Successful Competitive Intelligence Needs Analysis

The needs analysis phase is more important than any other phase in the competitive intelligence process, and it is the intelligence manager’s responsibility to get this right. Being able to deftly extract the explicit, as well as the not so explicit, needs of your stakeholder requires skill and experience. Here, we briefly explain the eight most basic yet key factors in getting competitive intelligence needs analysis right.

Following these steps will not necessarily bring about a perfect analysis, but they will at least help you cover the fundamentals and help you kick off your competitive intelligence projects on the right footing.

1. Consider previous feedback

The intelligence cycle doesn’t always start with the needs analysis. Often, it starts with the feedback you received from the last report or presentation that you delivered. Going through the feedback in detail (and reading between the lines) can often bring a great deal of insights into the true needs of the stakeholder.

2. Do your basic homework

Always know what you are getting into and never walk into a needs analysis unprepared. This is a no-brainer, but be entirely up to date with the latest objectives, organizational structures/changes, M&A activity, competitor activity, market movements, etc. It is our job to know these things and whoever the stakeholder for the assignment is, he/she expects us to know our job. Rather than discussing the background for a project, the time can then be spent on identifying the real needs.

3. Put yourself in the decision makers’ shoes

Try to put yourselves in the shoes of the person you are talking to. Try to understand the decisions that this person needs to make and the pressures that this person feels. Furthermore, also be sensitive to the ambition levels and softer political aspects behind the request, these might be related to the needs as well. You can even try to visualize yourself in the perception of the person with whom you are talking to. Be sensitive here.

4. Don’t ramble! Ask questions and listen

This is a stage in the competitive intelligence cycle where you are in the meeting room to ask questions and understand, not to be heard. Sometimes it is very tempting to begin talking, and easy to begin rambling but remember, most people like to do the talking. Just focus on asking the right questions to get the person to talk about his/her needs. Ask open-ended questions about blind spots, threats, challenges, risks, opportunities, ambitions and listen to the answers. Listen critically. If you try putting yourself in the context of the person with whom you are talking, you will manage to absorb things with more context and therefore with more involvement, which enables you to think more critically.

5. Repeat what you just heard in your own words

Doing this will ensure that you are aligned with the project stakeholder and that you haven’t missed anything. This may sound tedious but can be very helpful. In addition to understanding things straight, you want your colleague to know that you perfectly understand his/her situation and context. Feel absolutely free to challenge something you don’t necessarily agree with. The response to this challenge will if anything, increase your involvement.

6. Probe specific Key Intelligence Topics / Questions (KITs / KIQs)

This is a challenging part and requires us to put our thinking caps on. Reflect on the blind spots and challenges that have been shared with you and probe whether a specific KIT will address the issue.

A trick here is to probe and not simply state. For example, if the decision maker’s challenge is to improve efficiency and spread of distribution channels, you may want to ask, “Do you think that a deep dive on competitor distribution channels structure and go-to-market approach might bring us some best practices, so we can identify key improvement areas in our own distribution?”. This typically fuels much more discussion than just stating, “We need to take a deep dive on our competition’s distribution channels”.

Test the reaction and build on it.

A key thing to remember is the value bucket, or the 80-20 rule / Pareto principle, especially if you experience scope explosion in your discussion. Remember that you are running a needs analysis, not a wants analysis. In the context of the needs analysis, it is important to identify which specific deliverables (20%) will satisfy the true (80%) intelligence needs.

In other words, make sure that you have identified the stakeholder’s priorities. Try to jointly run an exercise that will separate the “˜needs’ from the “˜wants’. This may lead to some provocative and interesting self-reflection on the true reason behind the demand.

7. Follow up. And be detailed!

The practical objective of the needs analysis should be to walk away with a structured list. After the meeting, make sure you share the list with the project stakeholder via email ““ and ask for feedback. Demonstrate what the KITs, when addressed, will bring in return to benefit the company. Make sure to discuss how to address each KIT and that the scope for each is clearly defined. An agreed methodology will secure the involvement of your colleague throughout the entire process.

8. Follow through and communicate

One recipe for disaster is to uncover the true intelligence needs and then disappear for a couple of months without any communication, and then come back with the results. So many things may have changed since the needs analysis and it’s therefore critical to keep in touch as often as possible.

Furthermore, we, as competitive intelligence managers, must ensure that our stakeholders understand our methodology, as well as the obstacles and challenges we face during the project.

We may also run into findings indicating that the scope of the project should be re-evaluated. All-in-all, the more involved the decision maker or stakeholder is and the larger his/her contribution to the project is, the bigger the chance for delivering intelligence corresponding to the true intelligence needs.

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