This is the first in a series of Q&A posts with some of the most prominent thinkers and influencers in the area of competitive and market intelligence. We kick off the series with Seena Sharp, who is indisputably one of the leading figures in the CI industry. On a personal note, her book ‘Competitive Intelligence Advantage’ was my first introduction to the world of competitive intelligence.
After more than 30 years in the business her unstinting enthusiasm for competitive intelligence is infectious. That, coupled with her unrivalled experience makes her one of the foremost thought leaders in the CI profession today.
Q: What advice would you give to somebody considering Competitive Intelligence as a career option?
First, you must understand business, what’s important to them and what’s most important for them to know – even if they don’t ask. Knowing how to find information is less important.
Q: What do you think are the qualities necessary to succeed in Competitive Intelligence?
Have the qualities of a good journalist (primarily curiosity, and persistence to write the truth and to make sure it includes all relevant aspects.) Being an expert in information or databases is not nearly as important as most think. Be a very good communicator. Have or develop the ability to express your findings in a meaningful way (that resonates with those who will be using it). Analysis requires more than translating the findings. Be able to relay what the findings mean to the company and what barriers may exist within the company that inhibit adopting recommendations.
Q: Do you think the best CI practitioners are born or made?
The skills for a good CI practitioner are the same for success in many other fields, so they can be learned.
Q: You founded one of the first Competitive Intelligence companies, Sharp Market Intelligence, in 1979. What piece of advice do you wish you were given in those early days of your career?
Reconsider entering a field in which there are no competitors. No matter how valuable the service is, if there are no competitors, there may be very little interest.
Q: A lot of technological innovations have changed the CI landscape in recent years, but what are the industry values and practices that remain constant?
Technology assists, but does not replace, human skills. Competitive intelligence requires detective work, which is methodical, careful, comprehensive, and relevant……..including an understanding of business today. And it must be ethical.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing CI professionals today, in your opinion?
The same challenge as when I entered this field: a lack of interest from business (executives, entrepreneurs, and managers) who continue to believe that THEY know today’s reality and they can’t learn anything new or valuable from CI. Be less focused on confirming and more focused on what’s changing and emerging. This reflects today and tomorrow – the only time your company is selling.
Q: How do you overcome this challenge?
By constantly alerting them to changes, especially those outside the industry, which will impact their business. These alerts will be unfamiliar and are likely to be ignored, dismissed, or underestimated. It’s the responsibility of the CI practitioner to persevere and not be frustrated. These alerts re changes will be surprising, unconventional (re the industry), contradictory (to what they believe), weird, strange, and will challenge their assumptions. Present a solid case that connects the dots from the past (what they believe) to what is true today (what they don’t yet believe.) All these comments apply to B2B, B2C, nonprofits, educational, or institutional organizations.
About Seena Sharp (Sharp Market Intelligence)
Seena founded one of the first competitive intelligence firms in the US, Sharp Market Intelligence, following a successful corporate career in New York City, where she earned her masters’ degree in mathematics from New York University. Their clients include Fortune 500 firms as well as smaller or less well known companies, covering more than 200 industries. They provide intelligence, today’s reality, opportunities, and emerging threats to companies who are entering a new industry, expanding their line, seeking new or different customers, preparing their strategic or marketing plan, looking for alternative uses, and engaged in mergers and acquisitions. Seena was inducted into the Hall of Fame for the Association for Strategic Planning and is a SCIP Fellow. She speaks globally, has written or was featured in numerous business publications, and her book is required reading in MBA courses in the US, UK, and Australia.
Seena’s book ‘Competitive Intelligence Advantage: How to Minimize Risk, Avoid Surprises, and Grow Your Company in a Changing World.’ is an indispensable guide for the modern CI practitioner. It has something for everyone, from the fledgling CI professional to the established expert looking for a broad, razor-sharp exploration of the CI landscape.
If you’re interested in participating in this Q&A series email me orlaith.finnegan(at)digimind.com