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Posts Tagged ‘information collection’

The value of information

February 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve probably said something like this before, but it’s worth saying again.

This was part of a post by Amelia Kassel of MarketingBase – on the AIIP member mailing list.

I recall someone in a workshop I gave about using the Internet for CI about 10 years ago. I introduced the concept of fee-based databases and a young fellow from a business analyst firm raised his hand in front of group of more than 30 participants to stop me from proceeding. He didn’t want to hear or learn about fee-based databases. He had tried them once and they were too hard to use. I asked what he did when couldn’t find information he was looking for on the Internet and he didn’t have an answer but said it didn’t really matter.

I’ve also come across attitudes such as this – why pay for information when you can find it for free. That would be true and valid if the time required to find the information, and the work required to put it into a usable format, was the same. In reality this is rarely the case. The advantage of paying for information from services such as Factiva, Dialog and several other similar services is that you can save a lot of time. The information purchased will be formatted consistently – so it becomes much easier to edit for a report.

Further, relevant information is collected together so there is no need to check hundreds of potential sources. These services index thousands of sources in a way that users of the free services, including Google, can only dream about. As an example, on Factiva, you can specify that search terms appear in the first 50 (or 100 or whatever) words of an article, or within so many words of another term. They support full Boolean searching and wildcard searching far beyond what even the advanced search in Exalead offers.

If that was all such services offered then there could be an argument that with today’s budgetary constraints, good researchers would first focus on the free sources. However many sources held won’t even be available on the free web, as their publishers only make them available on a pay-to-use basis or don’t keep full online archives. This means that unless the researcher has accounts with a multitude of publishers they won’t get the material they need for decision making.

I think part of the secret of being a good researcher is knowing when to use free sources and when to use fee sources. I’m sure that a proportion of the information that is available on pay-to-use sources could be found for free – IF you looked long and hard enough. However employers pay you for your time – and just because something is free doesn’t make it really free if you have had to spend a day finding it when you could have got it within 15 minutes by paying. Then there’s the risk factors of NOT finding something at all!

People who feel it doesn’t matter – that you can justify not paying for information – are actually high-risk employees. They may provide information that allows correct decision making to be made 80% of the time. Unfortunately the Pareto effect comes into play – and that 20% of the time they get it wrong represents 80% of the risk. Decisions made on inadequate data are likely to lead to serious consequences when they are wrong. Saying that you only did a Google search because Factiva cost too much won’t save you or your company in such situations – as it will be too late.

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Attacking a castle – or a competitor!

February 19, 2010 Leave a comment

The leading management guru, Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s, latest blog post discusses ways to attack a castle: Four Ways to Attack the Castle — And Get a Job, Get Ahead, Make Change.

Although the article is talking about job-seekers and change agents, the same applies to competitive intelligence and strategy, and I’ve sometimes used the same analogy in my training courses.

So how does attacking a strong fortress compare to competitive intelligence collection. Well – the approach that some still seem to think the best approach – is the full frontal attack. Go for the key contact and hope that they will speak to you. The problem is that these people tend to be surrounded by gatekeepers, guards and you may not even get their name, never mind getting to speak to them. This is the corporate equivalent of having hot oil poured down upon you.

Moss Kanter describes four other approaches that can also be used for CI collection.

1) Find other doors.
Rather than target the main entrance with your battering ram, look for a door that’s not guarded. If you want to interview somebody, don’t call switchboard and ask for the purchasing manager – as switchboard will ask what it’s about and you will find yourself in an interminable voice-mail loop ending with a “send an email to suppliers@companyname.com”. Instead, use networking tools – such as LinkedIn – to find the name of anybody involved in purchasing within the target company and ask to speak to them directly. Knowing the name means you get put through and bypass the switchboard gatekeeper.

2) Befriend the fringes.
Be polite. Switchboards get fed up with rude callers – so be friendly. Chat – and treat the operator with respect. They may know more than you think and you may get a name that way.

You won’t get put through to the CEO or CFO or any C-level executive directly. Instead, you’ll end up speaking to their personal assistant – the guard and gatekeeper for your source. Like the guards and gatekeepers of old, these people know who passes by, and what goes on. So rather than insist on the C-contact, be nice to the PA and chat to them instead. You may well find that all you need to know comes from them instead.

3) Go underneath
Often, going to the top won’t help. If the information you require is sensitive, the people at the top know the sensitivity – including their PAs. They won’t talk and you will get nothing. Rather, consider the people who report to them, or who have managers who report to them. Such people may not know the whole picture – but speak to several and you soon will. Each interviewee will feel flattered that you view their knowledge as important – and won’t realise that the small bits of information they know, when combined with other small bits, can reveal the secrets the higher-ups would like to keep hidden.

4) Go around the castle
Rather than trying to contact the organisation directly, look for people who are now outside but know what goes on inside. These include ex-employees, obviously. However others may also know information – and be willing to share if asked in the right way. These can include your customers, your competitor’s customers, their suppliers, as well as industry consultants, trade association staff and many more similar sources.

Collecting competitive intelligence doesn’t always depend on looking for the obvious source. Like attacking castles, often the secret is to find the weaknesses that allow you to gain entrance, gather what you need to know and leave without anybody even noticing your visit.

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