A keen understanding of your customer’s business coupled with an in-depth knowledge of related industries, markets and geographies can position your advisory firm to better serve existing customers and attract new ones.
Enter competitive intelligence, the art of distilling, analyzing and creating actionable insight from millions of data points. Competitive intelligence can support your advisory firm in its efforts to:
- Deliver customer-first service via in–depth knowledge of your customer’s business
- Provide proactive outreach about key issues and areas
- Be a thought leader on trending issues
- Uncover new customers
- Stay ahead of your competition
- Formulate strategic plans
According to Crayon’s 2020 State of Competitive Intelligence Report, 90% of businesses perceive their industry has become more competitive over the past 3 years. The digital era, along with continued globalization and the ongoing ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, make it more important than ever for your business to make well-informed decisions quickly.
How Competitive Intelligence Can Help You Help Your Customers
What does true service look like? Many customers now expect their service provider to foresee a challenge or opportunity and bring it to the forefront, sometimes even before company executives have thought or talked about it.
In one word: Proactive.
When millions of American workers began working remotely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom was ready, despite other video chat platforms’ considerable head start. Between March and April, according to Bernstein Research and Apptopia, daily downloads of the Zoom app increased 30 times year-over-year. Zoom stands out among other platforms thanks to its customization capabilities and user friendliness. The company, which launched in 2011, went to market with the goal of being different. Launched by a former executive at Cisco, you can be certain there was quite a bit of competitive intelligence work involved in product development.
In a world where millions of data points circulate cyberspace daily, it can be a daunting task to get to what matters. But by doing so – and by promoting a culture of current awareness within your advisory firm – your business is better positioned to be truly strategic, while also providing customers with the insight they need. Even when they don’t know they need it.
5 Steps to Implementing Competitive Intelligence at Your Advisory Firm
Competitive intelligence can take many forms, including tracking industry news and regulatory events, testing sales strategies, keeping an eye on competitors, recognizing trends and analyzing the health of your customers’ business.
Though many businesses utilize competitive intelligence in some form of fashion, to get the most out of your efforts, consider these steps to implement a cohesive competitive intelligence function within your advisory firm:
1. Collect Data and Uncover Needs
Prior to launching a formal competitive intelligence function, consider collecting data and information about the needs of key stakeholders, what they’re already asking for, and what additional data and analysis would be useful for those inside of the business, and perhaps most importantly, for your customers.
Consider some of these common uses of competitive intelligence:
- Preparing team members to meet with customers through an understanding of current events and potential needs
- Supporting pitches and the development of RFPs by connecting internal expertise with the potential needs of the customer
- Co-selling other services into an existing customer
- Monitoring business, legal and regulatory trends that could impact customers or targets
- Uncovering interesting information to drive thought leadership and customer outreach
- Analyzing new geographic markets for business expansion
2. Gain Buy-in and Take a Seat at the Table
Once you have a better idea of how your business might leverage competitive intelligence, find a champion. This could be someone in leadership that understands the importance of this type of insight and analysis or simply a member of the team that is willing to shoulder the responsibility of keeping the proverbial train on the tracks. Use the data you’ve collected to demonstrate need and come prepared with a few examples of potential outputs.
And remember, it’s not enough to simply deliver canned reports from an office down the hall. As you seek to gain buy-in, reflect on the importance of making competitive intelligence part of your advisory firm’s culture. As a 2016 Harvard Business Review article put it: “Work together. Easier said than done, but the parallel from the military is that the intelligence analyst should be side-by-side with the decision maker at all times, not down the hall or in a different building.”
3. Create and Embed a Competitive Intelligence Process
The most successful competitive intelligence departments have a consistent way to respond to requests while simultaneously providing proactive insight. This process is critical to managing workflow, getting a full picture of business needs and tracking results.
A simple process might include these components:
- Collecting internal and external data
- Analyzing that information
- Sharing intelligence with key stakeholders
- Planning next steps/projects
Having a strong process in place can help your business avoid making decisions based on what Or Offer, CEO of SimilarWeb, told Inc Magazine in 2017 were “the opinions of a small room of people …” Your firm’s competitive intelligence process can help ensure your company’s decisions are rooted in data and information, not simply the result of gut feelings.
To that end, here are common sources of information your firm can leverage:
- News reports (industries and companies)
- Regulatory filings (like quarterly or annual reports)
- Investor calls
- Financial statements
- Court proceedings
- Social media
- Trade associations
4. Find the Right Partner
Even with the best people and the best processes in place, keeping up with multiple industries, topics, and potentially hundreds of customers can be daunting. Luckily, a growing area of software can help your business sift through the noise effectively and efficiently.
Once you assess needs, you can narrow down your search for the right technology partner – one that understands what it’s like to work in a fast-paced, high demand industry, and that can deliver customized, real-time information. You’ll want to consider things like how much information the vendor/platform can sift through, what level of insight (if any) is covered, what sources/topics are included (some tools are focused on a single industry, for example), user experience and friendliness, and how any platform works with and integrates with other tools utilized by your firm.
Important potential offerings include:
- A comprehensive suite of sources and data
- Real-time functionality
- Wide range of sharing options
- In-depth insight and analysis
- Company health dossiers and reports
5. Track Outcomes
Particularly in times of financial restraint, it is critical to show value. Competitive intelligence can absolutely become a revenue generator for your business by helping to assess new markets, uncover opportunities, and win new work with existing customers. But the best work is rendered useless if you can’t show how you and your team were connected.
As HBR put it: “The failure to measure the impact of competitive data leads to an interesting dilemma for companies: even when it’s obvious that the company has missed an opportunity or been blindsided by a threat because they failed to consider competitive data, managers are at a loss how to improve the situation.”
By following the above steps, and by utilizing the right partner, your advisory firm can leverage competitive intelligence tools, techniques, and software to improve your situation, and to get out ahead of the competition.