Managing Expectation Series: 5 Tips to Improve Client Understanding (Tip #2)

If you missed our initial post for this five part series, be sure to read that first.

TIP #2: SEEK PERSPECTIVE, NOT PRECISION

A key way to manage expectations is to seek perspective in answering a question – not precision. You can always gain perspective on any topic.

Ask your client: would you rather have 90% of questions answered based on an accurate perspective, or 10% of questions answered with absolutely precise information? Does it really significantly impact a decision to know that the annual sales of a privately held company are $102 million or $108 million? Isn’t a report that states that annual sales are between $100 million and $110 million sufficient to meet your needs?

Communicate to clients that it’s important not to get too hung up in the details, but rather to use the information provided in context of the bigger picture.

Next week we’ll dive into our next piece of advice that details why developing a specific project scope is critical to success. Be sure to check our blog for another update.

Managing Expectation Series: 5 Tips to Improve Client Understanding (Tip #1)

Say you’re an intelligence director, and you get a call from the chief marketing officer: “Get me profiles on 6 private companies in 5 different countries … Identify their sales, operating costs, prices, margins, strategic initiatives, product development plans, IT platforms … I need this by the end of the week, and the budget is under $5,000.”

An exaggeration? Of course – but not by much. Do you regularly deal with these types of requests? Do your clients fully understand or even care about what will actually be required to fulfill their requests? How to you manage their expectations, especially the expectations of “C-level” clients?

Here we’ll launch a five part series offering tips and strategies to better manage the expectations of CI clients, based on practical experiences gained from over 20 years in the business.

Tip #1: GOOD, FAST, CHEAP? PICK 2 OUT OF 3

Determine the biggest driver behind a decision to proceed with a project: Is it timing? Expense? Quality of work?

The bottom line is that good and fast work insight isn’t cheap. And, fast and cheap insight is rarely good. When time is truly driving a project, the goal is usually met at the expense of one of the other two factors. Immediate or urgent requests can be provided if the client understands that the information and insight discovered might not be as complete as it could be if more time was available.

It comes down to choice vs. chance. You have the power of choice to say “No” to taking on a project. It’s hard to tell a CMO or CEO “Sorry, we can’t help you.” Of course you wouldn’t say it in those words – but you do need to provide a reality check and make it clear what kind of quality can be provided in what time frame, and at what cost. Perhaps you can take on the project, but it might need to come at the cost of another project being delayed or dropped. Or you could scale back the scope.

It can be uncomfortable or intimidating to turn down a project request. But look long-term, not short-term. Business intelligence should always either save money or time, or make money or time. Any expectation that doesn’t contribute to meeting one of these goals is a waste of both.

Good things happen with better management of client expectations. People will be calmer when everyone is on the same page. You will be perceived as highly professional and gain credibility and respect. The net result will be that your client will have a positive experience and provide more repeat work, which helps the overall viability of your position and the CI function.

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Our next post in the series will post later this week, so be sure to check our blog for insight on how seeking perspective, not precision is key in managing expectations.

Top 3 Tips to Make Collaboration a Competitive Advantage

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Collaboration is critical to the success of competitive intelligence (CI) functions. Organizations that gather and interpret market or competitor data must be able to convert it to actionable intelligence that clients can use. To do this, teams must share information and insights – that is, they must collaborate effectively.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates explained it this way in Business @ the Speed of Thought:

“I have a simple but strong belief. The most meaningful way to differentiate your company from your competition … is to do an outstanding job with information. How you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose.”

While even the best employees and teams may occasionally miss the mark when it comes to sharing information, some companies have a more pronounced resistance to collaboration. But whether it’s intentional or unintentional, occasional or pervasive, failing to share data and insights can inflict considerable harm on the CI department or the organization as a whole.

Just a few of the detrimental effects of poor collaboration include:

  • Incomplete perspective
  • Confused and chaotic project schedules
  • Unhappy clients

With the myriad of electronic communication platforms available today, why is collaboration still a problem? What can be done to enhance the sharing of information?

Before we get to the top three ways to improve collaboration, let’s first look at three things that impede the flow of information between teams and individuals: insular culture, bad attitudes, and lack of time.

Insular Company Culture
In many companies, especially large corporations, departments tend to have an inward focus. Staff may engage in territorial behavior to protect the group and its resources. Even seemingly unrelated factors, such as compensation structures, can impact collaboration. For example, when an executive’s pay is tied to department results, myopic thinking and a lack of information sharing can result.

Bad Individual Attitudes
Most of us have worked with a co-worker who hoarded information and refused to share it. For some, this provides a sense of power and control. Others enjoy being in the spotlight and believe that holding key information makes them more valuable to the company. Of course, a few individuals are simply born to resist change. Their mantra is “we’ve always done things this way.”

Lack of Time
In many cases, employees are simply too busy to collaborate and have too many competing priorities. In the corporate world, we are often asked to “do more with less” – to take on more projects and responsibilities for the good of the company. Developing a strategic plan for collaboration takes a back seat to the constant stream of reactive tasks. Everything is urgent!

Our most important priorities, however, should not be reactive. Solid competitive intelligence is critical to a company’s growth and overall success. An open flow of information between teams and individuals helps us reach valid conclusions, make more confident recommendations, and produce more comprehensive reports. As such, a company’s approach to the CI function — and to information sharing throughout the organization — warrants a thoughtful plan.

So, how do we improve collaboration? Successful firms develop an explicit strategy and make organizational changes to aid performance in these efforts (MacCormack 2007). The three tips below are excellent ways to begin a collaboration strategy and promote the sharing of information.

1. Gain Leadership Support
Collaboration starts at the top. It’s critical that leaders help employees understand the link between information sharing and better competitive intelligence. Leaders should emphasize that collaboration is vital, and support the sharing of resources across functions. To highlight cross-team successes, leaders should model the practice of giving other team members credit whenever possible.

2. Create a Culture of Collaboration
Make it a standard practice to give and receive feedback on the information that is shared. Showing appreciation for others’ time and efforts encourages a positive cycle of collaboration. By sharing information freely, companies can institutionalize knowledge and reduce the reliance on one or a few “indispensable” individuals. To further reinforce a culture of collaboration, consider forming a CI community that provides professional support from a network of experts.

3. Use Technology Effectively
If you aren’t already using technology to enhance collaboration, it’s time to start. If you already use it, make sure you are doing it in the most intelligent way possible for your business. Several platforms accelerate and enhance the sharing of information, including corporate social media platforms (e.g., Yammer, Jive, Slack, Chatter), video chat (e.g., Skype, Google Hangouts), wiki pages, cloud-based documents and spreadsheets, and online portals for teams or projects.

Collaboration is a critical competitive advantage. It’s imperative that companies honestly assess the collaboration between their CI function and other departments. Success requires a strategic approach to information sharing — not just between a few teams or a handful of individuals, but across the entire company.

REFERENCES

Gates III, William H. (1999). Business @ the Speed of Thought: Using a Digital Nervous System. New York: Warner Books Inc.
https://www.amazon.com/Business-Speed-Thought-Digital-Nervous/dp/B0000547LV

MacCormack, Alan; Forbath, Theodore; Brooks, Peter; Kalaher, Patrick (2007). Innovation Through Global Collaboration: A New Source of Competitive Advantage. Harvard Business School Working Paper 07-079.
http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/07-079.pdf

Six Easy Ways to Better Competitive Intelligence Project Delivery

Provider: “When do need that?”

Manager: “Yesterday!”

Provider: “When did you first know you were going to need it?”

Manager: “Two months ago.”

Provider: “What kind of budget do you have?”

Manager: “Practically none.”

Provider: “Are you looking for a thumbnail overview or a detailed examination?”

Manager: “Everything I can get, of course. I want quality, and I want it fast.”

Sound familiar? This exchange happens all too often between managers who need solid insight to answer immediate strategic questions and competitive intelligence providers who uncover and deliver the answers. In a hurry to get the information, data requesters pressure CI service providers, whether they are part of an internal CI function or an outside research supplier, with impractical timeframes and a whole host of unrealistic expectations.

The “need it yesterday” perspective can defeat the very purpose of competitive intelligence—to produce a real effect on the bottom line. Competitive intelligence should always save or make either time or money. Any information that does not contribute to meeting at least one of these goals is a waste of both. In order to do so, consider the following guidelines:

1) Be Specific with Project Scope

CI users must ask for exactly what they want. Be as granular as possible at the outset.

2) Discuss Project Do-Ability

Expect CI providers to be upfront and tell it like it is. Nobody wants to hear, “No problem, we can do that in a week,” only to be told the day before the report is due that “we really need another month.”

3) Agree on Realistic Timeframes

Take into account and schedule for strategizing, identifying and contacting of knowledgeable sources, verification and analysis of research findings, and report writing.

4) Seek Perspective, Not Precision

Remember, findings may not always need to go to the third decimal point of accuracy in order to provide sufficient strategic perspective to reach a conclusion.

5) Communicate Regularly

CI engagements can encounter unexpected and exciting turns. Take advantage of them and know what to expect in the final report by communicating often.

6) Good, Fast, or Cheap—Pick Two

Remember Jerry Maguire, “Help me to help you.” Build a win-win partnership.

Is your business prepared for the augmented reality revolution?

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Retailers Must Be Prepared for the Augmented/Mixed Reality Revolution

Already under siege by online-only retailers like Amazon, traditional retail is about to get hit by another technological shift comparable to the Internet itself: Augmented/Mixed Reality (AR/MR).

Soon, in addition to just browsing products online, consumers will be able to examine and interact with products wherever they are, courtesy of AR/MR applications. And as these technologies begin to blossom over the next decade, consumers – especially Millennials – will not only seek out retailers with AR/MR capabilities, they will fully expect them as part of the normal purchasing process.

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