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Use software to create an enterprise-wide repository for competitive intelligence "to make it available to everyone who needs it -- from sales people to CEOs to corporate planners."


INDUSTRY INSIDER:

A Group Brain Is Better Than One

Sales & Marketing Management Magazine

by Mary Boone

Have you been wondering what in the heck "knowledge management" really means? Have you assumed it's just another buzz phrase that you can safely ignore?

Think again.

Quite simply, knowledge management is about getting the best information to the right person at the right time. Companies that embark on full-scale knowledge management projects are concerned with capturing the intellectual resources of an organization and making them available on an as-needed basis. Information for a knowledge management system usually comes from both internal and external sources.

Companies that are doing a good job of knowledge management are, without question, gaining an advantage over their competitors. Many knowledge management projects are large in scope, very expensive, and involve the entire organization. But there are ways of
accomplishing the goals of knowledge management in more focused ways that have immediate payback and that aren't too hard on the budget.

For example, a software package called "STRATEGY!" (www.strategysoftware.com)  is aimed at managing knowledge about competitive intelligence. The software creates an enterprise-wide repository for competitive intelligence data which makes it available to everyone who may need it -- from salespeople to CEOs to corporate planners.

How would it work?

Well, picture yourself preparing for an important client meeting. You've got to explain to the client how your product stacks up against 10 or 15 of your fiercest competitors. And they want details -- feature by feature. What if you could, with a few keystrokes, create a customized report that has the best information from both inside and outside your company regarding your competitors. That's right -- not only would it contain information from external sources, but it would also contain the wisdom of your colleagues and
executives.

Or perhaps your hottest prospect calls -- having just read an article on your top competitor. Now she wants to know why she should buy from you. Again, with a few keystrokes you have in front of you the answers to her questions and objections.

Sound good? Then let's go further. By centrally capturing this competitive information over time and by providing different analysis capabilities, the same software that helped you out of a tight spot on a day-to-day basis can also provide you with a comprehensive picture of your industry and your company's position in that industry. Think of it as a kind of "group brain" where competitive intelligence information that you and others contribute can be shared by anyone who can benefit from its use.

Earl Harvey, CI Analyst at Lucent Technologies, uses Strategy to track what he calls his "tier-one" competitors. What he particularly likes about the software is its tracking and reporting capabilities and the insight it gives him into industry trends. "I can't overemphasize the importance of being able to track competitors on a daily basis," says Harvey. "Many people doing competitive analysis are looking at slices of time rather than
continuously updated information."

Based on his use of the software over the past six months, Harvey also has noticed a trend in the way customers set their buying priorities. This information has helped him communicate to engineers the importance of emphasizing price points over features in some of the products they are developing. Harvey says lots of people in the organization are interested in the competitive intelligence information -- from engineers to planners to salespeople. Because the information is stored in a relational format, everyone can get
the look at the information that's pertinent to their specific needs.

One word of caution: over the years I've learned that one of the biggest challenges to making something like this work involves what I call the "politics of data" issue. Invariably someone (usually your top sales person) says, "Sure, it's great to have access to all this
information but I'm not going to put MY information in here -- that's what makes me invaluable to the company." Getting people to accept the fact that cooperation will bring everyone more benefits is not always easy. Even with top-notch technology, you always have to remember that it's people who make it work. A little time up front in careful planning of the implementation of a system like this will pay off handsomely in the long run.

Mary E. Boone (www.maryboone.com) is an author, consultant, and speaker specializing in organizational communication and technology.