Evalueserve's "Competitive Intelligence Spotlight" series puts different competitive intelligence (CI) professionals in the limelight to share their experiences and unique perspectives. In this edition of the series, we put Satyajit Saha in the spotlight and learn what competitive intelligence teams should expect in the new normal, what brings the most value, and what they should be investing in now.
EVS: Before we jump into the competitive intelligence discussion, could you please tell me about your role in Evalueserve and background in competitive intelligence (CI)?
SS: At Evalueserve, I am a Vice President and Head of Products for all digital solutions that cater to our Professional Services clients (such as consulting, advisory, law firms and, real estate firms). I ensure that the solutions we build –be it insights generation platforms, productivity enhancement tools, or workflow management tools – are closely aligned to the day-to-day needs of specific user groups within these firms. One of the solutions I have been deeply involved in is Insightsfirst, a digital platform that empowers Professional Services firms to get an edge in the marketplace through differentiated insights. Within Insightsfirst we have three modules, one of which is Competitive Intelligence (CI).
Now, for a quick overview of my background. I have about 16 years of experience, with a majority of it focusing on research and analysis, and the last few years focusing on product solutions and development. During the years I focused on research, be it in Evalueserve or during my previous stints in firms like Deloitte, CI was always one of the key requirements. Whether it was for user groups such as marketing steams, strategy teams, or sector partners, CI was often present. Despite CI varying in need, the core objectives were always focused on obtaining timely and actionable insights on competitor strategy, behavior, and trends to get an edge in the marketplace. The key questions that me, or my team, had to answer included:
- Marketing Team: What eminence/thought leadership are my peers publishing, and how can I find a white space to differentiate myself in the market?
- Strategy Team: What investments and capabilities are my peers adding, and hence, how can I ensure I don’t lag?
- Service-line Partners: What new offerings or tools are my peers going to market with in reaction to a topical issue (ex. COVID-19)?
Over the years I have only seen the demand for CI related work increase and become increasingly nuanced and integral to business strategy creation. With new challenges and new competition, it is becoming critical to keep a pulse of one’s peers.
EVS: What are some challenges that you see CI teams encountering in the "New Normal"?
SS: The business environment is evolving at a faster pace than ever before. The pandemic-induced volatility has made the business environment highly aggressive, which in turn has increased the need for companies to monitor their peers and create strategies that reduce uncertainties and maximize opportunities. Even in the Professional Services sector, we are seeing several disruptions:
- New service offerings being launched at a rapid pace to cater to the changing business environment. For example, when COVID-19 hit, the advisory or restructuring firms that launched COVID-themed offerings, tool-kits, or thought pieces were the ones that remained extremely busy during the last few months, with many having to ramp up their teams.
- Technology firms focusing on disruptive technologies have gradually commoditized certain sections of the consulting and advisory market. For the first time, an industry as traditional as consulting or advisory had to look within and change the way it operated. Many firms have started developing their own digital platforms to complement in-person consulting or advisory services to remain relevant and price competitive.
- Large PS firms have been heavily investing in new talent and partnerships to create a differentiation in the marketplace, with many of these investments outside the core country of operations. Keeping a tab on all the strategic investments that one’s peers are making is a time-consuming task.
These are just some of the disruptions and challenges with regard to how the competition is changing and evolving, and hence it is becoming more and more difficult for CI teams to keep a pulse on the market. Some of them have set up global teams to gather CI insights across geographies; however, there are challenges with collaborating and centralizing them. This results in many getting blind-sided or focusing on the wrong peer or themes.
EVS: How might CI teams combat these upcoming challenges?
SS: Some of the ways a CI team can combat the above challenges is by establishing a program that:
- Provides timely and actionable insights focusing on competitors and topics.
- Provides forward-looking analysis based on competitor movements.
- Provides a holistic picture of the direction your competitor is headed—all in one place.
- Is scalable and capable of adding new competitors and tags/themes at any given time.
- Is agnostic of geography, service line, or industry.
- Centralized insights that can be used across the firm and departments.
- Allows for true self-serve and if possible, leverage the firm's internal data/knowledge.
- Enables the CI team to immediately share/flag something new or disruptive with specific teams.
The primary way to achieve this is by using a combination of mind+machineTM, where the machine focuses on process-related tasks such as aggregating relevant data and insights, tagging them, and summarizing them. At the same time, a CI analyst can devote his time to identifying true white spaces, differentiators, and opportunities. Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML) and Natural Language Processing (NLP)-powered engines ultimately enable CI professionals to make actionable suggestions that directly impact marketing and strategy decision making. Our Insightsfirst CI Module does precisely this.
EVS: What are the first areas CI teams should focus on when building a new program?
SS: Highlighted below are some of my thoughts regarding focus areas that a firm should look at while setting up a new program. This is based on my experience in partnering with my clients and helping them set up the Insightsfirst CI programs.
- Ask yourself what objective your current program is not delivering or what additional insights you want to derive from the new CI program. This will form the base objective of your CI program.
- Agree on what the platform/technology will provide, and where and when your CI team comes in. For example, the platform can cover –
- Investment & capabilities tracking
- Strategy and performance updates
- Thought leadership tracking and analysis
- Social media engagement levels
- Depending on what the platform will need to cover, it is important to scope the program from a competitor, industry, service-line, or country perspective.
- Finalize the taxonomy and align it with the existing taxonomy your firm is already following
- Finally, identify a champion in your CI team who is capable of leading this program
EVS: Where do you see CI teams getting the most value from their efforts?
SS: Based on my interactions with my Professional Service clients, I have observed that the practitioners who focus on CI tend to be very experienced, with many years of CI work under their belt. They know the industry, service offerings, and differentiators better than anyone else. By focusing on a CI program, such as what Insightsfirst offers, I believe they will elevate their contribution to the firm’s business and marketing strategy. I have heard my clients say that by using the Insightsfirst program, they have saved a lot of time and effort collecting the CI insights and have spent more time either creating differentiated content or suggesting game-changing service offerings.
By putting a robust insights generation and dissemination platform in-place like Insightsfirst, CI teams can easily elevate their positions in their organization and make a big difference without much investment.
EVS: In your experience, have you seen CI teams consistently invest in a particular path that doesn’t bring a large return in effort?
SS: Absolutely. Every Professional Service firm has a CI team that either resides within the marketing function or the strategy function. As the need and scope from CI have increased over the years, firms have either added to their existing in-house teams or have partnered with firms like us. While the mind element is critical to deriving insights for a CI program, I have noticed that Professional Service firms have only now started looking at how a technology platform can answer some of the CI-focused requirements.
For those firms that have taken the technology route, I have seen them partnering with pure AI-firms to deliver CI insights, and this has often not resulted in the desired returns – too much noise, not relevant insights, or out of context data. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to a CI program and a CI solution. The ability to configure a solution/platform to your specific needs is critical to ensure success.
By finding the right balance between mind and machine, a CI team can do a lot more with the same investments or less.