Crayon's Competitive Intelligence Spotlight is an interview series where we chat with intelligence professionals to get a glimpse into their careers and gain unique insight into competitive strategy. In this edition of the Competitive Intelligence Spotlight Series, we shine the light on Stephen Tomas, Business Intelligence Director at FLEXcon.
ED: What is your role?
ST: As Business Intelligence Director, my role comprises both competitive and business intelligence activities. I strive to provide data-driven strategic and tactical input at all levels within FLEXcon.
ED: What does the company do?
ST: FLEXcon designs, manufactures, markets, and sells a variety of coated materials in both roll and sheet form. The majority of our current products are self-adhesive films with release liners sold to printers and converters for graphic and label applications.
ED: Tell me a little bit about your career path. What was your first job, and what else happened along the way to bring you to where you are now?
ST: Going all the way back to high school, I cooked short order breakfast for a local restaurant. Fast forward to graduating from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and I accepted a Quality and Process Engineering position at FLEXcon in Spencer, MA. An engineering education and focus on process and quality provided an excellent foundation for a move into Technical Service. Completing an MBA enabled a career path, including roles in Market Development, Application Development, and Business Team Management. Having broad exposure to many areas of the company helps me focus on business intel and competitive intel outcomes to drive better decision making every day.
ED: What skills do you think are necessary for someone who works in competitive intelligence?
ST: CI professionals must place ethics above all else. Understanding that optics become reality for many people, we must ensure our data collection methods follow responsible and ethical guidelines. Publications from professional societies such as SCIP provide benchmarking for this.
To drive better decisions with data, CI & BI practitioners need to look at all angles and present the data in visualizations tailored to the audience. Familiarity with Edward Tufte’s work helped me improve how I communicate with data.
If you constantly ask ‘why’ and rearrange the data looking for a pattern that reveals the answer, then you are off to a good start!
ED: How do you ensure that your stakeholders always have the best intel delivered to them?
ST: The subjective nature of ‘best’ necessitates going to Gemba and interviewing the stakeholders. Understanding their key questions and decisions to make helps me determine the frequency, quantity, and detail of the intel I provide.
ED: What do you think is the biggest misconception about competitive intelligence?
ST: Some consumers of competitive intelligence mistakenly assume it entails cloak and dagger; digging up competitive secrets to gain the upper hand in the market. That mindset lands you squarely in the unethical space in a hurry.
ED: How do you measure competitive intelligence success?
ST: The rubber meets the road at earnings. If CI & BI do a great job, it drives better than market earnings. Win/loss analysis in your CRM system provides a concrete number more directly attributable to competitive battlecards and market intel.
ED: What are your favorite sources for collecting competitive intel?
ST: People provide the best and most interesting competitive intelligence source. Our sales professionals, customer service reps, etc. feel the pulse of the market every day. While conversations are not as efficient as database crawls and targeted searches, dialogue often validates the data (or refutes it.)
ED: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
ST: Never stop learning. Lifelong education through structured courses, seminars, book clubs, and other means ensures I stay current and relevant. To quote FLEXcon’s founder, Myles McDonough, “You can never remain at a plane. You either go up or you go down.”
ED: If you were given a free trip to anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
ST: Antarctica; to set foot on the continent. I know; not the top choice for most people. But, after traveling to the other six continents, that one ends up on a bucket list by default.