“Data is the new gold.” Right? Actually, wrong. Raw data isn’t information. Actionable data is. Raw data has not yet been processed — or cleaned, organized, and visually presented.
While data, information, and intelligence are interlinked, they are not one and the same. Data is numbers or facts in a vacuum. It’s a raw material that has no meaning without context. It is the first step towards intelligence. An example of data would be: “ABC company made a profit of 1.2 Billion USD in 2020.” This is a true statement but of no use. It lacks context.
Information is data with context. It is the second step towards intelligence. It has meaning, but it is still not enough to base decisions on. For example: “ABC company made a profit of 1.2 Billion USD in 2020, compared to 998 Million USD in 2019.” Now that we have grouped another comparative piece of data to it, it is more interesting and meaningful.
Intelligence is information that provides insight or implication or suggests an action. Intelligence leads to a decision, which is why it is the most sought after. For example, “ABC company made a profit of 1.2 Billion USD in 2020, compared to 998 Million USD in 2019. Their increase in profit can be attributed to their recent acquisition of XYZ Group.” Data is a subset of information, and information is a subset of intelligence.
So it’s actually intelligence – more specifically market and competitive intelligence for organizations – which is the new gold, not data. Why? Because market and competitive intelligence can be activated, i.e. transformed into actionable insights for the benefit of the organization and its stakeholders, whereas raw data and information cannot.
In this article, let us understand how to activate market and competitive intelligence using a step-by-step process of collecting data, organizing it into information, analyzing that information to glean insights, and distributing insights to key stakeholders, who turn it into actions for the betterment of the organization. Let’s go.
Why is it Important to Transform Data into Actionable Insights?
Actionable insights are created by analyzing information, drawing conclusions and/or findings from that analysis, and then using those findings to make decisions. Progressive companies today say they want to be data-driven. In fact, 74% of companies say that this is one of their key goals. However, Forrester reports that only 29% of these companies are actually successful in driving decisions using data. Because data itself doesn’t drive decisions, intelligence in the form of actionable insights does. Actionable insights are important because they are the missing link for companies that want to drive successful business outcomes from data.
Let us look at an example to understand how even the most insignificant-seeming insight can bring about a tremendous business outcome. Google ran a test of 41 different shades of blue for their advertising links to see which performed best. Sounds too much for too little right? What could a slight change in color possibly achieve? You’ll be surprised to know that the end result was that Google increased their ad revenue by 200 million dollars that year by optimizing a ‘color’. Sorry, a ‘shade’ of the same color. Such is the importance of actionable insights.
What Makes an Insight ‘Actionable’?
When analyzing information using a competitive intelligence process, you’ll glean countless insights, not all of which might be actionable. That isn’t to say that some insights aren’t valuable. There are actually 3 types of insights, out of which only 2 result in actions.
- Insights that require no action
Sometimes analysis of information only confirms or contradicts an assumption. Such insights aren’t actionable but are vital to the context of your business. For example, an organization’s marketing team might think their competitors are churning marketing collateral at a much higher rate than them, but the analysis says otherwise. In this case, no action is required.
- Insight that leads to action in the form of adaptation
Critical thinking is vital in turning insights into actions. Sometimes, only a minor adoption is required to act on insight. For example, you could remedy a lack of features in your product by working with your product team to improve existing features, in contrast to the apparent option of adding more features.
- Insight that leads to action in the form of re-evaluation of a strategy
Analysis of information can also help validate whether the implementation of a strategy is working or not. For example, if your customers are saying that your competitor makes better quality products, that is a key insight that you can take. By asking for feedback through a follow-up survey, you can gather more information about why your customers feel this way. You can then drill down into what it is exactly that your customers like more about the quality of your competitor’s product.
Now, let us understand what makes insights ‘actionable’. Here are the attributes that factor into this.
Alignment here means how closely an insight is tied to your key business goals and strategic initiatives. Such an insight is more likely to drive action. It’s easier to interpret and convert such strategically-aligned insights into tactical responses because they often relate directly to the levers in your business.
Without proper context, it’s hard to understand whether an insight is actionable or not. For example, say your company generated 100 leads this week. If you know your marketing team typically generates 80 leads each week you might do nothing. However, if your company just sponsored and exhibited at your industry’s major convention last week, you may be wondering why it didn’t translate into significantly more leads. Context, thus, is an important factor in deciding the actionability of an insight.
The relevance of an insight is subjective. What might be an immensely actionable insight for Sales might not be so for the product team. Thus, another factor in deciding the actionability of an insight is relevance, and hence, distributing the right insight to the right stakeholders at the right time is important.
The precision of an insight matters, i.e. how specific or complete it is. Precise insights offer a clear path to action, while unclear insights fail to drive actions. An insight must explain ‘why’ something has happened, and not just state that something happened. For example, a 30% increase in revenue may be a cause for celebration, but without precise details as to what led to this increase, it could very well be a mistake in numbers.
New insights are immensely more valuable and actionable than old ones. Stale insights, and insights you’re already familiar with, usually don’t add value and are not actionable. In comparison, novel insights are compelling and open up new avenues, which drive action.
Again, this could be subjective, but usually, the clearer an insight is, the more actionable it is. Insights that are hard to understand are even harder to put into action. Here, proper communication and visualization play a vital role.
With these six criteria, you can weigh how “actionable” the insights are. Now, without further ado, let’s move on to the highlight of this article – the step-by-step process of activating intelligence by transforming raw data into actionable insights.
Activating Intelligence – The Step by Step Process of Turning Data into Actionable Insights
The activation of intelligence is actually the last step in the process of competitive intelligence (although some consider ‘measurement’ to be the last part of the CI process). However, if each step of the process isn’t executed in the right manner, you’ll start facing problems way before you can get to the activation part. Here’s how the process of activating market and competitive intelligence is supposed to go.
1. Track and Collect
The first step or phase of the process of activating intelligence is tracking and collecting data, so basically research. This is primarily done using two methodologies:
- Primary research, which refers to the collection of data via interviews with employees, prospects, customers, etc.
- Secondary research, which refers to the collection of data via sources such as competitors’ websites, news websites, social media, third-party review platforms, SEC filings, etc.
Before beginning this phase of the competitive intelligence process, it is important to have specific goals in mind, e.g. enabling the sales team, keeping leadership informed on market and competitors, etc. The range of potential goals is wide, and thus, each organization has its own set of goals they wish to achieve using this process.
Now, whether you use primary or secondary research methodology, tracking and collection of data require time, effort, and resources. Especially if you’re trying to do secondary research manually. The internet is a vast sea of information, and trying to filter out relevant information from this abyss is highly impractical, if not impossible. This is why most organizations automate this phase of competitive intelligence by investing in a market and competitive intelligence platform or tool. We’ll expand on this later.
Once the data is collected, it needs to be organized. A big reason why stakeholders aren’t able to activate intelligence is because it is lying in different silos within the organization. Imagine putting in so much effort tracking and collecting data only for it to not be utilized. This is why there needs to be a centralized library or repository where all collected intelligence goes, and which can be accessed by all the stakeholders.
Here too, a market and competitive intelligence platform comes in handy, by providing a centralized repository to organize all the collected data which can be accessed by all users.
The analysis phase of the competitive intelligence process is where the dots are connected, and data and information are transformed into intelligence. This is usually done using analytical skills to find insights, trends, patterns, and outliers. Most organizations utilize some sort of analytical framework to generate findings and draw conclusions. While some of these are obvious at first glance, and some are only apparent after using above mentioned frameworks, others require a deeper analysis using visualization tools such as intuitive dashboards. Such dashboards can be found in some of the advanced market and competitive intelligence software.
Now that conclusions have been drawn through the analysis of data, you now have insights, findings, conclusions, and recommendations to share with the key stakeholders of the organization. It is time for the most crucial phase of this process – activation. The activation phase is all about helping key stakeholders drive action from the insights provided to them. Can you guess what the biggest hurdle is to the activation of intelligence in most organizations? It’s a poor distribution of intelligence. Let me illustrate with some examples:
- You send your organization’s leadership an email. It has valuable intelligence in it, and you mark it “IMPORTANT”. The result? The leader still doesn’t read it, because she receives hundreds of such emails on a daily basis.
- Or, let’s say your leader does read your email, which contains a document with lines upon lines of text. She doesn’t have that kind of time. She’s more used to charts, numbers, and figures. She doesn’t derive anything of value from your mail.
- You provide your sales team with loads of intelligence on your competitors using a hefty document. “There is no such thing as too much intelligence,” you think. But there is. The result? The sales rep fumbles before a prospect when asked a question about your competitor, scrolling up and down pages to find the point he’s looking for.
Do you see now what poor distribution can do? The leader in the above example needs an intelligence report, and the sales rep in the example needs a battle card. Knowing how to distribute in the appropriate formats to each stakeholder that’ll help them drive action is what activation is all about.
A market and competitive intelligence platform like Contify lets you distribute intelligence to your stakeholders in various formats such as newsfeeds, newsletters, intelligence reports, dashboards, etc.
Activation is the whole point of competitive intelligence. If you’re not actively doing everything in your power to ensure that your stakeholders are actually capitalizing on your intelligence, your competitive intelligence is kaput, and so is your competitive advantage.
Last few pointers. One, activating intelligence on a regular basis decreases the risk of missed opportunities and/or overlooked threats. Make sure you’re not randomly updating your stakeholders every now and then. When activation is random, your stakeholders aren’t expecting it—which means they’re liable to react inappropriately. With regular activation, your organization as a whole is well-equipped to take action as needed.
And two, while a well-devised competitive intelligence process can be the best strategy to ensure that you derive actionable insights from data and that those insights are acted upon by your organization’s stakeholders, a market and competitive intelligence software, platform, or tool is still recommended. After all, why would you not invest in a technology that literally halves the work you have to do?
Hoping this article was able to shed some light on the importance of actionable insights as well as the activation of intelligence. Learn more about market and competitive intelligence on Contify’s official blog.