When trying to obtain information it’s easy be negative about finding it – and to come up with reasons why it can’t be found. The problem is that human beings naturally tend to think negatively. This is destructive to creativity and the ability to get round problems, and find solutions that are achievable and effective.
As an exercise try and think up reasons why a piece of intelligence won’t be found. I’ll bet your list looks something like this:
- We tried looking for this once before and got nowhere.
- It’ll take to long to obtain.
- We don’t have enough people.
- It’ll cost too much.
- We don’t have the software systems.
- It’s not ethical to obtain this sort of information.
- It’ll be protected.
- We won’t be able to find out the relevant people to interview.
- Nothing will be online.
- Anything useful we will already know so it’s not worth looking.
- We won’t be able to verify it.
How many of the above did you come up with? What other reasons did you consider?
Now try repeating the exercise – but this time think of reasons why the same information could be found. Most people find this much more difficult, and the list will be much shorter.
Good competitive intelligence – in fact good research in any field – requires an ability to overcome these negative thoughts and to discover reasons why something is possible. Sometimes the solution can be obtained by an indirect approach – lateral thinking. Often however the perceived blocks don’t actually exist and the information is in fact freely available. It’s a case of the old adage “if you don’t try you won’t succeed“.
So, if there is one thing to do today that will improve your ability to obtain the competitive intelligence you need tomorrow it’s to abolish negative thinking and to always look for the positive. In fact looking for the positive will have other benefits – as instead of seeing things as obstacles all of a sudden they’ll become opportunities.
The supermarket tried various conventional solutions to solve the problem: fences, increased security, and the like. Nothing worked long-term and, moreover, they were all expensive. Then somebody thought that perhaps a different approach might work.
The gangs were all trying to look cool, and the supermarket car-park had gained a reputation as a cool place to hang out at night. So what did the supermarket do? They thought about what could make the car park an uncool place to be, and started up a loud-speaker system piping the music of Mantovani over the parking spaces. Quickly the problem disappeared – as what kind of “cool” 16-18 year old wants to be associated with visiting a location that plays the kind of “easy listening” music beloved by their grandparents!
I teach a weekly diploma course at Thames Valley University, as part of the UK’s Chartered Institute of Marketing‘s Marketing Research & Information module. One of the joys of teaching is that you often learn a lot from your students. Last week was no exception, and provides another great example of lateral thinking – combined with a crucial awareness of the importance of ensuring customer satisfaction while still making money!
One of my students had spent some time working as a hospitality manager in a Greek hotel. He was working the night shift, when a package group of 15 tourists arrived at the hotel. They’d just landed, and the time was 3.00am. All were tired, having had a delayed flight, and all were looking forward to the rooms that they’d paid for. Except because they hadn’t turned up, they had been treated as no-shows, and their rooms had been sold on.
Overbooking is a not-infrequent problem faced by hotels. Normally the way round is to find another equivalent hotel, and transfer the overbooked guests there. Nobody is particularly happy about the arrangement.
- The guests are unhappy as they had been expecting hotel A and got hotel B – and have to move on, when they were looking forward to resting from their journey.
- The hotel is unhappy as the replacement hotel needs to be as good, if not better than the original. This means that the hotel has to pay for its mistake – financially, and if the replacement hotel is not better, in good will and reputation as well, which can be even more important.
Christos found another way.
The locality ran regular cruises to the Greek island of Santorini – which necessitated an early morning start, and a couple of nights on the island.
Santorini is one of those magical islands that, once visited, you never forget. It offers all that is best of the Greek islands – white washed villages, great beaches and views, fun restaurants, archaeological sites, monasteries and churches. However this is not all – it also has a volcano in the middle of the archipelago, with regular trips to see its caldera. This volcano has been attributed to the destruction of the Minoan civilization on the nearby island of Crete, and even the cause of the plagues that the Biblical book of Exodus mentions as having led to the release of the Israelite slaves from their Egyptian servitude (so, for example, the plague of darkness resulted from a cloud of ash that fell from the volcano). This eruption, 3500 years ago, was undoubtedly one of the largest ever volcanic eruptions during human history – much bigger than the infamous 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. The island has even been linked to the legend of Atlantis.
Christos knew that there were always places on this trip. He also knew that the costs of the trip, including the island hotel costs, would be considerably less than what would need to be paid to competitors to find beds for the group so early in the morning, as well as the less tangible costs in lost goodwill and so on. Accommodation on Santorini was much more basic and low cost – but the surroundings compensated for this.
Rather than apologizing to the group, and then getting on the phone to search for replacement hotels at 3.00am – a depressing and tedious task – he welcomed the group and said that they were really lucky. They were the hotel’s 1000th tour group and as such had qualified for a superb prize – a free trip to Santorini to start their holiday with a bang. The tour bus that would be taking them to the boat would be arriving shortly so there was no point in checking them in. They’d check back into the hotel in 2 days time, after their mini-cruise.
The tourist group may have been tired. But tiredness evaporates in such circumstances, and instead of an unhappy and probably angry crowd, you now had customer satisfaction par excellence. Instead of a short-night’s sleep and then a day recuperating by the pool, this group had been chosen to visit one of the highlights of any trip to Greece – for free. The tour group were overjoyed at their lucky break.
Next morning, the day-shift manager queried why the hotel was paying for 15 tourists to go on the Santorini trip. This was normally seen as a profit center by the hotel – as the margins were considerable. Christos explained the situation: how, instead of paying out to competitor hotels to accommodate the overbooked tourists, the hotel had covered its costs by just diverting the payments already made to the tour. Quickly the wisdom of the decision was realized, and it is now part of the hotel operating manual.
More importantly – this second story shows some of the skills all great marketers need:
- Ability to be able to think quickly, laterally and if needed, sidestep conventions and rules;
- Awareness of the importance of customer satisfaction: a happy customer leads to a strong reputation, and repeat purchase;
- Awareness of the importance of profit and that customer satisfaction needs to be balanced by an ability to make money.