As a CI practitioner, I’ve found one of the best resources has always been sales teams. I’ve witnessed different CI programs that neglect this fact and end up struggling. The storyline from them is usually something like this: “But our job is to do strategic intelligence—you know: early warning systems, KITs, trends—that kind of thing. We aren’t in the sales organization and don’t have time to support them.”
This is a major flaw. The sales teams face the competition every day and are typically the first people inside a company to find out what the competition is up to. Every day, they hear from your customers all the great things your competition is planning and why the competitors are better than you. It pays to keep track of these things too—it can help you build profiles, trends, and threats. It will give you the first view of what really is happening in your industry.
It also helps you, as a competitive intelligence practitioner. One of the most common complaints in the CI world is “The executives don’t listen to my advice.” Of course, they don’t. That’s because your advice doesn’t affect dollars. Get sales on your side and they’ll tell you exactly what is happening in the industry and how much it is costing your company. They are losing their commissions and not meeting their quotas every time they lose a deal to that new under-the-radar competitor or to the established competitor that just implemented a new technology standard. Piece together a few bits of information like that and you have first visibility into a longer-term trend and real threats to your company.
“But sales won’t talk to me. I can’t get time on their calendar.” That’s the next complaint of many CI folks. And the reason sales doesn’t talk to you is because you can’t help them close their deal any faster. When you can organize your intelligence so that it helps you with your strategic focus –AND- it helps your sales teams win deals faster, then you are in the perfect place. (Check out our previous blog post on this topic). The more love you show to the sales teams, the more they give back to you in those early bits of intelligence.
So go make friends with your salespeople. Show them you care. Show them you can help win their deals. And then use them to feed your strategic systems, which in the long-term help you win more deals and collect more intelligence. It’s the circle of life in the CI world. (You know the music that goes here.)