Business intelligence should supercharge, not drown, your sales team

In an era of information-overload, business intelligence, competitive intelligence and competitor/press monitoring can be any company’s differentiator

Our worlds as individuals and in business are driven increasingly by data: what we read, what we buy and what we think.

Businesses that fail to harness the data flowing to, from and around them will slash the ability of their sales staff to attract new business and retain existing customers.

Why we all need business intelligence

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

Yet, corralling all that information is expensive. Data is often unstructured, and that means monitoring competitors or absorbing a tsunami of information from news articles, blogs and press departments is hard to squeeze into corporate KPIs and reports and onto a single spreadsheet that makes sense.

Here enter business intelligence, competitive intelligence, and monitoring software and services, drawing on data analytics and industry news/trends to spot strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and – just as important – to present the information in a format that executives and staff actually 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 to developments and ultimately sell more to create bigger profits.

The need for human intervention in business intelligence and competitive intelligence

Harnessing all that data is a massive and ever-growing challenge. Internal business functions create literally many thousands of data points each day. But information held by the finance team may not be readily available to customer service or passed in an understandable and useful format to sales teams that could, in turn, offer alternative products to a customer struggling to pay invoices, or offer an upgrade to those who consistently pay on time.

Meanwhile, automated business intelligence software and tools paradoxically can contribute to an organisation’s information-overload problems, flooding your business with too much irrelevance – especially related to media and competitor monitoring and press monitoring.

In this case, the old adage holds: quality is far more important than quantity.

And that’s where the personal touch matters.

As helpful as some of these automated services can be for amassing data and information – for example, those on offer from Oracle or Trakomatic – they can never match business analytics curated and organised by a human expert. That’s why 80% of businesses now have at least a part-time employee (e.g. business intelligence analyst) dedicated to gathering BI.

Companies must be on their toes, too, able to react immediately when fake news about them or their industry starts to spread. 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 greater the difficulty to filter the right from the wrong, the true from the false and the useful from the time-wasting – a process that quickly can overwhelm those time-pressed staffers responsible for teasing out the truth.

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, which aims to bring all this data together, fast and intelligibly.

According to a global survey by MicroStrategy, 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.

Business intelligence, however, offers payoffs beyond sales: A full 46% of respondents also say that using the technology has led to the discovery and creation of new revenue streams.

ROI of up to 1000%

There are plenty of providers of business intelligence tools, software and services for marquee multinational clients such as SAP and smaller specialists that focus on specific sectors of the economy. Be aware that these providers’ services are never cost-free.

Measuring the return on investing in business intelligence is tricky yet almost uniformly positive. An often-quoted, 2002 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 1000% or more.

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

Companies as diverse as Amazon, cruise liners and even universities are keen on deploying 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’ 10th edition of its popular Wisdom of Crowds® Business Intelligence Market Study found that improving revenues using BI is now the most popular objective enterprises are pursuing in 2019.

Sharing the sales benefit

These successes also depend on the correct implementation and usage of the software and the data produced. Done well, BI also produces intangible benefits, such as better employee engagement or a more pleasant, well-integrated working environment.

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

The MicroStrategy study found that more than 80% of management have access to the analytic data their systems deliver. 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 up decisions.

That lack of access creates friction, can add to cost and leads to poorer outcomes, including the loss of a previously-loyal customer when the sales team cannot be proactive.

In those cases, the majority of employees must ask someone else in the organisation for help when they have to make a data-driven decision. A substantial number simply ‘wing’ it, using intuition and gut feeling, not fact, to arrive at a decision.

In short, restricting access to business insight is a false saving.

Key takeaways

  • Business intelligence and competitive intelligence are now widely considered as critical by companies across every sector.
  • There is a significant difference between having access to business intelligence and having access to effective, high-value business intelligence. Simply gathering the data will not yield the potential 1000% ROI.
  • Business intelligence must be easily accessible by your sales team. It should be easy to share and absorb, and be tailored to your company’s specific needs.
  • The best business intelligence and competitive intelligence products are produced with some form of human curation.

Competitive Intelligence Quality, Not Quantity, Can Cure Information Overload

Conducting business would be unimaginable without access to the internet, particularly for the news and critical information it delivers. Remember how painful it once was to research a competitor’s latest products, or to wait a week or longer for a review in your industry’s flagship trade magazine? Today your favourite search engine will deliver every catalogued article, review or social media posting in nanoseconds, making competitive intelligence and monitoring easier than ever before.

Now the question is: 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 the last 2,300 years. In fact, there’s even a biblical reference to the growing menace of the printed word.

‘There is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body’ – Ecclesiastes 12:12

In the digital era, there’s a growing body of research that information overload is bad for business — and for your employees. When unfiltered, business intelligence is ineffective and even harmful. Whether sales data or media reports, the value of data declines sharply for recipients when they’re not guided to what matters most. Information overload – also known as colloquially as infobesity and infoxication – quickly leads to infoxiety (information anxiety).

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

Too much information may also inhibit our ability to digest and process information, too.

Gamechanger: Media monitoring

Even so, media and competitor monitoring cannot be overlooked as a crucial element in the decision-making process. It’s a key component of any business and competitive intelligence and analytics architecture. A well-designed system will follow the latest news about your chosen subjects, competitors, products, legal and regulatory developments.

That sounds like common sense. Yet designing a monitoring system is harder than you think.

Even conducting your own internet search will quickly leave you swamped and gasping for (information) air. 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 easy to create and free. Yet the results can prove frustrating: Complaints have been growing since 2013 that the alerts are more about driving traffic to certain websites than about delivering relevant news to its users.

Free filtering tools are fairly basic: alerts 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, confusingly, the ECB), no matter how carefully you tailor them. At best, Google Alerts is a back-up when everything else fails.

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 an issue. 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 as their filters often are founded on momentum and traffic volumes. In the entertainment world, ‘clickbait’ articles create tremendous amounts of traffic (and advertising revenue for their hosts), so popularity could be said to equal success, of sorts.

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

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

The human touch

Fake news is no longer confined to politics. There’s growing evidence that it can hit businesses, big and small, often with a real financial and reputational impact.

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

We have 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 intuition on what’s important to your business and, more pertinently, 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 turf. We’re betting that will be the case for a long time to come.