Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Using social media as crucial business analysis resources 6: rethinking business intelligence when participating in supply chain and other collaborations

Posted in social networking and business, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on May 14, 2015

This is my sixth installment in a series on social media as a source of actionable business intelligence insight (see Social Networking and Business 2, postings 217 and following for Parts 1-5.)

I discussed business intelligence gathering from customers and potential customers and from the larger marketplace in Part 3 and Part 4 of this series. And to repeat here a key point that I have made many times:

• When you gather marketing and other business intelligence about your markets and customers directly from them and without the sometimes stilting and skewing influence of more traditional marketing data gathering approaches (e.g. from focus groups and the like),
• You can gain a truer, more candid and much less self-conscious understanding as to what those people want and need, and why and on what terms.

Tapping into and learning from the flow of conversation that social media enables, creates for you an opportunity to learn from the more candid and open conversations of your targeted customer bases. Tapping into and connecting into the online social media conversation for this and at the very least in close coordination with other more traditional marketing insight data collection efforts, can afford you and your business a more candid and uninfluenced window into the minds and thoughts of the people who you need to reach if your business is to succeed and thrive.

I then turned to business-to-business intelligence gathering in Part 5 where I focused on better understanding your competition and any new emerging competitors that you might be able to identify. And I add that tapping into the social media can help you to more fully identify new and emerging competitors and earlier, and can help you to analyze their significance as to likely impact upon your business, and earlier too. Of necessity I also added more material in Part 5 on customer insight and on understanding the marketplace too, as a business’ strength and its competitive capabilities in creating that strength are all derived from the marketplace and from its customers. This type and level of business-to-business intelligence gathering and analysis is essentially all product and service-centric, and all about what your business and your competitors bring to market and how, and in how you work with and support your customers in doing this.

I turn in this posting to consider business-to-business intelligence gathering from supply chain and other collaborative business partner relationships and systems. If Part 4 dealt with understanding and improving upon what you bring to market and how you do so, and as value in this is perceived by that marketplace and its participants, this posting is all about better understanding and improving your more internal business processes as a route to creating innovative competitive advantage. And in fact all of this series is about that in its various forms and contexts: creating and enabling innovative competitive advantage for your business.

I begin addressing that in the context of this posting with the absolute fundamentals, organizing what is to follow here into a checklist of questions and comments. And I begin that with a question that I should not have to pose, but that experience shows almost always has to be asked and carefully thought through if it is to be fully answered:

• What other businesses do you and your business work with collaboratively?

Assume that any initial list of these collaborative partner enterprises that you come up with will be incomplete. Now think through and map out what you do and how you connect with your markets and with other businesses, and include everything that you can think of in this. Draw it out as a chart or as a functional area oriented connections map, and on paper or on a computer screen so you can look at it and go back to it if need be and find and fill in gaps.

• Where were your gaps in your initial list?
• What businesses and types of business did you simply take for granted here?

Cutting ahead in my discussion here, look at how you connect with and interact with all of these businesses, including the ones that do not provide products or services that directly support your business in producing and offering your own marketable products and services. As an example, one key partner business that provides ongoing services to your business that is often at least initially overlooked here can be found with outsourced cleaning and maintenance services; they are easily and often overlooked.

It is more likely that you are more on-track for working effectively and efficiently with the collaborative businesses that you more actively think about as such. And if you are less effective with any of your business-to-business agreements and relationships it will be with the ones that you simply take for granted and overlook in your strategic thinking.

I mentioned cleaning services there, which might legitimately be considered to be as close to a strictly cosmetic service as a business can bring in. But I have seen strategic risk management and related due diligence disconnects here for business-to-business collaborations and agreements that are both very costly, directly, and that lie at the heart of what businesses that I have worked with do. I am thinking of a very large big-ticket item retail business as I write this, that has traditionally purchased sales leads from outside specialist leads providers.

• And they simply took their leads sourcing for granted and when I went over and analyzed all of these contractual agreements and what came from them with a manager I was working with,
• We found they were avoidably losing many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from this,
• From purchasing leads at significant per-lead costs that were statistically very unlikely to pay off for their low percentage of conversion to completed sales.
• In this case, we could have identified and resolved this problem without tapping explicitly into the online conversation of other businesses, and their owners and managers, and without looking at reviews of how others were doing with these leads and their source companies.
• Tapping into and learning from these sources validated what was emerging from our own in-house findings and made it that much easier and faster for us to argue a case for finding ways to cancel and break out of these contracts, or to at the very least limit their impact until we legally could.

I am not sure that these leads providers would have landed on the first round answer to my first question as posed above, and certainly if the owner of the business I just cited had been asked to answer it. And if they did appear there, it would be as a generic and undifferentiated group and not as a list of particular businesses that this business sourced these leads from, organized according to their effectiveness in providing value for dollars spent. Business process problems and disconnects can and do become expensive, and in many ways, both directly creating red ink and by creating friction in any business processes that they functionally connect to. And when they are not visible and explicitly considered, the types of problems that I write of here can form and fester and grow.

• This posting is about identifying and resolving problems and as rapidly as possible. But it is also about taking good and good enough and making it better. And it is about identifying new innovative opportunity to create a best practices business process too.

Internal business data is crucial here. But tapping into the experience of others and looking at how your business actually connects with the businesses that you do business with is essential too. And as essentially every one of these businesses is joined into the online conversation now, you need to look there too as well as looking to your more traditional paper and computer data flow sources of insight for this.

• What other businesses do you and your business work with collaboratively?
• What do you do with them, and with a detailed understanding of both the What of this and the How of this included there?
• How cost-effective are your business-to-business collaborations, and can they be improved, and to the mutual benefit of both sides to these specific relationships?

“Mutual benefit” here means it would be in the best interests of all parties involved to actively seek out and implement improvements for the business processes that functionally comprise these relationships. In my above example and if those leads providers had shown interest in cooperating in this, that would have meant improving how specific leads they offered were selected and vetted for being appropriate for this client business of theirs, and in their better making sure their leads were still current when provided and not already out of date and expired for value.

As a final thought here, I turn back to my above touched upon entirely cosmetic example, and the business that your business outsources cleaning services to. Do you use the services of such a business for yours? Do they work at off-hours at your facility and are their personnel essentially invisible as they do their work and even when they are there when your personnel are too? As part of your business’ basic due diligence do you know how they vet their employees for their reliability, or are you risking a data security breach and the potential loss of your own business intelligence, and confidential customer information from them, when every one of your office and facility computers has one or more USB ports on it that a flash drive could be installed into and when the papers you want housekeeping to shred for you might not be?

• As a bottom line observation here, there are no trivial or legitimately ignorable partner businesses when you enter into business-to-business relationships with other enterprises. And the ones that you ignore and overlook as if they were, and the ones that you simply take for granted are the ones where any problems will arise if any do.
• This is a process improvement posting but it is also a due diligence and a risk management posting too.

I am going to continue this series discussion in a next installment, stepping back to reconsider business intelligence and its sourcing as a whole. And in anticipation of that, I note here that Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum: the medium is the message applies as fully to this context as it does to any. Where we can and do gather business intelligence and how we gather it, come to define what business intelligence is and what it can be. And that in turn determines how it can be used and how it will be, and to what effect.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And you can find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its continuation page.

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