Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Tipping Point of CI

Ben Lawder
Vice President of Market Intelligence

In this keynote presentation at the recent 29th Annual SCIP International Conference and Exhibition, ADP’s Ben Lawder used his personal career story to illustrate the evolution of the CI function and lay out a roadmap for you become the hero your organization needs you to be. Read more recaps of all the great sessions from the event in Orlando in the upcoming SCIP 2014 Executive Chronicles.


The competitive intelligence function is about more than just crunching data and presenting the results to your leadership team. Instead, your role as a CI professional is to marry the data with well-considered insight and then provide truly meaningful recommendations. To do that, you need to prepare properly and use the right tools to develop that insight.
Insight rarely happens in a vacuum, or in a cube, for that matter, Lawder said. You need to find places that inspire and transform your thinking. There a lot of different ways to do that. It could be as dramatic as going on a trip to a locale that challenges your normal mode of doing things, or as simple taking a walk in your favorite park. Regardless of the location, you need to allow yourself the time to reflect and have epiphanies.  

Preparation and timing go hand in hand. Preparation means continuously observing to discern patterns in the environment; timing means knowing how to use those patterns to your advantage. Lawder told the story of a guide in the Serengeti who observed over countless tours that if he drove through the reserve in a certain direction at a certain time, one particular cheetah would jump onto the branches of a dead tree near the road, providing the perfect photo opportunity for his guests.

CI professionals should always be able to answer one key question: What do you do better than anyone else in your organization? One answer might be staying flexible and being able to move quickly and seamlessly to changing priorities.
Your leadership team needs insights that address the concerns and fears keeping them up at night. Experts predict that 40% of today’s Fortune 500 companies will drop off that list in the next five years, Lawder said. Your CEO doesn’t want his company to be one of those. 

Leadership teams understand that business is very similar to the laws of the jungle. If you are a zebra, every day you have to outrun the lion to live. On the other hand, if you are a lion, every day you have to outrun the zebra in order to not starve. In business, outrunning the competition requires operational excellence and developing foresight.
There are three main areas that concern leadership teams today, Lawder explained:

  1. Globalization
  2. Changing customer expectations, and
  3. Changing technology.
If your insights are aligned with any or all of these three areas, your message will be more likely to be heard. 

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point, noted that there are three necessary ingredients to develop the next big idea:

  • A few key people (such as the right leadership team and the right CI people) 
  • The right market conditions, and 
  • A sticky message (such as one aligned with the three concerns above). 

Lawder outline a hierarchy of the messages CI professionals can deliver:

  1. Helpful
  2. Useful
  3. Valuable
  4. Impactful 
  5. Critical
The messages further down that list will be more likely to be acted upon. However, don’t limit yourself to only conveying the critical messages; you also need to develop your credibility by still delivering the helpful and useful insights as well. Just remember to keep the messaging mix vibrant; the correct combination will affect not only your organization, but the trajectory for your career as well. 

Some of the classic analysis models are ideal for framing messages to the leadership team. For example, Porter’s Five Forces analysis is an excellent tool for showing the push/pull relationship between the company and its buyers, suppliers, substitute products, and new competitors.
One important rule to keep in mind, according to Lawder: Don’t be afraid to ruffle feathers or deliver bad news. The most insightful and important messages aren’t always the ones leadership teams want to hear.

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