By Christine Crandell
Chessboarding" and "Forward Viewing" are powerful market intelligence tools, which can enable a company to anticipate where its markets and competitors are headed and to prepare itself accordingly. In this article, Christine Crandell, eVP and CMO of Egenera, Inc. explains how to apply these techniques to become profitable faster, make better decisions and operate at lower costs.
Category: Planning, Analysis and Strategy
Today, the economy is anemic and geopolitical developments may further weaken the economic rebound; then again, they may not. How can businesses survive this uncertainty? How can organizations leverage this economic cycle into a leadership position? The first question is an operational; the second question is strategic.
All too frequently companies become caught up in the operational execution of the first question, overlooking the second question. The need for speed and doing more with less increases the tendency to skip systematic analysis relying instead on gut feel, anecdotal evidence, or mimicking the competition. Yet every company will say they need to be ready for the future. Detailed analysis is often considered to be a complex, time consuming and academic activity; investments only large organizations and think tanks can afford. This bias is compounded by a commonly held belief that the future is indeterminable and has little bearing on closing today’s business. In fact, most managers believe tomorrow is just more of today.
Organizations can gain significant advantages over their competitors by having a simple, systematic way of thinking about the future. By understanding how market, economic, geopolitical and technology forces influence the shape of their future, companies can be the first to spot opportunities or minimize risks from emerging trends. The capability to look around the corner to understand how the future could unfold is called market intelligence.
The benefits from market intelligence can be seen in the popular opinion that the ‘recession’ was unforeseeable and that there is ‘no visibility’ to when the rebound will take hold. In fact, as early as late 2005, some economists were forecasting the housing bubble bust. In 2006, the Nobel Laureate economist Paul Krugman predicted the recession in a New York Times article. By the summer 2007, many organizations with market intelligence functions had forecasted the impending economic shift and alerted their management accordingly.
Market intelligence tracks relevant markets and industries highlighting significant emerging trends and inflection points and evaluates their short and long term implications for the company, its customers and competitors. As a framework of methods, market intelligence can be decentralized or centralized in a formal function. The resulting information is typically used in strategic planning, quarterly business reviews, investor relationship management, product launches, and product roadmap planning, to cite just a few applications. It enables CEOs and their teams to stay on top of their game with the right information for rapid, successful decision making. Market intelligence is the cornerstone for strategic clarity and focused direction.
Market intelligence should monitor external as well as internal drivers that directly impact operational performance. Integrating market intelligence with business performance management enables companies to link business levers with external change drivers. Determining which market intelligence tools are right for your company depends on the industry and how the company and the market measure performance. Two baseline tools should be used by all companies: Forward View and Competitive Chessboards.
Forward View is a comprehensive analysis of all the factors driving company’s target markets, technologies, economies and industry business models. The objective is to identify the next 24-36 months’ emerging trends. Key inputs into the analysis includes diverse data sources ranging from industry/financial analyst reports, government and NGO analyses, academic studies, to industry groups and companies specializing in economic market research. The credibility of the data source is paramount; do not use unsubstantiated reports regardless of the source. The foundation of a Forward View is built by sweeping through the data sources capturing forward looking statements, forecasts, trends and projected milestones. The analysis of the completed data sweep should produce a number of congruence points; where different data sources align on a trend point. Agreement across several data sources on a forecast is an inflection point; where a specific market event has a greater probability of occurring.
The Forward View is a concise summary of the significant major trends, congruence points and an assessment of their potential impact, positive and negative, on the company and its target customers. Inflection points can be plotted on a timeline along with associated sign points and triggers. Signposts are early detection mechanisms of a trend; they are defined characteristics of how the trend may unfold and become entrenched in the market. Signposts are analogous to tipping points but on a smaller scale. Triggers are the specific actions a company will take when a signpost indicates that a trend is taking hold. Specific triggers are tied to each sign point. These signposts become the basis for quarterly market tracking and reporting. A Forward View should be conducted every six months, and depending upon the breadth of the company’s market, can be completed in 30-60 days. There is no clear cut rule on who within an organization should develop Forward Views, rather it depends on where the competency resides. Often it is marketing in collaboration with finance, corporate strategy and/or product/brand management.
Play Chess with your Competitors
The objective of competitive chess boarding is to model how competitors will respond to the inflection points and trends identified in the Forward View. Competitors’ moves can be directionally modeled for two reasons: Companies are creatures of habit and they are bound by their history. Meaning companies generally stay true to their original core competencies. For example, services companies rarely make successful transitions to become software companies.
A competitive chessboard typically includes between three to six competitors and spans two or more consecutive years of activity. The squares on the board each represent an element of a market, technology, or product, etc. that is being modeled. The board also includes an additional column of ‘next step’ squares. This column outlines the 12-month forecasted evolution of the elements being modeled. Once the chessboard is laid out, plot each competitor’s historical moves of in time sequence. In mature markets, it is typical to see the market move in unison with one or two leaders along with one or two outliers that exhibit a different pattern of moves.
Forecasting each competitor’s ‘next step’ move is based on past chessboard moves coupled with an in-depth understanding of the company’s culture, competencies, past successes and failures, and financial position. How competitors have responded to past market events provide a frame of reference for how they may respond to the inflection points identified in the Forward View. If the market has historically moved in unison, do not assume the competitors will move in lock step in the future. Evaluate the potential ‘next steps’ of each competitor, independently.
Competitive chessboards should be done annually as part of the yearly planning process. Competitive teams, together with the Forward View team, should develop the chessboards. Each team brings a valuable yet different ‘outside-in’ perspective to the process. The same team should also assess the range of competitive responses and next steps for the company.
Companies with systemic market intelligence become profitable faster, make better decisions and operate at lower costs. The benefits from clarity of purpose will more than pay for the market intelligence capability. The key to making market intelligence a strategic weapon is the demonstrable use of it in decision-making and planning by top management. The outcome is an organization that clearly understands what is truly critical and responds with lucid understanding of the priorities. Looking around the corner at the future explores the implications of factors shaping tomorrow’s events and empowers organizations to develop achievable, actionable options. No matter how the future unfolds, the company is positioned to build value through good times as well as bad.
Concentrating your time and resources on executing, with purpose, a handful of the right business objectives is more effective and will sharply build momentum – speed – in an organization’s processes, culture and learning. By looking around the corner to see what the next ‘big thing’ is before the competition does you can make the necessary adjustments to core competencies and strategic plans required to take a dominant position - knowing that decisions are being made based on fact.
About the Author
Christine Crandell is executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Egenera, Inc., a provider of data center infrastructure technology. In this role, she is responsible for the company’s business development, alliances and global market strategy.Ms. Crandell brings more than 20 years of experience in strategic marketing for enterprise technology companies including Ariba, SAP, Oracle and PriceWaterhouse. She is based in California and a frequent speaker and writer on marketing, strategy and technology. She can be reached at Christine.firstname.lastname@example.org