This is our sixth blog post in JPK Group’s CI Experts series. The following is an interview with Roger Yoder who is currently the Director of Competitive Intelligence, responsible for worldwide Intelligence activities at NetApp. Roger will be speaking at the upcoming JPK Group Competitive Intelligence Intensive 2018 in March.
Conducting the interview is Alok Vasudeva of The Marketer’s Continuum.
AV: How did you start your career and, specifically, the CI function?
RY: For a good portion of my career, I worked in the APAC region for a few multinational companies (MNCs), in variety of roles – mainly across finance, operations, sales, and marketing. I also had the opportunity to get frontline experience, guiding and directing sales & marketing teams in the main countries in the region.
And given the dynamic, fast-growing nature of those markets, along with the associated revenue potential of those regions, I got a good deal of exposure to executive management at corporate headquarters. When I decided to take a global role and move back to the SF Bay Area and take on a CI role, the transition was a fairly natural progression for me. Competitive intelligence is your daily lifeblood when you’re on the frontlines, and the conduit to the field. The skills I use in my global role are similar to those I used in a regional role; it’s just an expanded territory.
AV: Was your route to competitive intelligence a typical one?
RY: I don’t think there’s a typical route to this job. Given that “competition is everywhere” in any company, meaning it spans every function, it’s important to have good cross-functional experience, as appropriate to your particular industry.
Also, providing the proper contextual perspective is vital when you want to move to higher level analysis or when you’re advising upper level executives. One of the few ways in which you can gain that perspective is through hands-on, relevant experience in a particular industry
So my route to this job might not be typical one. But everything I’ve done until now, adds up to a more complete perspective and point of view, and I believe is a key reason for my success as an intelligence professional.
AV: Is technology expertise important in a CI function?
RY: Of course. Technology experience is preferable, and necessary to a degree. As a technology company, of course technical knowledge is important for us. Data management, especially, is an extremely technology-driven space. Despite those factors, I would say though that it depends on the role – we have guys on our team who are more technical marketing analyst types, and others who are more go-to-market and business modeling analyst types.
I, myself, am fairly weak when it comes to technology. But I compensate my technology deficiencies by offering perspectives and advice in areas outside of the technology realm. Also I serve the role of “customer zero,” for a lot of our team’s work. Because, if I don’t understand it, it’s likely that our execs or field, won’t get it either. And as the saying goes, “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
AV: What are some examples of competitive intelligence that you deliver?
RY: Our deliverables vary depending on what we’re told to do at any given time. In the technology industry, rapid change and disruptions are constant. So, we’ve built the team to be an internal consulting services arm, with a portfolio of different skills within the team. We have four service areas, catering to two key audiences – 1) the field and 2) C-level – functional & BU executives.
- Competitive research – Beyond basic open source or secondary research sources, mainly consists of primary research and surveys of internal and external sources. These tend to be more ad-hoc deliverables, and involves interfacing with product management, marketing, and sales.
- Analysis/content creation – Made up of your basic competitive intelligence services, like comparative deep dive decks and battle cards. These deliverables tend to be pretty consistent, with a regular cadence driven by product launches, and involves interfacing with product management, marketing, and sales.
- Sales enablement – Mainly consists of services like deal support, partner support, and competitive education. These services tend to have more of a regular cadence too.
- Strategic analysis – The strategic analysis area is where the work varies the most. For example, last year, we were asked by an executive to do a competitive pricing analysis, with a landscape analysis and recommendations. For the most part, we didn’t have that skill set within our team. But after repeated requests, we realized that we weren’t going to get out of doing this one. So a few of us on the team decided to learn how to do pricing analysis, and were able to put together a very successful analysis with actionable recommendations.
While there are some constant ongoing competitive services we offer, we are always on a holding pattern for the next fire drill to fall into our laps. We try to be flexible to pivot to the most important field and strategy work that comes our way.
AV: To do your job properly, with which departments do you interface with?
RY: We come out and say that customer #1, for us, is the field. And customer #2, is the executive staff. Surprisingly, executives love that part of our charter.
For a result’s driven company like ours, it’s a very justifiable prioritization. For most executives, revenue and profit are usually their top objectives. Executives are always keenly interested in getting an unbiased, real-time view of what’s going on in the trenches. And since most functions ultimately support sales, they need good field intelligence as well. We’ve positioned our intelligence team to be the best source for this key intelligence.
We’ve been asked by pretty much every department to “interface” with them. Due to our limited resources though, we only have time to focus on the most important ones, and end up having to turn down quite a few requests. It helps to learn how to say, no, for this job.
AV: What kind of questions are you asking?
RY: The primary question for us is, “Why do we win when we win, and why do we lose when we Lose?” We spend a good deal of our resources trying to answer this question, often going down to the product line level.
Our process, involves engaging directly with our buyers and sellers, to better understand the two basic and key factors of winning and losing – 1) What impacts the buyer’s decision?, and 2) What impacts the seller’s ability to close a deal? What you find, when you do this kind of research, is that there will be a few key reasons for winning and losing that float to the top (or the bottom). And these are the reasons for “why do we win when we win, and why do we lose when we lose” Not only does this process tell you, what’s important, it also tells you what’s not important. And in many organizations knowing what’s not important, is as valuable as knowing what’s important.
AV: Do you find a difference between CI generated by a dedicated professional versus CI generated by a someone whose primary function is something else?
RY: Intelligence work is akin to discovering small dots on a canvas that multiply, and ultimately reveal a picture. In competitive intelligence, uncovering more data and insights, hopefully leads to a clearer picture of the competitive landscape. A dedicated intelligence team can provide an outside-in perspective and unbiased opinions to decision-makers, without the typical Information silos that develop when the function is spread across functions or BUs.
Also, dispersing the intelligence responsibility, in many organizations, leads to information silos, which means no-one can make out what the picture of the competitive landscape looks like.
AV: What forms of analysis do you have experience with?
RY: I feel as though much strategic analysis and frameworks are based on economic theories. Especially in areas like market landscape analysis, pricing, competitive mapping, scenario planning, war gaming, I’ve found myself going back to a lot of the old trusted economic theories and models, that I learned as an undergraduate Economics major. Investing in a subscription to The Economist or The Wall Street Journal will pay off in the long run, too.
AV: Give me examples of soft skills required for your job?
RY: Good intelligence professionals are orchestrators. They need to turn data & insights into relevant business point of views & respective recommendations. As previously stated, “competition is everywhere” – so by nature, the analysis and solutions for most competitive issues are complex. The type of requests we receive from our key stakeholders are varied and could come from any department.
I have a diverse functional career, with stints in sales, operations, finance, and marketing. I find myself regularly using learnings/methods from those past experiences in my work today. Getting real-world experience in key functional areas is probably the best way to become an effective intelligence professional.
AV: How does the CI department go from a nice-to-have to critical?
RY: As necessary, we monitor our company’s key strategic imperatives in areas where we can add value. Then we go to the key functions and BUs to see what they are doing to support those imperatives, and map where we can offer support to them. Since we have limited resources, we basically try to land where we add the most value to the company. An effective intelligence organization should be proactive and flexible, in order to stay ahead of the competition. Also, a proactive intelligence organization is better able to influence what kind of work they get.
In many ways we try to promote ourselves as an internal consulting team that offers a variety of services. Some services are recurring (i.e., maintaining competitive content) and others are more ad-hoc, where we may spin up a team to attack a specific strategic issue.
Ultimately, to become a necessary resource, you need to be able to tell your key stakeholders something they don’t already know that will help them to be successful. That will vary depending on what the question is. So it’s important to have a services mentality, like many of the consulting firms do, and learn not say, “no, we don’t do that”, and start saying, “we can do that, and this is what we’ll need to do that”. This requires flexibility on your team’s part and access to a strong set of cross-functional expertise specific and important to your company.
Roger Yoder – Director, Competitive Intelligence at NetApp
Roger Yoder is currently Director of Competitive Intelligence, responsible for worldwide Intelligence activities at NetApp. His team identifies and drives key Intelligence Services, that improve NetApp’s competitive position and business results, working in partnership with the Field, Product teams, and Exec Staff.
Roger has been working in the Intelligence field for the past several years in Silicon Valley, focused on Security and Data Management markets. Prior to returning to the Bay area, he spent 20 years working overseas in the APAC region, in key country leadership roles, developing and executing successful Marketing and Sales Plans for some of the best known global IT brands.
Roger received his MBA from the University of Chicago, and his BA in Economics from Michigan State University. He also has a CIP1 Certification from the Academy of Competitive Intelligence.
Alok Vasudeva – Principal and Founder at The Marketer’s Continuum
As principal and founder of marketing consultancy, The Marketer’s Continuum, Alok blends big company processes with the agility and frugality of a startup.
A Silicon Valley native with an extensive history as a B2B marketing professional, Alok has held roles and responsibilities focused on product, content, and corporate marketing. His titles include director of marketing, product marketing manager, product manager, marketing programs manager, marketing manager, and industry analyst.