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Ask the Expert: Q&A with Babette Bensoussan

Posted on Monday, October 1, 2012 at 10:05AM by Registered CommenterOrlaith Finnegan | CommentsPost a Comment | EmailEmail | PrintPrint

We’re continuing our Q&A series with Babette Bensoussan, Managing Director of The MindShifts Group, a company specialising in competitive intelligence, strategic planning and strategic marketing projects in the Australasia region. Babette is as SCIP Fellow and a SCIP Meritorious Award Winner – internationally, the highest award and recognition in the field of Competitive Intelligence.

1) What do you think are the three most common business blindspots?

This is an interesting question as many executives would not agree to the idea that they have blindspots. However as we know we ALL have blindspots around the decisions and choices we make whether in business or in personal life. I would like to suggest that three of the top ones I have come across in business are:

1. Narrow focus. By this I mean maintaining one’s understanding of an industry or product or customer behaviour, and not thinking outside the box. Decision thinking needs to be challenged. When it is not, this is when you have small innovators or outside players changing whole industry dynamics. The Apple example is a great one with regards to PCs, music and mobile phones.

2. Anchoring around numbers. This is so common place, it is appalling. Every company seems to have an expectation of some growth rate say 10-15%. Everything is done to achieve the numbers, but what if the numbers are wrong in light of changing industry dynamics….see point 1! Also what if growth in a particular product or service at all costs is the wrong strategy? What if exit or divestment is a better strategy? It really is amazing to see how many companies chase short-term numbers instead of long term prosperity.

3. Listening to peers. Most senior executives receive their information on which they often base their decisions from either trusted colleagues or peers. Rarely do they rely on reports that can provide them with a holistic and unbiased perspective. Why? Maybe because they don’t trust whose who are delivering the “unbiased” reports – they may not trust their analytical skills or they don’t understand the process used to deliver the insights. Can this be corrected? Absolutely but it takes time and effort on behalf of both the CI practitioner and the executive which leads us to the next question.

2) How important to the CI process is the interaction between CI practitioners and the heads of other internal business units? Do you have any tips for how to manage the relationship most effectively?

Like most, as children we were told by our parents never to talk to strangers, never to trust a stranger! So why do so many CI practitioners expect senior executives to trust them and their reports blindly when in many cases they communicate with the C-suite so infrequently? Has the CI Practitioner developed a relationship with his/her client? Has their been ongoing communication? Has there been a demonstrated understanding of the roles, responsibilities and life of the CI customer by the CI Practitioner? Has a trusting relationship been developed?

Unless the basics are attended to why should it be expected for senior executives to use CI? Executives (or as I prefer to call them the CI Customers) need to understand what is the product or service, what does it look like, what is the price, etc. In other words, I would like to suggest – my tip really – that CI practitioners need to address Marketing 101 in the first instance when talking to the heads of internal business units. Go through the 4 P’s – Product, Place, Promotion and Price. Do your customers understand what is CI? What is the product/service? How are you as the CI practitioner promoting it to your users? Do you have different customer groups with different CI needs? Treating everyone as a homogenous group is as dumb as treating your corporate customers as a homogenous group! It doesn’t exist. So how is the CI practitioner targeting specific niches within their overall market?

As anyone in business will tell you, the relationship between a customer and a provider is critical and unless the provider delivers what the customer is looking for, the customer will go elsewhere! You either have customers or you don’t have a business….. I mean a CI unit!

3) How can organizations get the balance right between focusing on their short and long term Competitive intelligence needs?

Gosh, how I would love a short sharp answer to that one!! Firstly I would like to say after 20 years of CI consulting, there is no one right solution as there is no one type of organisation. If the CEO is focused on short term objectives, then the CI will be directed to be short term focused. If the CEO is focused on long term issues, the CI will address long term issues. I firmly believe it is the CEO who sets the agenda overall as whatever he/she addresses that is what will be attended to throughout the organisation – even though the CEO may not the be recipient of the CI.

However I am aware that there are CEO’s who straddle both the short and long term so different parts of an organisation will also address short and long term issues. The key suggestion here then when trying to balance between both is to go back to Marketing 101 – see my response to question 2. Understand your customer groups, identify clearly their needs, and then deliver benefits, services and products to address their needs. Have a range of products/services at different price points to suit different needs. But above all understand your customers – where is their angst and how can you help them?

4) What changes would you like to see in the CI industry?

The most important change for me is the skilling up of CI practitioners in a) marketing 101 (yes especially Marketing), b) analysis, and c) working with senior executives. With the increasing breadth and depth of information available today and tomorrow, and executives becoming further overwhelmed with information, CI practitioners need to keep delivering sharp insights so that they can be invited to the decision making table again and again. If you are not delivering insights that are of value to your customers in a manner comfortable to them, you are going to get very stressed in the job.

To address the skills issue and the stress, I would love to see more CI practitioners working with experienced mentors to learn some of these skills. I don’t think CI practitioners are leveraging the mentors and experience that is out there, that can help them address the stresses in their jobs, the questions for example that are raised here, the potential range of solutions, and delivering effective CI. Reading about it in a book is nice, going to workshops and sharing with others is better, but working with a mentor on actual projects and problems is the best.

Find a mentor, someone you respect and see if you can work with them – are they taking on mentees, is there a fee, how will you communicate – face to face, Skype, telephone, how frequently will you communicate, etc. I suspect that mentoring will bring about more changes in the CI industry than just skilling. It might help with the launch of new products and services, new ways of doing things and even greater collaboration.

This post originally appeared on Digimind’s Web Intelligence Blog

About Babette Bensoussan:

Babette Bensoussan is the Managing Director of The MindShifts Group, a company specialising in competitive intelligence, strategic planning and strategic marketing projects in the Australasia region. Since 1992, she has undertaken over 300 projects and consulted to Australian and Global Fortune 500 companies as well as SME in strategic business and marketing planning, competitive intelligence, and strategic analysis. She has taught Competitive Intelligence in undergraduate business and MBA programs both in Australia and overseas. She is the co-author of five books on strategy, competition and analysis. Her first two books are still ranked the top best selling CI books globally and have been translated into multiple languages. “ Analysis without Paralysis, 2nd Edition” is due for release in October 2012.

5 Ways to Win the Battle Against Information Overload

Posted on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 11:14AM by Registered CommenterOrlaith Finnegan in , , , | CommentsPost a Comment | EmailEmail | PrintPrint

The sheer amount of information on the web can deliver real competitive advantage in business, but it also creates genuine challenges for information retrieval and storage. It can be incredibly frustrating and time-consuming having to wade through reams of irrelevant data in order to find that crucial piece of information you’re looking for.

Here are 5 simple ways that intelligence professionals can tackle information overload, which in turn will make you more efficient and productive in your job.

1. Filter out the Noise
Reduce the amount of irrelevant information you receive on a daily basis by putting filters in place to remove low-quality, high-frequency sources. For example, instead of getting all the news from your RSS feeds, exploit a tool which will check that the articles behind your RSS feeds include your selection of keywords (competitors names, technologies…). Your information stream should provide you with regular, insightful data pertaining to your industry and tailored to your specific needs. Everything else is just noise and will distract you from your main mission.

2. Prioritize Key Sources
Compile a list of key web sources that you rely on for keeping up to date about any changes in your industry. This can include a range of sites such as competitor websites, twitter accounts, news sites, industry blogs, discussion boards etc. Review your sources on an ongoing basis to make sure they are still relevant and setup a tool to get alerted automatically when new sources appear.

3. Data Visualization
It is much easier and far less stressful to process highly complex data when it is presented in a well structured, visually appealing format. You can achieve this by alternating text with the use of graphs, pie charts and word clouds to illustrate key pieces of information when presenting to colleagues.

4. Organize information into Folders
One of the reasons people become overwhelmed with lots of information is they lack a structured system for handling it and storing it for future reference. By filing information into carefully labelled digital folders it becomes much easier to find, share and archive information.

5. De-Duplication
If you are spending valuable time sifting through email alerts that contain the  exact same information from a variety of different sources, de-duplication is a must-have solution. Deduplication of information means removing information that occurs more than once. Trawling through repetitive news is a tedious task that chokes up far too much time. Your time should be invested in more value-added activities. To prevent your news stream becoming cluttered with redundant or duplicated information make sure that you have an automatic system of de-duplication in place.

If you’d like to know more about how we at Digimind can help you to manage your information flow contact us today  to discuss your needs or see a live web demo.

The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Intelligence Analysts

What makes a good intelligence analyst? Are there certain skills, qualities and attributes that can make you better primed for success in your chosen field? If so, how can we transform these personal traits into enduring habits that help us succeed in what we do?

Of course, the good news is that habits are not innate and we can train ourselves to develop the right ones!

We asked Monica Nixon, Corporate CI specialist and Principal Analyst at Nixon Intelligence Consulting Services (NICS) and Bob A. a retired US Navy Intelligence expert for their views.

Bob: “Let’s get a couple of things on the table first. Great analysts are not taught, they are nurtured. Great analysts are born with a talent that can be enhanced and brought to the front by good schooling in the areas of research and thought processes, but like all great musicians or painters, you either have it or you don’t. Oh sure, you can be a good analyst with the right training and persistence but you’ll never be a great analyst.”

Monica: “I am not sure “habits” is the right term. Habits tend to be routines of behavior that are repeated regularly and tend to occur subconsciously. I don’t think its habits that make folks successful in CI, rather its certain set of behavioral attributes and interpersonal competencies. With that in mind, curiosity, memory, tenacity and the ability to look at things from a systems dynamics POV are crucial. The ability to create a balanced argument, and rhetorical competency are key.”

His career as a US Navy Intelligence expert has given Bob some valuable insights into what sort of habits or personality traits are necessary for a successful career in the intelligence field. Here are the 7 habits he believes every intelligence analyst should develop:

1) Be Organized and Disciplined
Great analysts are more akin to artists than scientists, hence my reference to musicians and painters above. However, they also must have the discipline to approach each task in an orderly and scientific manner so they can reproduce the results and show the background materials that led them to the conclusions they drew.

2) Communicate with Confidence, Clarity and Credibility
The second thing that makes a great analyst is the ability to present thoughts or ideas in a clear and concise manner so that the untrained can understand what is being presented.

3) Find Meaningful Patterns in Meaningless Noise
The third concept is the ability to project the patterns that emerge forward and predict, within a reasonable accuracy, what will happen next or at sometime in the future. This is not to say that great analysts are soothsayers but rather that they have the ability to assimilate vast amounts of data into a cohesive pattern and , based on logical skills, deduce what might be the next step in the pattern. Great analysts have the ability to look at dissimilar objects, thoughts, or actions and see in their minds eye patterns that ordinary people would overlook, and then, have the ability to put those patterns to paper in an intelligent fashion so the layman can see and understand them. The ability to see the patterns is the part that a person is born with not something that can be taught. It is the schooling in research and thought process that allows the analyst to put into words what their mind is showing them. Great analysts also have a large helping of patience. Some patterns take several months if not years to develop.

4) Adopt a Patient, Methodical Approach
The great analyst has the vision to see patterns develop early in the process and wait until the pattern becomes clear before announcing it. This patience is what makes a mediocre presentation into a great presentation that has substance and can be relied upon by the decision makers. Without patience, you get a shot from the hip and what makes hindsight 20/20.

5) See the Bigger Picture
The great analyst is also someone who is not afraid to stick by their convictions when the odd outlying data point seems to throw the pattern off. They recognize it for what it is and factor it into the overall picture.

6) Be Flexible and Responsive to Change
The great analyst has the ability to recognize when the pattern is getting defused due to a miscalculation and is agile enough to retool the process to bring the pattern back into proper perspective. In other words, they can recognize when they are headed down the wrong path and have the foresight to change direction when the pattern deviates from what is expected due to unforeseen forces or events.

7) Learn from Mistakes
Lastly, the great analyst recognizes when they have erred and are free to admit they got it wrong. They learn from experience and experience is what you get when you don’t get it right the first time.

Please add your voice in the comments’ section below. We want to hear what habits you think are most important for an intelligence analyst.

This post was originally published on Digimind’s Web Intelligence Blog

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