By Jesper Martell, CEO Comintelli
Having worked with competitive intelligence for over 20 years, I have often been asked “What is a successful CI program?”
In my experience, it is not about having the best process, tools, training, or analysis methods. Instead, the most common denominator in all successful CI programs is that they have continuously succeeded in providing decision-makers with relevant content. This means information and insights that the receiver can use when making decisions. Something that helps and supports them beyond what they could have done on their own.
If your CI system provides great content, your users will return for more. But if they visit your CI system and don’t find anything they can use, they will not return. No matter how many cool features it has, your CI system will eventually wither and die.
So the key question then becomes, “How do you create relevant content for your CI system?”
The first step is to understand what content is in this context. Simply put, content is the presentation of information for a purpose to an audience through a channel
The next step is to understand who your audience is and what the purpose is. Who is the content for? Who is going to read this and why? Who is your target group? What is keeping them awake at night? What are the key intelligence topics that you need to monitor? Can you help them discover things they didn’t even know they needed to know?
These are not easy questions the key decision-makers in your organization will need to ask. But if you don’t, you will struggle to find relevant content and consequently struggle with your entire CI program. You need to ask tough questions to ensure that you produce relevant content.
If you have this foundation, it will enable you to produce relevant, filtered, customized content for your users. This content will become actionable and can be used to support decisions. And if you do this, I can guarantee they will be back for more.
Voila, now you will have a successful CI program.
Every manufacturer knows that you can’t create a quality product if you haven’t got the right raw materials to start with. The same is true for intelligence systems.
If you want high-quality results and impact, it is essential that you put the right data into the system in the first place.
Finding information for your intelligence system might seem like an easy task. After all, we’re overwhelmed by a constant flood of data and it’s one of the reasons why we value intelligence platforms.
However, to get the most out of a system to achieve what your stakeholders are looking for, an understanding of the following is required:
Your CI program should incorporate:
This article focuses on external sources of data and provides tips on how to find and validate sources to get the most value from your intelligence system. This is not because external sources are more important than internal sources, in fact, it is often the contrary.
Being able to receive intelligence from the field (your employees, partners, and customers) often provides pieces of information that are not available elsewhere and can be crucial in laying the CI puzzle. So you should have a structured way of collecting this.
However external sources of data are often the starting point of a CI program where it is easy to get quick wins.
With a good set of external sources, you will be providing value to decision-makers from day one. This will keep them coming back and hopefully, you will be able to build a foundation and structure upon which you can later add internal sources.
Many organizations get started with competitive intelligence system because they need the power of technology to make sense of the overwhelming amount of information they need to process in order to innovate, work efficiently, and boost meaningful collaboration.
The notion of a platform that can ingest data from diverse sources, organize it, and present it in precise, useful formats will make any busy executive sigh with relief. Not so fast: It’s technology, not magic.
The more you can feed the system with relevant data, the more you will get relevant results and insights.
This begs the question: What is “relevant”? The answer to that question is different in every organization, and perhaps even in different departments or business units of the same organization.
To determine relevance, consider the following variables:
Work through these questions, with input from the people who will be (or already are) using the system. Make a list of sources already in use, regardless of where they come from. Ask questions about why these sources are valuable and trustworthy and think about where you might find other sources like them.
Keep in mind that not every kind of information you want may be available at a price you are willing to pay. Many organizations would love to have detailed competitive pricing information, but that data may not be available. However, if you are creative about the types of information that might make reasonable proxies, you can often come up with insights that fill the bill.
In your intelligence platform, you should review statistics on source usage to look for any patterns on what seems to be rising to the top in terms of quality and usefulness.
For example, the image below shows screenshots from the intelligence system Intelligence2day®, indicating how frequently information from different sources is used.
Once you have this kind of insight, you can consider what qualities the most valuable sources have, which you can replicate with other sources.
When you finish this process, you will have a long list of sources, which can include:
When you consider other types of sources you might want in your system, you might also run across:
We’ll talk in a bit about the pros and cons of each type of source later on, but for now, it’s enough to know that a robust intelligence system can handle any of this content.
Centralize and combine diverse sources into one place
You should also know, however, that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
It’s tempting to simply add everything you have access to and hope for the best: Throw it all in and let the smart technology take it from there. But the extra time and effort you put in to analyze relevance will enable the smart technology to deliver more focused results – a true example of when “less is more”.
When evaluating sources for your intelligence system, keep in mind the law of the universe: All content has a cost! There is no such thing as “free”. All sources will cost you something.
In the case of paid-for sources – often referred to as “premium sources,” the cost includes the license or purchase fee, plus the time it takes a member of your staff to manage the relationship with the vendor, troubleshoot, and renew the contract.
There may also be costs associated with your implementation, depending on any customization you need to do. And some suppliers (though not all) will have a separate fee for using their content in an intelligence platform.
But what about so-called “free sources”?
Website updates, RSS feeds, free newsletters, blogs, and even Google Alerts have costs – sometimes significant costs – associated with them. It is essential to keep in mind these factors that contribute to the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
The most significant cost associated with any content is the cost of your time, or of any other member of staff who needs to invest in:
Another often misunderstood cost is that of relevance. The use of Google Alerts to support intelligence is an excellent example of using a free source that results in a significant relevance cost. As handy as Google Alerts are, relying on it for intelligence means that you are absolutely missing relevant material, even when that material is in fact indexed by Google.
There are a host of reasons that make Google Alerts a poor choice for intelligence, but the main things to keep in mind are these:
Google Alerts is only one example of how free sources can result in relevance cost, but we include it here because it is such a popular, yet misunderstood choice.
The challenge is to gather relevant information. And believe it or not, not all relevant information is publicly available on the internet. In order to find the right information for your insights, you will need many different sources of information.
With an understanding of the true TCO, you can conduct a more thorough evaluation of content cost compared with its impact on your results. A matrix like the one below is a useful way of visualizing TCO against impact.
Content Cost/Impact Matrix
Note on the grid where content sources belong: Move them up the vertical axis as the cost goes up and move them to the right on the horizontal axis as their impact improves.
It’s here that the understanding of the pros and cons of different types of content becomes important.
Some of the cons will significantly add to the costs associated with your time and with the relevance of the content for your intelligence process. At the same time, pros will add to the value, so you want to balance these out, along with actual contract costs to come to the right mix of effort, cost, and relevance.
The table below walks through the pros and cons and then summarizes the key considerations you need to take when using external content.
|Source||Pro (+)||Con (-)||Considerations|
|Open sources (RSS, Google)||Easy; free||Rarely full-text; links break and require monitoring||Manage through proactive review to ensure links work and content remains valid|
|Web monitoring||Easy; free||High-value content is rarely published on free websites; links break, even more frequently than RSS feeds||Manage through proactive review to ensure links work and content remains valid|
|Social media||Easy; free; high volume of data||Most social media information from companies is promotional; rarely high-quality for most B2B needs, except through purpose-built monitoring systems||Proactive review needed, but not as frequently as for websites and RSS feeds|
|Premium content – single title||High quality; contractual agreement to supply content; often not available on the internet; available in full-text; often includes metadata and other features that enable it to deliver greater value through an intelligence platform; support from supplier to enable use; you have the greatest control over content selection||Costs may go up at renewals; use within a platform may not be included in standard T&Cs; full-text or other content features (e.g. figures, tables) may not be available||Vendor relationship can be as important as the content itself; contract management will require an investment of time|
|Premium content- databases||A broad range of quality sources selected by professionals in content validation and licensing; content is normalized by the supplier and enhanced with metadata, indexing, etc.; full-text usually available, for at least some content||Costs may go up at renewals; not all curated content from a supplier may be available for use within a platform, or with other restrictions (e.g., no full text, no figures, etc.); individual titles may be removed from the service without warning||Depending on your needs, may require monitoring of sources in the collection, to ensure you don’t lose access to something you need; vendor relationship can be as important as the content itself; contract management will require an investment of time|
Pros and Cons of using different types of external content
Once you have a portfolio of sources, they need to be ingested into the platform in order to start producing intelligence. There are numerous ways of doing this depending on your needs and some of the main examples of adding feeds and connecting content are:
Finally, you can consider working with a professional curation service. These services add a human element to the gathering, filtering, and sorting of external data from websites, social media, news, and more.
Having the right information is a game-changer, in terms of the power, relevance, and overall ROI of your CI system.
Learn more about analyzing your need for content, finding appropriate content, balancing TCO and impact, developing a calendar to manage the content that feeds into your system by downloading The Comintelli eWorkbook on External Content.
We live in a world with a vast wealth of information at our fingertips. The more discerning you are about what constitutes “value” for your intelligence requirements, the better you’ll be able to extract the good stuff and make the most of it.