Building Winning Competitive and Market Intel Initiatives - Lessons from the Movies

Moneyball, The Imitation Game, The Bourne Identity, Ready Player One, The Social Network–what do these movies all have in common? Besides being blockbuster hits, they all feature winners who outsmart the competition. Suspense and car (or girl) chasing scenes aside, these stories about winning provide valuable lessons about critical components that make a winning competitive and market intel program.

Who wouldn’t want to cheer on their Sales team during a 20-win streak like the Oakland A’s in Moneyball? Who wouldn’t want to defeat a formidable competitor like the Allies beat Germany in The Imitation Game? Who doesn’t want the nerds to win? Using examples from these Hollywood movies, we’ll walk through some winning intel strategies including:

  • What a blockbuster competitive and market intel program entails
  • Why a formal CI and MI initiative is becoming critical table stakes
  • How to make your Sales team crazed fans of your CI program
  • What to do with your new-found fame and accolades

What a Blockbuster CI and MI Program Entails

1. Investment

In an early scene from Moneyball, Oakland A’s General Manager, Billy Beane, explains to establishment scouts, “There are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there’s 50 feet of crap, and then there’s us.” The team’s owner later tells Billy Beane that there’s no money to buy better players. He has to find a way to win with the budget they have. This is a common dilemma for companies with intel initiatives. It’s critical to invest, but resources are lacking.

In complex markets facing disruption, intensifying competitive landscapes and rapid change, underinvesting in competitive intelligence brings substantial financial risk. As with the Oakland A’s, your Sales team may make it through a few RFP rounds with potential customers. However, they can find themselves eliminated before the final round because competitors are outperforming your company in some way that they are unable to identify. You have to make a minimum investment and do as much as you can with it to play the game and have a shot at winning.

2. A Steady Stream of Data

Intel should of course be data-based. Nevertheless, like the old-time scouts in Moneyball, Sales reps often prefer to use intuition and gut feel as a substitute for data. When Billy Beane begins to use data and statistics to identify players for the A’s and organize a team, in the process he gains insights that allow the players to get on base more frequently and increase wins.

The Halliday Journals in Ready Player One documented everything about game inventor Halliday’s life in a huge database of film from nanny cams, games, books he read, TV programs he watched and information on every other aspect of his existence. Knowing that this massive amount of data held the literal keys to winning, Parzival and Artemis studied the journals until they found the clues they needed to advance in the game. Spoiler alert: They won the game.

In short, selling without using data insights is like flying blind–just like the Allies were doing before decoding Enigma in The Imitation Game.

3. Automation

In The Imitation Game Alan Turing declares to his colleague, “This war, we’re not winning it.” He then follows up with, “We’re going to break an unbreakable Nazi code and win the war.” When Turing announced this vision, he never planned to defeat the Germans using the large staff of expert cryptologists, whom he accused of slowing him down with their manual code-breaking methods of yesteryear.

Turing knew that to defeat the enemy (competition), he needed automation, because otherwise it would take his team 200 years working manually to break Enigma’s code. The takeaway is that manual intervention simply won’t work for highly competitive situations.

To be useful for CI and MI programs, data must be automated and constantly updated. In the opening scene of Bourne Identity, which takes place in a truck stop cafe, Jason Bourne informs his accomplice, Marie, how in tune he is with his environment. He explains, “I can tell you the license plate number of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred and fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the gray truck outside.”

Bourne’s continuous monitoring and awareness of his environment allows him to react automatically to escape threatening situations. Without constant monitoring of the market and your competitors facilitated by automation, missing the smallest detail, such as a price change or customer problem, could mean a loss for your Sales team.

4. Analytics and AI

In one of the final scenes of The Social Network, Facebook has begun gaining serious momentum in Silicon Valley. Eduardo reminds his old friend Mark Zuckerberg about his original algorithm, “Remember the algorithm on the window at Kirkland?” Eduardo implies that none of Facebook’s success would be possible without that algorithm that Mark “borrowed” from Eduardo in the early days, which allowed The Facebook users to rank girls. Eduardo’s algorithm effectively allowed Facebook to replicate the social structure and behaviors on campus, which then provided Zuckerberg with insights into student behavior and needs. He added a privacy option and the ability to post a relationship status and with that one algorithm Facebook became what it is today.

Data without context is just number and words. It’s useless. In Moneyball, Billy and his analyst Peter Brand figure out how to use advanced analytics to recruit and fire players using non-traditional criteria. Their analytical models give them confidence to play the team as a whole differently. In the process they change the rules of the game. Their use of predictive analytics also allows them to decide how best to optimize their limited and uncompetitive player budget. Artificial intelligence applied to CI and MI can optimize your company’s intel resources and enable it to achieve better results with the resources it has. It can maybe even help your team change the game.

Artificial intelligence can also filter out noise in market data, helping your team focus on what matters. Using predictive analytics, Billy Beane and Peter Brand avoid using player information that is not important to winning, such as the player’s good looks and their wife’s good looks. By focusing on critical information only, Billy and Peter relieve the Oakland A’s of some star players and end up winning more games without them.

5. Lots of Training and Teamwork

Through daily gaming the players in Ready Player One develop skills and cumulative intelligence about the OASIS game. They meet up frequently in the virtual world to discuss strategies and study the Halliday Journal regularly. In the end they uncover keys to winning and win the game against all odds through teamwork and by leveraging their collective knowledge of the game. The Imitation Game teaches us yet another lesson about training and collaboration in the workplace. The movie is a testament to what can be achieved when a team recognizes and encourages each member’s talents and knowledge.

Winning intelligence programs have a dedicated team studying the data constantly, that is united around a common goal–beat the competition. And a bi-directional feedback loop is essential for success. Your CI team should be a collaborative partner with your Sales and Marketing team, providing training on every competitor and every important market regularly and helping Sales and Marketing strategize accordingly.

Why a Formal CI and MI Initiative is Becoming Critical Table Stakes

There are three key reasons why competitive and market intelligence is becoming critical to success: disruption, competitive advantage, and the need for constant innovation.


At the beginning of Moneyball, a quote from Micky Mantle flashes across the screen. It reads, “It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about the game you’ve been playing all your life.” At the end of Moneyball, Billy Beane is told by the Red Sox owner that, “Anybody who’s not tearing their team down right now and rebuilding it using your model, they’re dinosaurs.”

Countless companies and industries in recent decades have lost the game they have always played when the rules changed through disruptive business models. Like the Winklevoss brothers in The Social Network, who tried to get Zuckerberg thrown out using the Harvard student handbook, they kept clinging to old rules and ultimately were laughed out the equivalent of the Harvard President’s office, losing to a team of nerds. To quote Billy Beane again it’s a matter of, “Adapt or die.”

Competitive Advantage

Carving out a competitive advantage has never been more critical to survival and performance, nor has it been more difficult. Don’t have a big budget to attract top talent like the Oakland A’s? Are your talent (employees) and fans (customers) getting pilfered by the equivalent of the New York Yankees and their $114 million budget? You must find a way to compete and carve out an advantage. How did Turing’s team crack the German’s code and create an advantage for the Allies that they used to defeat the enemy? The answer again of course is using intelligence and data.

In The Social Network, Div Narenda explains to the Winklevoss brothers that Mark Zuckerberg “gave himself a 42-day head start because he apparently knows what you don’t, which is that getting there first is everything.” Despite the Winklevoss brothers’ money and resources, they did not have the intelligence (literally and figuratively) that Zuckerberg and his clan of nerdy roommates had in those first weeks during which Zuckerberg’s team gained valuable insights into users. Being first to market is a competitive advantage. Great intel enables you to predict market outcomes and be first to identify an opportunity.

As Moneyball teaches us, teams who gain competitive advantages through market intel simply get on first base more often and let their enemy make the mistakes so they can win the game.


We mentioned disruption as a key reason to create a CI and MI program. Becoming a disruptor is another reason. Here again, Billy Beane teaches us a lesson when he tells the scouts, “We are the card counters at the black jack table and we are going to turn the game on the casino.” Billy and Peter then analyzed 25,000 players that the scouts dismissed using new evaluation techniques to form a team of 25 winners. In essence, they innovated.

The reality is that, as in Ready Player One, competitors eventually copy what you d. They find the keys to success, and start winning too. To stay ahead in the game you have to move to the next level and find the next crystal key–your next competitive edge. As in The Imitation Game you have to identify the strengths (in the case of the Germans, technology) and the weaknesses (overconfidence in the strength of their code) of your competitors. Then adapt your products and services to exploit their weakness. As with The Facebook, you have to drop the “The”, find and add new features and always be innovating. A deep understanding of your market and competitors allows you to innovate and win the war or the virtual reality game, as the case may be.

How to make your Sales team crazed fans of your intel program

1. Deliver valuable, actionable insights (not just data)

Throughout The Imitation Game, Alan Turing is on an answer-seeking journey of discovery and problem solving. His disruptive technology, the computer he creates to crack Enigma’s code, came only out of trial and error, deep learning and insights gained. The victors in Ready Player One spend a great deal of time in the Halliday Journals studying every minute detail, the equivalent of analyzing huge amounts of market data repetitively. In doing so, they make observations and unlock insights that progress them on the road to winning, and which even provide Parzival with an additional life that ensures victory over the competition.

If your CI program empowers your Sales team with insights that promote progress, action and ultimately, wins, they’ll be huge fans of CI.

2. Deliver an accurate understanding of customers

Jason Bourne’s situational awareness and his ability to read others’ behavior can be transferred to your Sales team through your intel program. Up to date competitor and market intelligence can help your Sales team better understand the motivations of customers and the many factors influencing their decisions and behavior. Accurate and insightful battle cards can help them read the room and escape any traps Bourne-style.

In the Social Network Mark Zuckerberg shows us the importance of understanding customers by paying close attention to small details. A simple comment from his roommate prompts him to include a “relationship status” on user profiles. Thereafter, everyone on campus is using the term “Facebook me”. Zuckerberg demonstrates that he understands his customers deeply when he observes, “This is what drives life in college.” By delivering a detailed understanding of customers and the competition to your Sales team, they can increase their win rates. Nerds can, in fact, win through intelligence.

3. Prepare Sales for Battle (cards)

Jason Bourne’s confidence flows from his constant training and preparation which enable him to react automatically in combat scenes or when navigating high speed car chases. Bourne’s constant physical and mental training, even when he is idle, allows him to act decisively and successfully in times of chaos and uncertainty. Bourne never seems stressed and rarely runs. He doesn’t have to because he keeps a map, his version of a battle card, of every European city in his head. This allows him to know escape routes when needed.

By arming and preparing your Sales team with battle cards that prepare them with real-time insights about the enemy and train them for possible scenarios they will encounter, they will be able to confidently and automatically react to different customer situations and challenges. They will be able to instantly adapt to objections and deal with competitor advantages more successfully. Like the Oakland A’s, they will be able to “get on base” more often, increasing their winning streak.

4. Help Sales win the Easter Egg

In Ready Player One, Parzival defeats his enemy Sorrento and wins the easter egg against all odds, defeating the evil Mechagodzilla in the process. He doesn’t do it alone. Parzival recognizes that, “No man is a failure who has friends.” His entire journey to locate the easter egg in the OASIS is supported by group research and analysis, teamwork and team sacrifices. He would not have found the egg and gained total control of the OASIS without the team’s effort. Likewise, the CI and MI intel team needs to partner with Sales to help them bring home the easter egg.

What to do with your new-found fame and accolades

In The Imitation Game, the moment that the code-breaking machine works is euphoric for Turing’s team. However, they haven’t won the war. It’s just the beginning. Immediately after they are faced with a decision of what to do with the decoded messages and the insights they deliver.

In The Social Network, after Mark Zuckerberg “gives the Winklevoss brothers the finger in the Crimson” and everyone on campus is using the term “Facebook me”, Zuckerberg and Facebook’s success seems sealed. However, on the way to celebratory drinks Zuckerberg quietly warns his partner, Eduardo, “It won’t be finished, the way that fashion is never finished.”

In Moneyball, Billy Beane received a $12.5 million offer to go work for the Red Sox. He turned it down. Two years later the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1916.

Just because your CI and MI initiatives are delivering solutions and insights and wins, your work is not done. Decisions will need to be made, strategies will need to evolve over time, new customer problems will need to be solved and new competitors will arrive to solve them. So go have that celebratory drink with the team, or that girl, enjoy your new friends in Sales and sign that multi-million dollar contract. Just remember the CI game is never really over.

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