Competitive intelligence should supercharge, not drown, your sales team

In an era of information-overload, competitive intelligence and competitor/press monitoring can be your differentiator

Our world is driven increasingly by data: what we read, what we buy and what we think.

Businesses that fail to harness the data flow will cripple their sales staff’s efforts to attract new business and retain existing customers.

Why we all need business and competitive intelligence

No business can operate in a bubble, particularly in the modern, globalised and internet-driven economy. You must stay current on your competition, the innovations about to rock your world and the data that will cut costs and boost productivity.

Corralling all that information is expensive.

Often, data is unstructured. That means monitoring competitors or absorbing a tsunami of information from news articles, blogs and press departments doesn’t squeeze easily into corporate KPIs and reports, or on a single intelligible spreadsheet.

Hence, competitive/competitor intelligence, and monitoring software and services that draw on data analytics and industry news/trends will spot strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Just as important, they present the information in a format that executives and staff can use to drive decisions.

The aim is to collate, structure, present and update relevant data so that various staffers, including your sales team and finance department, can make better strategy, react faster and ultimately sell more.

Why humans for competitive intelligence and media monitoring?

Harnessing all that data is a massive and exponentially-growing challenge. Internal business functions create many thousands of data points each day.

But information held by the finance team may not be accessible to customer service or passed in a useful format to sales teams that could, in turn, offer alternative products to customers struggling to pay invoices, or offer an upgrade to those who consistently pay on time.

Meanwhile, automated competitive intelligence and media/competitor/press monitoring software and tools paradoxically can contribute to an organisation’s information-overload, flooding your business with irrelevance.

In this case, the old adage holds: Quality beats quantity.

Enter the personal touch.

As helpful as some automated services are for amassing data and information – for example, those from Oracle or Trakomatic – they can’t match analytics curated and organised by a human expert.

That’s why 80% of businesses now have at least one part-time employee (e.g. business intelligence analyst) dedicated to gathering BI.

Companies also must be able to react immediately to fake news spreading about them or their industry. Left to fester, opinion and falsehoods can quickly overwhelm the truth, complicating efforts to respond by PR, sales, marketing and customer-service colleagues.

The greater the data flow, however, the harder to filter right from wrong, true from false and useful from time-wasting – quickly overwhelming time-pressed staffers.

Multiple benefits

The need to recognise and respond to situations good and bad — and to respond quickly — often drives a company to invest in business and competitive intelligence that aims to assemble data fast and intelligibly.

MicroStrategy found that:

– 94% of businesses think data and analytics are important for growth and digital transformation.

– Almost two-thirds (64%) believe such software already has led to improvements in productivity and efficiency.

– Nearly half (46%) say they have improved customer acquisition and retention by deploying the technology.

Competitive intelligence, however, offers payoffs outstripping sales: 46% of respondents also say that related technologies led to the discovery and creation of new revenue streams.

ROI up to 1 000%

There are plenty of providers of competitive and business intelligence tools, software and services for marquee multinational clients such as SAP. Smaller specialists focus on specific sectors.

Be aware that these providers’ services are never cost-free.

While tricky, measuring the ROI on business intelligence is almost uniformly positive. A respected study by IDC found a median five-year ROI of 112% and an average payback time within 1.6 years.

One-fifth of the firms surveyed even found returns of 1 000% or more.

Other studies deliver a wide range of results. A more recent survey by Nucleus Research documented average returns of $13.01 on every dollar spent.

Companies as diverse as Amazon, cruise liners and even universities are keen on deploying competitive and business intelligence, respectively, to encourage more sales, more passengers and fewer dropouts by new students.

Ultimately, there’s a reason that the Dresner Advisory Associates’ popular Wisdom of Crowds® Business Intelligence Market Study notes that improving revenues using BI and CI is now the most popular objective enterprises pursue.

Sharing the sales benefit

These successes also depend on correctly implementing the software and the data produced.

Done well, CI also throws off intangible benefits, such as better employee engagement and a more pleasant, well-integrated working environment.

Poor implementation, without buy-in across all functions and levels, will reduce those intangible benefits — as well as the tangible, bottom-line ones.

More than 80% of management has access to the analytic data their systems deliver, according to the MicroStrategy study. Those on the front lines – in sales or customer support, for example – aren’t so lucky; just over half have access to the tools that could provide them more insight and help speed decisions.

That lack of access creates friction, adds to cost and leads to poorer outcomes, including the loss of once-loyal customers when the sales team can’t be proactive.

In those cases, the majority of employees must ask someone else in the organisation for help in making a data-driven decision.

A substantial number simply ‘wing’ it, relying on intuition rather than fact.

In short, restricting access to business insight is a false saving. Don’t be fooled.

Key takeaways

  • Business and competitive intelligence are widely considered as critical by companies in every sector.
  • There’s a significant difference between access to business intelligence and access to effective, high-value business intelligence. Simply gathering data won’t yield the potential 1 000% ROI.
  • Business intelligence — easy to share and absorb and tailored to your specific needs — must be easily accessible by your sales team.
  • The best business and competitive intelligence products are produced with some form of human curation that meets your specific needs.

Cure for Information Overload: Competitive Intelligence Quality (Not Quantity)

Conducting business would be unimaginable without access to the internet, particularly for news and critical information.

Remember the pain of researching a competitor’s latest products? Or waiting a week or more for a review in a flagship trade magazine?

Today, your favourite search engine delivers every catalogued article, review or social media posting in nanoseconds, rendering competitive intelligence and monitoring easier than ever before.

Which begs the question: Which links should you trust?

Not new, just bigger

Information overload is not a new concept.

According to the Harvard Business Review, it’s been an issue for at least 2,300 years. There’s even a reference in the Bible to the growing menace of the printed word.

In the digital era, research shows that information overload is bad for business — and for your employees. When unfiltered, business and competitive intelligence are at best ineffective, at worst harmful.

From sales data to media reports, the value of that information declines sharply when recipients aren’t guided to what matters most. Information overload – a.k.a “infobesity” and “infoxication” – quickly leads to infoxiety (information anxiety).

As business psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic argues, information and news filters may simply confirm our own biases based on what Big Tech knows about us already.

Too much information also inhibits our ability to digest and process information.

Gamechanger: Media monitoring

Even so, media and competitor monitoring can’t be overlooked as a crucial element in decision-making.

That information is a key component of any business and competitive intelligence and analytics architecture. A well-designed system will follow the latest news about your specific subjects, competitors, products, legal and regulatory developments.

Sounds like common sense. Yet designing an effective monitoring system is hard.

Even conducting your own internet search will quickly swamp you.

VitalBriefing is hardly the world’s largest multinational (for the moment), but a quick Google search for us tosses out 5 370 results.

Try a bigger media outfit, like the BBC or New York Times, and the results run into the billions.

Online notification services such as Google Alerts are free and easy to create. Yet the results can prove frustrating: Complaints have been growing since 2013 that alerts are more about driving traffic to specific websites than about delivering relevant news.

Free filtering tools are fairly basic. For example, no matter how carefully you tailor them, alerts set for the ECB — European Central Bank — are just as likely to deliver match results and player news from the England and Wales Cricket Board (also the ECB).

At best, Google Alerts is a back-up when all else fails.

Competitive Intelligence quality matters

Bain & Company’s consultants call infobesity the enemy of good decisions.

They suggest taking a step back, reviewing exactly what you need from your data, focusing on the important elements and standardising the output – in an internal email, on an intranet or in a corporate knowledge management system, for example — making it easier to digest.

They also suggest that timing is everything. With big data ever more accessible, the tendency may be to deliver too much information, too often.

But perhaps the most significant insight from Bain & Company is on ‘quantity’ and ‘source’. Not every executive decision needs every single news article on a successful product launch or the impact of a new regulation.

If the views are fairly uniform, then one or at most two will do, especially if the second adds new information.

For ‘source’, read quality. Algorithms and artificial intelligence aren’t always best at discerning quality media. Their filters often are founded on momentum and traffic volumes.

In entertainment, ‘clickbait’ articles create tremendous amounts of traffic (and advertising revenue), so popularity could be said to equal success of sorts.

But in business, law and finance, the most insightful articles may be hosted on trade-news websites, government or agency sites or hidden behind subscription paywalls.

Then there’s fake news, particularly regarding politics and current affairs. In the 2016 US presidential election and the UK’s Brexit referendum, fake news often was published on new and virtually unknown websites, their reach amplified by social media retweets and “likes”.

The human touch

Fake news is no longer confined to politics.

It can strike businesses big and small, often with a real financial and reputational impact.

That’s why media and competitor monitoring, news curation, competitive intelligence, and high-value business intelligence continue to require a human element – and why at VitalBriefing we’ve recently updated our tagline to read “content you can trust”.

We’ve assembled a growing team of journalists around the world with expertise in their chosen fields, from financial services to logistics to sustainable development to the space industry and beyond. Their experience and knowledge of what’s important to your business — and what’s credible — is an invaluable resource.

Software and automation just can’t substitute for the human expertise and insight into what you specifically need to know to protect – and grow – your business.

We’re betting that will be the case for a long time to come.