Competitive Intelligence

Tactical, Operational & Strategic Analysis of Markets, Competitors & Industries

Proactive competitive intelligence vs reactive competitive intelligence

As it seems to me competitive intelligence should be proactive, I found many intelligence practitioners being in a reactive position, having to respond quite quickly to manager requests on Friday nights: lack of resource, lack of methods, lack of tools?

Who you consider yourself a respondent or a proponent force? Would you consider CI practitioners should be proactively leading the competitive edge or should simply reply to corporate inquiries?

What are your thoughts? How do you manage to run a proactive competitive intelligence function within your company? What are the key ingredients to that recipe? 

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hi Chris - I was browsing around the site today and somehow missed this excellent topic! Thanks for posting it!

Would you be willing to join an Intel Collab teleconference on the topic some Friday morning - perhaps late in June or early July - to discuss it in person? Then, we can try and groom a discussion here in the meantime so some of the primary issues can be revealed prior to the live call.

For my own opinion, I believe the answer to your macro question boils down to the PRIMARY CHARTER of the intelligence apparatus itself as mandated by the organization funding it. This is *never* uniformly standardized across organizations, by the way, which is one of CI's great failures, as well - that is, to stomp our collective feet and say "CI is ..." this, that or the other thing, which conveys no demonstrable immediate value to the exec paying the bills and therefore is doomed from the start. That dogmatic view of the field is what has gotten us to this obscure position over the past 25 years.

Rather, CI is whatever the organization putting down the leadership "cred" and dollars to fund it says it should be - not some artificially mandated "best practice" that offers little or no discernible competitive advantage to the organization or which suggests it'll take a few years to "realize ROI" - in this era of ruthless productivity, ROI must be the *only* measure of value the intel group need worry about.

Now, if that makes one reactive to clients' demands, then so be it. But I'd prefer to rephrase "reactive" with a slightly more positive spin by using the term "responsive" instead. And responsiveness comes with the territory as part of your job description in any client-serving job.

Instead, I'll suggest that, a lot like a driver's license, you EARN the PRIVILEGE to be "proactive" with your clients and stakeholders; it's not a right that's given to you - you must pass your driver's test before you get behind the wheel.

Thoughts? C'mon... let me have it ;-) I'm a glutton for punishment and LOVE debate - I think we're finally striking at the heart of CI's issues with questions like the one Chris posted. Allons!
We have a Strategic Intelligence team and our Primary Charter (tm - Arik) is "decision-support". So by it's nature (and reporting line) it supports strategy and is hence proactive - making the future happen, rather than being led into it. I like to draw a parallel with the Corporate Legal team - Legal advises of "can/cannot" the company do something. Intelligence advises on "should/shouldn't" the company do something.
Arik makes fine points.

“…CI is whatever the organization putting down the leadership "cred" and dollars to fund it says it should be…”
Bravo, Arik. If you don’t do what the part of the organization paying your salary thinks it is paying you to do, your days are numbered.

I also agree with Arik on the fact that there is a big difference between “stomping your feet” and “earning the right” to be proactive. There is also a big difference between being a useless doormat of a function that does anything and everything no one else wants to do, and being a steamroller that stays true to your own agenda but ticks off the decision makers until you’ve become an adversary rather than an ally to them. Earning the right to be proactive needs to be active—a systematic, well-orchestrated shift of the balance toward what you know you should be doing—by demonstrating value/practical application—from the duties your boss demands that don’t take advantage of your unique skills.

Sadly, this ability to read and effectively adjust your approach to the political climate and individual personalities holding the cards in one’s own organization seems to be a rare gift, even among those who can accurately identify and analyze those exact same characteristics for a competitor. Frankly, in my experience, I have met few people in any professional discipline who do this very well. Perhaps this is due to the fact that most of the professionals in my universe are very technical/analytical, and managing political/behavioral factors with respect to a goal is more of an art. In an area like CI that is much harder to justify to decision makers than a function like, say, Accounting, not having this political/behavioral savvy becomes exponentially more of a liability.
I agree completely that the perception of CI needs to be viewed as a much more proactive field.

My three cents:

1) "Reactive" implies a time delay which has moved from months ... to weeks... to days.... to "on demand"
(a term I believe IBM pushed into the business community ten years ago)

2) Understanding "trends" is often a good way to transition from understanding the past and present to getting into proactive discussions about the future

3) Setting up potential scenarios (scenario planning, what-if analysis, etc.) is an easy way to be proactive even for CI groups without the formal authority to be proactive because establishing the context of the discussion and the mental (strategic) playing field is where most of the analysis and true thinking is required. (Selecting which path to take for each potential scenario is the one key decision that typically must be made by the true decision maker).
We were delivering one of our clients a considerable volume of content that summarized the activities of one of their primary competitors (credit card companies). During a recap meeting in their New York offices, we were told something along the lines of "your work is very useful in summarizing what has happened, but we want to know what will happen in the future. It is all well and good reading that XYZ company just signed up 30,000 more merchants in South East Asia. But what we really want to know is that XYZ company is going to be signing up 30,000 more merchants in South East Asia over the next six months."

That scenario taught us a lot. Apart from the requirement to explore and define what processes and sources we needed to introduce, in order to meet our client's needs, it also brought to light a need to clearly educate clients about the difference. CI is still somewhat alien to many. There are inaccurate perceptions of CI which we all come across, and have to deal with on a regular basis.

We feel that CI is not exclusively proactive or reactive. It has to be both. There is always new marketing material, press releases, public filings etc to gather, analyze, and develop in to assets. Then there are those trends, signals, job postings, patent filings etc that drive the formulation of KITs and KIQs leading to predictions.

I agree that there is absolutely a need to earn the right to make those predictions, but surely that right is based on a track record of predictions that turned out to be accurate. So where do you start? We are proponents of the CI Predictive Process (CIPP) which brings together those critical data points, and emotional indicators, to guide organizations towards a reasonably fog-free competitive horizon. I agree that you must pass your driver's test before you get behind the wheel BUT, the obvious question is, how will you ever pass your driver's test if you have never driven a car?

Interesting discussion.
Many CI requests may fall into the category of reactive, but that should not be a detriment to providing proactive / future-focused info and insights. Whether working within a company or for a client, it's our job as the experts to gently introduce and guide the CI to proactive results and the far great value this provides.

Few of our clients ask for external forces that are/will be impacting their industry, but that does not stop us from informing them about other critical info. Much has to do with the way it's presented. As an outsourced CI practitioner, our clients are probably more open to hearing other/different info than for those internal practitioners, but I believe the same techniques will work.

Three suggestions: 1. Place the "other" info at the back of the results, as an Addendum, or in a separate document. Identify it as "Areas to Monitor" or "Related Info" or whatever....... Include an opening sentence explaining why it has value, but keep the additional info brief. They can always ask for more details. Or if the info comes from an article, include the link.

2. Regularly remind recipients that you told them this info previously and now you're building on it. When people dismiss or don't understand info, it's often forgotten. You have to remind them that you told them about it previously (at the last meeting, a month ago, in the report, ....) and build on it - to reinforce or present new examples.

3. One reason why people don't accept this new info is that there aren't enough dots explaining how you got to this new info from the older, more familiar info. Think of yourself as Sherlock Holmes, as someone who carefully takes others through the process.

This takes time. After you have done the above repeatedly, someone will finally say - "Chris seems to be able to see what's happening before the rest of us," or "I think Chris may be on to something and we should be monitoring x."

Bottom line: in addition to the requests you receive, consider teaching (by example) slowly, deliberately, regularly, and don't give up.
100% agree with this Seena. I believe that CI ought to fulfill a vision mandate, and part of that is the proactive conscience of the strategic and/or operational direction of the organisation. This takes time. If you see no strategic link up to your projects, draft the strategic plan - vision, goals, strategy (what actions are you going to do differently to the competition to realise your goals), objectives, KPIs, critical success factors - as pertaining to your organisation. Does it reflect the external evironment as you see, internal environment as you see it. The gaps become blindspots that need to be put on the table. This CI culture requires leadership based on confidence on existing practices and a continual strive for self improvement.
Whereas I agree that this softer approach is necessary in order to play to the emotional sensitivities of executives and other decision-makers, those individuals must also be made aware that other organizations, potentially their competitors, are gaining and sustaining competitive advantage sooner because CI considerations are brought in at an earlier, more strategic stage in business planning.

Sure, a logical process that effectively illustrates how conclusions were arrived at, is an important part of these activities, but CI professionals should avoid finding themselves in a position of "suggestion" and should be focusing on "direction."
I believe that once CI practitioners accumulate enough knowledge and expertise over time regarding their target markets and set of competitors they should be increasingly obligated to be proactive in shaping organizational strategies and give proactive recommendations. I've played a large role recently in product development design mainly because I know and understand the various "personalities" of our competitors and can predict their likely set of reactions. I would argue that many CI practitioners who become very proactive in shaping strategy eventually leave the CI field and become general managers or marketing managers.

One of the risks that a CI practitioner faces when being proactive is the management team will either be disoriented by the proactive analysis or skeptical of it. Seena's recommendation makes sense in managing the risk with that - just gently lead the management team to your conclusions, and be sure to outline a number of different scenarios that could happen in the future to hedge your bets. It's also important initially that the proactive insights don't contradict strongly held beliefs by the executive team - you need to work your way gradually to that point instead of surprising them. Some executives actually see proactive insights by a CI practitioner as a "threat" to their executive power, so it's important at first to be non-threatening and build credibility with accurate predictive insights. Books like "Future Inc" and "The Lords of Strategy" have been helpful to me in starting to think like a proactive CI practitioner.

Proactive CI happens when this exercise becomes an ongoing process driven on a consistent basis with an enterprise wide mandate. One of the challenges I face with my function of driving and launching CI (an engineering services firm) is to educate the touch points of CI on the significance of CI for an effective strategy. Consistent information collation will be a patient exercise. Only when we sit on a pile of information can we execute the analytics based on patterns/trends displayed by the competition/market.
Reactive CI will appear to be fulfilling but the predictions will be stale. At the end of the day, we will be interpreting what the competition wants us to interpret from them rather than us judging and predicting their next moves.
So essentially, with reactive CI, the dollar value of our effort tends to be negligible on the table on most of the occasions

- Vish
Hi Chris,

I don't think the pertinent question is should CI be proactive or reactive, there is a need for both strategic/proactive and tactical/reactive CI, its just normally accomplished with different sets of analysts with different skills that produce different deliverables for different audiences.

With that in mind,in most large firms, there is typically a Strategic CI team that is focused on future items and providing upfront SEWS/HUMINT to Corp Strategy/R &D/C level execs/Strategic Planning, and there is also a Competitive Response team that tends to be more reactive, focused on supporting the current business that is more request driven whose audience tends to be current marketing/sales.

The problem arises in my experience, when non CI savvy companies try to take one CI person in a huge enterprise and tells them to be both proactive/strategic and at the same time tactical/reactive. It will fail every time because there are too many product lines, categories, competitors, etc-- but perhaps more importantly, it will fall flat because if you are trying to be anticipatory and at the same time, are busy answering the phone for the sales force all day long to deal with issues around current products, you wont get the time to build the tools, collect pertinent HUMINT and flip on the future mindset...



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