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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?



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



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

b: unreasonably or perversely unyielding



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.

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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.

Apr 30 / heathgross

Six Degrees of Connection

Improve the ROI and sustainability of competitive intelligence in your organization by linking CI to Strategy using six analytical tools.


In order to increase the ROI, and thus the sustainability, of CI within your organization, it is essential to link research with strategy.  While there is a growing dialogue concerning the need to increase the impact of CI on strategy, the majority of the discussion is theoretical in nature.

The goal of this session is to provide the CI professional with six practical analytical tools that will enable the practitioner to convert research findings into research based strategic decision support.

The term polarization keeps popping up in the media; talking heads from Fox to MSNBC, and every channel in-between, are lamenting the division in our country’s wealth, healthcare and political views.  Polarization occurs when parties are split on how they perceive a problem and on how that problem can and should be resolved.

Our industry is not insulated from this trend.

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the need for competitive intelligence to be more closely aligned with strategy.  For those who prescribe to this view, competitive intelligence is regarded as a decision support tool, one that works hand in hand with other business disciplines in a broader consultative context.

Yet others suggest that competitive intelligence is a stand-alone product.  It is the sum of primary and secondary research and analysis; it is the product of a research organization, one whose goal is to find answers to questions.

The difference is less in the output and more in the goal.  Research organizations are focused on finding answers, consultative organizations are focused on finding solutions.

Based on the title of this blog it is probably pretty easy to figure out where I come down on this argument.  While we have plenty of clients that hire us to serve as there research vendor, I am convinced that we provide greater value when we are able to serve in a consultative role, as a thought partner that seeks to not just find answers, but to find solutions through research based decision support.

At the Pharma CI European Conference in February 2013, Dr. Daniel Pascheles, Vice President, Merck & Company, in his keynote address, encouraged fellow CI professionals to look for ways to link CI to strategy, thereby increasing the value of CI.  Later in the conference, Philippe Revardel, Associate Vice-President Corporate Strategic Intelligence, Sanofi, echoed these same sentiments in his session entitled, Leveraging Intelligence in the Strategic Decision Making Process.

I too spoke at this conference in a similarly themed session entitled, The Answer to CI ROI: Increasing the Value of Competitive Intelligence Through The Realignment of Research Objectives (View Presentation).  What is interesting is that there was no coordination between the three of us and this was never presented as a conference theme.  I don’t believe this is a coincidence, but rather another indication of a paradigm shift in our industry, one that will continue to polarize CI practitioners, dividing those who perceive themselves as researchers vs those that view themselves as consultants and strategists.

At the end of the day we can’t just talk about linking CI to strategy, we actually need to do it.

Another reoccurring theme I have been hearing is that while the idea is appealing in theory, many CI practitioners are not sure exactly how to do this.  Are there systems, tools and techniques that can enable us to move from the theoretical to the practical?

I am not claiming to have all the answers here.  But I did want to take a first step.  I wanted to share six tools that we use on a regularly basis to help our clients transform intelligence into insight, research findings into business decisions support.  Some of these we developed in-house, some are time-tested tools and others are modifications of widely used techniques.

I hope that you find these useful in your effort to link CI to strategy, thereby improving the value, and thus, the sustainability, of CI in your organization.

View Tools



Apr 29 / heathgross

Secondary Research – An Essential Piece To Any Consulting Firm

UnGoogle Yourself

Secondary research is an essential piece to any strategic consulting firm’s solution portfolio. While few would argue this statement, most experienced CI practitioners can easily forget about the foundational nature of secondary research. Without reliable and intentional secondary research, primary research will not hit its intended target and the overall project goals will not be met. Let’s look at three pieces to the secondary research puzzle.

Don’t Let Google Stop You

No, this is not going to be a rant about Google taking over the world, but about the over reliance on Google in secondary research. Now that Google basically owns online search as we know it, it can be easy to stop short of great secondary research. If you have been hiding somewhere the past few years, read this article about Google’s command of online search. What Google’s domination in online search can lead to is complacency and stagnation in secondary research. Google is a reliable starting place in the effort to ground primary research in solid secondary, but research falls short when Google is the only tool employed to cast a wide net on a topic or person. It would be like in fishing if you continued to cast a line in the same spot with the same bait every time. You may get some decent size fish here and there, but you could be missing the big fish just upstream because doing the same thing every time has gotten decent results in the past. Don’t settle for just getting some decent size “fish” here and there; be willing to go deeper and wider in secondary research.

What Else Is Out There?

While there is no doubt that Google offers a plethora of helpful and timely information, as mentioned above secondary research cannot end just at Google. Here are some sources that may get overlooked in the tendency to use Google as a crutch:

Social Media/Blogs – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook – In an effort to get noticed, people often share more than their companies would probably like.

Financial Reports – Reports provide a large amount of data tailor-made to widen one’s understanding of industry verticals and company structures as well the typical financial data associated with quarterly and yearly reporting.

Alerts – Whether you are trying to track hiring practices, website updates, or product launches, utilizing alerts can be a helpful tool to stay on top of the competitive landscape.


Fake it ‘til you Make it

This phrase has floated around for the last few years, and while ultimately it is a bad thing to base your business on, there is a principal here we can learn from. Working in the competitive intelligence industry, our clients come from any number of different industries and we need to be able to quickly adapt and gain an understanding of their business and the vocabulary associated with it. Good secondary research allows you to step intelligently into any industry and be able to then leverage your CI skillset to deliver high quality, actionable intelligence.

The point truly isn’t to be able to pretend like you know something when you are absolutely clueless, it is to highlight the fact that there is a steep learning curve on all new projects. When working in an industry where we help our clients stay ahead of their competition, there is always something new to learn about. Whether it is a competitor they hadn’t considered before that is gaining ground in the market or a new product set to launch in the next six months to a year, we have to be able to learn the most relevant industry information possible, and do it quickly. This is where having a variety of resources, and knowing which ones to leverage for specific knowledge, is key.

Getting Personal

It can be easy to think of secondary research in a dry, detached sort of way, but detailed secondary information can drive great primary conversations. People want to talk to people that they like and detailed secondary information can be helpful in deciding the best approach to take. For instance, if an opinion leader’s profile mentions they are from small town Ohio and you are too, lead with that common connection. This works with even high level sources. If you happen to find that a source has written widely on a particular topic, you may get that person warmed up by mentioning how insightful their publications have been.



As we have seen, great secondary research must incorporate more than just Google. Also, secondary research must have as its primary purpose to grant personality to primary research and gain the edge in fast adaptation with client needs and goals.

Secondary research void of thoughtfulness ends up only in market research. If the goal is strategic intelligence, then you are looking to provide actionable intelligence that is timely and thoughtful. Leveraging secondary research for that purpose will keep long-term clients and gain new ones.


Mar 18 / heathgross

“What’s After Next?”

Leveraging competitive intelligence to identify innovation white space


Today many companies are surveying the market and asking themselves, “What can we make next, how can we improve our product and what would be innovative?”  ‘What’s next?’ can often lead to incremental innovation, continued competition and a lack of differentiation. Instead we should be asking, ‘What’s after next?’  Leveraging competitive intelligence, organizations can look beyond what is next, gaining valuable insight into ‘What’s After Next’, will enable you to pursue true product differentiation, find open, uncontested markets and leap frog the competition.

Speaking of leapfrogging, do you remember this?  Frogger is a great illustration how important it is to plan your strategy several moves ahead.


Are We Asking The Right Questions


It isn’t hard to figure out what the unmet market need is.  Consumers are pretty vocal; ‘I want my phone to be able to do this’, ‘I need an app that can do that’; ‘we need a medical device that is capable of…’  The problem is, everyone is asking those same questions and getting the same answers.  While they may tackle the issue differently, the result is a new wave of products that address the same need, though their approach and ability to meet that need may differ.  The result is threefold:

  • A race to be the first to develop and launch, leading to compromised quality or capability
  • Minimal differentiation
  • Incremental innovation

Is there a way to innovate that avoids this trap?  Yes.  Don’t base your innovation strategy on what is next, instead, look to ‘What’s after next’.

If you want to reach the Lily Pad, or in this case “white space”, you have to navigate dangerous roads, roaring rivers, crocodiles and snakes.


Looking for ‘What’s After Next’


How do you do that?  It requires a very different process.  Most innovation today is based on what consumers want or need today.  While there is some consideration for what is already in the competitor pipeline, the focus is usually on how to do the next thing better.  Again, this results in waves of similar products hitting the market within the same window, forcing them to compete on price and features, rather than on meeting an unmet need.

A smarter use of our innovation resources would be to focus on ‘what’s after next’.


Where is the white space in the innovation pipeline?  There is a three step process we can use to do that:

1)     Map the consumer needs

2)     Map the innovation pipelines of the competitive landscape

3)     Look for white space opportunities beyond what is next

For those organizations that are more risk averse, and that have the resources, there is another step that can be used:

4)     Develop a strategy that balances low-risk incremental innovation with higher-risk white space innovation.


Looking For Whitespaces


How do you find the innovation white spaces? Figuring out what the competition is working on can be challenging. While their ‘next’ innovation may be fairly public and well known within the market, their pipeline is likely less public. There is a chance they are already working on their ‘What’s after next’ innovation. A common technique for gaining insight into future innovation is by examining the paper trail created in the R&D period of innovation. Conducting patent analysis, analyzing new hires and studying the competitors’ technology licensing and acquisition strategy are all useful techniques in trying to ascertain where a competitor might be innovating ‘after next’.

But there is still an even better way: competitive intelligence can be leveraged to provide details of competitor R&D and innovation strategies. This information can then be used to identify the innovation white spaces.

TO LEARN MORE: Please contact Sedulo Group. And later this month we will add a video for a more detailed understanding of identifying the innovation white spaces.

Jan 14 / heathgross

Think like the competitor. Act like the competitor. Beat the competitor.

Illustration by Yinan Wang


How many of you remember this dialogue?  If you don’t know what a dial-up modem sounds like, you are probably too young to remember this movie.

Scientist:         General, are you prepared to destroy the enemy?
General:          You betcha!
Scientist:         Do you think they know that?
General:          I believe we’ve made that clear enough.
Scientist:         Then don’t! Tell the President to ride out the attack.
Colonel:           Sir, they need a decision.
Scientist:         General, do you really believe that the enemy would attack without provocation, using so many missiles, bombers, and subs so that we would have no choice but to totally annihilate them?
[Loudspeaker]             One minute and thirty seconds to impact.
Scientist:         General, you are listening to a machine! Do the world a favor and don’t act like one.
[Loudspeaker]             One minute and twenty seconds to impact.


Recently my firm was asked by a major pharmaceutical company to support a war game exercise for one of their OTC brands.  Every time I hear the term “war game” I can’t help but think about the 1983 movie, War Games, staring a very young Mathew Broderick.  I was 13 years old when I first saw this movie and even then this particular dialogue stuck with me.  “General you are listening to a machine! Do the world a favor and don’t act like one.”  What a great line, one that we would all do well to listen to, in both business and life.

Over the past couple of years our firm has steadily evolved from a tactical oriented competitive intelligence agency, focusing almost exclusively on just answering KIQs (Key Intelligence Questions), into a full service competitive strategy firm.  One aspect of that evolution has been an increase in opportunities to support our clients’ strategic decision making process.  I have always believed that, if done right, a war game exercise can be a great tool for decision support and team building.

In today’s business environment we have become increasingly dependent on technology; a war game reminds us that computers are no match for the human mind when it comes to creativity and understanding human motivations:  two key ingredients to developing effective business strategies.

Computers are great for storing and mining data, for extrapolating, calculating and projecting… but computers only know what we teach them.  Computers have no emotional intelligence.  They lack the ability to understand human motivations.  They cannot create or truly strategize.  Sure, they can cram data into algorithms and models that certainly can provide insight.  But they can’t think. For now, at least, thinking is still the sole domain of humans.

Developing a strategy to counter your competitors’ messaging requires that you understand how the competitor thinks, what motivates them, what keeps them up at night.  It requires you to put yourself in the shoes of the competitor and ask, “What would I do if I were them?”

That is the true essence of a war game – that is really what a war game is.  War games come in all shapes and sizes, but at the end of the day, that is the goal of every war game: to role-play the enemy (competitor) in order to try and predict what they might do.  A war game enables you to develop contingency plans and offensive strategies that can proactively disrupt or blunt the predicted actions of the competitor.

Of course there are other factors involved in developing a business strategy besides just the actions of competitors.  A good war game will factor in a number of variables into the scenarios, exploring both the macro and micro influencers, from the general economy to regulatory, technology and consumer trends.

I could probably write a book on how to conduct an effective war game (in fact a number of people have) but for now I will leave you with a few simple suggestions:

  • Know Your Enemy: Ok, so this is business and these aren’t really your enemies, but they are your competitors.  Having robust briefing decks on each competitor is key.  You want the teams to have the decks a few days before the war game so that they can learn as much as they can about the role they will be playing: How does the competitor make decisions?, What is their culture like? What kind of budgets do they have?  These are just a few examples of the kinds of things the teams will need to know in order to effectively think like the competitor.
  • Don’t conduct your war game in a vacuum:  One mistake I see a lot of companies make is basing their war game scenarios on too many assumptions.  Certainly you can’t know everything your competitor is going to do (if you could you would not need to do a war game), but conducting research before the war game is one of the keys to success.
  • Don’t rely solely on secondary research:  Most companies are very good at gathering secondary research, but when it comes time to plan your strategy, it is generally worth the investment to hire a good primary research vendor to fill in as many of the knowledge gaps as possible BEFORE the war game.  See ‘Are You Driving Blindfold?’ for more on this.
  • Have fun, be creative:  For most people, the idea of a full day or two of ‘Strategy Development’ sounds like as much fun as a root canal.  There a number of things you can do to keep the war game fun, so explore some options with the idea that a war game can be a team building process as well as a strategy development exercise.
  • Immerse the teams:  Using things like video, competitor name tags and props can help to immerse the teams, enabling them to ‘get into character’.  The more the teams feel like the competitor, the more likely they are to think like the competitor.

Remember, war games give us an opportunity to do what all of our technology can’t: think.  In a world where we are spoon fed data at a nauseating pace, war games give you a chance to step back, unplug, be creative, have fun, and in the process develop a creative business strategy that will help you out maneuver and outperform the competition.

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 on retainer 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.

Physician Retainer Program

Despite the unfavorable status that mystery shopping holds within the competitive intelligence community, our Physician Retainer Program proves that with a little creativity it is possible to efficiently and ethically gather detailed commercial intelligence in almost any industry.

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.

Sep 29 / heathgross

Showing Your Cards

Poker: Showing Your Cards

illustration by Cat Scott

Protect Your Company’s Information

One thing I have noticed in the competitive intelligence industry is that everyone is so focused on trying to see the other guy’s hand that they are forgetting to hide their own.

Knowing your competitor’s intentions has tremendous value; however if you are not taking steps to protect your organization’s information then you may be forfeiting any competitive advantage you might have had. As a former counter intelligence agent for the US government, I have witnessed firsthand how the right information in the wrong hands can wreak havoc on both tactical and strategic initiatives.

Corporate Security isn’t Enough

There is a pervasive belief within the competitive intelligence industry that protecting information falls under the prevue of corporate security and is therefore not the concern of CI managers. While corporate security may be responsible for protecting the company from such things as cyber attacks, document theft, espionage or trade secret protection, these are not practices associated with legitimate competitive intelligence. Competitive intelligence practitioners can gain tremendous insight into an organization’s activities, strategies and future plans without ever breaking legal or ethical rules or coming under the scrutiny of corporate security.

The fact is, there are few people within an organization that are better equipped to understand how to protect against competitive intelligence attacks than the competitive intelligence practitioners themselves. Think about what you want to know about your competitor and how you (or your vendor) might go about getting that information: Who would you talk to that could provide you with useful information? Once you have answered that question you are on your way to understanding how to protect your own company.

Not Just for Senior Staff

One pitfall I see often is when a company decides to establish a counter competitive intelligence program, it is generally only rolled out to a limited number of senior staff. While this method might provide some level of protection, it is rarely effective at deterring the smart and persistent primary researcher. At Sedulo we teach our analysts to start at the bottom of the corporate food chain and work their way up. Sales reps, assistants, interns, contractors, vendors, former employees: These represent the low hanging fruit. They often have access to lots of good intelligence but seldom receive any counter competitive intelligence training. Only after we have exhausted these sources do we begin reaching out to senior staff within an organization. If your company has trained only senior staff, then you have allowed the competitor to gather 90% of what they need to know. While it may not be the whole picture, it is 90% too much.

Free Counter Competitive Intelligence Assessment

Due to an overwhelming interest in this topic, Sedulo has decided to offer a free counter CI assessment to prospective clients.

Additionally, we plan to present an abbreviated session at the SCIP International Conference next May. This session will provide the knowledge and tools needed to evaluate your current Counter CI capabilities, develop your organization’s Counter CI program and establish a training program that will help members of your organization detect and report competitive intelligence activity.

If you have any thoughts on this topic or would like more information on counter CI strategy, please do not hesitate to leave a comment or reach out to me directly.

Aug 11 / heathgross

Thank You, Mr. Keating

Thinking outside of the strategy box (illustration)

illustration by Cat Scott

“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”
– John Keating, Dead Poet’s Society

We have all heard the over-used expression “think outside the box.” I tell my analysts AND clients, “don’t just think outside the box, turn the box upside down, climb up on top of it, and you will see things from a whole new perspective.”

One of the critical success factors behind a successful competitive intelligence culture is being teachable. If management is not open to “ideas from the outside” it will be difficult for them to fully appreciate or internalize the competitive intelligence findings.

Part of a teachable culture is the willingness to change strategic direction in light of new evidence. We recently experienced this issue with a UK based client. Our firm was brought in to do a competitive intelligence landscape of a particular market for a New Products group. To their surprise and ours, our research revealed that their product launch strategy was built on several false competitive assumptions.

Rather than facing the wrath of senior management (they had already spent millions pursuing the strategy), they terminated our contract and buried the report.

The point is that the stakeholders of the competitive intelligence product and process must be able to operate in an environment that is flexible and understands that a shift in strategy might be the best course of action in light of new evidence.

Remember the scene from Dead Poets Society, when John Keating (Robin Williams) has the students climb up on top of his desk so that they can “look at the world in a different way”?

That’s the challenge we face as competitive intelligence professionals. We must confront assumptions and theories with an open mind. Telling clients, or senior management, what they want to hear is often the easy solution, but in the end that is not what we are called to do. Our job is to find out the truth, to provide unbiased insight to our clients, not blindly validate what they already presume.