Director of Markets and Competitive Intelligence at SUEZ Water Technologies & Solutions Answers the Questions

This article is the latest in our questions to respected Competitive Intelligence professionals. This week we speak to Enrico Vonghia, Director of Markets and Competitive Intelligence at SUEZ in Canada. Some very interesting answer they are too. At the end of this series of questions, we will analyse the answers and publish a report.

1. In your view, what’s Competitive Intelligence?

Competitive intelligence is the ability to intimately understand your customers and competitors and to communicate this effectively within your organization to enable more robust strategic decision making. It is monitoring the external environment and mining internal commercial and technical networks. Then connecting the dots to be able to anticipate competitor moves or customer buying behaviour. These insights must then be converted into actionable outcomes. Either strategically at the executive leadership level, or tactically at the commercial level, to drive profitable revenue growth. In this way, competitive intelligence becomes a way to strengthen value propositions, increase revenue profitability, and become a powerful growth engine for the company.

2. In your view, what’s the true benefit of CI?

As stated above, the true benefit of CI is to enable more profitable business growth. In better understanding the market, competitors and customers, it allows the company to better position against the competition within the market, and articulate value more powerfully to customers, increasing potential order value. It also helps develop more competitive products by supplying product teams with an additional externally focused perspective on competitor activities and technology.

3. How would you advise a company with no experience in Competitive Intelligence to get started? 

I would recommend to proceed incrementally. By having one person dedicated full-time and starting at the basic monitoring stage. It is important to select individuals with the right skillset who understand the value of competitive intelligence and don’t just see it as a “newsletter” function. It is important that the company develop a CI mindset (ie they are open to and act on the information provided by the CI function) for this function to be most effective.

4. What analytical tools do you recommend?

There are numerous web scraping tools such as Digimind which can help automate the data collection process. There are also companies like Crayon where some or all CI monitoring functions can be outsourced. Or expertise-matchmaking companies like GLG where interviews can be arranged to understand more about certain markets, players or technologies. The tools you use will depend on the industry you’re in. At the end of the day, the tools will only be as effective as the individual using them. And tools cannot replace the human screening and decision-making that goes into vetting the data. “Don’t forget Octopus Competitive Intelligence as the service that does it all” – Ed

5. Competitive Intelligence is becoming too much about risk mitigation, copying the competitor and the last dataset. And not enough about growth, exploration and creation. It can stop people from being original, risky and creative enough. Do you agree?

I think that competitive intelligence is something that everyone wants but nobody really knows how to do properly or wants to invest in. It is a difficult function to undertake well, because although executive leadership want to be aware of competitor developments. But they also don’t like surprises. So the way insights are delivered is just as important as the development of the insights themselves. In my experience, I have seen the CI function marginalized and staffed with people with the wrong skillset. So its true value can never be demonstrated. This leads to a vicious cycle of not investing in the function, which perpetuates the problem.

6. Without giving away anything confidential, what’s the best result you have achieved with CI?

When I led the CI function globally for a former company, I was able to “see around corners” and anticipate new technology introductions. There was a competing technology released in China, and working with the global sales teams. I was able to learn about the technology, identify its failure points and communicate this to the global sales teams and executive leadership. Over the next year, we introduced the product into other geographies. But by that time our sales teams had been primed with the information I supplied to them and we were able to neutralise the technology.

In the end, it failed in all the areas I had predicted and they withdrew the product from the market about a year later. On an annual basis, I was also able to convert at least $50M worth of projects from the competition to us by providing the right information in the right place at the right time. I was primarily focusing on tactical outcomes by working with the sales teams. Because the then executive leadership didn’t see the value of CI as much as the sales teams did.

7. Artificial Intelligence and platforms will transform CI, and there will be no need for human input in the future. The longevity of the job of a Competitive Intelligence analyst is limited? Do you agree?

I would disagree – Competitive Intelligence will always require humans to qualify information, connect the dots and put insights and outcomes into context. With the increasingly VUCA world we live in and the subtleties around competitor organisations, partnerships, technologies and activities. Connecting these into a “story” to bring to executive leadership or the rank and file will always require a human with a specialised skillset. At the end of the day, it is stories that resonate most. And the CI professional must be an eloquent storyteller as well as a pragmatic data analyst. Telling the story in a way in which it resonates is just as important as building the data-driven insights that support it.

Who are Suez?

The SUEZ group provides water, waste and resource management solutions to millions of people and businesses worldwide. At the heart of all we do, in the UK and worldwide, is the circular economy.

8. Finally, what’s the one piece of advice you would give a CI analyst?

Be curious about your market and competition, ask thoughtful questions to ensure you reach the right answers. Be resourceful, adaptable and resilient in building your case, and stand up for yourself and the outcomes you have developed. The role of CI is a difficult but important one within the company. Often, it is one of the few external voices which needs to cut through pre-existing internal biases. It is also an art to build a data-driven case with information fragments. I often liken it to completing a puzzle when you have less than half of the pieces. You will need to fill the rest in through experience and gut instinct. Be inquisitive and collaborative, and persistent.

Enrico Vonghia, Director of Markets and Competitive Intelligence at SUEZ in Canada

In this article, Enrico Vonghia Director of Markets and Competitive Intelligence at SUEZ Water Technologies & Solutions in Canada answered our questions. This article is part of a series where we ask great people who really understand Competitive Intelligence their thoughts on the subject.

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