Applying best project principles to your surveillance initiatives will deliver your solution successfully and efficiently.
Internet surveillance initiatives are becoming more and more commonplace as organisations decide to convert the wealth of internet content into meaningful competitive and customer insight. There can be a temptation to rush into such projects without putting in some basic foundations which will inevitably undermine the quality of the solution. Experience with businesses that are innovating with these solutions suggests that by adopting some simple rules will increase quality and ensure that the users of the newly implemented solution will be delighted.
Many sales and marketing professionals engage in surveillance activity already. They are already researching customer and market behaviours, their competitors and emerging trends. However, the tools available, usually little more than search engines, are ad-hoc and unstructured. They typically don’t require much preparation, are time-consuming, deliver variable results and offer no opportunities for automation. Consequently target users know what they want but will not always be able to articulate it in detail. They might be largely unaware of the skill, the patterns and the thought processes they use when using the internet for research. This is commonly referred to as unconscious competence.
This means that the process of building a solution needs to be iterative. Firstly, establish an initial broad set of requirements, design and build a prototype and then review it with the user community expecting to add more detail.
Of course, an uncontrolled iterative approach could go on forever so it is important to add structure. We have found the following four step iterative approach delivers a clear view of the requirement, keeps the user community engaged and delivers the best possible solution;
Step One: Discover
Discovery is about identifying the sources, subjects and topics of surveillance. This is a way of harvesting some of that unconscious knowledge. Sources are those web sites that your user community currently visit. These might be easily gathered from current browser favourites, at least as a starting point. Applying best project principles to your surveillance initiatives will deliver your solution successfully and efficiently.
Subjects are simplest to identify and are the ‘who’ of the initiative. The subjects might be customers for a CRM surveillance solution, competitors for a CI solution but might also include; Your products or services; Technology companies that innovate in your sector; Regulatory bodies; Trade associations; Government departments; or local authorities.
Getting a list of subjects together is straightforward and will allow you to ask the next question which is simply ‘what do you need to know about these subjects?’ This is partly about filtering out the irrelevant content. You might be interested in information that will help you identify an opportunity to market or initiate a sales campaign to Alliance Boots but might not be interested in the store locators, general news and buy-one-get-one-free offers that a simple search engine would expose.
Instead, it is likely that the topics you are interested in monitoring might include senior management changes, results announcements or changes in strategic direction that help you identify what they are doing as a competitor or as a prospective customer.
Step Two: Research
The Discover step provided the basic outline, the subjects and topics of interest. This step is actually a series of research steps to add some of the detail that is lost in unconscious competence. This will include identifying the various ways in which customers, competitors and markets are identified. For example, Marks and Spencer can be referred to as M&S, MKS or for those that remember, Marks and Sparks depending on the type of news source.
This step will also help eliminate noise from those companies that have similar names or have used common nouns. For example you might be interested in the Royal Bank of Scotland but not the Bank of Scotland. You might be interested in credit card companies like ‘Mint’ or ‘Smile’ but will obviously be less interested in fresh breath and white teeth!
The research step results in a much more unambiguous set of terms so that your insights will be in sharp focus. It also extends the topics to ensure that the user community receive a comprehensive and complete market picture. They will also identify techniques for reducing extraneous information so that your insights will be in sharp focus.
Step Three: Refine
Practically, this step is about sharing sample content that has been gathered using the rules established in steps one and two. This is also the key iterative step so will be refined a small number of times. Without being too prescriptive, three times is typically optimal. Sharing the results of your research once will not be enough but share them four or more times and your target community may run out of time that they can commit to the initiative.
Step Four: Publish
By this stage you should have an engaged community who, because they have been consulted throughout will feel a strong sense of ownership with the solution that is eventually published. Unlike many projects, a surveillance solution is never completely finished. It will continue to evolve and as a result of ongoing if minor adjustments will continue to adapt and support your own changing business.
An engaged user community will continue to give you considered and constructive with which you can continue to monitor and refine the surveillance solution in a way that will make it consistently relevant.
Finally our experience is that you should encourage the user community to share and socialise the results of their personal surveillance. This where untold additional value can be found as different users with different perspectives link up a number of data points and form a new picture of a competitor or prospect that brings unanticipated commercial advantage.