Within the law firm marketing setting, the importance of competitive intelligence is ever-increasing. More and more, it is being used to drive informative decisions that help firms compete. This November, LMA, in conjunction with the Fuld-Gilad-Herring Academy of Competitive Intelligence, is offering its first CI certificate course. Here, we hear from two of the Academy's founding faculty members, Leonard Fuld and Ben Gilad, Ph.D., on competitive intelligence — what they believe is the biggest misconception about CI, what skills are needed to be successful in this function and how to stay focused in this age of “information overload.”
What do you think is the biggest misconception about competitive intelligence?
Ben Gilad: That it is synonymous with competitive data or information. For me, intelligence has not been created until the data is separated from the noise and placed into a perspective. We call it the “intelligence perspective,” and it’s focused on identification of risks and opportunities. Ninety percent of the data about the outside world flowing into and inside organizations are just “nice to know” or utter white noise. To find the 10 percent, you need an intelligence framework that makes sense of the market.
Leonard Fuld: Competitive intelligence is not only about information collection, which is where, in many minds, the profession starts and ends. Collecting information leaves you with nothing more than a lot of puzzle pieces — not a strategic picture, not something you can then shape into a response to take advantage of market opportunity. As Ben says, competitive intelligence is very much about analysis and perspective. It’s about seeing your company in context with an industry or a geography.
The second misconception — and it’s a subtle one — is about time frame. When I hear decision makers discuss competitive intelligence, it is mostly about a current, here-and-now issue. Their discussion is often tactical. CI’s greatest value comes when you try to assess future moves, trying to create true strategic breakthroughs for your company.
Do you find that CI is more important today than in years past?
Ben: I think it’s a cliché. People say competitive pressures have increased, global competition makes strategy harder or even redundant, etc. None of it is true. The only thing that increased is noise out there, especially with the social sphere. It is true that information today travels faster, but that just make competing easier.
Leonard: I agree with Ben that there is a lot of noise out there, generated via the Internet and social media. But there’s more to this challenge. The business treadmill turns much faster than it did 10, 20 or 30 years ago. The need for speed compels decision makers to act first and verify later. Yes, the analysis and insight delivered through competitive intelligence must keep pace with this speed (there’s no turning back). Those in competitive intelligence must inject rigor in how they assess the competition and the market in order to satisfy their executives. The legal profession has experienced speeding up of the treadmill, as well. Mega-mergers among firms, shifts in services and where those services come from, and at what new and unbelievably low price that same, formerly white shoe service is being offered. Traditional marketing may only measure the change, but competitive intelligence can explain and perhaps offer new options for a firm’s decision makers.
What are the core skills a professional needs to be successful in the CI function?
Ben: We conducted a survey in 2013 to answer exactly this question. The conclusion is unequivocal: Get certified. Certification holders from the Academy earn significantly more, are promoted significantly more, and are involved in strategic decision making in their companies. Beyond that, there are certain proclivities that help by attracting a person to this type of analytical position: curiosity, ability to see the big picture, skepticism and sense of pride in seeing things differently from most.
Leonard: Beyond skills, there are competencies you need to learn if you are going to become a competitive intelligence professional. These competencies will help you address these questions, among others: How do you analyze a privately held company? What does it take to build a world-class intelligence process? How do you run a financial analysis, or read financial signals on a competitor? What techniques do you need to apply when assessing a complex industry involving many competitors and a variety of competitive pressure points?
In the days of “information overload,” how does one stay focused on the information that is most important to his or her organization?
Ben: The only way is to use the fundamental analytical frameworks. We teach those at the Academy. People who use ad hoc “filters” hardly ever see the big picture and what’s relevant. That’s why librarians are not intelligence analysts.
Leonard: I completely agree with Ben about the need for frameworks. Frameworks help focus your analysis and clarify what issues you must attack. In addition, you need to learn from your management where it wants to take the firm and, therefore, what are the vital — and maybe unanswered — questions they need to address. Vital questions are what is key here. There’s always a lot management may want to know. What it needs to know is often a far smaller set of questions. Frameworks plus understanding management’s critical needs yields good intelligence. That is the magic formula to fight information overload and retain focus.
What can participants in the CI program expect to experience?
Ben: If you read the accolades on our website, people are simply thrilled by what they learn. It is an eye opener. It changes careers’ trajectories. We teach them how to understand the fundamentals of strategy and competition.
Leonard: What you receive from this CI program will be practical approaches and lessons, not theoretics. We are hard-hitting and honest with our students about what successful intelligence, good analysis and insight really means. We will make sure to give you the big picture, understanding how to work with strategic goals and not get lost in the tactical weeds.
In conjunction with the Fuld-Gilad-Herring Academy of Competitive Intelligence, LMA designed a tailored two-day competitive intelligence certificate course that will include collection, basic analysis and war gaming. Interested in increasing your CI expertise? This is your chance!