Intel is the valuable collateral residing within a firm that drives Business Development and strategic revenue growth. One of the significant drivers of a successful BD process and decision-making is the ability to develop client “intelligence”.
While there is an abundance of information available on how to develop intelligence around a technical opportunity, business opportunity, or financial opportunity, little data exists on how to gather Intel regarding the actual individuals involved in a relationship, outside of some government entities. It is important to understand that a good BD system or process continuously develops and validates personal Intel. An effective professional in Business Development focuses on individual relationships, making every effort to understand the prospect and their problems from the prospect’s perspective, not their own. The BD professional understands the importance of gathering specific information relating to the individual and how that Intel affects the purchase.
From over three decades of experience, we’ve learned that departments, agencies and companies don’t buy. People buy. It stands to reason then, that Business Development relationships are built around people and the resulting “human” relationships. In order for successful BD to take place, it isn’t how much the prospect or customer knows about you. It’s how much you know about them.
The following discussion outlines the process the Central Intelligence Agency uses to gather Intelligence, and it’s a good one. Implementing these steps into your Business Development organization’s processes can positively impact your decision-making on opportunities and validate your revenue growth efforts.
The Intelligence Cycle
Intelligence is so crucial to the U.S. government that it established the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), world-renowned for its capacity to collect, separate data and analyze intelligence to give the United States a strategic advantage. This advantage might be in providing security or information to pro-actively pursue high-priority targets of interest, i.e., the “bad guys.”
Within corporate America you will be hard pressed to find many companies with a group called “The Intelligence Department.” Generally, the Business Development organization is entrusted to gather “Intelligence,” which may or may not be utilized by other areas within the company. However, much of what BD gathers is flawed and is usually more data than real intelligence. This flawed data is often utilized in “Competitive Assessments” or “Color Team reviews” and does not assist with making good business decisions but rather supports what is appropriately described as “drinking the company Kool-Aid” or “drinking our own bath water.” The difference between companies that make good “Pursuit/No Pursuit” decisions is generally the ability of their business development personnel to gather real intelligence vs. just data early on. The ability to access and understand the real needs of a prospective client earlier on in the process has many benefits, it allows for better solutions to be developed, it allows for shaping of requirements and it allows you to drop the opportunity should it not be the right match, before you becoming emotionally and financially dependent on it. Gathering intelligence is an art and a science; some individuals are born with it, but just about everyone can develop the skills necessary to be as good as some CIA agents.
So what can the CIA teach us about real “Intelligence and how to gather it?” Actually, a lot.
It follows a five-step process called the Intelligence Cycle, a system of checks and balances that ensures things are done correctly which should equate to better intelligence. This cycle is easily transferable into a corporate environment and serves as a template that could be utilized by companies to ensure that the decisions to pursuit opportunities are valid and based on information that is real and vetted. Valid Intel is particularly critical in the early stages of the Business acquisition or Capture processes.
The five stages of the Intelligence Cycle are: 1. Planning 2. Collection 3. Processing 4. Analysis 5. Dissemination
The CIA spends a proportionally large amount of time on this stage. Plans are utilized to document what needs to be done, which individual will do it, what is known, what information is unknown, needs to be gathered and where it can be found. Discussions are held about who can provide the needed information, who might be best to gather it and other issues that may impact the ability to procure it. Various scenarios are also discussed on what contingency plans might be developed should the initial plan not deliver the needed intelligence results.
The CIA then develops a tactical plan to achieve the specified objective. This is then broken down to a call-plan level, where it documents who they are engaging and what questions need to be asked to procure the needed information. On occasion, this can be rather complex as the CIA may be required to contact a number of individuals in order to find somebody who can answer its questions. Sound familiar? This is very similar to the tactical planning that occurs within a Business Development organization; who do we need to call? What do we need to ask, know and find out?
More time is invested in this planning stage than any other because critical resources can be better harnessed when utilizing a plan. Having a plan assists in understanding what is required and who to contact to procure the needed intelligence. Often BD personnel are more comfortable with execution and don’t plan as well as they can and should. This has repercussions and will affecting the quality of the intelligence gathered. For example, if you are on a call with a client and happen to bump into the CEO in the hallway (sometimes you get lucky), do you know the one important question you should ask or do you simply pass and miss the opportunity altogether?
This is the stage where the hard work starts and where many choose to begin or end the intelligence gathering process. The CIA compiles information overtly and covertly. It utilizes many different techniques in collection, from reading foreign newspapers to studying satellite images. The level of effort required in the collection stage is directly proportional to the difficulty of the objective.
As a Business Development professional, you also have a number of sources available to you as you begin collecting intelligence. No single source will be more important than the prospective client. This “HUMINT” (HUMan INTelligence) will form the core of the intelligence you receive, and being first person/personal Intel, this should theoretically be the most credible information you compile. However, your ability to solicit information by asking appropriate questions will also directly affect the quality and quantity of the intelligence you receive. Being perceived as a peer and trusted by your prospect will directly impact how open they will be to discuss their situation with you, and will directly impact how detailed they will be in providing quality responses to the questions you’ll ask.
The collection of intelligence falls into two categories, primary or direct Intel and secondary or indirect Intel. Primary information is often referred to as “HUMINT.” This is the Intel which comes directly from a human source, preferably the decision-maker or influencer within an organization. Secondary intelligence is information publicly available to everyone, so it’s available to your competitors, too. Examples of this include utilizing Internet search engines, engaging with consultants, reviewing past awards and competitions utilizing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The collection of information is an area where organizations have invested much time over the years to ensure gathering is done in an ethical manner. Focusing on your Primary sources of information will generally keep you on the right side of the ethics debate. Business Development professionals who are Non Profit Growth engaged with their clients in a trusted business relationship do not need to employ unethical practices to gain an advantage. They understand the clients’ needs and wants from their perspective. Professionals are comfortable asking any and all questions in order to fully comprehend how decisions will be made, what the specific requirements are and what funding is available. Armed with this first person/personal Intel, they possess all the relevant information required to influence or shape any of these areas if necessary.
It is in the Processing stage that the CIA compiles all the information collected and produces an intelligence report. The report will generally have a variety of sources and a range of different perspectives to assist in vetting the information. This information could vary from a translated document to a description of a satellite photo. In Business Development, this area is one where many organizations fail, since call or contact reports are not always completed at the level of detail required to make the gathered intelligence useful. Frequently, BD personnel do not possess the skills to gather the required intelligence, or they are anxious to move onto the next client and fail to capture the real intelligence as opposed to merely gathering data.