The Three A’s Of Competitive Intelligence – Articulate

Why it’s important:

As I made mention in my previous post, your ability to communicate ideas, advice and action clearly is what separates you (as a CI professional) from any number of people who “create noise”. 

Being able to articulate your ideas form the basis of you progressing your career from an “analyst” to a “trusted advisor”. You can be the most brilliant of analysts, but without the skills to take that analysis and “sell” it, you’re toast.

“Selling” is often seen as a negative thing within CI. If you have the best analysis and the best information, why wouldn’t your senior people want to engage you and use you in the most creative and impactful way as possible? While this is a lofty ideal, the reality is that unless you’re part of a large, respected, well funded CI team – you will need to show your value and influence people who matter.  Selling your research and your services is what this section is really all about. Every time you present your findings is an opportunity to sell your services. Leaving people with a professional, positive impression of you, ensures people remember who to turn to when they have a similar competitive issue.


What skills do I value in a CI professional or new hire:

When I think about the skills I want to work hard at honing in my own career, the following four remain at the forefront for me.

  • Presentation skills:  No brainer here. Being able to comfortably stand up in front of a group of 100 sales reps, or a lunch meeting with the CEO. Presenting is not a skill that you’re born with – it can be developed with practice. I should know. I fondly remember presenting a geography oral assignment in year 10 and froze up completely at the 2 minute mark. Got half marks for attempting, but the thing I learnt that day was that knowing your material was not enough to ensure a good presentation. I’ve honed some of those skills, and while no where near perfect, I now feel very little nerves before presenting to crowds, influential individuals or blank walls (radio and TV).
  • Faceless verbal communication: Video killed the radio star, but I bet that if you tallied the methods of presentation you’ve used over the last year, teleconferences or web-conferences probably figure highly. In my role, servicing Asia Pacific, web-conferences make up the overwhelming majority. Now think back to the last teleconference you listened to. Bored? Tuned out? A lot of the impact from a teleconference comes from the speakers ability to communicate effectively without the benefit of visual cues. If this is an method of communication that is important to you, take some time and tune into some BBC World Service radio broadcasts. Listen to the way their presenters use inflection, timing and volume to take the listener on a journey and paint visually what’s being discussed. Much like the Wall Street Journal is the gold standard for your written deliverables, BBC World (for me) is the benchmark to strive towards when presenting without visual cues. 
  • Email and written deliverables: Again, a no brainer. You need clarity in your written deliverable to ensure you effectively get your message across. As I noted above, the Wall Street Journal (in Australia try The Financial Review) is what you’re aiming for. Brevity of words to convey your ideas. This blog bears witness that this trait is not my strongest! Along with the written aspect, the way you brand and layout your analysis can often make interpretation of findings easier and create more impact.
  • Interpersonal skills (organisational agility): This is a skill I’m particularly fond of. This is the “word-of-mouth” aspect of CI. Getting good information and insight means knowing who does what within your company or ecosystem and who you can get reliable information and insight from. CI is often very cross-functional in nature. Supporting multiple lines of business that may not always communicate effectively at all levels. CI can help build these loosely connected relationships. This is particularly valuable when a competitor from one part of the business starts encroaching on another. A good example is within the software industry where consolidation is reducing the number of competitors, but increasing the fronts where these competitors compete.


How do you stay fresh:

  • Get trained:  If you see an opportunity to take presentation skills training, sales training, press spokesperson training – jump at it. Can’t stress it enough. Practicing new skills in a relatively stress-free environment can help you move from competent to compelling.
  • Practice: And then practice some more. Whether it’s listening to the BBC, practicing the opening 10 minutes of a presentation or making usable notes that can help you guide listeners on a web-conference. All practice helps. If you’re part of a team a great idea is a buddy system to help critique and mentor each other become the best presenters, writers and communicators you can be.
  • Some great blogs: Here are some of my favourite presentation & writing related blogs.
    • Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen as well as his personal blog that has lots of great tips on creating powerful presentations.
    • Legendary presenter Guy Kawasaki, not only has some great examples of his own speeches and presentations, but also great insight into technology marketing.
    • The Extreme Presentation Blog. Good, technical advice on how to structure messaging and presentations.
    • Marc Andreessen’s blog. Marc’s style is free flowing and a great example of how to take a reader on a journey and come out the other side having learnt something.
  • Some great books: Some more food for thought.
    • The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte. How I wish this book was required reading while I was at university doing statistics. Tufte is the godfather of presenting complex data in the clearest way possible.
    • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.  If you have to write email or reports for your CI role, this is THE book on writing. Sits on my desk for reference and I still use it after my first manager at Gartner put me onto this.

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