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Practical Intelligence

Businesses today need to move fast.  Nobody has enough time or resources to really sit down and plan thoroughly.  We’re never going to have perfect information, a perfect product, or perfect strategies.  We all used to strive for A+ work.  Today we have to be happy with a solid B.  We’re all doing a dozen things at once, trying desperately to keep pace with a world in which the rate of change is accelerating.  It used to be all about winning.  Now it’s about not getting left behind.

The challenge we always face in helping our clients is that it takes time to compile information.  Depending on what we’re trying to learn, it may take a few days, weeks, even months.  Our mission is to find the right balance of intelligence support for the particular situation of that client.  While it’s not formulaic, there are some typical variables to consider.

What is the potential risk of the initiative?  Risk can manifest in many ways.  Sometimes it’s the considerable investment a company makes in developing a product.  Sometimes it’s diverting valuable resources (such as sales assets) from one target market to another.  Sometimes it’s the potential for negative reaction and brand damage caused by a slip in the marketplace.  The greater the risk, the more helpful intel can be in minimizing negative outcomes.

What is the potential reward of the initiative?  It’s the reward that we’re all after, right?  Profits, market share, brand and reputation strength.  World domination.  The corollary to risk, the greater the reward, the more powerful intel can be in maximizing the outcomes.

What is our current knowledge to inform the initiative?  Is it a market we’ve served and studied for years?  Is it a product that’s standard fare in the marketplace?  Do we already know how our customers see our brand, and how credible this new offering will be?  This dimension is harder to evaluate and makes for a great conversation with our clients.  Our general position is that objective market feedback is better than subjective, behaviors matter more than words, and that experience is invaluable but can’t replace the voice of the customer.

Let me translate these dimensions into concrete examples.

  • Business A is launching a new feature for its current top-selling product.  The feature is a straight-forward add-on, requiring very minimal investment by the business.  It’s become a fairly standard feature for competitive products.  It will “touch” a large number of the company’s customers, but the risk of failure is low.  It’s not designed to generate revenue, but to demonstrate the commitment of the company to continuous improvement of its products and services.
  • Business B, to keep up with the competition, is launching a new e-commerce interface.  The new interface will be faster, more user-friendly, and provide better tracking and reporting.  There is a significant cost associated with the new interface.  It is not expected to generate more revenue directly, although the business hopes that the ease-of-use will ultimately encourage more completed and repeat transactions.
  • Business C has experienced flattening growth in its current market sectors, and is planning to fuel growth by entering two new sectors.  The company has limited experience in these sectors, but expects its products and services to be largely transferrable across the sectors.  Limited “tweaks” are expected to the offering and the messaging.

Our advice to these three companies would be as follows:

  • Business A – we wouldn’t recommend slowing the process to collect intel.  Both the risk and the reward are relatively low, and the market has already experienced this feature in competitive products.  Customer feedback can be gleaned through whatever Voice of the Customer resources you already have in place.
  • Business B – we would strongly recommend developing a thorough understanding of what your customers need and value in an e-commerce interface for your particular business.  The risks are significant, both from an investment and a customer experience perspective.  In this case, appropriate intel can protect your business against a highly-visible, costly error, and perhaps identify features of value to your customers that you hadn’t considered.
  • Business C – again, we would recommend doing some intel work to maximize your chances for success.  The potential reward for successfully penetrating new sectors is high, and the potential risk of missing the mark may be high as well.  You should look to validate that your products, services, messaging, and sales approach will all work in these new markets.  In our experience, buyer profiles, requirements, language, and priorities can be substantially different across industries.  Make sure the first impression you make in these new sector is the right one, and that you’re not wasting valuable sales and marketing resources in the process.

At the end of the day, it’s ironic but true – we have access to more information than ever before, and less time to actually leverage that information.  By weighing the risks and rewards of a particular market strategy, it becomes clearer where to invest the time and resources to gain a better understanding of your buyers and competitors.  Market intelligence is not a constant requirement, but in those situations where it is called for, the wisest companies will make the time.