06 Oct

Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Tips and Techniques

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Last week, Line of Sight Group partnered with the Strategic & Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) Association to deliver a panel discussion to explore how various organizational roles define and use intelligence to formulate strategy and execute go-to-market initiatives. The panel consisted of practitioners from several industries and across several roles. There were panelists and attendees not only from SCIP but from other associations representing the roles we sought including Product Development and Management Association (PDMA), Customer Experience Professional Association (CXPA) and the Special Libraries Association (SLA).

The fast-paced discussion first explored what types of intelligence were needed. With so much data available from so many sources, there is a heightened importance for analyzing, synthesizing and making sense of it. Several ideas emerged from making it simple, visual, or put into the context of the consumer of the intelligence. One of the firms had operationalized this into Red, Yellow, and Green dashboards. Some added that storytellers could be employed to convey the messages and clues found in the intelligence. There was attention given to the ways that technology was impacting the field – several firms are using or are built on analytics. Others are starting to look at Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR).

There were some interesting examples, as well. One firm conducted Scenario Planning and accurately predicted the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon. Another example was that Red Roof Inns capitalized on the fact that 2% of all airline flights are cancelled and figured out a way to cater to temporarily stranded travelers yielding a very favorable business outcome.

Another aspect that emerged was the importance of building trust and collaborating amongst the various roles in research, product management, marketing, sales, customer experience and strategy formulation. With the advent of technology like cloud, mobile, big data and the aforementioned analytics, AI and VR, the notion of sustainable competitive advantage is challenged. This points towards an ongoing monitoring of the external environment to either avoid disruption or to get ahead of the curve and do some disruption.

The panel ended by sharing a list of helpful books:

  • The Amazon Way: 14 Leadership Principles Behind the World’s Most Disruptive Company by John Rossman
  • Do I Make Myself Clear? by Harold Evans
  • Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
  • Originals: How Non-conformists Change the World by Adam Grant
  • Starting a Competitive Intelligence Function by SCIP
  • The Strategist by Cynthia A. Montgomery
  • Good Leaders Ask Great Questions by John C. Maxwell
  • Assorted Competitive Intelligence Books by Michael Porter and Liam Fahey
13 Sep

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

2017-09-13_17-47-31

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

 

 

31 Aug

When Listening to the Market, One Plus One Can Equal Three

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I was talking with someone recently who wanted to accomplish three specific tasks – gather market intelligence, create competitive profiles and send out newsletters. As we talked further, we discovered that the three tasks were closely related. The conversation then shifted to what intelligence was needed and how would it be used?

In this situation, it probably makes sense to take one step back and conduct a Competitive Landscape Analysis using helpful frameworks like PESTEL and Five Forces.  These types of analyses can narrow the focus and yield a specific set of competitors and trends to study and monitor.

Next, a knowledge portal, like Line of Sight Group’s Market-i Competitive Intelligence System, enables a way to organize, relate and contextualize all types of structured and unstructured intelligence. Using this system and the information garnered from the Competitive Landscape Analysis, a team could start gathering competitive intelligence, saving it, and then creating weekly newsletters, demonstrating swift value.

After several weeks or months, competitive profiles could also be created. As soon as these profiles were activated, all of the previously posted articles and artifacts could automatically link and append to the profiles.  Similarly, any new intelligence added to Market-i would have immediate relevance and would add to the collective knowledge.  The newsletter function could also include tips and techniques for using the intelligence as well as information regarding what to look for and how to capture it.

Knowing what you are looking for, why you need it, and how you will use it will allow you to architect a solution that will provide short and long term benefits. It also becomes more valuable with each new piece of intelligence, report or artifact added. Finally, an approach that includes both a push and a pull aspect helps ensure that there will be high levels of engagement. The total value can indeed be greater than that of the parts.

27 Jul

Competing through Intelligence – The Journey to a More Proactive Strategy

In my observation over the years in leading market research and intelligence efforts within organizations and then supporting them in a consulting role, I’ve observed how organizations tend to migrate along a ‘continuum’, based on their experience and skills in making data-driven strategic decisions.

Phase 1: Surprise! The initial realization that organizations need better knowledge and understanding of their external and competitive environment is when management experiences a significant surprise. This can be the appearance of a new competitor in their space, maybe through a partnership or acquisition. An example is the recent entry of Amazon into the grocery business through the acquisition of Whole Foods. Or it might be the loss of business at a loyal customer to an ‘irrational’ competitor, or simply growing price pressure caused by a value proposition that customers increasingly cannot discern as different from the competition. Whatever the cause, the general response in Phase 1 is to go overboard and ‘boil the ocean’ in an all-out/in-depth analysis to ensure it never happens again. Unfortunately, within months of completing this time consuming and expensive analysis, the external environment has continued to change bringing new potential surprises.

Phase 2. Dedicated Projects. The next phase on the continuum involves the realization that information and knowledge about a firm’s external environment can help manage risk and improve chances of success in its strategic ‘bets’. So instead of relying on gut feel, the organization conducts in-depth research to support and inform a strategic decision, usually related to combating a threat or taking advantage of a specific opportunity. These are one-time efforts designed to support a specific decision. In that way, they are highly valuable and actionable, and many organizations choose to stay in this phase. Again, the primary disadvantage with this approach is that the external environment does not stop evolving and changing. While the ‘snapshot’ analysis is valuable in supporting a specific decision, it gradually becomes obsolete as the environment changes.

Phase 3. Longitudinal Projects. After organizations have been conducting one-off research efforts for a while, they often identify some that they would like to repeat periodically. They may involve ongoing marketing or sales campaigns, for example, or existing products where pricing, features and enhancements change regularly. These periodic updates help managers keep a pulse on the changing external landscape, and make adjustments based on changing customer needs, competitor moves or changes in market or industry-level forces that affect strategic decisions. The primary disadvantage is that these updates generally look backward and decisions are based on what has happened rather than being future-based to include what is likely to happen.

Phase 4: Systematic Intelligence. As organizations see value in periodic updates, some move further to a systematic environment that involves continuous monitoring of threats and opportunities, regular updates, and an ongoing development of a strategic knowledge asset that is leveraged across the organization. Ongoing monitoring of leading indicators and patterns of changes in products and offerings, strategic assumptions, potential opportunities, threats and disruptors, and customer perception of the firm’s value proposition are designed to enable the organization to identify threats and opportunities earlier and to adjust its strategy quickly and effectively.

In order to get to this point, managers in these organizations start to develop a different mindset and an understanding that they cannot control how customers and ‘irrational’ competitors will behave in the future. They acknowledge that strategy is not perfect. They realize that, while their annual strategic plan is valuable for creating initial budgets and a list of important initiatives, they also need to have the capability and discipline to make strategic changes mid-stream and be able to justify them to the board using data. Managers shift their thinking to focus on the risks involved in the strategic choices (i.e.: placing bets) rather than insisting on proof that a given strategy will succeed.

This journey along the sophistication curve from episodic fixes to a data-driven culture of continuous knowledge and insight can be difficult for many organizations, but I’ve observed that those that make it to the systematic program level find a number of benefits:

  • Faster strategic response and first-mover advantages
  • Improved efficiency through a continuous process
  • Better communication and ‘line of sight’ for middle managers and others who support and execute strategic decisions
  • A knowledge asset that can be built upon and leveraged for innovation across the organization

In general, these organizations become more proactive by developing the capabilities to make hard strategic choices and ‘bets’ even as some things are unknowable and uncontrollable, and to adjust their strategies based on their own continuous learning about their external environment.

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.

25 Apr

To Increase CX (and Revenue), This Lender Gave Customers a Blank Check

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Line of Sight Group constantly engages in activities to keep abreast of trends in innovation, customer experience, sales methods, service adoption and business model transformation. One trend we have noticed are the parallels in the disciplines of product management, service design and customer experience.  Over the past few weeks, we have attended events and sessions in all of these disciplines and would like to share an observation demonstrating this convergence.

Representatives from the Baker Tilly firm shared an interesting Customer Experience (CX) case at the Product Development Management Association (PDMA) local chapter meeting the other day. It was the case of a lender pre-approving customers for vehicle purchases but then realizing that less than a quarter of the pre-approved customers actually returned to the lender to complete the loan. This was very disappointing to the lender as the process to pre-approve customers took time and effort. After performing a journey mapping exercise along with some current and future state analysis, the lender added one crucial step at the beginning of the process that changed everything.

What was the innovation?  The lender started sending along a blank check valid for up to the pre-approved loan amount with the customer as they entered the dealership to purchase their new vehicle. This gave the lender’s customers a powerful tool that provided them more control over the buying experience, let them bypass the time in the financial manager’s office where they were subject to every conceivable cross-sell and up-sell tactic, and allowed them to drive away in their new vehicle without returning to the lender in advance.

Thus, a CX initiative impacted the nature of the service/product (a blank check was added), the process (avoidance of a trip back to the lender), a much better customer experience (less effort and avoiding the trip to the financial manager’s office), and a boost in business for the lender (fourfold revenue increase). In this case, the CX started with the sales process, impacted the product and service offer, as well as what the customer experienced on their vehicle buying journey.  Understanding the external environment made up of the dealers and competitive lenders along with the customer journey enabled this lender to prevail in several key areas.

06 Mar

Bob and Jerry on Competing in Healthcare

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For the past several weeks, we have been busily reading the myriad articles and forecasts on Healthcare (HC) trends for 2017. There was even an article about all of the other articles.  With trends like a dramatically changing regulatory environment, continued momentum in HC consumerism, advances moving big data and analytics into cognitive computing and Artificial Intelligence, value management, medical device and pharma innovation, mobility, cloud, security, privacy and so on, 2017 promises to be an exciting and challenging year. Not only are things moving fast, but there are a lot of them and the very foundations of the industry are shifting at the same time. If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed and seeking enlightenment, we offer the timeless wisdom of Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia to make some sense out of the state of HC.

“For the times, they are a changin’” pretty well sums up the status quo. Thank you, Bob. For organizations competing in the HC space, it is particularly important to examine the increasingly complex and multi-layered external environment and to ensure that strategic plans are up-to-date, refreshed and aligned with the go-to-market initiatives. Leaders may also find themselves in the circumstance of playing offense and defense simultaneously.  Some built-in flexibility goes a long way when there are well funded start-ups seeking to innovate by employing new, simplified business models and established organizations seeking to do some disrupting of their own. No matter where the threats come from or where the opportunities may lie, it has never been more important to listen to what is happening in the market, connect the dots and then convert this into insight that can be acted upon. There are a lot of factors to consider.  Jerry rightly observes, If the thunder don’t get ya then the lightning will.

While most organizations conduct annual planning and align their go-to-market activities to the current conditions, it may not be enough. When in particularly challenging times, we might feel the need to regroup a bit and as Bob points out, “Come in, she said, I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”  Leading organizations monitor their external environments continuously in order to anticipate market changes and make appropriate course changes. There are many methods to accomplish this that involve primary and secondary research, analysis and the pulling of various execution levers.

2017 presents potentially turbulent conditions. With a good and continuous view of the external environment, a sound and flexible strategic plan in place and solid execution, you will be able to navigate and compete successfully in the HC market. As Jerry sang, “May the four winds blow you safely home.”  Good luck in 2017!

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!

27 Dec

How Stealth Technology Became a Silver Bullet

An F-117 Nighthawk taxis down the runway before its flight during the Holloman Air and Space Expo at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Oct. 27, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Colbert) (Released)

Stealth technology provides the U.S. military with a dramatic competitive advantage in battle and as a deterrent to potential aggressors. Yet, its development nearly didn’t happen. The mathematical theories upon which stealth technology is based were actually developed by a Soviet scientist whose superiors were absolutely uninterested in his “crazy” theories and confusing equations.  His frustration with his superiors led the scientist to publish a paper in a scientific journal.  Here’s an example of a stealth equation for the strength of the reflected radar signal:

stealth-equation

A Lockheed engineer in the course of keeping current discovered the Soviet Scientist’s article and believed that his Soviet counterpart was on to something.  He approached his management and received a small budget and team to explore the possibilities and was set up in the Skunk Works operation at Lockheed.  He led a team that developed the original stealth fighter.   After building the initial prototype, he and his team invited some senior Lockheed engineers to review their work and provide feedback.  The senior engineers were used to building speedy fighters with smooth, space age contours versus the strange looking, flat paneled surfaces called for in stealth theory.   Many of these senior engineers doubted that the plane would even get off the ground.

Undaunted, the Skunk Works team continued their work and completed the prototype.  By this time, they were nearly out of money and they had no orders yet for stealth fighters.  They realized that they needed a straightforward method to demonstrate their value proposition.   A radar scientist was brought in to perform some testing that involved gluing ball bearings to the nose of the prototype and zapping it with the radar gun. This revealed that the plane’s electronic radar profile was equal to that of a 1/8” ball bearing, about this size:ball-bearing-1-4

Over the next few months, the sales effort constituted rolling these small ball bearings across the desks of USAF generals. These brief and to-the-point sales presentations were accompanied by one simple question, “What if this was your fighter’s profile on enemy radar?” This technique led to billions of dollars and several generations of stealth aircraft sales to the U.S. Military.

There are many lessons to be learned from this story:

  • Research the external environment – the foundations of stealth technology were discovered in an obscure technical paper published by a “competitor”
  • Trust your instincts – “we’ve always done it this way” mentality nearly grounded stealth technology
  • Marketing messaging should be simple – while stealth technology is complex (theories and equations), its value proposition (radar profile of ball bearing) is not
  • Engage and sell the value proposition to those who can buy it – the USAF generals had all read and been influenced by Sun Tzu’s Art of War and sought “silver bullets” like strategic advantage and deterrence, not technical theories

In this case, the go-to-market team collaborated to research, develop, market and sell their new offer. The rest is history.

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.