Weve written previously about Competitive Intelligence and how Agile principles can help teams get ahead of the curve, rather than reacting to sales panic.
Should I explain sales panic? Most product leaders and thoughtful sales people I speak to know it from experience, if not by name. It begins with one big deal that we lose to a competitor. Or an articulate sales person at a startup who says, at every opportunity, that Salesforces new release is encroaching their space, or We are Salesforce, and dying the death of a thousand paper-cutting startups moving into Hubspots ecosystem and deprecating their AppExchange product.
Its hard not to react to these signals. After all, these are real-life situations by people trying to put food on their table, and our table too. But when we react to sales panic, we end up chasing our own tails, copying competitors, and making the situation worse in the long run.
Insert your company here.
The problem here isnt the information itself. As Ive written before, sales people are on the front lines, the first ones to see competitive moves. Thats just the way sales is, and I dont blame sales people themselves for the panic. This is really an issue for leadership to handle more strategically.
Agile Competitive Intelligence helps you deal with sales panic by developing a work stream that provides continuous value by looking for areas of biggest threat and biggest opportunities, and forming questions that can be answered incrementally. We then direct competitive intelligence, win/loss analysis, and churn/retention research, squarely at those questions. Add a few stickies, Sharpies, masking tape, and a blank wall, and ta-da! we have an Agile CI framework. Sort of.
What does it mean to Provide Continuous Value? In software development, it means doing small incremental releases on 2-week or 4-week cycles, rather than big huge releases every 18 months. This is one of Modern Agiles Key Principles: a product should not be worthwhile only when it is finished. An agile development process produces a product that provides benefits from the get-go, adding increased value over time. In an Agile CI environment, value comes in the form of insights.
Many CI teams, and the Product Marketers who produce them, hoard insights until needed, siloed away by the CI department until something goes wrong. Switching to an Agile CI approach means sharing insights readily and frequently. It also spreads insights further than conventional one-on-one deployments, so a dev team from Product A will have insights not only on its product, but also Bs and Cs products.
So where does one start in providing continuous insights, and how do you ensure those insights are being used effectively?
It helps to start with better, more complete data.
The most useful competitive intelligence incorporates some level of win/loss data and analysis. Get in the habit of examining and re-examining your products and, if applicable, your churn. Avoid letting your CI focus get hung-up on any one thing, i.e. tunnel vision. If you keep rotating the CI lens, youll have a better understanding of the full picture. Not only does this keep you up-to-date on issues with individual products, the wide view can also help reveal systemic issues within the company; if five out of six products have a similar problem, you know theres a structural failing that needs to be addressed.
The intelligence itself should be equally global: you need the full buyer-centric, 360CI spectrum to be properly informed on your CI universe.* Your individual product teams may have become Agile in their process, but your CI team needs to do so as well. For example, an Agile CI team should use a kanban system like most Agile teams do. Not only does this provide a clear visualization of to-dos and priorities, but its the best way to catch bottlenecks. If your CI gets stuck in a bottleneck, not only is that not particularly agile of you, but those all-important continuous insights are going to dry up, leaving you no better off than when you started.
Agile CI means moving from a series of discrete projects to an ongoing process.
If your CI is to be effective, it cant be an afterthought, brought in only after things have got wrong. Thats the reactive method. Proactive CI requires force projection: the CI team needs a seat at the strategy table. If your CI is going to look forward as much as it looks back, then you do too. Recent wins and losses should be shared to inform future victories. The people at the top can benefit just as much from Agile CI as those farther down the chain of command. Forewarned is forearmed remember those sales panics? If insights are being shared and you and your team/department/organization are educated about your ongoing CI, theres going to be no place for panic. After all, nothing is happening that you and your people are not aware of. Has the market changed? Or your buyers tastes? Are your competitors selling something new? No sweat (or, at least, less sweat) because youve been following those changes from the start, and youve already adjusted to meet those challenges head on. Thats what Agile CI is all about – the flexibility and continuous value that insight brings to your organization. With such a breadth of knowledge on your side, youre never going to be caught-out again.
* See our forthcoming article Seeing the Full Picture: The 360 View for insight on 360 CI.