Just got back from an American Marketing Association luncheon on Competitive Intelligence with keynote speaker Scott Yaw, President of Scott Yaw Associates LLC. He described many of the reasons companies may hire a firm such as his to investigate their competitive landscape. For example, they might want to know if a merger is brewing, if a new product is about to be launched, or how the competitors would react if they did one of those things. Scott didn’t say much about HOW his company finds out all the juicy details, but apparently it usually doesn’t involve dumpster diving. Instead, many corporate moves can be pieced together via the social media sites of major execs. Scott says, “It’s amazing what people reveal online”.
Competitive intelligence is about understanding all the ways competitors do business, but an intriguing offshoot of this process is that companies often learn a lot about themselves, too. Learning all the ways your competitors make money and go to market is an eye-opening way to see your own company’s strengths and weaknesses. You start to get questions to questions you didn’t know you had – and things you should have seen all along.
Yaw’s comments fit well with some data I collected last year during thought leadership research on customer experience (white papers and other downloads at http://www.cvgresearch.com/). The research pointed to many company/customer disconnects – let’s call them “blind spots”. For example, 77% of customers say that in the past year the quality of customer service provided by companies has stayed the same or gotten worse. But 89% of executives think service has improved. 45% of customers think that companies do not have a good understanding of what customers really experience in dealing with them. That’s been holding steady over the last year, but at this point 80% of executives and employees think their company does understand customers. 39% of customers think that companies do not listen to or act on customer feedback. Yet 87% of executives and employees think their company does listen.
The research shows that from the outside, customers don’t see improvements in understanding, listening, or delivering satisfactory service. The “inside” perspective of executives and employees is that they have these things covered. Seems like most companies could use some self-awareness training. Competitive intelligence might be the mirror that they need to hold up. Whatever the method, their customers and shareholders will thank them for “knowing themselves” better.