The Think like a Detective Blog

Weekly tips and tricks that show you how to Think Like a Detective to uncover better insights—from a REAL-LIFE detective turned market detective.

Fragmentation to Focus: Integrating Research into Competitive Intelligence

Feb 25, 2024

 I was a paramedic for a few years after graduating from college.

One of the things I was trained to do was treat life threats first.

For example, you don’t splint a broken arm if somebody isn’t breathing; they will die (albeit with a splinted arm).

The life threats in people are:

A — airway (is it blocked)
B — breathing (are they breathing)
C — circulation (is the heart pumping)

It’s obvious when you think about it: oxygen and a way to deliver oxygen throughout the body are necessary for life.

When I entered the field of Research, I noticed that research teams weren’t set up to deal with business life threats. Instead, they were treating the symptoms of life threats by being siloed and buried under different business units (BUs):

UX Research ➡️ UX issues
Market Research ➡️ Marketing issues
Customer Experience Research ➡️ CX issues

Research teams were myopically focused on the problems directly in front of them rather than looking across the business.

While they were dealing with important issues (hopefully) to each BU, these issues weren’t necessarily attached to the life threats the business faced.

For example, UX issues might be the most significant issues that UX faces but might not be the biggest issue the business faces.

The business life threats are:

  • 🚀 We need growth
  • 💰 We need increased value for the business
  • 🔮 We need to adapt to unpredictable change
  • ⚠️ We need to mitigate risk to minimize losses
  • ⏱ We need to move faster than the competition

What businesses need (and want) is to treat life threats first.

Because, just like people, if a business is dying, it doesn’t matter what it looks like cosmetically.

Consider the following scenario:

A UX research team is “validating” a product roadmap while the sales team struggles to close deals. The problems the sales team faces have nothing to do with feature updates and new product releases.

Which is the most urgent issue?

One ties directly to business growth, i.e., generating revenue, and the other is more “cosmetic.”

So, we are left with a cardinal rule in paramedicine and business:

Life threats first.

The deployment of research resources should be driven by the business’s biggest life threats, not the biggest life threats to a business unit.

Which has led us to where we are today.

  • ⛽️ Research functions are as impotent as a car without fuel
  • 🍔 Research has historically been ordered like a fast-food hamburger
  • 🌸 Evidence is often overlooked like the wallflower at the homecoming dance

Research teams aren’t addressing life threats; they are addressing the symptoms of the life threats.

And they are doing it because of the current reporting structure of insights teams.

Right now, teams are accountable and beholden to their respective business unit.

This accountability structure leads to an economic problem.

Research teams and competitive intelligence must deal with opportunity costs like other business areas.

Opportunity cost is the value of the next best alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a specific action or decision. In other words, it is the cost of the opportunity that is lost when choosing one option over another.

For example, suppose you decide to spend money on a vacation. In that case, the opportunity cost is the other items or experiences you could have purchased with that money instead, such as a new car or saving for retirement.

When a researcher chooses to focus on one thing, i.e., UX research, they must forego something else, i.e., win-loss analysis.

Making this choice should be guided by what’s important to the business — which may or may not align with what is most important to a specific business unit.

So when a company has finite resources to spend on researchers, and the researchers they spend money on are doing “nice to have” things, what would we expect to happen?

  • Mass layoffs
  • Lack of right-sized impact
  • Confusion about what Research does

There are opportunity costs of hiring people and not having them focus on the most important things. When a researcher is working on a product roadmap, they aren’t working on the existential sales problem.

For example, what is urgent to UX might not be urgent to the business.

In addition to opportunity costs, the siloed research structure doesn’t allow for the agility to deploy resources against the most significant problems.

For example, if marketing is dealing with an existential threat, they can’t quickly and seamlessly pull a UX researcher off of another project and deploy them against the life threat.

This is a major problem with the current model.

We shouldn’t be focusing on broken arms when we should be dealing with life threats.

It’s time we re-think the structure of research teams.

Because for Research, the thinking that got us here won’t get us there.

We must combine research and insights functions under one umbrella ☂️ to make this a reality.

The obvious choice is a unified Competitive Intelligence Team (CIT), like a Central Intelligence Agency for businesses.

Competitive intelligence (CI) should collect and analyze evidence about customers, users, buyers, competitors, and the market to form a business strategy grounded in growth 🚀

CIT teams would be focused on delivering crucial intelligence to the business by:

  • 🔎 Collecting and interrogating evidence like a detective
  • 🎤 Reporting intelligence like a primetime news anchor
  • ⚖️ Building business cases like a trial attorney

These teams would deliver real-time insights across the business — like the Daily Intelligence Briefing that world leaders get — so they can make decisions on what matters most to the business.

What is powerful about this model is that every BU benefits from the insights of the others, i.e., a rising tide raises all ships. Research from Product would be shared across the other BUs and could benefit decision-making in Marketing. Win-Loss research from sales could be used by Marketing and Product to make better decisions.

Everyone wins.

In doing this, everyone would enable the business to make better (less risky) decisions faster.

To make this a reality, a CIT team would bring together (at a minimum):

  • UX research
  • Market research
  • Foresight and trends
  • Customer experience
  • Competitive intelligence

These functions should connect with the business like this:

  • CIT connects with Product to help build products that win the market
  • CIT connects with Operations to help ensure that teams are marching in the same direction
  • CIT connects with go-to-market (GTM) teams to help develop marketing and customer success strategies
  • CIT connects with Sales and Business Development teams to help get products into the hands of customers

This will give us the right resolution in dealing with problems.

Sure, CITs will continue to support initiatives in different business units.

But they won’t be beholden to them.

Accountable to all; beholden to none.

Inside the mind of a detective.

Weekly tips and tricks that show you how to Think Like a Detective to uncover better insights—from a REAL-LIFE detective turned market detective.