Jonny Rose: A bit of scene-setting would be really helpful if you could just tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you ended up in the world of competitive intelligence.
Suki Fuller: I started out in chemical engineering – I didn’t really enjoy being in a laboratory too much; I got to indulge the analytical side of my brain, but the qualitative aspects were missing. I decided I wanted to do something which was a little bit James Bond-esque and Intelligence Studies popped up as an option.
The program I found – at Mercyhurst University – was one of the first in the world where you were taught the theory of intelligence as well as being given practical applications where you got to work with intelligence-gathering companies. I graduated, went and did pharmaceuticals, national security, law enforcement, automotive, served some time in the military – all of which incorporated various aspects of competitive intelligence.
Rose: I think what would be very useful is to define ‘competitive intelligence’. What does that phrase mean to you?
Fuller: I’ll give you the book definition of ‘competitive intelligence’: it is the action of defining, gathering, analyzing, and distributing intelligence about a product, a service, a need, or competitors or customers or any aspect of an environment that can help you gain an advantage and make strategic decisions for an organization.
“When undertaking a competitive intelligence project on a B2B tech company – look at what they have published.”
Rose: So, that’s the the book definition but I think we all know that when it comes to what the book says and what you actually see when you’re out in the field are two very different things. In your experience does the meaning and practice of competitive intelligence change or is it very faithful to that definition?
Fuller: When you are first starting out if you’ve had any sort of formal education or knowledge of competitive intelligence then you do have a very clearly defined structure about what competitive intelligence is, what you can and what you cannot do. For example, when you’re doing competitive profiling: you’re actually going out and speaking to your competitor’s salespeople, former employees, people in their pipeline, people that have interviewed for positions at that company – and those are all within the ethical grounds of competitive intelligence.
However, there are always a few misconceptions that CI means you can go ‘dumpster-diving’ or that you can just go to a competitor and steal their information – that’s not competitive intelligence, that’s corporate espionage!
Rose: How does the practice of competitive intelligence differ between sectors?
Fuller: Naturally, what you’re looking for and at is going to be slightly different from sector to sector. If you’re looking at a B2B software company, you’re going to be looking at, well, your competitor’s software, you will want to benchmark how your software is different from theirs, you’re going to be doing a comparative analysis of what your software does, what theirs does and seeing how each specific function compares to your own product.
Whereas, when you’re doing competitive profiling in, say, wealth and asset management, you may be doing all the above and you’re also going to be looking at the people – both the advisors and their clients.
“If you’re not meeting basic customer needs, it doesn’t matter what you give them based on competitive intelligence.”
Rose: What are some sort of typical tactics that you favour when it comes to undertaking a competitive intelligence project
Fuller: If you’re looking at an enterprise tech company, one of the first areas to look is always a patent: that enables you to have some sort of idea where the company may be going. You can also look at what they have published – I mean that’s one of the things that you do in Idio – and use this to understand what they are researching or where they may even have a new product idea going. Also, speak to salespeople: they’re out there they’re talking to the same prospects as your competitors. It’s also useful to do competitor cash flow analysis and use this to predict pricing and M&A moves. You may be able to infer that it’s cheaper for them to buy someone than it is to develop a new product themselves.
Rose: Let me give you a scenario – and you tell me how competitive intelligence fits in.
I’m an asset management firm and it’s the day after the EU referendum. In a world where our clients are nervous: they don’t know what the markets doing right so they are thinking of pulling out funds, but there’s also an opportunity to poach clients from other funds who probably are thinking the same thing.
In this scenario, what what can competitive intelligence do for me, the asset manager, to help me both retain clients, how can competitive intelligence help me assuage the fears of my current clients, and how can competitive intelligence help me win clients from other firms, other funds?
Fuller: The first thing to tend to in a situation like this is your relationships: sort out your customer relationship management. Make sure that your client relationship managers understand what your company is doing for those clients, and also understand what those clients want, and that’s the first thing you need to do to retain the clients because if you’re not doing what they want, then they’re just going to leave. It doesn’t matter if you try to give them something else gleaned from competitive intelligence if you’re not meeting those basic needs.
However, with competitive intelligence, you could build on this quickly as you’d understand what other companies are doing for their clients and whether or not you’re also matching that service or provision. In your scenario, this would help because at least you’d know if you can match what your competitors are doing and, if not, where the gaps are.
This leads on to the importance of “the dashboard” and having accurate intelligence in real-time. If you’re not able to access or use that kind of dashboard in order to understand or keep your clients, you’re losing.
“If you’re not able to access a dashboard of real-time content intelligence in order to understand or keep your clients, you’re losing.”
Rose: How have you seen competitive intelligence used by Sales in B2B companies?
Fuller: I always say, win-loss analysis – that is the number one thing that every salesperson should be able to do – and the aspect of competitive intelligence sales will most benefit from. Examining the reasons behind why you win and lose deals will help you better understand your buyer’s decision-making criteria, improve your win ratio, explain why your competitors are winning, and identify training needs for your sales organization.
Win/loss analysis may be one of the most important strategic activities for marketing, sales and product leaders.
It’s important to make competitive intelligence real-time and accessible to your salesforce, too.
I’ll give you an example: there was a medical devices company in Asia speaking at a competitive intelligence conference recently and they discussed a case study where their salespeople were just completely frustrated at having to speak to the doctors that were using their competitor’s devices. The salespeople knew that these doctors were being fed false information from their competitors – but were unable to successfully rebutt them.
The medical devices company gave every single salesperson an iPad loaded with the facts gleaned from competitive intelligence exercises. The salespeople were able to access real-time competitive intelligence to handle objections and show their prospects where and why their suppliers were not being 100% truthful. As well as helping with differentiation, this access to real-time competitive intelligence also did wonders for their win-loss ration.
Rose: Fantastic! If there’s one thing the listeners should do to make sure they are In The Know, what would it be?
Fuller: Diversify your reading. I would say that the biggest thing is to remove your own biases: read books and articles by people that you disagree with, in order to get a more grounded view point, because as an analyst, our minds need to be as flexible and adjustable as possible in order to come to the best results. We all have an inherent bias towards one way or another, so you want to make sure that you can be as even as possible.