Raising the Profile of the Market Intelligence Function at Cisco

Interviewed for this case is Joost Drieman, Director, Market and Business Intelligence European Markets, Cisco Systems, Inc.. Drieman oversees a team of over 20 market intelligence specialists at Cisco that monitors and analyzes the market and the company’s competitive position by segment, region and technology: from mega trends to customer satisfaction.

Senior management support is the single most important prerequisite for creating and nurturing a corporate “intelligence culture”, according to every global market intelligence survey conducted by M-Brain (formerly GIA) to date. Without management involvement, investments in business information management can never pay off in full.

What can market intelligence directors and managers do to foster mutual respect and support internally?

Has the intelligence culture at Cisco Systems Europe changed over the years? If so, how has it developed

“Yes, it certainly has evolved, and is still evolving. Change hasn’t happened overnight. The process started over a year ago – a shift in mindset always takes time.

I believe that to cultivate an “intelligence culture” means to first evaluate how we, as market intelligence experts, are doing in our roles. How often in the past we have produced slide decks that ended up “on the shelf” or that were under utilized? Why did it happen? Was it due to its size, format or style? Often, it all boils down to one thing: consultancy skills.

At Cisco, we are now actively encouraging a culture of “˜internal advisory’ within our market intelligence team. We sent the team to internal consultants team training, in order to ensure that they ask the right questions and provide the right answers in the right format. The training focused on changing our own behavior first.

The market intelligence function used to be viewed as simply a source of data, and that was it. We have changed the perception of the function by changing our own behavior. We are not simply data-crunchers. We ask people how they will use the market intelligence and for what purpose. We suggest what other information may be useful and (proactively) make recommendations.

Today, we are getting more involved with the business issues and get more requests for value added information, such as what are the do’s and don’ts, the risks, the full landscape etc..

But as you say in the game of golf, we are still working on our handicap!”.

Please tell us about some behavioral changes that market intelligence practitioners need to consider.

“I have several metaphors and each is useful, depending on the situation. There are many but my favorites are the Weather Forecast Presenter, the Taxi Driver and the Doctor.

The Weather Forecast Presenter needs to get to the point, while for the Taxi Driver there are two options: execute or ask more probing questions. The key skill here is the ability to look out for cues other that what is being said to you directly.

The case for the Doctor is quite straightforward. Doctors will tell us what could be wrong with our health, based on lab tests and analysis, and then they recommend a plan of action. Doctors don’t force their decisions on us. They can’t force anyone to stop smoking or drinking for instance, but they make validated and informed recommendations. In market intelligence, we have the tendency to see ourselves as “laboratory technicians” that just do the analysis. But more and more, people ask “so, what should I do now?”. We need to go beyond the findings and analysis and take on more of a “Doctor” role. Do it well, and you will be the “family doctor” for the rest of your life”.

Please help to elaborate on the difference between the “Weather Forecast Presenter” and the “Taxi Driver”.

“The goal of market intelligence is to create a clear view of all the aspects of the market by thorough research and analysis and to have an impact on the business: its vision, mission, strategy, planning, operations and decision-making.

This means that at times, we need to listen carefully to the questions being asked and try to answer directly to the point. That’s what good Weather Forecasters do.

At other times, it means that we need to take the initiative to ask questions and probe further, despite any initial resistance from our internal stakeholders. That’s where the knowledge and initiative of a friendly Taxi Driver can come in very useful.

Imagine you are planning a large summer barbecue party this coming Saturday. You want to know one other important point: what is the weather forecast? Will it be sunny and warm or rainy and cold?

The typical approach by a market intelligence professional will be like this: He shows a map of your country or region and says: “There is a high pressure area in the north, blowing eastwards with a speed of 18 knots. Current temperature there is 23 Celsius. Slightly west of that is a rain zone that will move further west at a speed of 23 knots. This rain-zone is impacted by the low-pressure area which moving to the north etc. etc.”. By which time, the market intelligence manager would have lost your attention and interest!

The question being asked, “Will there be rain or sunshine?”. It is a binary question, and the answer is either one or the other.

Experienced Weather Forecasters understand that and will tell you: “Yes, there will be sunshine at 27C this coming Saturday.” Besides that basic answer, he or she may explain in simple terms why the sun will be shining, with some supporting data and logic. But even for the weather forecasts, open questions should follow. How warm will it be? How strong is the wind? What direction will it be blowing from? Will it be clear blue skies or will there be some scattered clouds?

Turning back to market and competitive intelligence, such a binary question will also be followed by open questions to get a better understanding. The first question may be: “Is there a market opportunity for my products?” or “Will the new competitor be a threat for my business?”. The answer to the first question could be: “Yes, there is a market opportunity”. And we will explain in simple terms why we have come to the conclusion that there will be an opportunity, by looking at the market trends, economic drivers and other parameters etc. Following that, the underlying open questions could pop up, such as “How big is that opportunity?”, “For which market?”, “When will the market take off?” or “How should we sell our product?”.

Contradicting this approach is the taxi driver phenomenon. Imagine you get into a taxi in London and ask the driver to take you to Covent Garden. Instead of taking you directly there, he turns around and asks you, “What are you planning to do at Covent Garden? Are you interested in shopping, restaurants or museums?”. Our natural reaction is that it is none of his business and that he should just get on with his task at hand.

An experienced taxi driver however, may notice that you appear to be a tourist from out of town, and make suggestions so we can get more out of our visit. He may suggest, “Why don’t you try Paddington? It’s Sunday and their market is very interesting. From there, you can take the blue line on the London Underground to Covent Garden.”

As market intelligence experts, we should offer to add value if we believe we can.

If someone simply asks for data on personal computers in Europe for instance, we should ask what the data will be used for. Start a dialogue. Overcome any initial resistance by providing the rationale behind our questions. For example, we can ask, “Are you looking at only network PCs, or game consoles as well? Should we include servers? What else shall I include or is there anything I should leave out? Can you share more? The more you share, the smarter the analysis”.

It is a matter of building trust and credibility. We need to show that we are trusted advisors. That is the art of being an internal consultancy.”

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