I Love Equity Analysts

Research reports by investment banking are by far my favorite source of background research on companies and industries.  Thomson Research (formerly Investext) is the standard-bearer in this area, and I’ve made voracious use of it when I’ve had (highly expensive) access.  Finding a good “initiating coverage” report makes my day, for better or worse.

What makes them so good?

First, they’re much more in-depth than typical market research reports (DataMonitor, I’m looking at you).  When reading market research reports, I get the impression the analysts are filling out a template as quickly as possible.  The inevitable SWOT section tends to be extremely generic, to the point of uselessness.  Equity analysts, in contrast, do their homework.  They do channel and customer checks, even with difficult to reach constituencies like medical specialists.  They attend (and even organize) industry conferences.  They typically cover multiple leading companies in an industry segment and draw relevant comparisons between them. Continue reading I Love Equity Analysts


Why Is Good Business Information So Scarce?

I recently came across this O’Reilly post about CrunchBase, the open database of information on startup companies, asking whether CrunchBase will remain free in the long term.  While the post itself is interesting, the part that puzzles me is why there is so little business-oriented information freely available out there.  Data as a service has been generating a lot of excitement recently, and I think it’s well warranted.  However, the only prominent sources of open business information are the SEC’s Edgar database, LinkedIn, and CrunchBase.  After that, the field gets very thin.  Considering how much effort companies put into business intelligence and competitive intelligence, it seems like there should be a great profit motive for someone to provide a deeper business information layer.  So I don’t really understand why we’re in this situation, but it does seem like a big opportunity. Continue reading Why Is Good Business Information So Scarce?


Different Hats for Business Researchers

If you do much business research, many of the mental habits involved become second nature.  As with any complex skill, you build up a lot of tacit knowledge over time; context that makes the work easier and more effective but is difficult to express explicitly and transfer to others.  In this post, I’d like to attempt to put some of the context for business research activities down on paper, so to speak, and codify some of the intangibles that can make more of a difference than how you use the search engines or research sources.  This stuff can be particularly difficult to internalize for more junior people just starting in business research and analysis roles.  Much of it boils down to putting on a different hat at each stage in a research project.

1. Figure out the story

Decide what your story is first.  In other words, what does your audience really need to know?  Let’s say you’re helping to prepare for a sales meeting: emphasize the meeting participants, recent initiatives they may be involved with, and overall priorities for the organization.  Short and sweet.  In contrast, a competitive analysis might entail much more extensive information on sales and marketing strategy, core competences, and profitability over time.  Outline the deliverable at the outset, perhaps in only a handful of bullet points.  Then structure your research framework and related topics around that outline.  If marketing is one aspect, the research should include advertising, product mix, pricing, distribution channels, and a few other concepts like social marketing.

This is going to sound like screenwriting advice more than business research advice, but also think about the story arc.  Two companies in the same industry might have vastly different stories which mean that you should focus on different data points to help explain those developments.  For a struggling company like GM, what are the fatal flaws that led to their problems?  Have they found the keys to redemption, and why or why not?  For a rising star (like Toyota, until recently), what market trends or internal strengths led to their ascendance? Continue reading Different Hats for Business Researchers


How Business Research Fits with Career Development

Often, simply focusing on your daily work leaves you without the skills and knowledge you need in other areas to advance your career.  At many companies, training budgets have been cut (or never existed), while many business jobs now involve dealing with more change and variety than ever before.  To help people deal with these challenges, a whole constellation of personal development approaches has sprung up, including conferences, self-directed study, and online classes.  I have a bias, but I think ongoing business research is a great tool as well. Continue reading How Business Research Fits with Career Development


Search Engine Best Practices

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time on search engines, and I have come up with a list of personal best practices in my attempts to be efficient at finding information.  While I don’t think most business research projects projects should start with a search engine, being efficient at filtering through all the information out there is still important. Continue reading Search Engine Best Practices