Questions to Ask Before Starting Research
Not every employee in an organization is a full-time competitive intelligence professional; however, increasingly employees at all levels of the organization are being asked to support the competitive intelligence function.
Requests for intelligence can originate from almost anywhere within the organization, from the C-Suite to specific departments and/or business units. The person (or group) requesting the information is commonly referred to as the “Internal Stakeholder”, as he/she has a vested interest in obtaining the intelligence. For the purposes of this article, “stakeholders” are defined as the individual(s) who requested the intelligence, and who will ultimately use the intelligence to make informed decisions for the company or business unit.
Sometimes the individual scoping the research is also the stakeholder, but that is rarely the case. Therefore, it is imperative that the individual scoping the research understand the ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘when’ behind the request. When scoping a competitive intelligence research request, ensure success by asking the internal stakeholders some simple questions; therefore, increasing the likelihood of delivering meaningful competitive intelligence.
This small and seemingly insignificant step will save countless hours in misguided efforts. The information being gathered will likely have an impact on important business decisions, so take the time to build a solid understanding of your stakeholders’ needs.
1. “Why Do You Want to Know?”
Understanding the “why” is the most critical question and should always be asked up front. Asking, “What business decision will the research support?” is a great way to open the conversation. Take time and dig deep to understand what decision is driving the intelligence request. Without an understanding of ‘why’, any hope of gaining true value from the intelligence is diminished. Information for information’s sake will only add confusion and rarely adds direction. Asking ‘why?’ is good advice for those new to scoping competitive intelligence research but is also a good reminder to all intelligence professionals, at any level.
2. “What Do You Want to Know?”
Once the stakeholder has addressed the “why”, it is time to understand the “what.” What questions does the stakeholder need answered to support the business decision? This often comes in the form of a list of questions, but may also include statements or hypotheses the stakeholder wants to test and verify. The goal of asking this question is to create a prioritized list of Key Intelligence Questions (KIQs) organized by Key Intelligence Topics (KITs) when appropriate.
Understanding the details behind each question is important, so don’t rush the process. For example, if the stakeholder is asking about competitor pricing, it is important to understand if they are looking for specific pricing on a given product or service or a general pricing strategy. Understanding the stakeholder’s expectations for each KIQ is critical to the research process.
An often-overlooked aspect of building a KIQ list is prioritization. As the saying goes, if everything is a priority, then you have no priorities. A prioritized KIQ list helps to organize and plan the research process, identify the appropriate sources, and can even impact the cost of the research; therefore, it is an important aspect of any research KIQ list.
3. “When Do You Need to Know?”
It’s important to ask about the timing of the request and to understand when the business decision has to be made. The phrase “Better late than never” is not always true when it comes to competitive intelligence. When time is of the essence and deadlines are firm, the “when” of intelligence can be just as important as the “why.” The value of intelligence is based on the source and the content, but also on the timing. To ensure reliability, it is imperative that the intelligence is received and delivered to the stakeholder in a timely manner. For many business decisions, outdated or delayed intelligence can directly affect the business and have an impact on bottom-line profits.
4. “What Do You Already Know?”
Before conducting any external research, it is important to gather as much intelligence as you can from within the organization. You may find that many of the research questions can be answered by tapping into the appropriate personnel or database within the organization.
However, many organizations suffer from information silos. Information silos are formed when information is not effectively shared across the organization. This can occur as a result of either organizational culture (more specifically a lack of intelligence culture), or due to the limitation of IT platforms. Either way, information silos can impede the process of information gathering within the organization. Therefore, bypassing the information silos will be critical in avoiding wasted time and resources, so take time to liaison with the various department and business unit leaders to ensure you have access to the organization’s total universe of knowledge.
Once you are certain you have answered as many of the questions as you can internally, perform a gap analysis to see what questions remain. The ‘gaps’ are the questions that can’t be answered internally and will need further research. This process is especially important if you plan to engage a third-party research firm to address the outstanding intelligence needs.
5. “How Do You Find It?”
After completing a gap analysis and reviewing the outstanding prioritized KIQs, it is time to begin the actual research – but first – you have to know where to look. For each question, it is helpful to make a list of the types of sources that would be able to provide insight into the question. Sources may include reports, databases, marketing materials, individuals, etc. Make note of what part of the KIQ the source could potentially address, noting that often sources can provide a piece of the puzzle, but not the entire answer.
Once you have completed the list of potential sources, you will need to consider other factors such as budget restrictions, ethical considerations, time constrains, etc. These considerations will have an impact on the methodology you use to gather the information and answer the KIQs. For example, if it is determined that primary research will be needed, it may make sense to engage a third-party vendor to support the research and analysis.
Working with a competitive intelligence vendor, like Sedulo Group, will enable you to gather and analyze intelligence beyond what is available within your organization. Keep in mind, all the work you did to ensure you fully understood the ‘why’, ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ will need to be shared with the third-party vendor to ensure the research is executed within budget, on time, and to your stakeholder’s expectations.