Business intelligence tells you what happened at work. Good business intelligence tells you what is happening now. Competitive intelligence tells you what your competitors and the market did. Good competitive intelligence tells you where they’re headed. Both BI and CI crunch big data to deliver answers to the questions, “what happened?” and “how did that happen?” Only a social and deep web competitive intelligence framework can answer the most important question, “so what?”
In order to be actionable, intelligence must answer the “so what?” question. The answer to “so what?” describes the impact of the information. It describes assumed and presupposed context. It fills in the rest of the statement that starts out, “we care about this because…”
Social competitive intelligence is a new discipline. It is emerging now and will continue to grow over the next decade. Some solutions exist already. But they and their marketing cousins – social media management software – are still largely focused on listening to and tracking social mentions and sentiment activity. While these are important, the solutions today are overly simplistic. They can list changes to competitor websites, report on where competitor PPC (pay per click) ads are run and measure generic brand sentiment. However, rather than exerting a contextualizing force on the already massive volumes of available business and social information, they add to the data tsunami. When your cup is already running over, it makes little sense to put it under a faster faucet.
The better solution is to put into place a framework that gathers, filters, synthesizes and analyzes social competitive intelligence and deep-web analytics (i.e. the web beyond Google indexes). Then use that framework as a lens through which to view your existing BI and CI data. Then you will be able to answer the all-important, “so what?” question.
Here are several real-world examples and a free flowchart to the right to show you exactly how to locate and use your competitor’s social and web postings.
The Call Center Cost Hole
BI reporting shows increasing costs and increasing churn in your call center; overall a bad trend. If that were the only information you had, the “so what?” answer would be to kick up call center recruiting a fill the gaps and some stricter MBOs for call center managers on employee retention. However, with a social competitive intelligence framework in place, it is revealed that social media, blogs and discussion boards are full with blistering criticism of your call center escalation processes. The withering criticism is poisoning the work environment and making a tough job even more unpleasant. Viewed through this lens, the correct answer to “so what?” is not to step up recruiting. Rather, it is to fix the poison call center environment and re-engineer the escalation processes while empowering call center employees.
Not only does this save substantial time and money, it actually boosts net productivity by empowering knowledgeable employees and eliminating training and the ramp up to full productivity required for each new hire.
The Outside Expert
You are ready to launch a new product into an overseas market. But there are a host of regulatory issues to navigate. While you have plenty of “independent” research and case studies validating your approach, you still want an expert in your technology and the foreign market to help guide you through the approval process. The regulators don’t look kindly on experts who are among your paid staff due to potential conflict of interest. You want an external expert but you want to avoid someone who regularly works for your competitors or who has expressed harsh opinions of your company or product in the past.
Traditional competitive intelligence will not provide expertise location like this. Traditional BI only tells you that your new market has a lot of potential. If that were the only information you had, the “so what?” answer would be to get some internal recommendations and do a Google search and hope the person is available and credible. But hope makes for a poor strategy, especially with something as big as a new foreign market launch.
With a social competitive intelligence framework in place, you are able to perform a social network analysis to first locate the influencers on the topic area, measure their credibility and influence relative to one another, and finally screen them for competitor interaction and engagement. This approach yields not only a deeper, more highly qualified “short list” of available experts, it also reveals a large and rich set of topic influencers who your team can target for engagement and awareness of your new product. Ultimately, this delivers not only the help navigating new regulatory processes in new markets, it also identifies a new set of up and coming influencers who will help your product remain successful after the initial splash.
The Competitor Customer List
Your internal BI tells you that sales are plateauing despite the fact that you have a better product with more features and a better history of quality. Your competitive intelligence tells you that competitors are facing similar slow-growth periods. It looks like the market is reaching saturation and new opportunities are small. If that were all the information you had, the answer to the “so what?” question would be to switch over your sales strategy from a hunting to a farming operation. Marketing would shift to promoting small incremental improvements and the grind of upgrades/maintenance/renewal would become the core of your revenue model.
However, with a social competitive intelligence framework in place you would reveal a gold mine of new accounts that you can hunt while dramatically boosting your competitive advantage. The framework would reveal your competitor’s customer lists. First, realize that all customers – yours and your competitors – are interested first in solving a business problem and only secondarily staying with a particular vendor or service provider. Staying with a particular provider tends to be more a matter of convenience and trust than inherent and continued ability to deliver value. This means there is opportunity to knock out your competitor or at least to come alongside them and establish a beach head; but only if you know who they are and how to approach them. This is what a social competitive intelligence framework delivers.
That they are your competitor’s customer means that at one time in the past, they got a better deal or had a better recommendation or were simply aware of your competitor at the time they needed a solution. In the B2B world, there are few things that lock in customer. Sure, they exist; big computing platform and enterprise application decisions tend to have at least a 7 year life cycle. Similarly, being a Mac, Windows or Linux shop tend to be about corporate culture. But as the recent Samsung mobile vs Apple iPhone campaigns demonstrate, even the most loyal customers can switch to a completely different platform if the reason to switch is compelling.
A social competitive intelligence framework makes developing a target list of your competitor’s customers easy. First, perform a social network analysis of your competitor. See who is commenting, following, liking and (re)tweeting about your competitor. Then filter that list by companies and contacts you’d like to target. Perform this analysis again around the time of your competitor’s big events like conferences and trade shows. The cadence of social activity spikes during those times. Additionally, your competitor will trot out their favorite case studies and customer testimonials during that time to add credibility to their pitch. What they’re doing for you is validating the customer need, interest and ability to pay. You just need to get them to switch or try out your product too. Finally, mine your competitor’s website for their customer information. Companies routinely post logos and ROI or case studies online. Even if competitor brag sheets use unnamed customers, there will generally be enough information to make a very educated guess and narrow it down to only one or two possible companies (your potential customers!) in the area.
My company, BloomThink, recently performed a social competitive intelligence engagement designed to create a competitor customer list. During one trade show, the target competitor was demonstrating an unbranded intranet system. However, the layout, color scheme and look/feel of their demo perfectly matched an educational YouTube video posted at about the same time by a large local health care organization. The health care company was added to the “competitor customer target list”. Only a social competitive intelligence framework and strategy could have revealed the connection that was publicly available but buried in a mountain of previously unrelated social data.
As the old saying goes, “text without context becomes pretext”. No matter how good your BI data is alone, without the contextualizing force of a social competitive intelligence framework, it becomes justification for gut feelings, political games-playing and flights of fancy. That is no way to run a business.
Enterprises and especially CIOs, CMOs and Sales EVPs need to implement a social competitive intelligence framework that understands how to do the following:
- Collect & Gather deep web and social information
- Filter & Categorize information to keep what matters and cull what doesn’t
- Analyze & Synthesize that information with existing BI & CI data
- Report & Act so that actionable intelligence can deliver meaningful business impact
BloomThink stands ready to assist.
Billy Cripe’s BoomThink is at the forefront of this new social competitive intelligence wave. By not simply focusing on competitor marketing, but rather on internal BI and CI, competitor behavior, deep web (beyond Google) and social media streams, BloomThink’s social web intelligence framework and tactics – SWIFT – program delivers deep insight with actionable results.