How do I report gathered competitive intelligence?
A key part of the competitive intelligence process is communicating gathered data in a usable format. The question is what is a "usable format". Most managers will not appreciate it if you give them the raw data without any analysis. Thus, you will need to put some effort into formatting, analysing and interpreting the competitor data you’ve gathered. How does the information relate to other pieces of information you have on the competitor? Are there any obvious trends? What are the key points you are trying to show? What is the best way of showcasing these key points?
It is the answers to questions such as these that differentiates information from intelligence.
How you present the information is important. In some cases, this can be crucial for its acceptance, depending on the manager’s particular information preferences. Some managers like full information with everything included, while others only want a key point summary. Giving summaries to the analytical type of manager is liable to give the impression that you have not done the work: any information will be viewed as superficial. Such a manager wants full details and won’t make a decision with less.
In contrast, other managers prefer an executive summary consisting of a handful of bullet points outlining the key facts. They will come back to you if they want more detail. Providing everything in one go, except perhaps as an appendix, will be viewed as overkill and make them think that you cannot refine and extract the salient points from the data. So it is essential to know what your intelligence users want in terms of the format of the reports provided.
Although personality type analysis can suggest management expectations, an easier way is to ask colleagues or the manager themselves how they would like the reports formatted.
A final aspect that you should consider when communicating information is the mode of communication. You have a number of options including face-to-face, presentation, telephone, email, and written memo. Which you choose also depends on the receiving manager’s personality as well as their location and the sensitivity of the intelligence. Access to highly sensitive information may need to be restricted to those with the need to know. Thus care needs to be taken to control written material and especially e-mailed and online data. In some cases, where the location allows, a face-to-face meeting may be the safest approach.
Other information – a product comparison matrix, for example – may be made accessible to staff that need to know how competitor products compare. This group may include sales people, customer relationship staff, marketing and product management. As a result such information may need a wide distribution and may possibly be placed on the corporate intranet.
The final stage
A further, purely personal viewpoint: you will often hear CI experts talking about dissemination as the final stage of the CI cycle. I am unhappy with both the use of the word dissemination and the idea that it is the final stage. Dissemination suggests a one-way process, with intelligence passed to decision makers. In some contexts (military for instance) this may be correct. However in a business context, where it is important that the competitor analyst receives feedback on their work, the idea that information only goes one-way and that the intelligence user has no responsibility for passing back information strikes me as wrong. I prefer to talk about communication, which includes two-way information transfer.
I also think that the idea that dissemination (or communication) is the final stage is wrong. Intelligence that is not used has no value. So the final stage is actually using the intelligence in the decision process. This may not require any action: a decision not to act is still a valid option. It does, though, require that a decision be made. Information passed to management and placed on a shelf without being used to guide business actions is not intelligence, and is a waste of the competitor analyst’s time and the organisation’s money. The final stage of the CI process has to be the utilisation of the intelligence following its communication to the decision makers.
Note: This FAQ was originally published in the Strategic & Competitive Intelligence Professional‘s membership magazine (Competitive Intelligence Magazine – Nov-Dec 2002)