Human Intelligence Series, #2
Notes on Establishing an Intelligence Unit
Opportunity and Challenge
In my last full-time corporate job before embarking on a career as a consultant, I was given the task of setting up a Competitive Intelligence Unit for a company manufacturing and selling office equipment.
The main challenge was internal opposition and skepticism resulting from the failure of a previous attempt to set up a capability for the gathering, analysis and dissemination of competitive intelligence. The strongest skepticism came from the sales and customer service departments, and the opposition came from corporate headquarters in the United States.
Establishing the Groundwork for Success
The success of the CI unit was based on the following factors:
- Executive Buy-In;
- Establishing Lines of Communication and Participation with employees especially those in key departments like Sales and Customer Service;
- Establishing a source for external data; and
- Obtaining quick wins to establish credibility and support.
To achieve executive buy-in, I presented a plan of action, including anticipated costs and benefits, to the Vice President of Marketing and the Chief Executive Officer. With this, I was able to approach the rest of the company with the strength and authority of two key executives.
I then approached the Sales and Customer Service departments to let them know about the Competitive Intelligence Unit and how they could participate in it.
I then created a monthly Competitive Intelligence newsletter, published in both official languages, which was distributed to all employees. The first edition announced the establishment of the Competitive Intelligence Unit, and described how everyone can participate in providing competitive information.
In future editions of the newsletter I published CI success stories and how different company employees contributed to the success. Employee participation in gathering such information was enthusiastic and helped the company to meet a number of challenges from competitors.
As for obtaining external data, I advocated a subscription to ProQuest Direct, an online service.
Quick Wins Establish Credibility and Employee Participation
As for obtaining quick early successes, the first opportunity came as a result of a request from the company president. He heard a rumor that a key competitor has been bought and he wanted to know who bought the company and what would be the likely consequences for the industry.
Combining data from the online service and information provided by colleagues in the company, I was able to determine that:
- The competitor was bought by a British merchant bank, which purchased it from French shareholders;
- This merchant bank had a history of buying companies and increasing the market share for their products by aggressively undercutting competitors; and
- When increased market share has been achieved, the merchant bank then sells its shares in the company at a much higher price.
As a result, we were able to anticipate the aggressive price cutting by this company so that we did not lose market share, but actually increased it at the cost of this competitor.
This event was published in the newsletter and those who contributed to this success were given recognition and thanked. This increased the profile of Competitive Intelligence within the company.
Keys to Success
The keys to success for establishing a success Competitive Intelligence Unit are:
- Obtaining executive buy-in;
- Obtaining buy-in and participation from company employees, especially those in frontline departments such as sales and customer service;
- Regular communications, for example, a newsletter;
- Having a feasible budget; and
- At all costs, avoid isolating yourself.
This last point, avoid isolating yourself, is crucial. As a Competitive Intelligence professional, you must maintain a high profile within the company. You should be accessible to all employees who could help in the gathering of competitive information
This means that you should not remained glued to your desk and not rely on information that can be obtained via computer, no matter how reliable you may think that such data may be.
HumInt (Human Intelligence) will be the most important contributor to your success. Accordingly, as a Competitive Intelligence professional you must make it a habit to be proactive and intellectually curious.