Dashboards are often used within organisations to provide an automated overview of key performance indicators (KPIs) relevant to a specific business or set of objectives. Dashboards are usually a selection of pre-defined graphics, charts, and other numerical or visual indicators that can be monitored and interpreted over the time. They can be powerful tools in providing structure, and clarity to the wealth of data available to companies and help businesses to monitor performance and course correct as required. It is clearly important to define key measures that support the strategy and guide success.

In this blog I will briefly cover dashboards in the context of competitive management as the final instalment in this series. Over the past few weeks we have reviewed the various stages of competitive management. In week 1 we summarised some simple tips around defining your competitive setWeek 2 we reviewed the importance of the discovery process, focused on deriving competitive insights. In week 3 we considered how competitive simulations can help you decode competitor strategy. Week 4 we introduced how to distil what this means for you and your strategy and in week 5 we explored how to deliver a competitive plan. This week we will look at the importance of monitoring and tracking competitors as part of a strategic approach to competitive management. The focus of this final blog in the series will be on building KPIs and monitoring competitor reactions and actions based on your tactical moves…

A quick reminder of the 6Ds:

  1. DEFINE your competitive set
  2. DISCOVER insights about selected competitors
  3. DECODE their strategy
  4. DISTIL the implications for your own strategy
  5. DELIVER a competitive plan
  6. DASHBOARD to actively track competitor moves

6. DASHBOARD to actively track competitor moves  

Previously we discussed how SMART tactical objectives act as a bridge between our strategy, expressed as CSFs, and our tactics. Tactical objectives are a series of goals which are intimately connected to the CSFs and guide all activities. So where do KPIs fit? Simply put, KPIs are the things you measure to show you are on track to achieving your objectives e.g. share of voice, online conversations, duration of treatment, or number of switches. As mentioned KPIs are often assembled into a dashboard to provide a visual record of progress. Selecting KPIs needs a lot of thought- too often companies either select the wrong KPIs, the wrong type, fail to set them at all or fail to look at them once they have set them. Organisations tend to over-rely on lagging indicators, which consider outputs and are often not available for timely course correction- a balance of lag and lead indicators is often required. Leading indicators can be used to assess inputs and their effectiveness in achieving a desired objectives e.g. Number of attendees at key meetings.  Lagging indicators can be used to assess outputs; whether the plan has had the desired effect e.g. number of customers aware of your brand.

In the context of our overall 6D approach to competitive management we can be a little more strategic in what we chose to measure. Our competitive plan has been built, pressure-tested and refined in light of the insights we have discovered and the assumptions and hypotheses we have distilled. We have simulated how competitors may respond to our plan, but the real test comes when we implement the plan and monitor competitor actions and reactions.

We believe that it is vital to routinely measure, monitor and track competitor moves. Dashboards are a powerful way of visualising this, but having an agreed and systemised process for gathering fresh insights and competitive learnings is most important. As part of strategic planning, competitive management should be a circular and ongoing process, where we continually track, learn, update our thinking and adjust our plan. Competitors will adjust their activities based on our activities and we need to rapidly learn, assess and adjust our assumptions and our plans accordingly.

There are many areas you can track specifically within a competitive dashboard e.g. clinical development program, market access and pricing approaches, messages, physician awareness, customer perceptions, investment spend, conference presence, patient engagement, resourcing etc. But in completing the 6D ‘circle’ of competitive management, we believe there are 3 key areas often overlooked when dashboarding:

1. Tracking indicators that certain market or competitive scenarios are unfolding

As part of a comprehensive competitor simulation you will have played out different market and/or competitive scenarios and assumptions. As you pressure-tested your plan you should have identified successful strategies that play out irrespective of the future. That said, you will have also generated a set of plausible and stretching scenarios that need tracking so any contingency plans can be implemented as appropriate. Scenarios will have been characterised with detail on how different market trends, events and influencers govern a future world state. As part of this process you can set indicators that a particular future scenario is emerging and track a range of measures that support or counter a future market or competitive state.  By doing this you can be much more proactive in your approach and agile in your execution.

Let’s imagine one of a series of indicators that a particular future scenario is unfolding within a pharmaceutical context is “competitor makes tangible connected health solutions a reality” we may want to measure general themes such as how many patients are using apps for monitoring their health or trends regarding number of virtual vs. face-to-face consultations within this disease space through to more specific activity e.g. competitor tech partnerships with patient forums or new diagnostic apps  

2. Testing core assumptions made regarding competitor strategy, their focus and activities

In week 3 and week 4 we spent time considering how to decode a competitor’s strategy and distil the implications for our own strategy. We talked about how ‘strategy is placing bets and making hard choices’ and how we need to bravely make decisions based on our current knowledge and assumptions. Over time you can obviously evolve your thinking, test your assumptions and fill knowledge gaps through a variety of market and competitive research. From a competitive tracking perspective it is extremely useful to identify the core assumptions and hypotheses that have formed your opinion and driven your strategy, alongside any gaps in knowledge that you need to fill. Building priority measures around these elements will help you refine your understanding of the competition over time and ultimately refine your plan and its impact.

Whilst anticipating the launch of new therapy into your market you may have made certain assumptions around how that drug will be priced and reimbursed and how fundamental this is to the competitor’s strategy as a whole. These assumptions may have driven changes to your own strategy and therefore requires regular tracking with early indicators informing changes to your approach as appropriate. You may want to combine primary and secondary research approaches to gather intelligence around a range of measures supporting or refuting your current assumptions and strategy e.g. you may want to build additional indicators on payer perceptions or changes in treatment guidelines 

3. Capturing competitor responses to your activities

Finally we know, like playing Chess, that there are many moves (or choices) open to us and often our ultimate move is influenced by what our competitor does (or doesn’t do). In my experience, many companies fail to monitor and track how their customers and competitors respond to their chosen strategy and miss the opportunity to learn and adapt their approach as their plan is implemented. We need to be careful to not get bogged down with data and analysis but I would recommend at least tracking the actions and reactions of your competitors to pivotal activities alongside any other customer or business KPIs.

I am aware of a pharmaceutical company who recently rolled out a new sales model across their business with the goal of bring greater insight and challenge into customer conversations. This was a fundamental change in the philosophy and approach of the sales organisation with the expressed goal of driving clarity and differentiation around where their brand should be used in an increasingly competitive market. They appear to have set up robust sales effectiveness measures within a dashboard and solid KPIs around changes in customer perceptions, beliefs and behaviours. However in the context of a crowded and competitive market I believe they missed the opportunity to also monitor how their competitors react to this change in approach and what this means moving forward. 

Over the last 6 weeks or so I have (hopefully) introduced a practical and pragmatic approach to competitive management with some tips and hints based on experience working in this area within the Pharmaceutical and Biotech industry. We started this journey with a heavily quoted and potentially overwhelming philosophy from Sun Tzu about ‘estimating our competitors completely’   which I hope feels significantly more doable.

“Conquerors estimate before the war begins, and they consider everything; the defeated also estimate before the war, but they do not consider everything. Estimating completely creates victory; estimating incompletely causes failure. When we look at it from this point of view, it is very obvious who will win the war.”