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Assessing quality of competitive intelligence in the pharmaceutical industry

Assessing quality of competitive intelligence in the pharmaceutical industry


Competitive intelligence gained via primary research is one of the frequently utilised decision-making aids. Most competitive intelligence firms claim to provide actionable insights. However, truly actionable insights come from credible sources of intelligence. Paying attention to the sources and respondents is vital for leveraging intelligence and its subsequent use in decision making.
Last Updated: 31-May-2017

The insights gathered from competitive intelligence (CI) engagements are intelligence not data, thus CI based insights are not amenable to most quantitative methods. Consequently, it is crucial to be vigilant about the quality of intelligence. In one recent survey, we found that over 80% of the intelligence come from KOLs (Key Opinion Leader) or their associates. Further analysis revealed that nearly 75% of the questions were answered by sources whom most decision makers would not consider to have credible insights on the questions they answered.

Precaution and astute interpretation need to be exercised when leveraging such insights. Expecting KOLs to be knowledgeable about the corporate aspect of competitors is unrealistic. Even if they know, they are likely to be bound by non-disclosure agreements. So why do CI agencies resort to this route? The answer is simple- it is the path of least resistance in the collection of intelligence, predominantly for a couple of reasons - 1) Most KOLs are more accessible than sources in the competitor organisations and 2) The inherent structure of the team of the CI vendor. With regard to the latter point, analysts who collect intelligence for the vendors mostly have a life sciences background and are comfortable talking science, R&D and clinical aspects. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, in fact, it is an excellent attribute to have in the intelligence collection team. However, in order to collect intelligence from the company sources, not only ‘life science skills’ are required but also ‘commercial skills’. Teams, where members have a dual background (i.e. individuals with a life science and a business degree or experience), tend to excel, however, such individuals or teams are rare in the vendor organisations.

Apart from a life science and therapy area background, the key factors collectively falling under the ‘commercial skills’, particularly from an intelligence gathering perspective, include – understanding how the organisations are structured, how decisions are made, how information flows through the organisations, who are the originators, disseminators and users of information etc.

Another critical success factor that significantly enhances the quality of intelligence is the ‘network’ of the vendor. The network not only increases access to the sources but also leads to additional sources via referrals, thereby amplifying the sources of high-quality intelligence. For insights to be actionable, the sources of intelligence need to be knowledgeable about the intelligence and/or have proximity with the intelligence being sought.

About BiopharmaVantage

BiopharmaVantage is a consulting firm that specialises in providing premium quality competitive intelligence services to pharmaceutical companies. If you would like to discuss how we can assist you, then please contact us.