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

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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.

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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.

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.

12 May

Identifying and Connecting the Dots at the Product Conf 2017

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On Monday, Line of Sight Group attended the Product Conf 2017 put on by DevJam at the History Center in St. Paul. This year’s theme was “Product Chemistry.” There were several tracks of presentations focused on product management, business-based architecture, development operations, customer experience and user-selected topics.  We jumped around to take in at least one in each area.  Here are a few of the key takeaways:

  • Beware of lies disguised as statistics
  • Tell better stories
  • Look for problems – seen and unseen
  • Iterative design will take many unexpected turns
  • Focus on fewer, not more, ideas
  • Apply systematic innovation techniques to find the white space
  • Like fire, some products are discovered vs. invented
  • Construct the product roadmap by looking at problems in the context of customers before designing solutions
  • Anthropology can lead to sound insight about true behavior vs. asking alone

It was great to get away for a day, network, and think about how and why to connect the dots in the quest to create (or discover) new products.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.