13 Sep

SCIP Minnesota Presents: A Panel Discussion with Line of Sight Group, PDMA & CXPA Practitioners

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Line of Sight Group is proud to be part of SCIP Minnesota’s panel discussion later this month. President and Founder Steve Schulz will join other top experts in the competitive intelligence, product management, and customer experience arenas.

The discussion will touch on and provide insight on common challenges, including the type of intelligence leadership is looking for, and illustrate how top practitioners gather intelligence for internal use and on their competitors. Panelists will also illustrate some useful tips and tools that are used by top practitioners.

Other panelists include:

  • Lori Laflin, Global Customer Engagement Research Program Manager, Cargill/ Member CXPA , CCXP
  • Paul Santilli, WW OEM Business Intelligence & Customer Insights at Hewlett Packard Enterprise/ Secretary & Treasurer, Board of Directors, SCIP
  • Mark Jensen, Director of Product Management-Distribution, Epicor Software/ Board of Directors, PDMA
  • Tom Mcgoldrick, Strategic Insights Director of UnitedHealth Group

The Panel will be moderated by Brett Norgaard, Principal, Line of Sight Group.

The SCIP MN Panel Discussion will take place September 27 from 5 pm-7 pm Central Time at the Grant Park Conference Room, 500 East Grant Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

For more information or to attend the event, please go to the SCIP MN website or reach out to MN Chapter Chair, Julie Johnson.

Line of Sight’s Market-i Competitive Intelligence Program is a SCIP “Endorsed” product. Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) is the nonprofit Association representing the Integrated Intelligence industry internationally for over 32 years.

SCIP

 

 

25 Jul

All Roads Lead to Services When Competing in Technology

Technology

Disruption has always been the norm in the technology industry.  As all industries embrace waves upon waves of new technology…initially in the Cloud and with Mobility, then Analytics and Big Data, and now Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality to name a few. Along with all of these advances also comes disruption.

Looking at the current state of the technology industry may reveal what is likely to happen in other increasingly technology-driven industries going forward. The Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) has been tracking the largest 50 technology firms (IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, Cisco, Amazon, Google, etc) for the last 10 years. In the 2013/2014 timeframe, the aggregate services revenue line of the 50 technology firms crossed and surpassed product revenue and has not looked back ever since. Services now comprise nearly 60 percent of the total revenue mix of this group. But, the air coming out of the product side of the balloon is more than the service side has put back in, so overall revenue is flat or declining for most technology firms.

Where is it all going?

As products have given way to services, services have led to a focus on experiences, and experiences have led to the goal of achieving favorable business outcomes. It is likely that shifts like this will cause organizations to fundamentally examine the actual business that they are really in.

In many cases, this calls for a change in the very business models upon which they have been operating under. Accelerating this change is the arrival of well funded “Tech” firms – start-ups with deep pockets, seasoned management and highly scalable business models. There are lots of FinTech, InsureTech, HealthTech, LegalTech, etc.  firms coming onto the scene. You might think of it more broadly as “YourIndustry”Tech with a well-funded group of start-ups going after the most vulnerable and profitable chunks of your industry.

What to do?

The move toward services requires a new set of disciplines, processes, and methodologies as well as new ways of thinking vs. product management. The field of service design is garnering a lot of attention lately within organizations of all sizes. Concepts like Jobs-to-be-Done, Service Blueprinting, Journey Mapping, Human Centered Design, Biomimicry, Virtual Reality, Ethnography, and more are shaping the next wave of new service design. Some of these concepts are well established while others are quite new. How they are combined is the exciting part.

One of the most important things to do is to take a hard look at your external environment (competitors and trends) and thoroughly research the opportunities and threats that you are facing. Once identified, these can inform your strategy formulation – the arenas, vehicles, differentiation, sequencing and economic logic of how you plan to operate. Once the strategy is in place, the specifics of go-to-market initiatives can determine how to move forward. And it is likely that new forms of services will play an increasingly important role on your roadmap as you go forward.

29 Jun

Pulling the Sales Intelligence Advantage Levers

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One of the major trends in B2B selling over the past few years has been for sales teams to employ a strategy similar to management consultants – challenge, provoke and question clients and prospects about the status quo while building a case for a more compelling future. This approach has proven to be effective and requires a steady pipeline of relevant, specific and timely intelligence to back it up. Depending on the situation, there are a number of levers you can pull to arm the sales force with an intelligence advantage as they engage with executive level prospects.

The first lever is to conduct a Competitive Landscape Analysis – an exercise employing several management frameworks to review all forms of direct and indirect competition, relevant trends, opportunities and threats. This provides the sales team with a thorough understanding of their firm’s value proposition vs. the competition and relative to the market trends.

The next is to allow the Competitive Landscape Analysis to inform an ongoing Strategic Monitoring of announcements, updates and changes in the market. This ensures that the sales team is kept abreast of timely information and will not be caught off-guard when engaging with executive prospects.

Competitor Profiles can provide the sales team with a deep knowledge of the value proposition, positioning, differentiators, offers, customers, partners, personnel, and capabilities. Sales teams can use this insight to contrast themselves vs. their competitors when engaging with executive prospects. Battle Cards are a one page version of the Competitor Profile that focus on how to mitigate competitor strengths and exploit weaknesses.

Win/Loss Analysis gets to the heart of why deals are won and lost. Done correctly, they provide a wealth of objective feedback that the sales team can use to build upon strengths and learn from losses. The loss reviews provide some of the most useful feedback for improving the future win rate.

For sales teams heavily involved with services, Customer Experience Benchmarking can provide meaningful insight about the kind of service that their competitors are actually providing. This provides the sales team with the exact intelligence they need to outmaneuver competitors with customer experience issues.

Validating (or debunking) Competitor Claims in the market by interviewing a wide spectrum of people familiar with a competitor is an effective way to gauge the merit of market claims. Experience shows that many claims are false, putting the competitor on their heels and opening the door for a new approach to solving a problem.

The pulling of one or more intelligence levers will give the sales team a leg up by supporting their ability to approach executive prospects with knowledgeable, specific, consistent insight about their offer relative to the competition. This might turn out to be that slight edge when up against a competitor who might be ripe for the plucking.

23 May

Creating a Clear Line of Sight Through Inputs, Strategy and Execution

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Last week Line of Sight Group delivered a presentation to the local chapter of the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) entitled, “The Intersection of Strategy and Product Development/Management.” The event was held at Padilla in Minneapolis and attended by 50 product management and strategy practitioners.  Line of Sight Group Founder and President, Steve Schulz, opened with the question, “what do these have in common?” The metaphorical slide had pictures of a dinosaur, a telephone booth and a Blockbuster Video storefront.  All are now extinct, disrupted out of existence by stronger competitors that were better informed and equipped to survive.  Why?

Doug Hedlund, Participating Faculty at the University of St. Thomas Opus School, offered the first part of the answer, a Strategy Formulation and Execution Discipline involving the capture of key factors (an organization’s vision, mission, core values and strategic goals), internal environment factors (strengths and weaknesses) and external environment forces (competition and trends) as inputs.  Next, he walked through how the key factors inform the Strategy (Arenas, Vehicles, Differentiation, Staging and Economic Logic). Finally, he covered the execution levers (leadership, talent, organizational structure, systems/processes, and culture) and scorecard (metrics and dashboards) needed to successfully carry out the strategy.

Next, Schulz presented an interactive case study using the Strategy Formulation and Execution Discipline where the attendees helped to fill in the key inputs that shaped the strategy and execution. Schulz employed three useful frameworks to organize the external and internal data – PESTEL (Political, Economic, Societal, Technological, Environmental, & Legal) Analysis, Porter’s Five Forces Analysis and a Table Stakes Analysis in his presentation of the case.

Finally, Brett Norgaard, Line of Sight Group Principal, bookended the presentation with two stories highlighting the use of timely external environment intelligence leading to successful strategies and product launches under very different circumstances. (See Stealth and Telephone Switch blog entries.)

Starting with external environment research as the first step to creating a clear line of sight, from the inputs to the strategy formation and on through to the execution and measurement, ensures alignment of the strategic and go-to-market functions, including product development/management. Individuals that can identify and understand what is upstream and downstream from strategy formulation will be best positioned to help their organizations prevail and avoid extinction in increasingly disruptive times.

20 Apr

Line of Sight’s Competitive Intelligence System Now SCIP Endorsed

Line of Sight Group is proud to announce that our Market-i Competitive Intelligence System has been recognized as a SCIP “Endorsed” product!

Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) is the nonprofit Association representing the Integrated Intelligence industry internationally for over 32 years.

What makes our system unique? Prior to launching Line of Sight Group in 2002, president and founder Steve Schulz conceived the Market-i System when he was running CI programs.  According to SCIP, this makes the Market-i system unique and different because it was developed by a CI practitioner, not by a consultant or technology specialist with no background in CI.

The idea behind Line of Sight’s intelligence services offering, including our Market-i System, is that the most effective way for organizations to understand, respond to and anticipate changes in their external environment (not only direct competitors) is to collect and process information that best represents leading indicators in a systematic and ongoing way. It is done in such a way as to identify changes that are significant enough to deserve a more in-depth look. In addition, our intelligence services fit directly with our analysis services – we get to know our clients and their business and are uniquely positioned to help our clients develop deep insight and strategic options.

Line of Sight Group joins other service providers highlighted in SCIP’s (first-ever) 2017 Service Provider Assessment Guidebook – Highlighting SCIP Endorsed and Certified Services in ISCI. The guidebook is aimed at providing its members and potential users of these services some insight into the features and benefits that may be of service to their decision support program.

If you would like more information about our Market-i Competitive Intelligence System, please Reach Out!  To learn more about SCIP or to become a member, contact them at www.scip.org.

12 Jan

Telephone Switch Created to Bypass Love Connection

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Almon Strowger was one of two undertakers in a small town near Kansas City in the 1880’s. He had a good reputation and a nice business. Then, things started to change for the worse. He noticed that his business was dying off dramatically. His close reading of the local obituary notices revealed that he was not getting the usual amount of business. In those days, homes were equipped with telephones that were on shared party lines. People often listened in on their neighbor’s conversations, too. To facilitate connections between callers, there was an operator who worked a cord switchboard at the local telephone exchange. When there was a death to report, a call came into the operator who patched the call through to one of two local undertakers on an “every other one” basis. Or so Strowger thought…

What Strowger uncovered in his research was that his competitor was dating the telephone operator, hence giving him the inside track to most of the funeral business in town. Needless to say, this state of affairs greatly frustrated Strowger and he complained to the local telephone company authorities…to no avail. His business did not improve. The operator ultimately married Strowger’s competitor and continued to keep most of the funeral business in the family.

Finding no hope with the status quo, Strowger switched strategies. By burning the midnight oil and using hat pins and electromagnets, he cobbled together a device that by-passed the operator allowing subscribers to directly connect to one another. On March 12, 1889, he filed his patent application and it was issued to him on March 10, 1891 as patent No. 447,918. He had invented the Telephone Switch. Strowger went on to form the “Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange” late in 1891. Strowger’s first customer was the telephone company in LaPorte, Indiana with 75 subscribers. Strowger continued making improvements on the telephone switch over the years. He added feature after feature to make the phones more reliable, easier to use and less time consuming to operate. Conversations over Strowger Switches were private and did not require any human intervention to operate.

Strowger bragged that his systems were “cuss-less, out-of-order-less and wait-less.” With all of this functionality, it is not surprising that the Strowger Switch became the standard technology platform upon which the US and British telephone systems were based on until the 1950’s and 1970’s respectively. Strowger eventually sold his company and patent to the Bell Company which later became AT&T, Verizon, GTE and Lucent.

There are many lessons to be learned in this story:

• Know your external environment. Strowger kept abreast by reading the obituaries – he knew that he was losing market share. He also learned that the operator was linked to his competitor
• Have a back-up plan when disruption occurs. When his complaints to the local telephone company went unaddressed, Strowger set out to develop technology that would neutralize his competitor’s primary advantage – the operator’s discretion
• Learn what the market wants and needs. Strowger was relentless in his quest to perfect person-to-person communications

Be flexible and open to the possibilities. Strowger did his research, uncovered a need, innovated, and sold a solution where there were no competitors…quite a switch!

22 Nov

How do election results change my company’s strategic, business, and product plan assumptions?

Were your strategic, business, and product plan assumptions based on one candidate winning or did you have scenarios for either outcome?  Did you have a scenario in which one party would control the Presidency, House of Representatives and the Senate?  How dependent were your strategy decisions on U.S. trade policy, corporate and individual tax policy, the Affordable Care Act, immigration policy, the strength of the dollar, student debt forgiveness, a national minimum wage, environmental regulation, etc.?  Will policy and regulatory changes under single party control make your industry more attractive or less?  How will your competitors react to these changes?  Will political, regulatory, supplier, customer, investor, and competitor reactions be positive, disruptive or destructive to your industry and business?

If the questions above left you scratching your head it’s time to pull the strategic, business, and product level plans out and review the assumptions on which your forecasts and decisions were made.  Depending on your industry, you may need to simply update or completely redo your external analysis to determine the political, economic, consumer, environmental and regulatory implications for your industry and business.  Next, identifying what actions your competitors may take in this updated external analysis and monitoring for leading indicators that may signal competitor actions will position your company to be pro-active vs. reactive.

 

Doug Hedlund
President, The Hedlund Group, LLC
doughedlund@hedlundgroupllc.com

Doug provides Line of Sight Group clients corporate, business unit, and product level strategy development and execution facilitation and guidance. Doug’s disciplined approach to strategy development and execution helps our clients translate our industry research and competitive intelligence into focused, actionable strategies and execution plans. Doug has evolved the disciplines and tools he utilizes over a twenty-seven year career in corporate development and strategy leadership roles at Deluxe Corporation, CUNA Mutual Group, and Mayo Clinic. In addition, Doug has taught the Strategic Management Capstone course in the MBA programs at the University of St. Thomas and Augsburg College since 2008 and 2009, respectively and has helped numerous organizations formulate successful strategy and strategy execution plans.

05 Oct

External vs. Internal: The Difference between Strategy and Planning

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As we enter the first days of October here in Minnesota, the leaves are turning, football is back and our clients are diving deep into their strategic planning for 2017.
When the concept of strategic planning arrived in the business world in the mid-1960’s, corporate leaders embraced it as “the one best way’ to devise and implement strategies, according to Henry Mintzberg, the internationally renowned academic and author of ‘The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning’. By the mid 1990’s amidst the dot.com bust, however, strategic planning had fallen from its pedestal and planning departments were being dismantled.

“Strategic planning is not strategic thinking. One is analysis and the other is synthesis.”
– Henry Mintzberg

Mintzberg explained that strategic planning had become, “strategic programming, the articulation and elaboration of strategies, or visions, that already exist.” On the other hand, he wrote that strategic thinking is about capturing what managers learn from all sources (including both ‘soft’ insights from experiences and observations as well as ‘hard’ data from market research) and then synthesizing it into a vision of the direction that the business should pursue.

In his 2014 HBR article ‘The Big Lie of Strategic Planning’ University of Toronto Professor Roger Martin laments that “strategic plans all tend to look pretty much the same.” They have three major parts: a vision or mission statement, a list of initiatives, and a conversion of the initiatives into budgets. While they may produce better budgets, they are not about strategy.

Strategic Planning Strategy
Internally focused: planning, costs, capabilities Externally focused: customers and competition
Short-term Future-oriented
Controllable Uncontrollable in long-term
Comfortable Uncomfortable
Accurate, predictive Imperfect, directional
Risk elimination Risk management
Objectives, steps, timelines Placing bets

Strategy is about what we choose to do as an organization (and not to do) and why. It is about where to place ‘bets’. Strategy focuses on the revenue side, where customers make decisions about whether to give their money to us, to our competitors or to a substitute. This is the hard work of acquiring and keeping customers. It is uncomfortable because our customers are making the decisions, not our own organization.

How to escape the comfort zone: embrace the angst

Because the problem is rooted in our natural aversion to discomfort and fear, Martin writes, “the only remedy is to adopt a discipline about strategy making that reconciles you to experiencing some angst.”

How can we stay focused on strategy this planning season and not fall into the trap of planning and cost budgeting? Some tips:

    Focus on choices that influence revenue (i.e.: customer decision makers). This boils down to just two basic choices: 1) where-to-play (which buyers to target) and 2) how-to-win (how to create a compelling value proposition for those customers). Customers will decide whether or not our value proposition is valuable and superior to competitors’, and whether or not to reward us with revenue.
    Acknowledge that strategy is not perfect. Managers and boards need to shift their thinking to focus on the risks involved in the strategic choices (i.e.: placing bets) rather than insisting on proof that a strategy will succeed.
    Explicitly document the logic. The assumptions about customers, industry, competition, internal capabilities, and others that drove the decisions should be documented and then later compared to real events. This helps to quickly explain why a particular strategy is not producing the desired outcome.
    Invest in data-driven decision making. Placing bets inherently involves risks. Because strategy is not perfect and risk cannot be eliminated, the objective is to increase the odds of success by understanding and managing risks. This is where knowledge and insight into customer needs and competitive offerings and dynamics provides tangible value.

Alignment

Of course, successful strategic planning occurs when both strategy and planning are aligned. The strategic “sweet spot” is the value proposition that meets customers’ needs in a way that rivals can’t. It must include both the external view of customers and competitors and the internal view of our own capabilities.

When the core elements of strategy are aligned (customers – competition – capabilities – mission/vision), and when decisions are driven by solid external knowledge, organizations can confidently place its strategic bets in a way that both grows revenue and delivers it in a way that is profitable for the company.

12 Jul

Top Five Digital Health Trends for 2016: Disruption Can be a Game Changer if a Business Can Predict it

According to Accenture’s report, Top Five Digital Health Trends for 2016, “Disruption can be a game changer if a business can predict it.”  Here are the trends they identify and break down:
  • Intelligent Automation – big data, digital apps and devices handle the basics allowing people resources to focus on higher value tasks
  • Liquid Workforce – technology has enabled anywhere, anytime access to healthcare. Crowd sourcing and workforce flexibility are leading to better outcomes
  • Platform Economy – technology-enabled networks and the ability for consumers, providers, payers, and employers to all access them yield better outcomes at scale
  • Predictable Disruption – once the ecosystem is established, it becomes more powerful with the addition of new, innovative offers. Many are coming from outside of health care such as gaming and consumer-based technologies
  • Digital Trust – as ecosystems grow larger, vulnerabilities increase.  Yet, consumer demand for security and privacy remain high

Predicting disruption across digital health encompasses a dizzying array of forces at play – technology, economic business model, consumer engagement, regulatory, and more.  A thorough understanding of the competitive landscape where you play is a great first step to take if your market is rapidly changing.

This link will take you to a Sample Report for Line of Sight Group’s Competitive Landscape Program, making sense of disruptive and chaotic forces for our clients: Competitive Landscape Sample Report.
07 Jul

The Challenge of Being Different

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In a past life, I held the position of a product manager for a company that was the leader in a substantial and mature industry. As a product manager, I learned many things:

  • First I learned that the product manager role in any organization is extremely hard work and not for the faint of heart. I mean, who would even want the job of being in the middle of demanding customers, unruly salespeople, tentative engineers, anxious operations managers, out of touch managers and cautious finance and accounting folks? Sounds like a perfect job for a middle child, which I am not. In addition, even though we had good market research, I always felt like I was running in circles, responding to the largest customer or market anecdotes without a good sense of the real market needs
  • Second, I learned that responding to those counter pressures was the safest way to operate. While it was considered ‘customer focused’, in the end, our efforts often resulted in product features and pricing models that looked pretty much like everything else in the market, even though internally we felt we had invented something unique
  • Last, I learned that working to make my product line truly ‘different’ in the market required skill, courage, leadership, and even a little luck.

In her book ‘Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd’ Harvard Business Professor Youngme Moon describes the concept of ‘category blur’. Her argument is that once a product category becomes a blur to customers, they start to adopt a consumption posture directed toward the category as a whole, as opposed to the individual brands within it. Professor Moon says, “We [buyers] no longer see the trees for the forest so we cop a stance toward the forest instead.” On the other hand, what she terms ‘breakaway’ products and brands deviate from these stereotypes in such a way as to cast doubt on the validity of the original generalizations.

The concept of ‘different’ implies the ability to compare and contrast one against another – for both customers and product managers. In order to deliver products that are truly different product managers must start with knowledge of his or her own product, production and pricing capabilities, etc. (the internal environment). At the same time they must have deep knowledge of the competitor’s products and capabilities along with buyer needs, perceptions and behavior (the external environment). In addition, since the external environment is constantly changing as customer needs change, competitors change, and technology and other trends drive change, the awareness of differences must be continuous. (Refer to the difficult role of the product manager above).

When we started working with one of our very good clients several years ago, the senior executive told me, “We have launched so many new products and product improvements over the years that have failed.” He added, “They not only cost money but hurt our reputation with customers, and we know that solid investment on the front-end is critical.”

It is the external environment where Line of Sight Group helps our clients. Our approach is to help product management professionals improve their effectiveness by collaborating with them to ‘out-smart’ their competition by identifying the disruption that represents opportunities and threats before their competitors do. We help them benchmark the competition, watch their ever-changing external environment and help them connect the dots. They apply the insight to close gaps to reduce risk and Identify ‘white space’ opportunities to make their products truly ‘different’.

As noted above, sometimes being ‘different’ requires a little luck beyond the leadership and hard work of a product manager. Sometimes that luck comes in the form of additional knowledge and insight – and it can mean all the difference.