Intelligence professionals know that winning requires listening to customers, anticipating trends, and besting competitors. The practical fact of separate teams for customer, market, and competitive intelligence does not mean that intelligence needs to be siloed. Here’s a solution.
A recent review of inbound customer leads received during the pandemic validates what many of us at PWW have understood anecdotally for some time. Far and away, the competitive intelligence services garnering the highest demand in our work prioritize Voice of Customer engagements. Getting the inside track on customer expectations, preferences, and dislikes toward increasing customer loyalty and improving satisfaction rates has always been an important part of a robust CI program. Today, however, gaining critical consumer intelligence is currently THE primary bulwark against encroaching competition, giving organizations both quantitative and qualitative control over their own destiny.
What’s really at the heart of VOC work is the need for validation to make better business decisions. Our validation culture, which stems from our normal human need for approval and acceptance, is an incredibly powerful tool when hot consumer trends and consumer spending are at stake, fueled by the global social media behemoths that monetize it, from Facebook and Instagram to Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok, et.al. Today’s businesses need to pay close attention. Why is validation, whether positive or negative, so important in business? Because companies can, and do, rise and fall if they don’t heed the signs of today’s mercurial customer base and continue to operate on falsely held customer expectations and beliefs.
“…Any enterprise VOC study that doesn’t also take a hard look at what that enterprise’s own customers think of industry competitors, rival products, or similar services is only getting part of the story.”
– Gary Maag
Where to Begin?
The best VOC research programs are designed to help companies determine what customer metrics, or factors, should be prioritized and validated, or in some cases, disproven, allowing enterprises the freedom to pivot toward better business choices. First, though, ‘change’ has a reputation for being difficult, and leadership as well as internal business stakeholders can be notoriously uncomfortable with it. At the start, particularly when initiating an ongoing VOC program, building consensus and designating senior leadership team sponsors who are responsible for its success and future investment are excellent strategies. Scope definition is also crucial. Voice of Customer projects involve naval-gazing to a certain extent, but any enterprise VOC study that doesn’t also take a hard look at what that enterprise’s own customers think of industry competitors, rival products, or similar services is only getting part of the story.
VOC Tools of the Trade
It can be argued that VOC work is not just a quantitative but also a qualitative exercise. Why? Because it involves human preferences, diverse consumer behaviors, and even competing agendas. That said, the power of today’s advanced data analytics platforms to harness and distill the sheer magnitude of customer data and consumer research is a colossal evolutionary leap forward in terms of improving VOC data collection. Experts like PWW are able to customize these leading-edge software solutions based on the needs of each client. Armed with this competitive intelligence capability to collect virtual mountains of available customer information, we can integrate disparate sets of unstructured and structured data to achieve a conclusive diagnosis of a client’s bill of consumer health.
- Social listening platforms
- Focus groups and interviews
- Blogs and forums
- One-time surveys as well as ongoing survey programs
- Email, chat, and call data
- Customer reviews
- NPS (net promoter score – promoters, passives, and detractors)
What Specific Customer Insights Will Help Your Organization the Most?
Every company is different, with its own strengths and weaknesses. It is incumbent on enterprises to determine what information they require that both responds to customer sentiments and serves their bottom line. For example, prioritization to improve customer service pain points can steer research toward internal product returns data, integrating it with product quality complaints on social media and product/service reviews from retail websites. In another scenario, researching one’s own customer sentiments toward competitors can lead to identifying potential market disruptors that could negatively impact market share down the road. VOC research using customer surveys can discover enrollment deficiencies in loyalty programs, product pricing, or measure the effectiveness of its sales channels against the competition.
For many organizations, what may not be obvious to the naked eye in terms of customers’ true sentiments is almost always uncovered with VOC research. Defining rules for customer segmentation—prioritizing which customers are the most important to your business—is also key to illuminating areas for improvement. The goal is to help enterprises emphasize successful strategies, follow customer segmentation protocols, get a more accurate read on competitive standing, and discontinue stagnant products or services that waste energy and resources.
It comes as no surprise that Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com both just announced their 2020 word of the year is “Pandemic.” On its website, Merriam-Webster writes, “Sometimes a single word defines an era, and it’s fitting that in this exceptional—and exceptionally difficult—year, a single word came immediately to the fore as we examined the data that determines what our Word of the Year will be.”
As a natural consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the word “constraint” has emerged from relative obscurity, enjoying some notoriety among the many terms the pandemic has ushered into our daily vernacular. The negative connotation of being constrained, limited, or restricted, particularly for organizations that depend on market and competitive intelligence to drive their business, is certainly cause for concern. However, during this time when constraints have closed many doors, these same limitations on our mobility (and daily existence) have also opened windows of opportunity for progressive enterprises that are receptive to new ways of thinking, working, and competing in a changing world.
Constraint #1 — Prohibition on Conferences and Trade Exhibitions
Spanning decades, annual in-person conferences have been standard practice for a large swath of industries, and with good reason. For professionals in finance, pharmaceuticals/healthcare, advanced software/technology, and an entire spectrum of consumer products, these gatherings present ideal opportunities for attendees to gain critical business insights, including but not limited to:
- Hands-on experience with competitors’/exhibitors’ prototypes or new offerings;
- Networking opportunities with competitors, customers, and vendors;
- Meaningful interactions with potential customers;
- Straightforward intelligence into industry market conditions.
According to the non-profit Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) group, “The amount of information you can get from a show continues to grow and, with it, the opportunity for developing valuable intelligence. At the same time, there is continual development in the software that can help us at the trade shows.” The good news is that the pandemic’s constraints on in-person attendance are propelling new efficiencies in obtaining conference-related insights through virtual means. Rapid abstract management (RAM), for instance, is emerging as a highly potent and efficient tracking/monitoring/integration software platform. The point is that these new virtual monitoring approaches—which actually offer a more comprehensive, integrated information portal for data analytics—are giving industries a lot of food for thought. Companies are giving themselves permission to forego the more traditional, yet costly, travel and attendance fees in favor of virtual conference technology and virtual conference monitoring services to gain crucial competitive intelligence.
Constraint #2 — Maintaining Your Competitive Edge with a Remote Workforce
In our field, we stress to our clients that an effective competitive strategy constantly grows and evolves to meet industry standards. Before the pandemic, it was typical for cross-functional teams of decision-makers to convene in one location/time zone to explore relevant market research, game out risks and opportunities, and develop a competitive strategy that optimized a return on their investment. The 2020 pandemic has turned this scenario completely on its head—the emergence of a global remote workforce for the foreseeable future is unable to meet in the same building, much less in the same city, state, or even country.
For those organizations concerned about losing ground in competitive effectiveness due to team members working remotely, virtual wargaming workshops are proving to be a highly effective, lower-cost alternative.
- Within a training and education workshop setting, virtual facilitators guide corporate decision makers in developing and implementing forward-thinking, high impact moves and countermoves
- Virtual workshops help decision-makers become better prepared to face the future of their industry. Enterprises with global corporate stakeholders are coming around to the idea that different locations and time zones should no longer be perceived as an obstacle when virtual business wargaming offers so many benefits.
Through this innovation, today’s remote leadership teams gain the capability to test existing strategies or even create new strategies, and significantly improve their own understanding of and insight into competitors, their capabilities, and their potential actions.
Constraint #3 — Ongoing Disruptions Impacting Commerce and Consumer Behaviors
In a white paper outlining potential strategies to tackle COVID-19 in May 2020, international think tank with 37 member countries, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, suggested, “In the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 crisis, there are a number of reasons that may push competing companies to collaborate with one another and a number of ways in which consumers and the economy may benefit from these collaborations.” Our research confirms that this ‘lift-all-boats’ approach has been gaining in popularity because it has proven invaluable in enabling sustainable solutions for competing businesses in hard-hit industries:
- Neighborhood dining/entertainment establishments are combining forces to stay open and viable during bans on indoor dining. Together, these community coalitions are promoting practical calls to action within their sphere of influence, for example, “Spend $25 per week on take-out or curbside service at participating restaurants in our town…”
- “Buy Local” campaigns in communities with smaller populations are flourishing, marketed through social media by local chambers of commerce on behalf of independent bricks-and-mortar retail shops.
- Like-minded retail businesses are upping their online game, while banding together for social causes to improve market share and build a consortium of independent sellers. The City of Chicago’s recent “Black Shop Friday” campaign is a good example. Several well-known online retailers have followed suit with virtual Black Fridays that focus on independent businesses.
- Delivery providers for retail, pharmaceutical, and restaurant industries, to name a few, are expanding into less populated areas to sustain market share, while improving logistics for better alignment of supply with demand.
There are also lessons for municipal and government aid agencies when it comes to using expertise to 1) boost the competitive private sector; and 2) solve systemic, supply-and-demand challenges in our society. Hunger, for example, is a consistent and growing problem in the U.S In an Op-Ed for the Washington Post on December 7, 2020, “What the Pandemic Can Teach Us about Treating Hunger,” World Central Kitchen founder Jose Andrés writes, “Lawmakers don’t have to choose between helping restaurants and feeding the hungry: Restaurants can feed the hungry, with federal support. There’s also no need to choose between paying farmers to destroy crops or supporting food banks: Farmers can be paid to supply the food banks.”
Reconsidering the pandemic’s constraints and working to develop and scale up solutions has real potential to create lasting, positive gains in both consumer engagement, business success, and the economy at large. Safety in numbers is, in many ways, becoming good policy. There is a growing realization that by coming together, an industry, sector, or community has a much better chance of surviving than if those individual businesses attempt to go it alone, only to fail separately. Credible competitive intelligence is an essential asset in overcoming these challenges.
While cannabis legalization gains momentum nationwide, its major reforms continue to occur on a state-by-state level — not federally.
This increasing cannabis legalization mirrors the wider opinions of the American population, 67% of whom believe the purchase and use of cannabis should be legal for adults. This figure represents a distinct shift in consumer consciousness. In 2000, only 31% said medical and recreational marijuana should be legalized.
How can businesses respond to the undeniable opportunities in today’s emerging consumer cannabis market while navigating state-by-state differences in laws, licenses, usage parameters, product restrictions and more?
This report traces how state legislative trends affect marijuana- or cannabis-related businesses (MRB or CRB), both plant-touching and ancillary. It reviews:
- Prevailing cannabis laws across legalized states.
- Major differences in marijuana-related state legislation.
- Medical, recreational and ancillary cannabis products experiencing the largest data-backed market demand.
- Upcoming bills and forecasted legislative trends regarding medical and recreational cannabis.
- Future trends in cannabis reform, plus its direct business impact.
The State of Cannabis Laws Across the United States
Cannabis remains a Schedule I drug under the Drug Enforcement Agency’s classification system. States, however, possess the authority to ignore DEA enforcement and spearhead major policy reform regarding cannabis usage, both recreationally and medically. Over 30 states, as well as Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana, with 11 of these states and Washington also permitting recreational cannabis usage.
To understand the tapestry of marijuana laws by state, we must first review the six categories, or stages, of legalization currently quilting contemporary cannabis policy. Every state in the nation currently sits in one of these six stages.
- No legalized cannabis usage. States in Stage One do not permit medical or recreational cannabis legalization. Many maintain jail sentencing for even minor possession of cannabis.
- Legalized medical marijuana use only. The most pervasive and widespread legalization of cannabis, Stage Two laws legalize cannabis usage for prescription medication, patient treatments and pharmaceutical or medical research.
- Elimination of jail sentencing for cannabis possession. States in Stage Three have eliminated criminal prosecution and jail sentencing for possessing small amounts of cannabis.
- Medical marijuana and cannabis criminal reform. States in Stage Four cannabis reform have legalized medical marijuana as well as passed criminal-justice measures to decriminalize possession and, in some cases, expunge possession from criminal records.
- Legalized recreational and medical cannabis use. Stage Five cannabis legalization permits adult recreational and medical consumption of marijuana and marijuana-derived products.
- Legalized recreational and medical cannabis use across purchased and home-grown cannabis. Currently, Vermont, as well as Washington, D.C., permit home-grown cannabis consumption but have caps on the number of marijuana plants that can be cultivated residentially.
Tracking the legalization stages in your home state is pivotal to noting regulatory trends and its potential business impact, from developing business opportunities to changes in business tax rates, filings, banking options and industry-governing agencies.
1. Common Cannabis Laws by State
States beginning a cannabis legalization reform process must address several legal questions directing the activities of MRBs and CRBs.
In particular, states must answer who can grow, cultivate, test, retail and use cannabis and cannabis derivates. Tackling this involves each state setting the following common cannabis regulatory frameworks:
- Age restrictions: Cannabis users must be 21 or older in all 11 states and the District of Columbia, where recreational use is permitted. Some states impose civil or criminal penalties for minors caught using cannabis.
- Purchase and possession limits: Most states impose purchase and possession limits around an ounce (around 30 grams) for cannabis, though amounts and discrepancies exist. For example, Michigan allows up to 10 ounces to be kept at home, so long as amounts over 2.5 ounces remain in a secure, locked location away from minors.
- Tax rates: States set various taxes on marijuana flowers, trims, leaves and cannabis-infused products affecting nearly every MRB in the cannabis supply chain. Some states add a specific marijuana sales tax to regular state and local sales taxes.
- Business licenses: Businesses looking to enter the cannabis market must apply for specific licenses with their state’s appropriate regulatory agency. MRB/CRB-related business licenses span cultivators and growers, manufacturers, trimmers, testers, distributors and wholesale and traditional retailers.
- Licensing timeline: Each state implements a review process that organizations undergo when applying for a legal cannabis business license. Application criteria, standards, qualifications, fees and exemptions vary by state, as does the expected licensing timeline.
- Seed-to-sale tracking: The majority of states regulating marijuana like alcohol utilize a commercial database that tracks every cannabis product cultivated and sold in its borders. This is done through seed-to-sale software, which direct and ancillary MRBs and government agencies alike use to track marijuana cultivation locations, batch numbers, transit and distribution, product security, product testing, labeling and the final sales of cannabis and cannabis-derived products.
- Consumption locations: Most states allow cannabis and cannabis derivatives to be consumed only in private residences, while others permit consumption in designated public spaces and venues as well as on-site retail consumption.
- Delivery: California, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada and Oregon currently allow some variation of direct medical as well as adult consumer deliveries.
- Overseeing agency: States appoint a designated agency to oversee the legal frameworks for its cannabis industry, such as Massachusett’s Cannabis Control Commission, or fold cannabis regulation into an existing regulatory body, as with Nevada’s Department of Taxation.
2. State and Regional Discrepancies in State Cannabis Laws
While sensible cannabis regulations overlap more than they differ, states still maintain some key variations. These legal discrepancies are just as important to note, particularly for ancillary MRBs or business owners looking to enter the ancillary cannabis commercial space.
- Distribution: Legal distribution channels for cannabis vary significantly by state. Who’s allowed to transport marijuana flowers, trims, leaves and derivatives, as well as where they can deliver and store these products, continues to cause serious business confusion amongst growers and retailers alike attempting to connect their operations along a streamlined supply chain.
- Mandatory vertical integration or deintegration: Some states currently require CRBs/MRBs to hold multiple types of business licenses to operate legally. This mandated vertical integration has been complicated by a recent trend to deintegrate state cannabis supply chain, spearheaded by states like Washington. Furthermore, other states, such as Colorado, give business owners free rein to apply for as many business licenses as desired to control as many aspects of its supply chain deemed relevant and profitable.
- Home cultivation: States also continue reinforcing a hodge-podge mix of laws pertaining to growing marijuana at home. These conflicting laws cover whether home-cultivated cannabis can be for recreational or only medicinal use, the number of plants that can be grown at home, plant maturity, the security of plants away from minors as well as if residential flowering plants need to be identified in the state’s seed-to-sale registry.
Legal Product Trends in the CRB/MRB Industry
Even within today’s patchwork of cannabis laws, entrepreneurs are finding highly profitable product niches in the wider cannabis industry. These cannabis-related products below are particularly valuable pieces in today’s “green rush” puzzle — and forecasted only to grow more so.
- Seed-to-sale software: Seed-to-sale software is at the center of each state’s regulated cannabis retail sales. Advancements in software would make it easier for startups along the marijuana supply chain to legally and profitably operate in their state’s industry, identify their products and stay in-tune with ever-changing legislation.
- Cannabis-derived products: Products made from non-psychoactive components of the cannabis plant, such as cannabidiol (CBD) products, represent a burgeoning market legal in all 50 states. These include CBD extractions, tinctures, oils, edibles, vaporizers, concentrates and hemp, the latter of which constitutes its own web of commercial goods.
- Closed-loop hydroponic systems: Hydroponic systems and similar greenhouse equipment unlock commercial-scale cannabis cultivation year-round. These eco-friendly closed-loop systems are a must for cultivators operating in many regions of the United States.
- CRB fintech solutions: Federal laws currently prohibit FDIC-insured banks from working with MRBs. As a result, MRBs are a predominantly — and precariously — cash-dominated industry whose only real alternatives are non-bank money-management tools in the form of apps and cryptocurrencies.
Major Upcoming Cannabis Legislation
These laws in the works at the state level represent major policy shifts that will help stabilize — and standardize — legal commercial cannabis operations in the United States. For business owners, these are particularly important pieces of legislation to track as state legislators return to normal sessions.
1. The STATES Act
The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States, or simply the STATES Act, would officially end federal obstruction over states regulating medical and recreational marijuana use. At its core, the STATES Act permits all states to create exemptions from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug.
What’s more, the STATES Act augments protections for banks serving CRBs/MRBs, which was passed under the SAFE (Secure and Fair Enforcement) Banking Act in September 2019. The SAFE Act seeks to eliminate federal prosecution of banks providing services to legally registered cannabis businesses. At present, banking hurdles represent one of the largest pain points in the legal commercial cannabis industry, since FDIC-insured institutions are barred from conducting any business with cannabis organizations.
2. Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Bills
Currently, 22 states, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands, have bills in session to legalize cannabis for medical and/or recreational purposes as well as bills related to regulated medical or recreational cannabis.
Bills of note include:
- Vermont: An extensive modification to Vermont’s current cannabis legalization legislation, S. 54, seeks to harmonize disparate sales and consumption laws. Specifically, the measure will also propose a standardized statewide sales policy, broadening Vermont’s current legalization of cannabis possession beyond home cultivation.
- Minnesota, Delaware, Hawaii and Maryland: Each has hallmark bills awaiting session widening medical and/or recreational usage for adults.
- Iowa and Wisconsin: Iowa has reintroduced comprehensive medical marijuana legislative acts through two bills of note, SF 469 and HF 2208, while Wisconsin’s SB377, AB 220 and AB 930 would also move the state toward medical marijuana legalization. If passed when sessions resume, these bills represent a turning point for two the most historically stubborn Midwest states to join the contemporary cannabis industry.
3. Bills to Decriminalize Cannabis Possession
Thirteen states have decriminalization and cannabis judicial reform bills up for a vote. These 13 join the 26 other states and Washington, D.C., to legalize cannabis possession for commercial and/or consumption uses.
Decriminalization bills of note include:
- Tennessee: Tennessee has four bills in the running to legalize possession of cannabis under one ounce. However, the state has yet to pass bills legalizing the regulated sales or commercial cultivation of cannabis statewide — a major hiccup for its commercial cannabis industry growth.
- New Jersey: New Jersey lawmakers will be voting remotely on bills S 2101, S 312, and A 1897, which — if passed — would remove jail sentence for cannabis possession and instead impose civil fines.
- Kentucky, Virginia and South Carolina: This trio of southern states continues the region’s progression towards cannabis reform, with bills specifically removing jail sentencing for first-time possession as well as possible records expungement or resentencing for misdemeanors.
4. Bills to Expand Medical Marijuana Uses, Research
Comprehensive medical cannabis legislation seeks to validate the medical applications of cannabis. In addition, this type of bill can widen qualifying patient access to cannabis and cannabis derivatives by setting up realistic dispensary and home cultivation regulations or rectifying contradictory state laws.
Twelve states currently have such comprehensive medical cannabis bills up for a vote, joining the 33 other states as well as Washington, D.C., with legalized medical marijuana. Those bills of note include:
- Nebraska: The state legislature’s Judiciary Committee removed jail sentencing for possession and passed LB 110 to adopt a statewide medical cannabis act.
- Iowa, Wisconsin and Kansas: Multiple bills with votes currently postponed would permit medical marijuana adult usage amongst patients registered in respective statewide systems, with Kansas’ and Wisconsin’s governors particularly vocal in their support of pro-medical marijuana legislation.
The Future of Marijuana Legalization
What trends can business owners and entrepreneurs reasonably forecast for impending state cannabis laws? Several stand out among industry analysts.
- FDA reclassification: The FDA’s reclassification of cannabis from a Schedule I to Schedule II, III or IV drug seems inevitable. The looming passage of the STATES Act, along with current FDA efforts to evaluate cannabis’ marketing, intrastate transit and export laws supports this impending reclassification.
- Federal-level cannabis clarity, reform:According to reports from Politico and PEW, 296 current Congress members — over two-thirds of representatives — come from the 33 states in Stage Two or higher cannabis reform, meaning their states maintain some form of legal medical usage. This represents an inflection point in potential federal-level changes in laws. Congress may begin passing bills that harmonize, or at least clarify, its many convoluted and contradictory marijuana statutes, including the possible transportation of cannabis across state lines.
- Passage of the SAFE Banking Act: Passing the SAFE Banking Act would unleash tremendous new capital opportunities for existing MRBs and entrepreneurs looking to enter the direct or ancillary MRB space, as well as bring security and transparency to an industry forced to operate mostly by cash. The SAFE Banking Act also provides long-overdue protections to FDIC-insured banks that work with any MRB/CRB, reducing legal risks.
- Increased demand for CBD: CBD is one of hundreds of natural chemical compounds occurring in cannabis plants. It is also non-psychoactive — unlike THC, its more controversial psychoactive chemical cousin — and is therefore decriminalized in all 50 states. In 2019, CBD product sales increased by over 133%. By 2024, industry analysts calculate CBD retail sales will surpass $10 billion — and that’s for CBD oils alone no other forms of cannabis-derived products.
- Cultivation limits: As cannabis usage laws pass in more states, experts foresee increased regulations on the size of cultivation operations. Already, this trend can be seen in states like California, where laws restrict the size of cannabis-growing farms in attempts to create controllable and traceable cannabis seed-to-sale models as well as bolster fair competition amongst registered growers.
Understand How State Marijuana Laws Impact Your Business Prospects
Banking restrictions, alongside an inconsistent regulatory ecosystem differing state by state, have stymied commercial cannabis entrepreneurship.
Understand the full implications of entering the cannabis market, including direct production, distribution, sales or vendor partnerships, with our report “Marijuana Money: Can We Take It to the Bank? The Future Is Hazy.”
This, and other Proactive Worldwide syndicated reports, offer unprecedented levels of information and data into key market questions you won’t find elsewhere. View our syndicated report library for immediately actionable insights across trending industry topics.
Anyone wondering how to start a cannabis business must be prepared to
handle the supply chain intricacies of this industry.
To begin, current regulations bar the transportation of marijuana across
state lines. This is a substantial inhibitor to entering or investing in
the legal marijuana space. Any supply chaing is further complicated by
additional regulations surrounding product testing, approvals, taxation and
Yet cannabis business opportunities abound, with commercial purveyors
optimistic despite these hurdles.
Legally selling cannabis and cannabis-related products requires
forethought, strategy and business savvy to navigate the industry’s
ever-evolving regulations, medical and recreational uses, product testing,
safety, distribution, tax environment and more. When creating a cannabis
business plan, business owners and investors must consider these key
industry factors to find a way toward a legally established, streamlined
cannabis supply chain — and true “seed to sale” profits.
The Cannabis Business Case
Marijuana-related businesses (MRBs) sit at an inflection point. Never in
history has the industry been poised for such commercial explosion — with
data backing up its burgeoning positioning.
- Overall legality: Over 33 states as well as Washington, D.C., permit marijuana for medical use, with a handful maintaining THC caps for medical marijuana products. In addition, 11 states as well as Washington, D.C., permit marijuana for recreational purposes.
- Marketplace demand and profitability: An estimated
38.4 million Americans consume cannabis, with over half of cannabis users reporting a consumption minimum of once a week. The projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14% for the industry reflects this enthusiastic marketplace. By 2025, experts expect the cannabis industry to surpass $30 billion in revenue, with adult-use recreational sales ballooning to account for more than half, or $16.6 billion, of that total.
- Legislation: Dozens of cannabis and MRB bills currently await sessions at state and federal levels. Such legislation reform spans numerous policy topics, from decriminalizing possession and reducing marijuana-related sentencing to widening recreational usage and easing cannabis-business-owning regulations.
- Technology and investments: One of the largest shifts in the entire cannabis supply chain has been along its peripheral profile — namely those ancillary organizations and entities that do not grow and produce cannabis yet are instrumental to the industry’s survival. Investment opportunities in this auxiliary vertical space are profound. These
include everything from financial apps addressing current MRB money-management pain points to streamlined software making registration, licensing and product tracing easier for growers and
An accurate exploration of a cannabis business case for investors and
business owners must unravel all this interdependent industry information,
sorting market hype from structural developments and sound business
logistics. Understanding the barriers within your state’s permitted
cannabis supply chain is the first step to building a successful and
legally viable marijuana business plan. Next, we cover more details about
these barriers, plus which look most poised for evolution.
The Current Cannabis Supply Chain
Before detailing the key challenges to overcome for a successful cannabis
business case, let’s first review the vital players in today’s established
cannabis supply chain.
1. Major Players in the “Seed to Sale” Process
“Seed to sale” is industry-speak for the entire process of moving
marijuana-based products to sale, from planting and growing buds to their
trimming, drying, testing and distribution to partner retail dispensaries
across your state.
At each stage of seed-to-sale production sits a vendor responsible for a
unique aspect of the cannabis supply chain.
- Cultivators and growers: Commercial cannabis growers must plant, grow
and harvest their crops within their operating state. Growers are
licensed by their home state and can operate greenhouses indoors or
out, follow orchestrated harvest schedules, and employ skilled
horticulturists to monitor cannabis plant health, quality and
- Manufacturers and producers: Manufacturers and producers operate at the
next rung of the supply chain and work to trim, dry and cure cannabis
flowers into a range of final retail products. Working inside
specialized facilities, manufacturers produce everything from
traditional bud cannabis to extractions, tinctures, oils, vaporizers,
edibles and concentrates. In some supply chains, growers may produce
their own finished products, though many choose to partner with
specialized manufacturers to transform cannabis from its raw to retail
- Testers: Cannabis is tested in two stages within its supply chain:
first, immediately post-harvest where batches are assigned ID tags and
logged into a state’s cannabis seed-to-sale system. Second, any
transformed products, such as edibles, must additionally be tested post
modification using a sample batch. Test results log several variables,
namely the levels of residual pesticides, foreign substances and, in
some states, THC content.
- Wholesalers and distributors: Wholesalers buy finish cannabis products
in bulk before selling it to licensed retailers and dispensaries. In
many partnerships, these third-party distributors must test and package
products themselves while orchestrating state-wide distribution that
connects growers and producers with commercial retail outlets. For this
reason, wholesalers and distributors often manage the most
transportation regulations and compliance hurdles in the entire,
traditional marijuana supply chain — though licensing mandates vary by
- Retailers: More commonly known as dispensaries, retailers purchase
unbranded or white-labeled finished marijuana products to sell in their
own places of business. Cannabis retailers frequently design and
purchase their own proprietary packaging for marijuana products,
helping brand their goods and differentiate from the competition. It is
more common for small- and medium-sized dispensaries to participate in
white labeling rather than growing, trimming, drying and producing
their own complete line of marijuana, further reinforcing the need to
understand the wider cannabis supply chain.
2. Ancillary Versus Direct Cannabis Businesses
Ancillary versus direct, or plant-touching, marijuana ventures are a second
supply chain variable to note when entering the MRB space.
- Plant-touching MRBs: As the name suggests, a plant-touching MRB
directly handles marijuana plants, flowers and finished products. This
category of supply chain players includes growers, wholesalers and
- Ancillary MRBs: Ancillary MRBs include a broader category of supply
chain partners that don’t directly grow or produce cannabis itself, but
instead manufacture products responsible for growing and selling
successful cannabis harvests. Cautious entrepreneurs, startups and
investors may find starting or funding ancillary MRBs a more attractive
choice due to the product handling buffer. In fact, many large funds
and investment vehicles still restrict investing directly in
plant-touching operations, at times limiting the funding and capital
opportunities of those who grow, move and distribute cannabis goods
Examples of cannabis businesses in an ancillary vertical include:
- Industry-specific growing, testing and sales software
- Greenhouse lighting, such as high- and low-bay fixtures, heat lamps and
indoor and outdoor LEDs
- Greenhouse infrastructure and equipment, including commercial-grade
HVAC and environmental control systems, hydroponics, irrigation,
drainage, watering and generators
- Fertilizers, injectors, soil mixers and stabilizers
- State-licensed testing facilities and lab equipment
- Third-party packaging companies specializing in cannabis products
- And more, depending on your home state
Top Challenges in the Cannabis Supply Chain
The largest functional barrier in the end-to-end cannabis supply chain
remains the illegality of its interstate movement.
Yet current and future business owners looking to capitalize on the Green
Rush have several other major factors to weight even when establishing legal cannabis distribution networks within the same state’s boundaries.
1. Confusing Intrastate Distribution Landscape
The state-by-state subjectivity of cannabis production and retailing means legal distribution channels will vary depending on your company’s home state.
For example, permitted distribution options for direct, plant-touching MRBs
might include any or none of the following:
- Independent, third-party distributors allowed in an open-market fashion
to transport cannabis products between all supply chain players.
- A handful of state-approved distributors certified to transport
cannabis products between all supply chain players.
- State-approved cannabis warehouses on behalf of growers and
- Pre-approved versus free-market packaging and shipping compliance for
growers and wholesalers.
- Compliant storage and transportation of cannabis products between
- Specific business licenses required before general, third-party
transportation companies can participate in shipping and moving
- Individually applied for and permitted business licenses for cannabis
producers and cooperatives to transport their products within state
As illustrated, the flow of seed-to-sale cannabis is state-specific,
multifaceted and ultimately bureaucratically governed. Further complicating
matters is the fact that growers, wholesalers and retailers themselves may
face different distribution restrictions. Again, these network rules are
contingent primarily on the state where your business is based, as well as
the type of supply chain operations you wish to take on.
2. Vertical Integrated Versus Vertically Deintegrated Debate
Currently, many states’ cannabis industry runs on some form of a vertically
integrated supply chain.
In this design, MRBs are encouraged — if not required — to hold multiple
licenses across major phases of the marijuana supply chain. For example, in
Massachusetts, where vertical integration is required for cannabis
businesses, organizations apply for multiple licenses allowing them to
control multiple stages of their supply chain internally, from cultivation
through production and onto retailing.
In contrast, states like Washington allow MRBs to hold only one license for
one stage of the supply chain. Meanwhile, other states like Colorado and
Oregon give MRBs the choice to hold one or more supply chain licenses.
However, emerging legislation trends nationwide are proposing revamped
cannabis supply chains with deintegrated structures. Supporters of
deintegrated vertical chains herald this model’s ability to open up the
industry for more players, competition and — ultimately — consumer access,
propelling that state’s cannabis market to new profits.
This complicated debate between economic opportunity and government
oversight strikes at many core issues when starting a cannabis business
supply chain — applying and receiving the right license, for the right
supply chain operation, at the right time, all while emerging deintegration
policies loom. Since each state maintains their own licensing and
license-oversight systems, it’s that much more difficult to come up with a
streamlined cannabis supply chain or to outline macro policies harmonizing
the supply chain as cannabis legislation continues to garner attention at
the federal level.
3. Seed-to-Sale Software Use
States that have legalized medical or recreational cannabis rely on
seed-to-sales software databases. All growers, processors, testing labs,
wholesalers and retailers are required to use these databases.
They are extensive, logging unique IDs for every cannabis harvest from
every licensed grower. In addition to compiling all legal cannabis
cultivation, government seed-to-sale software also logs:
- Lab test results for pesticides and contaminants after harvest and
- Processing IDs categorizing the final products made from a
single-source cannabis harvest
- Distribution and transportation history from licensed or
state-approved, third-party shipping vendors
- Inventory inputs from cannabis retailers and wholesalers
These seed-to-sale pieces of software are instrumental in keeping a state’s
marijuana production traceable. Every unit harvested becomes accounted for.
Yet for micro-businesses, operators and anyone new to the plant-handling
supply chain, these systems can be overwhelming at best and existentially
threatening at worse when reporting requirements are not met.
What’s more, integrating point-of-sale systems and other back-office
applications with the system can also be a functional issue, particularly
as a new retailer, wholesaler or operator. This may lead to the unintended
consequences of misreporting transactions and purchasing histories, or
all-out avoiding such systems due to their time-consuming and
interdependent supply-chain complications.
4. Department of Transportation Regulations
Any freight truck regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation is
currently barred from transporting marijuana or marijuana-derived products.
This federal ban introduces serious supply chain hurdles surrounding
cannabis shipping and transportation. Growers and manufacturers must find
workarounds with smaller freight organizations falling outside the
Department of Transportation qualifications for oversight, typically by
placing smaller orders needing smaller vans, not trucks.
While such companies exist, many cannot provide robust service suites
larger freight fleets can. The results are security concerns regarding
cash-based shipping transactions, route protection and tracking, anti-theft
management as well as the safety and integrity of the en-route cannabis
As the cannabis industry matures, it must address transportation logistics
like these even within a single state’s borders. Doing so liberates all
MRBs from relying on small-batch van shipments to more cost-effective, bulk
Transportation logistics aren’t the only federal barrier hindering
cannabis-related businesses from starting legally and efficiently. Perhaps
even more convoluted are the financial hurdles entrepreneurs and investors
in MRBs must navigate — namely, the fact that FDIC-insured banks are not
allowed to conduct any business with cannabis organizations.
Without FDIC-insured banking infrastructure, MRBs must find financial
alternatives to manage a profitable business, including systems for:
- Business expenses
- Vendor payments
- Tax records-keeping
- Compliance records-keeping
- And much more
Many MRBs use apps as a workaround, while others maintain all-cash
operations that generate a litany of downstream compliance headaches.
Legislation sits in the works within many cannabis-legalized states to
rectify these banking and finance issues, yet until then MRBs must balance
serious safety and documentation concerns related to managing cash across
its entire supply chain.
Are You Prepared to Start a Cannabis Business?
The current cannabis supply chain is complicated and, at times,
contentious. Yet there’s no denying the burgeoning business opportunities
innate in today’s — and tomorrow’s — Green Rush.
Those serious about starting a cannabis business must first understand the
banking restrictions uniquely affecting the cannabis market. It’s why we’ve
put together a landmark syndicated report on cannabis and banking, which
uncovers solutions to:
- The laws and regulations barring MRBs from working with routine
business banking channels
- Solutions and alternative payment methods for MRBs
- Key risks and pain points involved in these alternative
- Anti-laundering, revenue, tax and securities laws still affecting MRBs,
even without typical banking infrastructure and oversight
- And much more
Download the comprehensive cannabis and banking guide to understand the risks
before they become realities and strengthen your marijuana business plan today.
Business wargaming is an experiential group exercise where an organization can pressure test an existing strategy. Business war games help you create new plans and ideas by role-playing the competitors’ strategy before making full-scale investments. Wargaming shakes things up, challenges norms, and takes a fresh look at the market through the lens of other key players.
It’s helpful to point out how much we already instinctively know about what wargaming is. Have you ever observed a youth team sports practice — from football and basketball to soccer and volleyball? If so, you’ve seen the utility of a scrimmage, when the team splits into two opposing sides to compete against each other.
Interestingly, we also refer to smaller-scale corporate war games as scrimmages — often designed to take under a day to execute and focused on one competitor or a specific business issue or scenario.
So to define business wargaming, consider what the average youth soccer scrimmage aims to accomplish. Team members who are usually on the same side are suddenly playing against each other as if they are the competitor — sharpening both their offensive and defensive skills in the process. The setup results in practical role-playing where players can test their skills. A scrimmage hones them even further for game day.
The term “war game” originates from actual warfare. For centuries, military strategists have used wargaming to prepare for unforeseen battle circumstances. Using game boards or other simulations, strategists play out the moves of enemy forces to counteract them better. This is a proven strategy. In the 1930s, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz predicted nearly all the World War II Pacific naval battles.
These strategies have been adapted to business war games, where upper-level managers refine their strategy and predict their competitors’ next moves. These business simulations can also be repeated with lower-level employees to get them on board with new strategies.
How Does Business Wargaming Work?
Professionally-led wargaming exercises from Proactive Worldwide typically involve a pre-game planning stage, the development of briefing books and finally, the wargaming workshop. With this comprehensive approach, we leave nothing to chance. The pre-game planning helps to define the who, what, when and where of the upcoming workshop. Once we map out the details of the war game objectives and leaders have decided who will take part, when and where the workshop will take place and what strategies to test, it’s time to develop a briefing book.
A briefing book, usually compiled of 20 pages or fewer, prepares participants for the workshop. The brevity of the book is intentional so people have time to read it in advance. It gives all participants a baseline of information so they understand the market landscape and the mindset, characteristics and culture of the company they will role-play.
Next, a full-scale wargaming exercise will commence with a home team and two or three competitor teams. In general, each team has five to eight cross-functional members. It’s essential to remember that not every competitor team needs to be an adversarial company. One of the other groups may also represent a regulatory body, a distributor or even a consumer group focused on customer experiences. A typical war game has several key groups:
- Company or home team: This team plays the role of the company looking to test strategic solutions. They may test the effects of a current strategic plan or try an alternate method to see how it might change. This team will comprise a cross-section of senior managers. As long as it is in the realm of possibility and the company’s budget, the team can do anything they wish. The team may form or dissolve alliances, merge with or acquire other companies or launch new products and services.
- Competitor teams: Each competing team will play one of the company’s competitors. Like the home team, these groups will involve senior leadership officers. These players will walk in the shoes of their competitors. They can adopt strategies and exploit their knowledge of the home company’s weaknesses.
- Market team: This team judges the attractiveness of the other team’s offerings. Team members may be from the company’s market research team, but may also include some outside experts. The players listen to the teams’ offers and award market shares based on hard data from each of the competing companies.
- Regulator or control team: This team runs the business simulation. It includes the game facilitator and a panel of industry experts, the home company’s CEO or other high-level executives. The team’s role is to keep the game on schedule, ask the tough questions and offer feedback to each of the teams. The team also uses the market team’s outcomes to calculate cash flow. They can introduce surprises such as natural disasters, government regulation or product recalls. In the event of an acquisition, they pose as a board of directors to see if they would accept the proposal.
War games use turn-based gameplay. At the start of a round, each team examines their current circumstances and makes a plan. They then take turns to present their proposal to the group. After each team’s turn, the whole group has the opportunity to challenge the team’s marketing strategy, sales or profits. Next, the market team awards a percentage of the market share. Finally, the control team opens a dialogue about how things worked.
In the next round, each team tries to counteract the moves made in the previous round. Each round can represent a month, a year or a custom timeline. Depending on the desired outcomes, this may be a one- or two-day event.
For a more detailed description of what wargaming is, which exercises are involved and what resources it requires, we invite you to listen to David Kalinowski, Proactive Worldwide’s President and wargaming authority, describe the process in the following podcasts:
- Episode 2: War Gaming — Discover what this strategic tool has to offer.
- Episode 3: Transforming Your Strategies With War Gaming — Hear how a single day can transform an entire organization.
- Episode 4: Time & Resource Requirements and Costs — Learn how to prepare for a successful wargaming exercise.
What Types of War Games Can You Play?
Your company’s goals with hosting a war game determine the kind of game you plan, how long it will take to play it and the types of audiences you’ll play it with. Your war game facilitator can help you determine what kind of simulation is best to meet your needs.
If you have a narrower problem to role-play, such as to raise prices by 3% or keep them constant, you may use a tactical wargaming solution. You may choose to run two separate games, one where you raise prices and one where you do not. Or, you may run a business simulation where you raise the prices and increase your marketing spend.
Tactical war games are best when you have a few small tactics to test out, and foresee several potential competitor counter actions.
Strategic games are more comprehensive. You can test-drive wider-reaching strategic questions, such as how to increase market share or which ad campaign to run. The possibilities for what you can pressure test with a strategic game are vast.
Strategic games can simulate years of strategic development, and react to competing strategies in real time.
How Is Wargaming Different From Other Strategic Planning Tactics?
Most strategic planning happens over an eight-hour meeting or several months of planning.
Some methods use a computerized model. In this case, you may input a set of moves for the computer model to respond to. Corporate wargaming simulates these moves in an open-ended setting, where real people face real problems and adapt as they go.
Traditional strategic planning helps you create strategy assuming current trends continue. When you take a disruptive approach, these trends may shift. A new product introduction will force competitors to respond, and the market or regulators will react in ways you won’t expect. Old-school scenario planning predicts the future based on informed speculation, which might still be biased.
How War Games Differ From Strategic Analysis
With traditional analysis, you form new plans by examining your environment and evaluating existing strategies.
The traditional analysis only predicts discontinuities. War games play them out. A war game’s control team imposes new rules when it makes logical sense. A competitor team might vertically integrate, which transforms the market. While this may not fully predict disruptions, it shows how likely they are and prepares your organization for any scenario in the process.
How War Games Differ From Scenario Planning
With scenario planning, you and your team develop a set of narratives that are likely outcomes of your current strategy. A well-organized scenario plan takes several months to form.
War games, in contrast, happen move by move. The tactics each team takes in one round determines the conditions for the next round. Business simulation adapts to change as it happens.
How War Games Differ From Market Research
Market research informs war games. The facilitator and briefing booklet incorporate real-world information from your company’s market research team into the simulation. Wargaming predicts the market better than market research alone because there is a group of real people playing the market. The home and competitor teams can ask questions to the market team and learn why they behaved how they did.
Who Is a Good Fit for Wargaming?
You may be wondering if business wargaming is a good fit for your company. A war game can prove most fruitful when:
- You are part of a competitive industry. Some of the industries that benefit most from war games include healthcare and life sciences, industrial and manufacturing, financial services, consumer retail and technology. These sectors find corporate wargaming useful for their competitive natures.
- Your industry’s market reaction is unpredictable due to fast-paced change. The ideal situation for a war game is one where there are two or three plausible outcomes for a decision. A war game can play out a scenario to find the most likely outcome, which may surprise your team.
- You want to examine a strategy or solution over time. You might predict how strategies will work today, and use business war games to get foresight into your industry’s shifting trends.
- When there are many qualitative variables at play, calculations cannot predict how competitors, customers and regulators will respond to your strategy.
Wargaming is a reliable option when you are unsure how your strategy will work, or if you have a problem with an unclear solution. It offers insight when you don’t know what might be going on. For example, if your company understands your biggest competitor but knows little about other competitors.
What Are the Benefits of Business Wargaming?
Wargaming puts your employees into the shoes of competitors and regulators and forces them to play to win. Business wargaming is an engaging, exciting and energetic experience. Unlike other exercises, wargaming is designed to provide helpful insights for actionable strategic decision-making. With a skilled facilitator, at the end of a workshop, you’ll take away several prioritized actions to help you win.
The competitive advantage of business wargaming is exponential. During a 1993 war game, Sterling Pharmaceutical predicted that a mock ad campaign highlighting support among doctors would generate a 5% market share. So, two weeks after the game, Sterling preempted a competitor’s new product launch with a similar campaign. This pushed back the competing launch by six months. Three years later, Sterling’s market share had increased by 10%, and the rival’s market share sat at 1%.
Business wargaming helps align an organization’s leadership and aid in strategic — and in some cases tactical — decision-making. After a war game workshop, leaders can better evaluate their alternative strategies and recognize hidden opportunities to seize and real threats to blunt.
Some of the top merits of business war games include that they:
- Encourage team building: Your whole team will see your plan in action. Skeptics can see the benefits of proposed plans and are more willing to jump on board with new ideas. Strategists will uncover the flaws in their proposals. Since everyone sees the scenarios play out first hand, they know what will drive success and can commit to enacting their plan together.
- Increase your chances of success: In an unknown market with competing variables, a business simulation can prepare your team to face obstacles and prove success.
- Unify your plan: Many strategic plans look at individual tactics. You can evaluate them on their own, but a war game connects them to an overarching strategy. A strategy is holistic, with all pieces of the puzzle vital to the success of the whole. Seeing these plans in action emphasizes a unified approach.
- Bring diverse ideas together: The cross-functional makeup of each team synthesizes perspectives to create better strategies. Strategic planners convene alongside sales managers, financial officers and marketing leaders. Their ideas come together to build stronger solutions.
- Work with real facts: In business wargaming, variables such as the cost of building a new factory or the size of a competitor’s sales team are real numbers. These stats confront players with practical constraints. You will have a cost-benefit analysis you can actually use after the event.
- Challenge conventional wisdom: Often, your company will enter a business war game with a prediction. This could be, “X strategy will increase sales by 5%,” or “Partnering with Y company is the best option to enter a new geographic market.” But, many times, the simulation proves the prediction wrong. Your team will question their assumptions and feel more confident in making changes to strategic direction.
- Explore ideas in a no-risk setting: You can see the impact of your current strategy in a controlled setting. Learn how changing strategies impacts your market share without worrying about the cost.
- Promote strategic thinking: Business wargaming gives you a chance to test out strategies, and it also gives your team hands-on training in strategic thinking. Your team will think strategically more often. Managers may learn to see how their day-to-day operations impact the company’s strategy, making both more effective.
- Teach managers to track competitors: Many companies report seeing their leadership pay more attention to competing companies after playing a war game. Whether see through their rival’s eyes or try to outsmart competitors during gameplay, they will start keeping closer tabs. They may be more likely to ask themselves, “How would our competitors react to this?”
- Improve collaboration between departments: Cross-functional teams can see how their individual roles merge to enact strategy. Players may identify areas of weakness between departments. For example, product developers may learn that the sales team is lacking valuable product knowledge.
- Enhance communication with customers: After playing alongside the market team, participants learn how customers read their messaging. They may see that they should emphasize benefits that are less well-known to consumers or set a goal to clarify their marketing messages.
How to Leverage Insights From a Business Wargaming Exercise
Many are moving away from a strictly data-based strategic analysis, and wargaming offers high-end qualitative analytics. Here is how you can leverage these powerful insights:
- Identify strategic strengths and weaknesses: The most important thing you can glean from a wargaming exercise is the strength of your current strategy. Does it actually hold up against competing approaches? More often than not, a war game will reveal a weakness. Use this information to hone your strategy.
- Predict customer behavior: The thorough market research informing the market team leads to a complete picture of the consumer landscape. A war game projects buying patterns when you change pricing, offerings and marketing initiatives.
- Harness new opportunities: A war game might reveal an underestimated competitor, the advantage of vertical integration or an under-served market. You can find and take advantage of new prospects before your competitors.
- Map out competitor’s strengths and weaknesses: Your employees will get inside the heads of your business rivals like never before. You’ll reveal threats to neutralize and shortcomings you can leverage against them.
Game Your Strategy With Proactive Worldwide
Proactive Worldwide offers full-scale business wargaming consulting services. Our business war game practice is lead by a sought-after wargaming authority, and the president of Proactive Worldwide, David Kalinowski. Under his leadership, we build custom games to play out your strategic objectives and solve complicated problems. We create an accurate competitive landscape alongside your research team — and even cover some of your blind spots. To create an experience that clicks with your team, we study your company culture and tailor the game to you.
To learn more about the enterprise-wide benefits of wargaming for your business, contact us today.
Updated on January 22, 2020. Originally published on April 24, 2019.
Data is information, pure and simple. What your organization does with that information, though, is not so straightforward — yet has the potential to shape its operational, financial and strategic livelihood.
Take your organization from a passive data-tracker to an active, nimble and competitive player by shaping a culture of actionable intelligence. By doing so, you increase your ability to spot risks and opportunities before they strike, then create fluid business strategies directly addressing those opportunities before it’s too late.
How Is Actionable Data Different?
Actionable data is the difference between organizations operating under a truly empowered business performance management ecosystem and those stuck on the hamster wheel of data aggregation.
In other words, its how your company leverages business information for developments and decision-making — something over half of all executives admits to struggling with:
- Only 31% claim their company is “data-driven.”
- More than 50% don’t see their organization treating data as a business asset.
- Nearly three-fourths (72%) report their company doesn’t even have a set data culture, which includes tools, systems and workflows to translate data into real-life business-process ideas.
This last figure — 72% of companies missing a data culture — is particularly concerning. Without actionable data strategies, businesses have no blueprint on how to make sales, finance, customer support, product, service or market changes for efficiency, cost-reductions and growth. The results are business strategies forged in the dark — if done at all.
In comparison, 31% of organizations that do have data-driven strategic intelligence are more like to have a business that runs as follows:
- Unsiloed data access: Business leaders and their teams have immediate access to a wealth of market intelligence and business intelligence data, typically through analytic software generating reports.
- Functional, user-friendly filters: Business leaders and their teams can filter those large amounts of data to find what they’re looking for quickly, even amidst consolidated data warehouses or data lakes.
- Real-time analysis: Business leaders and their teams can create new KPIs or benchmarks for a specific function based on the latest and most accurate data rather than historical reports.
- Swift, decisive action: Up-to-date data sets and updates reduce decision-making latency, empowering almost real-time tweaks or operational changes right when the opportunity strikes, plus mitigates losses or boosts risk management as soon as data tools alert you to them.
Why Real-Time, Actionable CI Is Important
Building a culture around actionable intelligence has never been more important — for these reasons and more.
1. Exchange Rates Fluctuate Daily
Depreciation and appreciation trigger downstream effects across business operations. Changes in the value of a currency will create more competitive markets to enter for yourself and your competitors alike. Tracking these fluctuations allows savvy organizations to recognize currency and market fads from true, profitable opportunities, as well as navigate more cost-effective contracts in raw material procurement, shipping channels, inflation, demand elasticity and more.
Don’t make the assumption only imports and exports are affected by near-daily exchange rate fluctuations. Your own purchasing power — plus the power of your customers’ and clients’ money — will also adapt, spelling potential profit disruptions in key marketplaces.
2. Geographic Sales Patterns Evolve
Up-to-date, accurate market intelligence data provides companies with a more complete blueprint for sales and demand forecasting in key geographic regions. Rather than rely on historical data sets, such as past sales by SKU or per capita sales, or playing a game of broad sales guesswork, your organization can strategically re-order inventory, properly stock warehouses, determine last-mile logistics and improve overall customer satisfaction.
Actionable data also provides elevated insights into other sales metrics, such as:
- Category development index (CDI) by country, region, state or city
- Brand development index (BDI) by country, region, state or city
- Competitive market share compared to top competitors in distinct regions
- And more
3. Transportation Logistics and Delivery Schedules Change
Quicker and more transparent data alerts leadership to dysfunctional or inefficient transportation logistics. Organizations today struggle to stay atop rapidly-changing transportation and delivery norms, many of which catalyzed in response to the explosion of online shopping and the proverbial Amazon Effect changing the logistics supply chain.
For businesses from retail consumer goods brands to manufacturers, competitive intelligence bolsters smarter end-to-end transportation logistics, including:
- Improved carrier management
- Improved fleet fueling
- New freight forwarding and shipment consolidation opportunities
- Reduced inventory holding costs
- And more
4. Consumer Tastes Adapt
Data-guided intelligence lets you become as familiar with your customers as possible. This actionable data delivers thorough, objective purchasing and demographic information that peers behind the consumer lifestyle and preferences curtains, as well as informs consumer-taste patterns and habits among target demographics for your organization to capitalize on.
Getting inside current and target demographics’ heads allows you to preempt relevant trends, incorporating them into your products, services and brand far ahead of the competition, all while evolving into a brand widely regarded by the public as “ahead of its time.”
5. Colleagues Need Accurate Information
Just as enterprise and department priorities shift, so do individuals’ workloads. Fellow employees are hindered in their roles if they cannot quickly access the latest enterprise reports, muddling their abilities to execute core assignments. Their outputs suffer, as do the related functions of the departments they work in.
In simpler terms, having accessible, actionable data in place ensures everyone can do their jobs to the best of their abilities. Implementing a data-informed process of competitive intelligence empowers further role innovation and job excellence, propelling savvier decision-making, efficiency and project excellence in every position.
How Do You Find Meaning in Data?
Today, organizations are ever-pressed to gather swaths of data using suites of operational and analytic tools tracking every major business function under the sun, from sales, finance and procurement to pricing, customer satisfaction, brand awareness and more.
Once gathered, what do you do with that data? Your answer likely determines your strategic intelligence maturity level — that is, how advanced your organization is at institutionalizing workflows that interpret quantitative information into actual business process tweaks.
To mature along the strategic intelligence matrix — and get the most from data — organizations must pass through the following stages.
1. Synthesize Disparate Data Sources
Central data repositories streamline the often separate, department-specific data tools deployed across the enterprise. For example, a single company may support multiple disparate programs, such as:
- Operational databases, such as warehouse management software
- Relational databases, such as database maintenance and security programs
- Business databases and applications, such as enterprise resource planning and project management software
Strategic intelligence starts on the right foot when these disparate systems are integrated and accessible under one umbrella data warehouse or a similar online analytical processing system. These total-aggregation programs unlock your ability to perform ad-hoc data mining requests and reports, the key first step to using data for actionable competitive intelligence.
2. Add Context
Reports generated by your synthesized data warehouse are just that — raw reports. Creating reports is not to be confused with performing data analytics or conducting competitive intelligence itself. Instead, use reports as the bedrock for ideating the reasons behind data patterns or fluctuations. Data mine further to observe additional patterns or peculiarities, connecting the dots between information systems that were previously siloed. Look beyond raw data as well for additional market situations and environments that could be affecting your current situation. All this context allows business leaders to see the greater forces at play directing potential risks or calls for change.
3. Translate Data Into Specific Business Questions
Frame data in grounded, concrete questions using terms actually relevant to the average layperson, not just expert data analysts. For example, reports should be reviewed while keeping the following in mind:
- What are we trying to achieve by reviewing this report?
- Will tweaking a certain business process lead to improvements that would otherwise remain unachievable?
- What roles or departments is this information most critical for?
- Can we run projective data tests or mock scenarios before committing to an action plan?
- How will we measure the success of our business process change? What data metrics or KPIs can we create for follow-up?
4. Determine the Best Course of Action
Using your freshly-built business case, you’re prepared to identify a data-shaped yet coherent course of action to remedy the pressing business need or pain point.
That business planning action course isn’t a shot in the dark. It comes based on objective information first triggered by a pattern or figure spotted in your reports, but is boosted by context and comes with designated KPIs to track future success. By using concrete data, your organization no longer plays guesswork when it comes to executing critical decisions.
5. Communicate That Action to All
The chosen course of action may also include a presentation layer, or how you intend to follow-up on the success or future needs of your course of action.
Use visual tools to communicate the new business process change and how it will affect relevant operations, KPIs to track its progress as well as access to the original reports that first triggered analysis. Keeping all relevant personnel in the loop ensures employees and teams across the enterprise work from a single point of truth, plus understand the justifications for the change.
Tips for Implementing Actionable Intelligence
Uncover deeper insights from your competitive intelligence data with these best practices.
1. Synthesize Data Warehouses
An enterprise-wide, meta-data source begets faster and smoother business decisions. From one system, users have access to:
- CRM platform data
- Sales software data
- ERP software data
- Warehouse and inventory management data
- And more
Managing one central competitive intelligence repository like this gives all users, regardless of department or data-analytics skill sets, access to uniform values and data sources. Harmoniously synced data can be difficult to generate across separate programs, which may label, arrange and field data sets differently and may even require standardization rules to initiate cohesive tracking. With a large data solution, you bypass that standardization and reduce data redundancies and manual inputting errors.
2. Build Customize Meta-Data Filters
Customized filters make it easy to access and reference specific business unit data you need, right when you need it. It’s a user-friendly database feature leading to many advantages:
- Quicker buy-in for new competitive-intelligence data repositories, with employees and teams able to locate the information they need easily.
- Faster understanding of business-critical information, with data arranged according to relevant business units.
- Easier cross-employee and team data sharing, without the need to re-standardize or reclassify data.
3. Have Clear Goals
Too many organizations fall victim to tracking everything, all at once. This results in big-data saturation, with so many metrics and performance indicators for decision-makers to review that the act of data analysis itself becomes overwhelming — and shapeless.
Remember, actionable data is also approachable data. Simplify your analysis activities and ideate more pinpointed business process changes by entering analysis sessions with clear questions to answer or project parameters in mind. Field concerns from others on your team and department as well before accessing reports. They, too, may have questions or specific needs data can clarify. Use these inquiries as the map guiding your time with reports, rather than diving into them as a general to-do without any purpose or focus.
4. Don’t Fear Testing and Tweaking
Running market intelligence simulations is one of the best ways to prepare your team for future business scenarios. With an actionable data culture in place, these simulations are easier to conduct step-by-step:
- Define a specific business pain point or department question.
- Field reports to query only data relevant to those pain points or questions, but pulling from multiple business functions’ applications.
- Search for anomalies, patterns, changes or disruptions that may indicate a greater force is at play.
- Create a direct action plan addressing that larger force.
- Run data simulations with targeted KPIs to forecast how your action plan may play out.
- Improve the action plan based on forecasts.
- Continue to track action plan KPIs as they unfold.
5. Address Communication and Workflow Silos
Even the latest, most innovative competitive intelligence analytic tools only go so far if your organization isn’t ready — technically or culturally — for collaboration.
Communication silos directly impede an organization’s ability to act on the emerging market or competition trends. Additional communication and workflow latency issues arise when:
- Escalations and alerts aren’t programmed to reach the right people in real-time.
- Task assignments and routes are long, cumbersome or overly-complicated.
- Roles aren’t clarified, particularly when it comes to who gets the final say in determining new business processes or who initiates data reviews.
Organizations must address these communication and task workload structures even before addressing data systems. These are the true obstacles to making intelligent, tactical and swift business changes.
6. Ensure User-Friendly Interfaces
Non-expert users must be comfortable using your installed data-analytic tools. Without a clean, accessible and easily navigable interface, your application won’t be used as an intelligence resource. This decreases buy-in and hinders any significant movement to digitally transform your operations into tight-knit, data-driven ones — which is the entire reason behind intelligent decision-making.
7. Prioritize Modeling and Visuals
Current market intelligence platforms are still designed for professional data analysts. Anyone without that background in data analytics may find it difficult to sort through the sets and find what they need to answer specific process questions, hindering downstream decision-making.
Strategic intelligence tools should, therefore, prioritize clear yet customizable modeling capabilities, ones where data is straightforward to read, share and review across functions and regardless of technical acumen.
8. Automate Aggregations and Alerts on Key Performance Indicators
Department leaders can set alerts for specific KPIs surrounding high-priority projects or upcoming process reviews. When anomalies, discrepancies or patterns emerge, the system notifies you to take a look and, if necessary, escalate the notice for others to lend insights.
The same semi-automated data warehouse will also improve total data collection. Employees don’t have to actively manage back-end data inputting and maintenance and can instead reprioritize what they’re meant to be doing — extracting meaning from reports, not babysitting them.
9. Consider a Chief Data Officer
Chief data officers (CDOs) spearhead the enterprise-wide evolution into implementing and using actionable data. Inherent to this important role are four main functions:
- Data collection: Plan and implement new tools and applications, as well as the central data-management system accessible to users across the enterprise and serving as the new bedrock for actionable intelligence.
- Data management: Create data governance and access policies to preserve the integrity, quality and usage of data assets.
- Data analysis: Strategize and institutionalize fresh templates to extract meaning from reports, working with departments to do so across key projects and initiatives.
- Data development: Exploring further ways for your organization to improve on its business intelligence data, including new tracking, forecasting, simulation and automation advancements.
Top Challenges of Making Your Data Actionable
Organizational leaders cite the following obstacles when building a culture of strategic intelligence fueled by actionable data.
1. Disparate Data Programs
Organizations with many programs or styles of databases may face challenges in synthesizing data into one central repository. Supporting multiple programs like this may have been appropriate at one point, with each program offering previously unparalleled and often automated levels of data tracking and organizational capabilities that alleviated manual work within the department. However, a fractured informational ecosystem directly impedes your ability to access and extract meaningful data for specific business questions. When functional data itself can’t be quickly and intuitively accessed, the entire structure behind actionable data intelligence buckles.
2. Informational Lag Times
In a world where real-time competitive intelligence is becoming the norm, not the exception, organizations must investigate the communication patterns and tools at their disposal to decrease informational lag times. While promptly accessing tactical data is pivotal, that data does nothing if it can’t be shared, cross-reviewed and discussed with relevant colleagues. To practice actionable intelligence, organizations must first practice actionable communications, simplifying information flows or reworking business-case alerts to escalate data-backed decision-making as it strikes.
3. Infrequent Meta-Analysis
Meta-analysis, or data about data, temperature-checks how and why your organization uses its data applications. Frequent meta-analysis can correct flawed data uses or inquiries, as well as pinpoint ways to better organize, contextualize, experiment with and validate the information held within your systems.
Performing business data meta-analyses is an often overlooked aspect of data-driven competitive intelligence but ensures the data underpinning operations is itself in peak condition.
4. Disconnect With Business Applications
New data programs or reporting activities cannot be out-of-touch with the actual users at your organization. Data warehouses or comparable systems requiring a certified data specialist to mediate information only aggravate communication and decision lag times, stifling the very progress you’re attempting to make.
5. Conflating Reporting With Analysis
Even today, well-intentioned leaders think they’re performing market intelligence and analysis — when in reality, they’re occasionally skimming auto-generated reports.
Data reports are not synonymous with data analysis. Reports display raw information and indicate patterns and trends but don’t indicate what to do about them. Analytical decision-making comes when audiences apply critical thinking and pointed questions to the reports in their hands, through activities like:
- Formalizing hypotheses, creating test simulations and tracking the results of hypotheses, all based on presented data.
- Turning to reports when considering specific business-case questions.
- Looking beyond categorizing lines and numbers as “positive” or “negative” and instead as indicators for innovated change.
- Regularly running meta-analyses on their own data usage and practices, seeking to improve overall data culture.
Make the Most of Your Data
Our consulting services have one goal — to identify clearer paths toward competitive success using substantive data and tactical research tailored for you. See how CI data can advance your business goals and turn data actionable today.
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) businesses are constantly developing new ways to stay ahead in the market and draw in more customers. If you plan to keep your business afloat in the ever-changing industry, you need a strategy that will help you stay up to date and find out what makes you stand out in a sea of competitors.
To keep moving forward while paving the way for business expansion, it’s important for you to know how to do a competitor analysis. With a SaaS business competitor analysis, you can make the most of your company’s potential and gain the knowledge to rise up in the industry.
Know Your Competitors
The first step in any SaaS competitor analysis is knowing who your competitors are. If you’re unsure where to start, ask yourself what kinds of services you offer and how you deliver them.
You could consider many SaaS businesses competitors if they share similar qualities with your company. However, you can narrow it down even further to direct competitors who offer the same or similar services to your business. If a customer is looking for a specific service and needs to decide between you and a competitor, your main goal is to stand out so that the customer ultimately chooses your service.
There are many factors you can look at when you start gathering data from your competitors. It’s crucial that you implement as many of the options available as possible so that you can paint a complete picture of competitor advantages and drawbacks. Some of these options include:
- Website presentation and navigability
- Service offerings and benefits
- Online reviews
- Search results
- Social media presence
- Customer experience
Gathering data for your competitor analysis includes examining the SaaS business’s content and service benefits while also taking a close look at the relationships they have with current and past customers. To get in the customer mindset, you may even consider using the mystery shopper method by interacting with customer service and signing up for free trials when applicable.
Organize and Analyze
Once you’ve collected all the information necessary from your competitors, it’s time to organize and analyze the data. Use charts and reports to put all your data into a readable format and then start to compare business strategies. Did you find similarities between your competitors? What were some of the differences? Most importantly, what did you think were the biggest strengths and weaknesses of each business?
After you consolidate this information and compare these competitors with your own business strategies and offerings, consider the main takeaways from each finding. This process will allow you to determine where your business has room for improvement so that you can start developing ways to reduce inefficiencies and build on strengths.
Conduct a Competitor Analysis With Proactive Worldwide
If you think your SaaS business is ready to expand, that means it’s time for a large-scale competitor analysis. Proactive Worldwide is an industry leader in competitive intelligence and marketing research, which is why you can trust us to conduct a detailed, insightful competitor analysis that will help you increase service quality and revenue.
Pricing strategies play a major role in driving your SaaS business forward. However, it can be challenging to develop the ideal pricing strategy that will benefit both your business and consumers. If you’re feeling stuck for ideas to incorporate into your SaaS pricing strategy, you could benefit from looking at models other SaaS businesses have built. However, there are also several questions you can ask first to help you make wiser, more effective business and pricing decisions.
What Do My Consumers Want and Need?
Your first order of business when it comes to setting price tags is knowing your customers. This includes gathering customer data and understanding their priorities, desires, budgets and what they look for in a service. Once you build detailed personas of your consumers, you can determine the most beneficial B2B SaaS pricing for them.
How Can I Earn Consumers’ Trust?
Trust is critical any time you offer a service or product, as you want your consumers to feel they can rely on you to meet their needs. This is the key to all customer and business relationships!
You can leave room for flexibility in pricing as needed, but it’s also important to be as transparent as possible about your offerings and their value. When you build B2B SaaS pricing models, using a clear, trustworthy tone and making all relevant information easy to access will both engage customers and ensure they know what they are signing up for.
What Is the Service Worth to Consumers?
When you develop pricing models, consider the value of your services and what they bring to consumers. What is your SaaS service actually worth?
Usually, the best price for a product or service is one that corresponds to its value, meaning it helps you make a profit and proves a worthy investment for the customers. This will make the service a benefit to all parties involved.
Could My Business and Consumers Benefit From Discounts or Free Trials?
If and how you choose to offer discounts and free trials will likely depend on your business’s individual needs and priorities.
However, many SaaS pricing strategies include discounts for consumers who meet certain criteria or free trials of up to 30 days. Customers often love to save money, and they also love to have more control over their purchases. Check out the service offerings and strategies of some other SaaS businesses if you need inspiration.
Should I Add Service Costs to the Price Package?
Some SaaS services choose to include technical support, maintenance and upgrades into their regular subscription prices. Meanwhile, others may charge additional fees for these types of services.
To decide whether or not you should add support costs to the price package, you will need to consider your customers’ needs, expectations and priorities. This goes back to the reason it’s so crucial to have a full understanding of your buyers.
What Are the Benefits of Multiple Pricing Options?
Pricing your software services may include multiple models with different services and benefits. Your consumers may enjoy having a few package options, but keep in mind there is also value in simplicity.
Over-complicating prices could also risk turning off customers and causing other issues for your business. Meanwhile, keeping your pricing strategy at three to five options may be more manageable.
Contact Proactive Worldwide for Pricing Software Services
At Proactive Worldwide, our marketing research and strategic planning will help you develop the ideal SaaS pricing models for your business. Contact us today for additional details about our services!
The future of online payments is mobile. Is there any surprise that that’s the case? With the rise of mobile technology, individuals love the fast and easy digital way of payment as opposed to the hassle of opening a computer, pulling out a credit card or sending a check in the mail.
The growth of mobile payments is a little slow in the U.S. compared to some other countries such as China, which is currently leading the trend according to digital payment statistics. However, the growth is happening fast enough that businesses are noticing its effects.
Today’s Digital Payment Trends
A few of the trends that are emerging along with the rise of mobile payments include:
- Unified platforming: Powerful computer technology allows businesses to connect users and give them the ability to make payments on a single platform.
- Paying through voice technology: In addition to mobile payments through typing, many businesses today build relationships with their customers using voice bots such as Siri from Apple and Alexa from Amazon.
- Data analytics: When people pay for products and services on mobile devices, businesses can collect that data and use it to market to customers. This process is the next step for data analytics in marketing and advertising.
- Evolving APIs: APIs have the power to connect businesses and customers, and they provide plenty of room for companies to expand and create better customer experiences.
How Could Mobile Payments Disrupt Business Industries?
The challenge of digital payment trends is that they’re replacing other forms of payment. Apps such as ApplePay and GooglePay make it possible to pay for products online in seconds with just the use of your mobile phone. Businesses that have yet to implement or integrate with this type of technology risk falling behind in the ever-evolving consumer market.
A few industries that could see challenges in the future of payments include:
- Banking: Mobile payments are now and will continue to affect the banking industry in the coming years. Because people are less interested in cash and check transactions than they have been in the past, more banks and credit unions will need to invest in unified mobile technology solutions. There is plenty of potential for banks to improve customer relationships as they adopt digital technology over time.
- Transportation: The future of digital payments is putting pressure on leaders in the industry to adopt mobile technology due to the convenience it provides to passengers. Rather than having to use tickets or cards, individuals can pay their transport fees almost instantly. Transportation services still using more traditional forms of payment will likely need to start making changes in the near future if they want to compete in the industry.
- Corporate and small businesses: People love being able to shop and pay for their items and services while on their mobile phones. Many companies, from pharmacies to department stores and gas stations, have either developed their own payment apps or partnered up with other payment apps that allow people to complete transactions anytime, anywhere. This development could make the competition more intense for smaller businesses.
Contact Proactive Worldwide
Market demands will continue to evolve in the upcoming years thanks to advancements in technology, which could present challenges to various industries as they try to adapt. Fortunately, with the help of Proactive Worldwide, you can stay on top of these changes with in-depth marketing research and strategic planning. Stay ahead in your industry by contacting us today to find out how we can enhance your business with a customized competitive intelligence solution.