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CI/MI Skills and Capabilities

Monday, March 19, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lisa Badolato
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Looking for the Next Competitive and Market Intelligence Lead

By Almudena Berzosa Peñaranda
Enterprise Market Intelligence & Financial Risk Lead
Johnson & Johnson

Lately, I’ve been observing that many companies invest in improving the sophistication of the information focusing their resources on analytics, without addressing the real problem of an abundance of data but small actionable insights.

There is no doubt that to survive in a rapidly changing environment, where new technologies, new suppliers, new consumer needs, new market players, (…) create major long-term uncertainty, Competitive and Market Intelligence become a key success factor. However, creating an efficient Intelligence function and appointing the right leader to run it, is often not entirely straightforward.


The ultimate purpose of competitive and market intelligence is to deliver strategic and actionable insights that allow making better business decisions.


The field of “intelligence” can be quite a mystery – often sensationalized or misconceived in an attempt to fill in gaps between what we know and what we don’t know. Some think intelligence is cool and sexy, others believe it is a boring data collection activity, and some even think that CI is a vicious and unethical playground; some say it is an art.


Rational as we are, most of the practitioners within the field think of the world of CI/MI as more science than art. In its simplest form, intelligence work requires a particular set of skills to be effective in the field.


So where do we start? Let’s acknowledge the obvious: Competitive/Market Intelligence professionals come from a variety of functional and professional backgrounds and often also from diverse academic backgrounds (look at me, I studied Clinical Psychology).


Different characteristics are needed for different CI roles, and you would be lucky to find one person with everything, but I would say that the uniquely eclectic nature of market and competitive intelligence makes general knowledge quite critical. Knowledge of cultures, economics, business understanding and even history all play an important role in delivering strategic insights.


On the other hand, there seems to be a certain consensus that an ideal preparation for CI professionals is in-depth industry knowledge combined with certain level of experience and training. Some would even consider that this combination is superior to intelligence background or even an MBA. 


Accumulated industry knowledge is definitely playing a prominent role.


The CI process and its organizational model have gone through significant evolution over the past 30 years and it is still evolving. One of the most significant changes has been the understanding that CI is not a data or information collection activity, but a strategic, analysis-based field. This leads us to the conclusion that the skills and capabilities that a CI practitioner requires have also been evolving.


A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present my views on this topic at the Pharma CI Conference in Prague. I would like to build on that presentation.


I divided the capabilities in three different groups:


Most companies prefer to appoint competitive intelligence roles from within, after the employee has a few years of industry (and company) experience, rather than recruit a CI expert from the outside. The reason is the different shape of the learning curves for intelligence and industry knowledge. Some people believe that it takes longer to master the intricacies of an industry than intelligence cycle’s basic principles.


Here is where I disagree with a good number of my colleagues, especially those more conservative. Although they acknowledge the need for managerial skills (like communication or political astuteness), they find these secondary and less relevant than, for example, having performed for +7 years market research in the same industry. According to my point of view, this vision is not considering that CI as a function has evolved and the expectations from us are not the same as they use to be in the past. Besides, I find it easier to learn about a particular industry than to master the soft skills that are required in order to succeed as an intelligence lead, because before we can implement a CI structure, we must know how to navigate the office politics, just to give an example (and “that” is indeed an art). 


CI as a function has evolved and the expectations from us are not the same as they use to be in the past


Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against hiring a competitive intelligence director from an internal department, as long as this person has the necessary mix of analytical/critical thinking skills, scientific mindset and passion for generating actionable insights and it has not been just a consolation prize after 20 years of professional career.


There are plenty of skills and competencies that we could include on each of these 3 groups. Allow me to mention a few:

It is important to highlight that not all the skills are equally critical during all the phases of competitive intelligence.


To effectively and efficiently conduct and work on the different phases we must ensure that a specific set of skills is in place. If we are clear on this it will help us to solve the issue that if we can’t find someone with “all” characteristics, at least we can put the right skills in the right place.


Simplifying, the competitive intelligence cycle includes the following phases: 



So considering these different phases, we can allocate the most relevant skills for each of them:


1)     Analytical skills: They will provide the foundation on identifying and meeting the specific needs of management for planned decisions or pending actions.

2)     Interviewing skills: This is because an effective competitive intelligence processes require regular interview session with the executives in the organization to truly understand their needs and requirements

3)     Intellectual curiosity: testing the boundaries of the possibilities. I would recommend here a fantastic article published by the University of Edinburgh in 2012 called The Hungry Mind: Intellectual Curiosity Is the Third Pillar of Academic Performance


1)     Research skills: CI practitioners should know how to ensure the validity and reliability of data and information sources and should differentiate between hypothesized and open assumptions.

2)     Analytical skills: we should ensure that the information collection processes and activities are tailored to the KIQ (Key Intelligence questions). We could add here technology (i.e. data analysis software)

3)     Listening & Observation skills: (so obvious I will not even elaborate here)

4)     Interviewing & Networking skills: we should keep in mind that not all the results can be pull out from the published resources - insightful results are often generated from the human contact.

5)     Stakeholder Management & collaboration skills: there is a lot of information in-house and we must leverage on that internal knowledge. CI should build a database of potential contacts and create a culture of collaboration.


Here we turn raw data (a collection of facts, figures, and statistics relating to business operations) into actionable intelligence (data organized and interpreted to reveal underlying patterns, trends, and interrelationships).


1)     Strategic Analytical Techniques: SWOT analysis, value chain analysis, Porters Five Forces, etc.

2)     Interpretation Skills / Business Acumen: should be skilled in making an educated guess and placing appropriate approach to place the situation in context.

3)     Critical Thinking: questioning assumptions, looking at problems from multiple points of view and managing ambiguity. The best intelligence analyst is one, who based on facts and evidence questions theories, even those that are well established.

4)     Scientific Approach: verifying prior observations and making measurable evidence subject to principles of reasoning. Deduction, induction, pattern recognition, and trend analysis.


“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” — Albert Einstein


 Joost Dri eman explains it very well: “We must be seen as subject matter experts and advisors that stakeholders enjoy working with. We need to be able to get support and contribution from others, demonstrate a consultative attitude, promote the MI activities and create satisfied stakeholders. Being emotionally controlled, approachable, adaptable, consultative and a good team player are important abilities that rely on social confidence.”


If you ask me, there are 4 key skills for the communication phase of the CI Cycle:

1)     Presentation Skills: stand up in front of the audience and deliver fact based actionable insights in an unemotional and objective manner is key to build your credibility.

2)     Critical dissemination Skills: capabilities to select the appropriate format and suitable media as well as the capabilities to deliver organized and summarized findings to the potential clients. Visuals and clarity on the information play a role here.

3)     Self-Confidence: people are reluctant to trust information that is being pitched by someone who was nervous. On the other hand, you might be persuaded by someone who speaks confidently, answers questions precisely, and admits when he/she does not know something.

4)     Challenge the Status Quo: Innovation needs to happen! - This precept means we have to test the unproven, dive deep in the unspoken, and challenge the unchallenged.


The CI lead should communicate with confidence, clarity and credibility to all levels of the organization and don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo.



This is not really a specific phase, but an ongoing activity. Without proper structure and intelligence processes, it is difficult to develop intelligence. Probably the biggest challenge is to find a model for CI and find the person can envision that model.


I would like to underline here the importance of getting right the third group of skills: the so called: “soft skills”. Someone in the audience told me a couple of weeks ago that this is not specific for CI and that every department must look into this. I fully agree with this observation, but in our case, lacking of certain capabilities will lead us to a resounding failure. If you do not have stakeholder management skills, you may still succeed as a finance manager, even if you are incapable of motivating your own dog, but as a MI leader your job will be at stake if you fail to establish a relationship with other sources of knowledge and insights.  


Our job as CI/MI practitioners is to unfold the uncomfortable truth, and that means that often we should challenge the status quo.


Again, this is not an academic paper that captures every possible angle. This is written with the intention to create awareness of certain areas that we tend to overlook. With this in mind, I will underline 5 mayor skills in this phase.


1)     Influencing Skills: To bridge the problem of faulty decisions based on inaccurate or inadequate information, the intelligence activities must be coordinated. One proven way to bring CI into the decision-making process on an acceptable basis is to bring the decision makers into the CI process. The ability to influence decision makers by looking beyond the obvious, and think laterally becomes relevant.

2)     Collaboration Skills: In a world of partnerships, joint ventures, outsourcing and complex supply chains, the CI lead needs to be able to deliver results by working across organizational boundaries.

3)     Process Design: I do not believe on the “one size fits all” approach. Custom made designs with clear objectives determined will be key to the success of the CI/MI function, considering organizational structure and organization’s culture.

4)     Curiosity and Perseverance: Curiosity and nosiness are assets although need to be controlled so that time is not wasted on wild-goose chases. Competitive intelligence personnel also need to be hard-nosed, able to cope with not finding anything – and able to start again and persevere.

5)     Change Management Skills: CI/MI will help organization to navigate changes and help  to find ways to leverage those changes and identify opportunities.




I always like to illustrate this point using the analogy of the left brain/right brain. The ideal CI/MI practitioner owns a rare combination of skills that combines an analytical and rational mindset and a problem solving and creative thinking.


However , I believe training can contribute to the success of each phase in the cycle of competitive intelligence. Each of these skills can be trained, but not as fast as some people wants to believe. 


Organizations need to continually keep abreast of market transitions and changes in order to adapt their strategy to the changing conditions or, in extreme cases, to change it. A capability to adapt is the idea behind agility.


Almudena Berzosa is passionate about driving functional excellence and providing actionable insights to guide business decisions as well as finding collaboration opportunities and ways to exchange insights and leverage on the corporate intelligence.


She is currently working at Johnson & Johnson in Switzerland, leading general Market Intelligence for Global Procurement Enterprise. Her scope is Global and includes the 3 sectors of the J&J family of companies: Pharma, Medical Devices and Consumer.


For more, follow her on LinkedInTwitter@A_berzosa and on Facebook at Facebook/BuildingYourBackbone



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