3 min read
Jerome Maisch - Oct 1, 2012

6 Tips for Building an Effective CI Network

In Competitive Intelligence it is often who you know (social capital) as well as what you know (human capital) that leads to success. It is vital to nurture the network of personal connections that strengthen knowledge-sharing and information transfer in your organization. This means being able to reach out to others for information and feedback on a regular basis and listening to their needs.


Ellen Naylor has worked in Competitive Intelligence for 25 years and she has developed a unique approach called 'cooperative intelligence', which helps CI Managers to 'listen and be heard'.


Ellen has kindly agreed to share some tips below on how to build an effective CI network, using Cooperative Intelligence:


1. Cooperative Intelligence is a win/win behavior for competitive intelligence managers, actually for business in general. Those who practice cooperative intelligence have an attitude and predisposition for giving without an overt expectation of receiving something back in return. This attitude is so uncommon in business that you will stand out.


2. Competitive intelligence is basically a support operation, so my first tip is to Put Your Ego on Hold. Listen to what the other person is saying without interruption or becoming sidetracked by the human tendency to push your idea forward without really listening. You will ask fewer questions, and they will be more thoughtful.


3.  Make everyone you meet feel like s/he is important. This is one key to developing a great network, since many people don’t make others universally feel important and valued. I do not multitask when I meet with another person and give them all my attention. I have noticed that this behavior has opened many doors with competitive intelligence sources.


4.  Be a Leader by your good example. Many CI professionals have no reporting people, so we can’t be a leader in the traditional way. One way we can provide a good example to others is to provide the right analysis to the right audience at the right time in a way that they understand it. Another way is to informally ask for feedback after projects, so you learn how to improve, but also stay in the loop since future needs often come up during these conversations.


5.  Feed your sources only with information/analysis they value. Too many in our profession are so anxious to be valued that they share too much with too many people who don’t value what we share. You need to get to know people well enough to learn what they really need, and what they don’t care about. You need to stay in touch with your CI contacts often enough to learn and anticipate when their needs change.


6. Communicate with the individuals in your CI network in a way that they prefer. This should be a part of your needs analysis. “How do you like to be communicated with and how often?” Let them know how you like to be communicated with as well. While you want to be known as a giver in CI, people will feel more valued if you let them know that you need them.


7. Be honest and sensitive in your communication, and stand up for what you believe. In CI we are not paid to tell them what they want to hear. This can be a challenge when we sense our management doesn’t want to hear the truth since it runs counter to the acquisition they might want to make, as an example. Be sensitive to this, and use your elicitation skills to warm up the communication, and beware not to stomp on egos.


I recall a situation where I was brought in to a sales assessment after Sales had already turned in their proposal so there was nothing I could do to help them win the sale. It was a major piece of business so sales management asked me to lead a discussion with the sales team around who might win the deal and why. I didn’t agree with the team’s assessment that if we didn’t win the bid, a second competitor would win the business. I thought a third competitive was the mostly likely candidate to win, and gently told them why. The third competitor did win the business, and for the reasons I had stated. This seemed like such a minor exercise to me, but I gained a lot of respect since I stood up for myself and told the truth.


About Ellen Naylor:



Ellen Naylor has been practicing competitive intelligence since 1985, and is still learning. She shares what she learns through her cooperative intelligence blog (cooperativeintelligenceblog.com).

Written by Jerome Maisch

Marketing Manager @digimindci. Passionate about big data & social marketing. Photography, music and hiking lover