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Aug 23 / heathgross

The Anatomy of CI – Part 2

Ad-hoc vs Monitoring

Imagine if you tried to navigate a busy street but you could only see and hear for 5 seconds out of every minute.  Would that be a safe way to travel?  No, because the situation would change too fast, and with far too great of consequences to be safe.  Think about how most companies conduct competitive intelligence research:  short ad-hoc projects designed to provide a snapshot of market and competitor activity.  Useful for sure, but much like navigating a busy street with limited vision and hearing.  For this reason, it is imperative that organizations continuously monitor the competitive landscape.  Persistently watching and listening provides the organization with critical situational awareness of threats and opportunities.

 

Smell, Taste, Touch

If we are the eyes and ears of the organization, then what about the other three senses: smell, taste and touch?  Think of these sense as the organization’s external facing workforce:

  • The field salesforce that interacts daily with customers
  • The researcher or scientist attending a conference
  • An executive attending an industry networking session

These are just a few examples of how and where the organization’s workforce can provide additional input and insight into the market and the competitive landscape.

 

The Nervous System

So how does all this information make its way to the brain where it can be processed, analyzed, and used to support decision making and inform situational awareness?

That is where the nervous system comes in.  The nervous system is the conduit that connects the senses with the brain. It is a superhighway, carrying information from the senses, to the brain, and from the brain to the body.  For this analogy, the nervous system is made up of the various technology platforms that enable the organization to communicate and share information; it includes the organization’s file repository, intranet, mail server, and social / collaboration tools.

It is important to have a technology solution that supports the full intelligence cycle, including collection, aggregation, analysis, production, and dissemination.

At Sedulo Group, we use Intellent, a technology solution specifically designed to support professional researchers by creating dynamic links between research Questions, Sources, Findings, and Insights.  Intellent’s workflows were designed to support collaborative analysis as well as to provide an efficient means of distributing intelligence to the appropriate decision-making stakeholders.

Other solutions are designed to leverage machine learning to help analyze the millions of bytes and bits of data that flow into the organization from the various inputs (senses).

In the same way the senses need a means to communicate with the brain, and the brain with the body, without reliable technology platforms, organizational knowledge can often become siloed, or bottlenecked, preventing the information from being delivered to the brain in time to support effective decision making.  When the flow of information from the senses to the brain is interrupted, it can result in organizational paralysis, necrosis, or even death.

Jul 24 / heathgross

The Anatomy of CI – Part 1

Over the years there have been numerous comparisons between organizations and organisms, as they share many fundamental similarities, namely:

 

  • Organisms are essentially ‘living’ systems that depend on the external environment to meet their needs
  • Organizations are made up of interconnected sub systems that must work together to adapt, grow and thrive

 

If you think of your organization as an organism, then one could argue that as CI professionals, we are the eyes and ears.  It is our responsibility to keep a diligent watch on the competitive landscape: to watch for market opportunities and to listen for threats.

 

We can take this analogy even further as we explore, “The Anatomy of CI”.

 

Brain: Decision Making

 

Just like the human brain, the brain of an organization is subdivided into multiple parts, each one responsible for different aspects of decision making: R&D, marketing, operations, etc.  Like a human brain, the organization brain must make thousands of decisions each day, and like the human brain, it requires the input of information from the five senses.

 

Eyes:  Secondary Research

 

Let’s start with the eyes. For illustration purposes, think of the eyes as information that is gathered through the myriad of secondary sources your organization internalizes every day.  This could be open source information from publications, websites, papers, news sites, etc.

 

It also includes syndicated reports that are purchased by specialized research organizations. Furthermore, it includes the results of the internal research conducted by the organization, this would include clinical research results, market research, sales projections, etc.

 

Like the human eye, which collects and processes billions of images every day to help the brain make decisions, the organization too, relies on words and images to inform the tactical and strategic thinking of the organization.

 

Without its eyes, without the ability to see, the ability to gather all that secondary information, the organization would be blind, left groping in the marketplace without a clear path or direction.

 

As CI professionals, we are not responsible for reading everything, just as our eyes are not capable of seeing everything at one time. Our role is to ensure the organization is focused on the right material, and that decision makers have access to the secondary information they need to make informed decisions.

 

Ears: Primary Research

 

As CI professionals we shouldn’t rely on our eyes only.

Previously I mentioned that as CI professionals we are the eyes and ears of the organization.  So, what is it we are listing to, and what are we listening for?

If the organization’s eyes are used for gathering and processing written information, or secondary, then the ears are used to listen, to hear what is being said.  Our ‘ears’ are used for gathering and processing primary information: that which comes directly from individuals: customers, vendors, suppliers, analysts, and even competitors.

First let’s look at the right ear.  The right ear in our analogy is trained on the customer, or the end user.  The input comes from numerous sources including Voice of Customer studies, focus groups, and market research.  From these inputs the organization can listen to opinions gathered directly from key stakeholders, leveraging what is heard to inform the decision making of the brain.

However, humans have two ears.  There are two primary reasons for this. First, it provides bi-directional information gathering enabling us to we can hear what is happening in two directions simultaneously.  The placement of the human ear on either side of the head helps prevent us from being surprised by predators. It is defensive in nature.

An additional benefit to having two ears is sound location.  As sounds are heard in one ear, the brain can process the sound and compare it to the sounds coming through the other ear.  Is a matter of nanoseconds, the brain can use the two data points to help determine the distance, direction and movement of the source of the sound.  The same is true when it comes to the organization.  If the right ear is trained on customers and end users, what is the second ear listening to?

The left ear is trained on primary competitive intelligence (CI).  Like the right ear, the input comes from primary sources, what is being said.  However, rather than focusing on customers and end users, the left ear is focused on the competitive environment.  Notice I did not say it is focused just on competitors; if that was the case, we would call it ‘Competitor Intelligence’.  Competitive Intelligence is much broader, it is used to listen for disruption caused by regulatory events, changes in the industry ecosystem, and, yes, competitor activity.   Primary based CI specializes in gathering information from stakeholders through interactions and direct interviews.

Working together, the two ears provide the organization with bidirectional intelligence, helping to identify threats and determine the distance, direction, and movement of an opportunity.

Be on the lookout for part 2 of this blog series.

May 3 / heathgross

Selective Insights – Part 2

Battling Bias

The danger of Selective Insights is not limited to the government sector; it can prove costly in the business world as well.

A few years ago, my firm was hired by a large software company to conduct research on a new money-management product their key competitor was rumored to be developing. The client was worried because they believed the competitor was teaming up with another tech giant to create a low-priced, cloud-based version of the product – something that promised to disrupt my client’s entire business. My client was, to be blunt, scared as hell.

To address the research objective, we began collecting intelligence much in the same way we would for any project. We started talking to the competitor’s developers, software engineers, and product managers– anyone who would have contact with such a program.

During the first few weeks of research we interviewed dozens of people who would have been involved in such a project, if one existed.  However, it quickly became apparent that there was in fact no competing product in the works.  Sometimes the best threat intelligence is determining there is no threat at all!  Figuring we had just saved our client a few sleepless nights, we typed up our report and sent it to the client.

The following day my client and I had a conference call to discuss the report and findings. To my surprise, she was not pleased. At all. Despite the fact that interviews with dozens of internal competitor sources had not yielded any evidence of the competitive threat, the client insisted that we had not been thorough enough; she demanded that we talk to more sources.

Frustrated but determined, we resumed our research – we spent the next two weeks conducting additional interviews, looking for anyone who might be connected to the project. After speaking to more than fifty people, including executives, engineers and project managers, it became clear that not one of them had any knowledge whatsoever about a product that would compete with my client’s. We dutifully updated our report and sent it back to the client.

Unbelievably, she was again disappointed. She insisted we were somehow missing something, despite all the hard work my team had done, despite the thoroughness of the research, despite the fifty plus sources we had spoken with. I finally asked the client why she was so convinced the company was working on a competitive product.  I will never forget her response: “I have some data points that say they are.”

“Data?” I asked, “What kind of data?

“Lots of secondary indicators.” she said. “I got it from our business intelligence software.”

What she meant was that her company had an expensive piece of Big Data software that it used to keep an eye on the market. That’s a good thing. There were clues she needed to investigate and that’s why she hired me. But now, after we had done our best to provide her with HUMINT, she was still telling me we were missing the real story.

I’ll admit I almost lost my cool, but I felt the urge to set my client straight. “Well I am not talking about data here, I am talking about intelligence,” I told her. “They are not the same thing. I am talking about actual conversations with the people who write the software. The people who market and plan for it. The people that would certainly know if such a program existed. Data and intelligence are not equal.”

Unfortunately, my client couldn’t be convinced. What I eventually learned was that she was never interested in the “truth,” but rather in advancing her own agenda.  As it turned out she was using the threat of a competitor to get additional funding for one of her pet projects, and no amount of contradictory intelligence was going to alter her strategy.

Gathering intelligence solely to prove a theory, or support an agenda, is dangerous and can lead to a costly misinformed strategy.

Feb 21 / heathgross

Selective Insights – Part 1

A Costly Example

It was 2003. I was stationed in the Middle East serving as the Special Projects Officer for the Resident Office of Counterterrorism, where I ran HUMINT operations for the US military.  I recall vividly how I, my colleagues, and the nation watched as top government officials, including Former Secretary of State Colin Powel, paraded satellite photos of suspected WMD sites in front of congress while citing “numerous” additional HUMINT sources.  The intelligence seemed, to the average observer, conclusive:  Saddam Hussein had an arsenal of WMDs and was intent on using them.  However it later became clear- even to Colin Powel – that the conclusion was invalid. There were no WMDs in Iraq.

So, what happened?  How did we get it so wrong?  While conspiracy theories abound, the most likely answer is that the Bush administration fell victim to one of the most common and often costly mistakes an organization can make as it pertains to interpreting intelligence findings; what I call Selective Insight.

What is Selective Insight and how does it happen?  Selective Insight is the act of searching through a body of intelligence looking for specific findings that support your hypothesis, as opposed to examining ALL of the intelligence and building a hypothesis based on the total body of evidence.  Going back to my previous example, there may have been a handful of HUMINT reports that suggested that Saddam Hussein was amassing a WMD arsenal and when looked at selectively, one might agree with Rumsfeld and the Whitehouse.  However, if one were to look at the total body of evidence, including the thousands of HUMINT reports that clearly indicated he was not, then a very different conclusion would be drawn.

The problem is that when you go looking for intelligence to support your case, there is a good chance you may find that one nugget, that one outlier that you can point to and say, “See, here is proof.” When organizations or individuals look for intelligence to support an idea, a strategy, or personal agenda, they are likely to find it. That is a dangerous way to make military decisions, but governments are not the only organizations that fall into this destructive pattern.  Businesses suffer from Selective Insights as well, sometimes costing them valuable resources, market share, and even the business itself.

Check back next month for Part 2 of Selective Insights, as we look at some real-world examples of how Selective Insights can harm a company’s strategy and overall competitiveness.

 

Oct 19 / heathgross

Connecting Information Silos

Illustration by M Gross

Over the last several years there have been a number of interesting articles written about breaking down information silos, in fact, I have even used that term myself in the past. However, the more I work with clients attempting to overcome the information silo dilemma, I am convinced the emphasis should instead be on connecting information silos. Let’s face it, if a company has invested millions of dollars in various IT systems, they are not going to be too excited about the notion of breaking anything.


As part of Sedulo’s standard operating procedure, whenever we kick off a new project, we ask the client to arrange what we call internal stakeholder interviews.  The purpose of the interviews is to provide our research team with the most up-to-date, in-depth understanding of the research scope and questions.  Generally these interviews are helpful in providing context for the research questions, and also to provide insight into our clients’ existing hypotheses and concerns.

Recently, during the course of conducting internal stakeholder interviews for a new project, we discovered that the client’s internal team members were able to answer nearly 80% of the questions we were being tasked, and paid, to answer!  Imagine that, they had nearly all of the information within the walls of their own company, and they were about to pay a vendor to go find the information externally.

In the end, we were able to re-scope the project to focus on confirming what information the client already had, as well as adding new Key Intelligence Questions that the client’s internal team did not already have the answers to.

This is not nearly as uncommon as one would think, but how does it happen?  The answer: Information Silos.

In the IT world, “an information silo is an information management system that is unable to freely communicate with other information management systems. Communication within an information silo is always vertical, making it difficult or impossible for the system to work with unrelated systems.”

From an intelligence perspective, information silos can extend beyond information management systems, to include organizational, departmental, and individual knowledge.

Five reasons for connecting information silos:

  1. You may have intelligence your colleagues need.
  2. They may have intelligence you need.
  3. Without access to their intelligence, you have no way of identifying the organizational knowledge gaps.
  4. Without all of the intelligence you cannot make an informed decision.
  5. Decisions based on partial or incomplete intelligence have a higher risk of failure.

How do we break down information silos and still protect sensitive company information?

  1. Build and encourage an Intelligence Culture:  An Intelligence Culture is one in which every member of the organization understands, appreciates, and participates in the intentional collection, dissemination, and application of intelligence findings.
  2. Designate a Chief Intelligence Advisor (or equivalent):  Every organization needs someone who can work with the CIO, the CTO, and the heads of the various business units, to create an atmosphere of mutual and beneficial collaboration.
  3. Motivate and incentivize:
    1. Gamification – Employees can be motivated to share intelligence by developing a gamification system, whereby individuals, or departments, can be rewarded for providing intelligence and insights.
    2. Control the Flow of Information:  While this may seem contradictory to the idea of connecting information silos, intentionally withholding intelligence from specific individuals or groups, that refuse to share information, can be an effective way to motivate slow adopters.

Is your organization’s ability to make informed decisions being impeded by information silos?  Take this self-assessment and see:

  • Does the leadership team have access to all knowledge platforms, or do they need the department heads to provide the information?
  • Does the company have a culture that encourages the free exchange of intelligence across departments and divisions?
  • Do department and division heads meet periodically to assess organizational knowledge gaps?
  • Does the organization have a knowledge platform that enables members to search for intelligence on-demand?
  • Do all members of the organization have a means by which they can help to answer outstanding organizational knowledge gaps?

If you answered ‘no’ to more than two of these questions, it is very likely that your organization is either paying for research they don’t need, or, even worse, the organization is making decisions based on partial or incomplete intelligence.

Sep 11 / heathgross

Seeing Around Corners


Run with confidence
One day while out on my daily run, I noticed I was approaching a blind alley. As I approached the alley I realized I had two choices: I could either continue running, with the hope that there were no oncoming cars, or I could stop at the intersection before crossing to ensure everything was safe. Running into a blind intersection is risky, but stopping to peek around the corner would kill my momentum.
As I drew closer to the intersection, I noticed a traffic mirror installed on the opposite side of the alley.

The mirror was positioned in such a way that I had a complete view of the intersection, alerting me to an oncoming car! I came to an abrupt halt and let the car zoom.

Within seconds I safely crossed the intersection, thankful for the ability to see around the corner.
Everyday businesses face the same critical decision when developing and executing business strategies: ‘Do we sprint through the intersection without slowing down in our race to be first-to-market? Or do we stop at each intersection to peer around the corners for fear of what may, or may not be racing toward us? Neither of these are sustainable strategies, and while they may not risk personal injury, the economic and organizational impact of not being able to ‘see around corners’, can be disastrous.

But how can an organization ‘see around corners’?
It’s as simple as installing a traffic mirror. Well, at least metaphorically.

Step 1: Identify the intersection
You don’t need mirrors at every intersection, that would be a waste of resources and completely unnecessary. The key is to identify the blind intersections, those upcoming decision points that you have very little information about.

Step 2: Install the mirror
To see around corners, you need the right tool, in this case, a mirror that has a specifically designed bevel to provide a full view of the unseen intersection.
In terms of decision support, what the organization needs is detailed information, or intelligence, that would otherwise be unavailable to the decision maker. The most effective tool for gathering intelligence about a company’s external environment is competitive intelligence (CI). Using the wrong tool to gather information about your competitive landscape is equivalent to using a flat mirror; it might provide you with an accurate reflection of yourself, but it won’t help you see around corners.

Step 3: Position the mirror
Once you have the mirror installed, it is important that you point it in the right direction. This might seem like common sense, but understanding the objective and scope of the decision-support research is critical. If the research is pointed in the wrong direction, you may get a great view, but it won’t tell you much about the intersection you are about to run through.

Step 4: Run don’t walk
Once you have the mirror in place and positioned, you must learn to use and trust it. This can take time, but practice makes perfect. Leveraging CI to see around corners is only half the battle, you must also work to create a culture where leadership trusts the system in place. Trusting your CI process enables your organization to move through each intersection, even the blind ones, with speed and confidence.

Jul 26 / heathgross

Threat Matrix

A little over a year ago, two American astronomers, Marcus Wolf and Leo Biederman, working on a mountain top in Arizona, saw something in the night sky that caused them great concern.

A comet.

But the comet was, well… There was a remote possibility that the comet was on a path that could bring it into direct contact with the Earth.

Now we get hit all the time by rocks and meteors, some of them the size of cars, some no bigger than your hand.

But the comet we discovered is the size of New York City.

If this comet continues on its path around the sun and keeps its present course, sometime on August roughly a year from now, there’s a chance that we might have impact. – President Beck (Morgan Freeman), Deep Impact

I realize this is a sci-fi movie, but think about it as analogy for looking at your competition. Someone in your organization spots a potential competitor, maybe it’s a rumor of a new product, or a press release about a successful clinical trial, or perhaps it’s a rival’s quarterly finical report that hints at expansion. Just like comets, we see these “potential threats” come and go every day, but every once in a while one comes along that is the size of New York City. The threat is huge, and if it hits your business it could have enormous consequences. It could, in fact, have a Deep Impact.

Impact and Probability, two of the key measurements we use to determine threat level.

In highly competitive markets, it is important to be able to rank various threats, whether they are competitors or market activities. Once the threat has been identified through the Threat Indicator Analysis (TIA),  it is beneficial to then examine how that threat, or threats, rank in terms of impact and probability.

The Threat Matrix (TM) is a strategic analysis tool used to help assess the threat of a potential or impending competitor action or market event. The TM plots multiple threats based on Impact & Probability. The TM enables the CI practitioner to prioritize specific tactical & strategic responses to competitive threats likely to be faced. The size, shape & color of the plotted points can be used to denote a number of other variables.

The TM tool is one that we have used for a number of years as an independent analytical tool; however, we have found that it also works exceptionally well as part of a larger framework for identifying and evaluating threats and determining subsequent responses.

Example:

Through their Early Warning Program, an analyst identifies a new competitor threat using the Threat Indicator Analysis.  Further research on the competitor identifies the following potential competitor activities:

  1. Expansion of product distribution into North America
  2. Significant increase in advertising spend in US markets (~25%)
  3. Partnerships with several leading national distributors
  4. Price discounts to help secure market entry
  5. New product feature that addresses unmet market need

The analyst plots each point on the TM based on the intelligence available.  The X axis is a qualitative measure of the impact that each activity would have of the company.  The Y axis is a qualitative measure of the likelihood, or probability, that the action will occur.  Probability is an important measurement as not all potential activities will actually occur.

Based on how the analyst has plotted the various competitor activities, it is clear that the two highest threats are 1 and 2, as these have both High Impact and High Probability. Competitor Activity 5 would be categorized as Medium since, although it has the potential for very high impact, the probability of it occurring is minimal. Competitor Activity 3 would also be considered a Medium Threat since, although it would not have a significant impact, it is very likely to occur.  Competitor Activity 3 would be considered Low; it has neither high potential Impact or High Probability.

High Threats should be considered the priority in terms of planning and resources. These are likely to occur and could represent significant threats to your company. These represent ‘New York’ size threats. A strategy to mitigate the Impact or Probability of these threats should be developed in the next phase:  Threat Response Analysis.

The medium threats demand less attention at the moment, however, it is a good idea to keep these on your radar.  Monitoring them frequently will prevent you from being surprised in the event that either the Impact or Probability of these activities increases.

Jul 10 / heathgross

Threat Indicator Analysis

This is the second in a series of six blog posts designed to provide analytical tools that will help competitive intelligence practitioners link CI to strategy.

If It’s Good Enough For The CIA…

While serving in Kuwait as a counter-terrorist agent for the US Government, one of my responsibilities was to detect, evaluate and report on potential terrorist threats in the region.  As a source operations specialist, we did this through HUMINT (Human Intelligence) and analysis.  One important aspect of our work included assessing and ranking potential threats to US interests.  When assessing a threat it was key for us to evaluate the intent, capability and timeliness of the threat.  Intent without capability or capability without intent would, of course, lower the threat level assigned. Several years after transitioning from government service to competitive intelligence, I discovered that this relatively simple analytical tool could be used to help support my clients’ early warning programs. Threat Indicator Analysis (TIA) provides a simple, yet effective way to quickly evaluate and rank a potential competitive threat, enabling clients to allocate appropriate resources to monitor and respond to competition.  TIA can be applied to companies, products or competitor actions.

 

 

There are four Key Indicators one should address when evaluating competitive threats:

Intent

What is the intent of the competitor?  What are their goals? What is their strategy? Intent variables range depending on context.  This first step may seem obvious, but it is surprising how often I see clients getting worked up over a “potential” competitor threat before the actual intent of the competitor is even verified.  Without measuring Intent, every large company with resources could be viewed as a competitive threat.  Just because a company could be a threat does not mean they area threat if they have no intent to compete in your space.

Capability

Do they have the capability and capacity to achieve the intent?  Just because a competitor wants to do something does not mean they can pull it off.  Once you have established Intent, it is important to assess their Capability to act on that Intent.  Measuring Capability can be tricky; every industry has at one time or another been disrupted by a start-up that seemingly came out of nowhere.  When evaluating Capability, do not just examine what capacity they have today, but also be sure to consider how quickly they could expand or ramp up their Capability.  Things to consider here would include: partnerships, funding sources, contract manufacturing / sales, etc.

Timeline

What is the Timeline of the intended actions:  immediate, near-term, long-term?  Perhaps a competitor has the Intent and the Capability but for whatever reason they have no near-term plans for competing in your space.  While it would be foolish to ignore the threat all together, it might be prudent to concentrate your resources on near-term threats.  If there is no Intent or Capability then obviously Timeline is irrelevant.

Assigning Values

Each Indicator should be assigned a value.  It is important that the values be standardized to ensure each TIA outcome is comparable to past and future analysis.  Values can be as simple as 10 = High, 1 = Low.  It is a good idea to develop examples of what would be considered a 10, a 5 or a 1 in order to put the evaluation in context of your organization.   Don’t get too caught up in defining the variables; TIA is not meant to be a quantitative analysis.  Variables are only important in that they help benchmark competitive threats.

Ongoing

It is important to remember that this process should be fluid and ongoing.  A competitor’s Intent, Capability and Timeline can change quickly; neglecting to revisit competitive threats frequently can lead to missing key competitor indicators.  It is also important that you evaluate the threat indicators based on the most comprehensive and up to date intelligence available.  Secondary research combined with robust primary research can ensure your TIA is as accurate as possible.

Next Step

Once a competitive threat has been identified, the next step is to evaluate the level of the threat.  The Threat Matrix tool uses Impact and Probability to measure the overall threat and can be helpful in prioritizing threats.

Mar 26 / heathgross

Stupid, Stubborn or Ignorant? Part 1

If your company is not leveraging competitive intelligence (CI) to support their business decision process, then they are either Stupid, Stubborn or Ignorant.  What is your company’s excuse?

When it comes to the need and benefits of competitive intelligence, I am not one to sugarcoat things, I believe in being honest and blunt, even if at the cost of being tactful.

Several years ago our firm was approached by a manager from multi-billion dollar global manufacturer.  This manager, we’ll call her Beth, had been assigned the task of “looking into competitive intelligence”.  Keep in mind, this was one of perhaps four responsibilities Beth had been assigned, along with various market research and business intelligence tasks.

Beth did not know anything about competitive intelligence.  That’s not her fault necessarily, I meet lots of smart business professionals that have never heard of the term.

Beth did not have any training, or budget, or support staff, but what she did have was a request from management to go out and gather some specific information about a competitor.  Beth was not sure where to start or how to gather the information, so she turned to my firm, Sedulo Group.  We were glad to help.  We walked Beth through our service offerings, being sure to clearly and articulately explain the purpose and methodology behind competitive intelligence.  Convinced this was what her company needed, Beth asked us to pull together an RFP for a project that would address her bosses’ question.  We did.  The RFP was approved and the budget allocated.  Sixty days later we delivered a final report to Beth and her leadership team and everyone was happy.

Inspired by her new understanding of the power and potential of competitive intelligence, Beth began lobbying her employers to expand the use of CI within the company.  She understood that her company, a large, sprawling, global manufacturer of hundreds of products, could benefit tremendously from having a consistent and accurate view of their competitive landscape.  Beth pressed hard, using her one-off project as a case study for why the organization needed CI.  At the end of the day her requests went unanswered.  Her call for help, her plea for corporate support, fell on deaf ears.

Stupid, Stubborn or Ignorant?

stu·pid

adjective

a: not intelligent, having or showing a lack of ability to learn and understand things

b: given to unintelligent decisions or acts :  acting in an unintelligent or careless manner

stub·born

adjective

a: refusing to change your ideas or to stop doing something

b: unreasonably or perversely unyielding

ig·no·rant

adjective

a: lacking knowledge or information

b: resulting from or showing a lack of knowledge

In this case Stupid AND Stubborn, but not ignorant.  Maybe they could hide behind the ‘ignorance is bliss’ defense before Beth began waiving her report in their face… but after that, well, there is just no excuse.   Stupid – “given to unintelligent decisions or acts”, Stubborn – “refusing to change your ideas”, yea, that about sums it up.

Over the next two years we watched the company struggle against their competition.  Beat to the punch by upstarts, disrupted by disrupters, held hostage by suppliers; all the while planning their strategic moves in a vacuum, unaware of the competitions’  intent or plan or strategy.  They are still around of course.  They still churn out good products and maintain decent margins, but I can’t help but think how much better they could be, if only they weren’t so Stupid and Stubborn.

Oct 19 / heathgross

Mystery Shopping with MDs

mystery shopping with md's

Illustration by Cat Scott Larimore

We have all heard of mystery shoppers. While some view them as a loathsome underclass, creeping around the fringes of the competitive intelligence (CI) industry, there is little doubt that the practice can provide valuable competitive information. While most people associate mystery shopping with durable goods, the reality is that the technique frequently applies to services and technology as well.

Perhaps the foul reputation is the result of less than ethical practices used by a few unscrupulous firms, or perhaps it is due to the lack of formal or sophisticated training required by most mystery shopping specialty firms. Despite the prevailing superficial disdain for the practice, most CI firms leverage some form of mystery shopping from time to time. Of course, in the CI industry we don’t typically call it mystery shopping, we prefer to use high-brow terms like “commercial intelligence,” “competitor pricing studies,” etc. But as they say, “It’s like putting lipstick on a pig. When you’re through, it’s still a pig.”

Regardless of what you call it, or whether or not you like it, there is no denying that it works. Still, it is one thing to call a software company to get product and pricing information, but how does mystery shopping work in the pharmaceutical industry?

Physician Mystery Shoppers

In the world of pharmaceutical competitive intelligence there is a significant focus on understanding how competitors are positioning and marketing their products. Over half of the life science projects we support at Sedulo have a commercial component. However, the unique dynamics of the pharma industry make traditional mystery shopping impractical: While patients may be the end users and purchasers of the product, physicians and/or payers are often driving the purchase decision. So how do we get the commercial intelligence our clients need to support their own marketing and sell-against strategies?

Limited information from sales reps

The most common technique used by CI firms is to make direct contact with competitor sales reps. While this can be effective, it is often difficult to get sales reps to open up and even if they do, there are limitations to what they can talk about.

A physician provides better intelligence

A better solution is to talk directly to physicians. About three years ago Sedulo was working for a client on a particular therapeutic area that required a significant level of specialized expertise. It just so happened that my personal physician specialized in the particular area we were researching. We approached him about supporting the project as a consultant and his response was surprisingly enthusiastic. The resulting relationship was a huge success. As a practicing physician with a brick and mortar office, the client appreciated the unique perspective he brought to the team.

Thankfully the conclusion of the project was not the end of our working relationship. Soon afterwards we found another project that looked to be a good fit for him. This time the project was more commercially focused. Our client wanted to monitor how competitors were messaging their product to general practitioners (GPs) and specialists. We set the physician up on a retainer and he began providing us monthly reports on everything from frequency of sales rep visits, changes in marketing material and messaging, interaction with Medical Sales Liaisons (MSLs) and even details on competitor sample strategy.

Creating a network of physicians to support projects

As good as the information was, we needed more than one point of reference. Using the same model we reached out to a handful of other physicians that we had existing relationships with. Before long we had a small network of practicing physicians feeding us periodic updates of competitor commercial activity. The program was so successful we have since duplicated it across every major therapeutic area we are engaged in. Today we have a robust network of GPs and specialists throughout North America, Europe and Asia.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on mystery shopping and competitive intelligence, or contact me directly if you have questions about Sedulo’s Physician Retainer Program.