At a conference not too long ago, we had dinner with a group of traditional market researchers. We were sitting around the table and the talk turned to the future of market research and how our field will change over the next five years. Our perspective was that the biggest change will be in how we do primary research on competitive intelligence engagements.
Right now, competitive intelligence practitioners use a combination of secondary research and personal networking to identify people to talk to. It is often a time-consuming process, and there is no way around it. Compounding the problem is the fact that when you phone people you do not know well, you are assuming (or just hoping) they have the insight that you need and that they are willing and able to share it. It is a clumsy process, but an irreplaceable one if you want to do competitive intelligence properly.
However, we think the process is going to get a lot more streamlined in the near future. Social networking sites are the first evolution. It is much easier to find people now that LinkedIn and Facebook are mainstream. Still, the system is not perfect – mainly because finding the right people remains time intensive – even for those practitioners adept at mining social networking systems. So what might a more automated process look like?
A good example is the NNDB Network Mapper. The NNDB Network Mapper contains relationship data for over 32,000 individuals and organizations and allows you to view their connections with a high degree of granularity. We think businesses will increasingly roll out or adapt visual tools like NNDB for their internal knowledge management efforts.
So, in terms of competitive intelligence, imagine the world five years from now. Tools to see into most of the world’s social networking sites, professional organizations, and corporate or governmental sites are now commonplace. Instead of having to make 20 calls to find the one sales engineer who is not under NDA and has worked on both your and your competitor’s software, you simply plug in the parameters into a search engine and *poof* there she is! Not only that, you have a good idea who might be able to put you in direct touch with her. In fact, you might be able just to type in your Key Intelligence Topics and watch as a list of 20 people who have the information you want appears.
The challenge is how to do this while maintaining privacy, but people – especially those in the “Gen Y” group – increasingly see more value in being connected and known, so privacy concerns of the past may wind up being non-issues.