For more than 30 years, most large corporations worldwide have adopted competitive intelligence (CI) as a way to expedite good decisions. And yet for almost every company that uses CI in their decision-making, there’s another that disregards CI’s mix of industry analysis, rival positions, and market insight to their detriment.
We recently conducted a survey of CI managers and analysts who’ve been through our training program to see how much their findings influenced major company decisions, and why. We received 236 responses from 21 industries in U.S. and European corporations, from CI-trained analysts in marketing, business development, strategy, R&D, finance, and other fields. They had an average of 6.3 years of experiencing in using CI frameworks and tools, and 62% were from companies with over $1 billion in annual sales revenues.
We found that 55% of our respondents said that their input on major management decisions made enough difference to improve the decision. But 45% said their CI analysis did not.
Why did some analysts have their input incorporated, while others didn’t? Our survey suggested several key reasons.
First, many executives decide on a course of action and then use CI to ratify their choice. When asked, “What percent of your reports do you feel are just ‘confirmatory’ for an executive who already made a decision?” a full one-third of our respondents claimed “high” or “very high.” In these cases, the analysis may just be an obligation to be checked off a list.
We also ran several simple OLS regression models and tested more than two dozen variables to see if they affected which companies actually allowed their CI analyses to influence their decisions. At the end, we found four variables turned out to be highly significant in explaining the difference in impact.
1. The analyst was assigned a “sign-off” authority over major decisions. The single most effective way to ensure intelligence is used in any given decision is to give the analyst a say in moving it forward. In practical terms this means the analyst – not just the PowerPoint deck – becomes part of discussions leading to the decision. That is the one area where “intelligent organizations” differ most from others.
2. Management was open to perspectives that were different from the internal consensus. Management that was more open to different perspective was also more likely to ask the analyst for the “big picture” rather than just the data.
3. The analyst’s report called for proactive action more than reaction. Most companies are reactive by nature, and a lot of intelligence is about reacting to competitors’ moves. However, the decisions that matter more may well be those that are proactive. When the analyst provided proactive recommendations, the analysis had more of an impact.
4. The analyst was involved in product launches. We don’t know why analysts in this area felt particularly impactful, but we do know that competitive intelligence is highly popular in tactical areas, and that product launches are an area where companies are most worried about competitors’ responses; successful product launches depend on correctly gauging the response of other players in the market. These include, naturally, customers and competitors, but also the less obvious responses by distribution channels, regulatory authorities, and influencing agents. Lack of insightful anticipation of these reactions — which is where competition analysts have the greatest expertise — leads to many more failures than there should be. Perhaps the analysts involved with product launches are thus given more of a mandate than analysts involved in other kinds of activities.
None of these steps involves spending millions on the intelligence or hiring legions of analysts. And overall, these four variables explained a respectable 40% of the variability in having an impact on decisions. In terms of magnitude of the effect, the simple “sign off” requirement from management was clearly the leading contributor to explaining variability of impact.
For these decisions – the ones that were improved by competitive intelligence — CI analysts reported many applications of their insights. While product launches were over-represented, our respondents told us about a wide array of applications for their analyses. They were evenly distributed between pursuing opportunities (46%) and reducing risks (44%), and ran the gamut from product pricing and features, capex investments, manufacturing processes, market expansion, joint ventures, M&A, and more.
For example, in the pharmaceutical industry, respondents said that use of competitive intelligence had either saved or generated millions through discontinuing ineffective drug development efforts, walking away from bad deals and/or licensing opportunities, or accelerating new drug development based on what competitors were doing. For example, as one told us, “We accelerated our orphan disease program, based on accurate prediction of rival expected entry.”
A common theme across industries was the smart reallocation of resources. One analyst told us that their company had stopped development on a project that was consuming lots of local resources after the analysis indicated it wouldn’t be effective. They then re-applied those resources to an area with true growth potential — that area is now starting to take off. In a different company, an analysis led to the cancellation of an extremely high-risk R&D program.
This is not to discount the importance of ratifying a current course of action. In one of our favorite answers to our open-response question, an analyst described how CI had “identified only a single competitor, while determining others did not have the business case to continue a pursuit.” But it’s clear to us from this and other surveys we’ve done that the companies that get the most out of CI use it for a wide array of purposes – and actually let it shape their decisions.
Source: Harvard Business Review, January 26, 2016. Benjamin Gilad is the co-founder and president of the first training institution dedicated to the CIP competitive intelligence certification (www.academyci.com). A former associate professor of strategy at Rutgers School of Management, he is the author of Business War Games (2009), Early Warning (2003) and Business Blindspots (1994). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leonard M. Fuld is founder and CEO of Fuld + Company, a global consultancy providing competitive insights through its research and advisory services. His most recent book is The Secret Language of Competitive Intelligence.