Ask The Expert: Q&A with Babette Bensoussan
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.
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.
Written by Jerome Maisch
Marketing Manager @digimindci. Passionate about big data & social marketing. Photography, music and hiking lover