What if I told you that your primary competitor just signed a deal with one of the larger OPM companies and would be launching their most popular programs online with a promotional budget commitment of $3 million in Year 1?
Or that the small private college was, according to very reliable sources within the institution, struggling to cover payroll again – which meant that steps were underway to make cuts in the areas of personnel, programs and services, technology, and even facilities management.
Or that the state and county government have announced plans to develop a corporate/industrial park within 5 miles of your campus that has $100 million in funding to attract technology and manufacturing firms.
And let’s add to that the announcement of the anchor tenant – a Fortune 100 corporation that is expected to employ more than 1,000 people in positions paying, on average, $150,000 per year.
Or that another university was about to open a satellite campus with 5 miles of your main campus – offering library services, computer labs, advising, financial aid, career services for both traditional and post-traditional students.
Last one – what if your state legislature passed a law which provides all state residents with free college – covering tuition, fees, and books.
Would you be surprised? Would the entire day be taken up with emergency meetings trying to learn all the details and discuss the possible reactions – including doing nothing and hoping that things will work out for the best?
Or would you respond with “We have been aware of this for several months and have a plan-of-action that we have developed to ensure we protect our market share and continue to achieve our goals.”
EXTERNAL DATA IS CRITICAL TO STRATEGIC PLANNING
We talk a lot about internal data. And sometimes the conversation switches to competitive data and insights. But very few institutions have a formal process of monitoring the external environment so that data can be gathered, analyzed and used to drive strategic decisions.
Market intelligence is the information relevant to a company’s markets, gathered and analyzed specifically for accurate and confident decision-making in determining strategy in areas such as market opportunity, market penetration strategy, and market development.
Government/Politics. What’s going on with the government in your market that will impact your institution’s ability to achieve its goals and objectives?
Is the local government considering increasing or decreasing funding to public colleges and universities? Will a bond initiative pass so that the public colleges and universities have more financial resources for facilities, operations, technology?
You need to be on top of what’s being considered and acted upon at the local/state/federal level, so you can have the time necessary to take the appropriate steps. Economy. What’s the local/regional economic growth rate? Is it increasing or decreasing? Why? What is the unemployment rate? Interest rates? The skill level of the labor force?
And this means if a specific industry employs a significant percentage of the population in your market, you need to understand that industry. Think about the recent decision by GM to layoff up to 15,000 and close five plants – and if one or more of those plants were in your target market.
Society. Within the geographic market you serve, what segments exist (demographics, psychographics, behavioral factors)? What is the education level? What are the attitudes towards higher education in general and your institution specifically? Is there an entrepreneurial spirit?
If the attitude in your market is shifting from “pro-higher education” to “anti-higher education,” what’s your strategy? Do you shift your focus from degree programs to work-related certification or a partnership with local businesses to offer a 21st Century version of apprenticeship programs?
Technology. What technology is available or in the development process that can help your institution increase productivity? Lower costs? Improve performance?
From ERP and SIS to LMS and AI – technology offers a lot of options that can help – and hinder – your institution’s ability to achieve its mission. Staying on top of what’s going on can be a full-time job, and you need an agreed upon process for identifying and qualifying opportunities so that resources generate an acceptable return.
HOW TO CREATE AN EFFECTIVE MARKET INTELLIGENCE PROCESS
The first step is to bring the right people together and map out the goals and objectives for the effort. What questions do you want to answer? What sources of information are acceptable? What data are critical? Where will the data be stored? How will it be analyzed? Who has the authority and responsibility for the overall effort? Who has the authority and responsibility for pieces of the effort – for example, you might want to have someone with specific expertise focused on government/politics or technology as well as one person overseeing all market intelligence operations.
Make sure the data are analyzed, and recommendations drawn from the analysis – then incorporate it into communications with your board as well as within your institution.
In some instances, outside expertise might be a wise investment – so if you lack the bandwidth and expertise internally, find the solution through external sources.
And remember to focus the effort on actionable findings so that the effort pays off in ways that bring your institution closer to its mission.