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IBM Exec Advises Not to SCIP Out on Intelligence Gathering

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 3/8/2013

Competitive intelligence in the partner life cycle was the topic of a second-day 2013 ASAP Global Alliance Summit session presented by Nancy Breiman, CA-AM, manager of innovation alliances and cloud center of excellence at IBM, titled “Where the Rubber Meets the Road.” Breiman wanted to bring attention to an unheralded role player in the corporate machine—the competitive intelligence professional, the person that delineates tons of internal and external data (everything from press releases to annual reports to news articles to 10-K statements) to provide insight into a partner, prospect, ecosystem, or individual alliance opportunity. A member of the Strategic Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP), Breiman espoused having an appointed competitive intelligence executive within an organization if one does not exist, or leveraging that person correctly if there is someone fulfilling that role.

Sprinkling NASCAR analogies throughout her presentation, Breiman laid out the questions that need to be asked in each stage of the alliance life cycle and competitive intelligence needed to answer them—and very clearly too, perhaps so as not to leave the audience dizzy as if they had driven in circles for 200-plus laps.

Breiman began with some questions about the big-picture state of the solution set under examination such as, were where are your solution gaps? Are you looking for a traditional or innovation alliance? Are you filling a void or establishing leadership in a market? Is this a short- or long-term initiative? Would this alliance partner be a potential M+A candidate? A variety of market and competitive intelligence needed to be gathered to answer these questions including an internal strategy gap breakdown, an overall market opportunity evaluation, and a potential partner analysis. Breiman added that these are lengthy processes, so leave plenty of time to gather this information.

“Don't expect your SCIP pro to turn around answers in two days,” said Breiman.

Breiman then drilled down into the partner evaluation stage. It is here that companies need to ask of the potential ally what type of partner are they? What markets does the company serve? What are the company’s business strategy, competitive positioning, and product roadmaps?

“You have to ask these questions, or you’re going to be in divorce court,” quipped Breiman.

The intelligence to gather: partner market position, financial health, and market share (by geo, industry, and current and future products). This type of information is pretty accessible for public companies, but private entities might require some “triangulation” of press releases and general market trends to figure the answers out., said Breiman.

Next up was the recruitment phase where companies need to examine partner maturity, cultural compatibility, and the ability to deliver at the field sales level—that is, align a sales team around a message and execute.

The first half of the development phase—in which Breiman compared a racecar’s engine to a company’s “marketing engine”—the first question was where can we get early success?

“If you haven’t gotten anything in the first six months [of the partnership], you’ve probably picked the wrong partner,” said Breiman.

Other questions included what do we have to sell? What can we enable? What is our messaging and who are our targets? Solving these riddles entailed first assessing whether marketing and messaging were aligned. Do you have a basic joint value proposition? What about joint competitive positioning?

The other half of the development phase—preparing for the race, according to Breiman—is about examining who and how to go to market together and where to focus efforts. Do we have the skills to execute? What key performance indicators (KPIs) are we using? Solution, revenue, and profit analyses are the beginning of figuring this out. A target analysis and a review of joint sales skills and the the compatibility of each partner’s compensation models are also critical to this venture.

When it is time to run the race and execute, the alliance manager and/or alliance management practice must shadow and mentor the client, so your company can ultimately add value and get you in front of the customer.

Breiman compared the competitive advantages that come with great intelligence gathering and preparation throughout the alliance life cycle to the results of the recent Daytona 500 NASCAR race in which Jimmie Johnson beat Danica Patrick despite the latter owning the fastest car and the best pole position on the race’s final day.

“You might not have the best product, but you can still win.”

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