that you get, It won’t be open-ended. It will be, ‘oh, we’d love to drill down on that. We’d love to understand how to spin that more for our audience,’ or, ‘can you tell us more about the geo perspective of this market?’ Which really does control a lot of what happens in terms of follow-up requests and that kind of tactical stuff.
You see these centralized CI teams and sometimes they almost fall into this procurement like model, where it’s a bit of a, ‘we will manage the requests and manage the projects.’ They forget about building insight, and having a point of view, and actually driving impact and decisions. I think what you said earlier about having a research agenda is really key because I think then what you have is a little better partnership, as opposed to this, ‘we really hate it when the project group goes off and does research themselves,’ when you should really be saying, ‘well, why do they feel they have to go off and do things themselves?’ Right?
If you were to bring something to the them, however, that might make them turn a little bit towards you and let you shape the conversation.
Which leads to this key point, how do you develop a good research agenda? I think a lot of these CI teams are in a responsive mode and it sounds like you’re a lot more proactive.
Any large organization is going to have a planning cycle, or an investment cycle, or some kind of somatic understanding of the market. At a high level, I know at IBM, we’re going to be doing a lot with Cloud and analytics. We’re not going to be doing a ton on, say, consumer gaming software. There’s just not a market for it. There are different segments that you know that you’re going to need to look at. Then, there’s this split between what should be done in-house, and what should be outsourced.
When you talk about this project coordination type of thing, certainly there is a function for that. There is that role within any company. IBM certainly has folks who are responsible from a procurement perspective of who resources from and how do we get the best price from vendors, and things like that, but more fundamentally, CI folks should be thinking about what does the value add that I can bring uniquely, as an analyst within my company?
What are the things that I can know and value in a way that no outside vendor can, versus, what can I buy from outside vendors?
If it’s already public, it’s already information that’s available in the marketplace, that smart people can come up with on their own, well, that’s why we’d go to a Cascade Insights. That’s why we would go to a syndicated research house. Because that stuff truly requires smart people and capability, but it’s stuff that can be discovered outside of the company. CI folks that are living inside an organization should be worried about the stuff that outside vendors could not possibly know.
Well, I think any vendor knows this. You sign your NDA, and yet there’s still things they’re never going to tell you. I’ll even joke about it sometimes in meetings, ‘you’re only going to tell me as much as you’re going to tell me no matter what we’ve signed, right?’
Exactly. Again, some of these inside things are not all only unreleased products, or stuff like that, but awareness of capability of organizations, of resource allocations, of strategic direction of where we’re going to invest and where we’re not going to invest.
Are we entering a new country or pulling out of that country? Has there been regulatory challenges? There’s all kinds of stuff, and no matter how close to an outside vendor that you get, it’s just impractical to convey that level of nuance.
At the same time, without those outside vendors, without that stream of information coming in from syndicated research, from custom projects and things like that, your small CI team is never going to be able to marshal enough facts and evidence and content to make a meaningful conclusion.
When you talk about a research agenda, you’ve got to do it on the category level or the product or the functional level. We know we’re going to think about these industries or these geographies or products, but the next level is, ‘what’s my unique value?’ ‘What perspective do I bring?’ ‘What are the insights of my team has because of their industry expertise, their background, their knowledge, their unique capability, versus things that I can outsource?’
By the way, at IBM we’re huge proponents of letting the vendors and the insights providers that we hire communicate directly with the organization. Let’s say we work with you, as a vendor and you guys create some material and have responded to a request that we have. Then, I’ll see at another organization’s CI team spend all this time repackaging it, and presenting it themselves to their VP, and collect the VP baseball cards, right?
You can brand and market in many different ways saying, ‘everything needs to be in our template,’ In the extreme cases, people say, ‘I don’t really want you to interact with the stakeholders.’
Where we usually see it from our chair is that there’s a level one readout we do. Then, I sense that weeks later, there was a level two readout that they did with someone else. The challenge there is I understand it is that there is a political dynamic to it, but the fact is this approach, always minimizes the findings impact to some degree because inherently the people who created it are just going to have a better ability to deliver those findings.
There’s this tension around control the way the message is disseminated and making sure the findings can stand on their own and deliver the greatest amount of impact.
If we go back to that core question, how do you scale? How do you communicate with an organization the size of IBM? What’s the answer, at least partially is, you need to trust other people to talk on your behalf, or if you hire them, let them say what you hired them to say, you know what i mean? Allow the streams of work that you’re coordinating to follow out.
Similarly, in that matrix of a couple hundred people, it’s not only outside vendors, it’s inside vendors. I’ve seen CI teams be unwilling to allow their CI deck to be presented by someone else in the organization. It works the opposite way, right? Sometimes you just have to let it go and realize that you’re creating work and having it disseminated and having it communicated about, is more important than you necessarily holding or controlling every part of that communication chain, right?
The point is, let people help you. Let outside vendors that you bring on communicate within your organization. If you trusted them enough to ask for their insights and bring them into your organization, let them talk. Similarly, within your organization if you have built these relationships with this matrix of people who have responsibility for their particular brand or geography, understand that they are going to be your spokespeople.
They are going to be the conduit for your message, and that’s okay. You don’t have to be at every meeting, right? I think a lot of these questions of scale often just really come down to ego, control, a need to micro-manage processes. I think at a certain level, when an organization reaches a certain size, you realize it’s just impossible to control the whole dimension. All you can do is make sure that the source of truth is there, that the right information is going out, that you’re maintaining these relationships.
Those are all really, really good points. Wayne, I think we’ve covered a lot of the ground that we’ve wanted to, so I think we’ll wrap up with that point. Thanks again for joining.