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Originally published in Business People-Vermont in 2003.

Erik Glitman is the founder and managing director of Fletcher CSI, a marketing firm in Williston.

To Market

It might be named for a rural town in Northern Vermont, but Erik Glitman's company, Fletcher CSI, covers the world.

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

For a guy who likes to learn new things, Erik Glitman is sitting in the catbird seat. As the founder and managing director of Fletcher CSI, Glitman is immersed in information gathering. His Williston firm collects, for clients around the world, information about their competitors: their strengths and weaknesses, how they see themselves, what does and does not work for them, information about equipment and pricing just about anything the client needs to succeed or to branch out into new market territories.

Contrary to the intelligence gathering we see on network television shows like The Agency and Alias, Glitman's people cull information without prevarication. "We have a code of ethics we operate under," he says, "a very strict code, and it says that, one, we don't divulge who our clients are ever and two, we do not present ourselves as something we are not."

A lot of the work Fletcher CSI does for its clients involves trying to understand what it is that is making a particular thing or activity work for that company, Glitman says. He uses one of his former employers as an example.

"Let's say you're Lane Press. You might call on us to understand how one of your top competitors, let's say World Color, is positioning its printing assets: Where do they have their plants? What kinds of equipment do they have? Who are their key customers? What kinds of pricing structures do they have for those customers? How do they sell to them? We throw that information into the mix, then come back and say, OK, you compete against World Color, whose biggest customer is X, and here is how they go about selling to X, here's how they price their deals, and by the way, here are the points where X is most likely to come against you, and here are things you need to put up against them."

To do this successfully, Glitman's expertise, and the expertise of his more than 40 employees in three states, must be backed by knowledge about the industries they're researching. Many of the analysts are specialists in a particular industry, for example pharmaceuticals or manufacturing. Being well versed in the industry they're analyzing helps them understand the market dynamics and convey their information in the context of the industry.

"It's particularly true of smaller companies as we have in Vermont," says Glitman, "that the owner tends to be a person who runs the whole show. This person tends to believe that he knows all about the market and competition, and in many ways, they're well informed. We're able to look at it from the outside; we don't have the same conviction that their product is the best. We can talk to their direct competitor and learn very detailed bits of information: how they're going to bid on a particular contract, how they build this product, what makes up their cost for getting their product into the marketplace."

Fletcher CSI can take that information and present alternative ways for the client to operate. "We can say, 'Well, here's how other companies are doing it, and their way may be better.'" Added to this is information gathered from customers of a client's key competitors.

These conversations with competitors' customers also yield knowledge that can be used to assess decision factors in making a purchase, "how happy they are with the competitor and how willing they are to change" says Glitman. "We can arm you with the information you need to not only price your product, but to position it in terms of the support, features and benefits you offer around it in ways that now stress your strengths and specifically address your competitors' weaknesses."

While sales are done from the Philadelphia office, research and operations are handled in Vermont, the company's headquarters. Chad Stemson is manager client research.

It seems almost impossible to gain this depth of information without lying a little bit, but Glitman says people his researchers encounter are usually delighted to talk about what they do. "We don't pretend to be purchasers; we don't pretend to be potential employees," he says. "We are pretty straightforward: 'We are researchers on this particular activity and can you help us out with it.' And that is truly the best way to do things."

Most of the research is done by telephone. Callers find people who are a little more talkative than they should be, Glitman says. "We'll call up a printing shop manager and say we're doing an equipment study. We'll ask: What is the equipment you have? What is its capacity? Who is using it? Most people don't ask who we are. They're proud of what they have. A lot of it is just that they're proud of their jobs, and realistically, for most people, nobody asks them about what they do and how they do it."

"Surprisingly, while Fletcher CSI does offer its clients training for employees who might find themselves on the receiving end of a call from another competitive intelligence firm, very few have taken advantage of it. "Most of our clients are convinced," says Glitman, "that they actually do know how to control their own employees and how to keep that information private."

Outgoing and loquacious, Glitman appears perfectly suited to this kind of work. He obviously enjoys what he does.

He was born in the Bahamas, where his father, a career diplomat, was stationed at the time. As he was growing up, he and his family spent time in Canada, California, Washington, D.C., New York City "stationed at the U.N. for a little while" and Paris, finally returning to roost in D.C.

The atmosphere at Fletcher CSI is an upbeat one. Each Friday, the team gathers for breakfast, which employees take turns supplying. The flavor of our work is always changing," says Scott Spencer, getting ready to munch with co-workers Emily Pouliot and Sarah Roenning. All three are business analysts in targeted industries.

After high school, Glitman decided to go for a bachelor's degree in environmental studies at Johnson State College in Vermont. "In 1981, when I graduated from Johnson, my original intention was to be a city planner," he says, adding wryly, "Of course, the demand for city planners in 1981 was roughly about zero, so I ended up working at the Lane Press."

While at the Lane Press, Glitman found moments to read some of the magazines printed there, including Institutional Investor, which intrigued him. "I continually saw that the opportunities for me were limited if I didn't get more education," he says, "and that economics was a way I could do that most effectively."

He earned a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Vermont and immediately headed to American University in Washington, D.C., to pursue a master's degree in International Affairs. By graduation time, he had married Diane Kirson, a fellow denizen of D.C., whom he had known since 10th grade.

After about a year designing computer systems at Booz, Allen and Hamilton, a D.C. company consulting in strategy, in late 1987, Glitman moved to Kaiser Associates, a competitive intelligence firm, his first foray into the business.

Around the same time, he also started free-lance consulting for a company that did global political risk assessments, obtaining "information that a company would use to determine whether or not they should invest in a country."

Glitman liked the work, found he was good at it and decided it made sense to continue doing it, but living in the D.C. area was a challenge. Coming home from work one day, he had what he calls an epiphany. "A person had hit my car, and in the middle of the Washington Beltway, I got out of my car and was ready to fight with him. I realized that was not a good thing, and said I didn't want to be living down there and didn't like what that was all about."

Glitman's parents had a second home in Fletcher, where the family had spent vacations when he was growing up. He believed Vermont would be a good place to raise the family he and Diane were planning, and "I felt that the quality of life available to me up here was going to be a determining factor in my longer-term satisfaction and lifestyle," he says. They made the move to Fletcher in December 1989.

He started his competitive intelligence business right away, naming it Fletcher Mountain Group after the town where he lived. "I taught skiing on the side," he says, citing the advantage of free lift tickets and having a way to overcome a shyness he had when working and talking with strangers.

His first client was a former employer where he had served an internship, and he soon picked up work from several state government departments before moving into work with private-sector companies.

Things swam along until 1999, when Glitman found a partner, Steve Levy, who had a similar business in Philadelphia, and Fletcher Mountain Group became Fletcher CSI. "I met Steve at a competitive intelligence conference in Berlin," says Glitman with a laugh. "He and I are both Jewish, and we both had a Saturday in Berlin with nothing to do. I convinced Steve that because we were in Berlin and both Jewish, the most appropriate thing we could do was go and find Hitler's bunker and spit on it. And we did! That is the basis of our partnership.

"Both of us realized we had gone about as far as we could go as sole proprietors, and in order to get to the next level of business and growth, we were going to have to join or merge or change the way we did business." Levy runs the sales office in Philadelphia research and operations are handled out of the Vermont headquarters.

Negotiations were completed in late November with a company in Atlanta that does call center research, which Glitman says will greatly enhance the services Fletcher CSI can offer its clients. "Right now, we offer what we refer to as 'qualitative studies,'" he says: We will interview 50 to 75 senior-level people and they give us a sense of what makes their business tick. With the call center, we're going to be able to interview field operations, so, for example, if Mobil hired us because they were looking at BP's re-imaging of convenience stores, we would be able to use the call center to call 35 or 50 or 60 convenience stores around the country and get them to respond to what they're experiencing from the BP imaging process, and we would take that back to Mobil and say, 'Here's what BP's offering and here's how it's being structured.'

"We also talk to suppliers and their customers. But with the call center, we'll go to much higher numbers, and we'll ask them a scripted question over and over and put statistical analysis on that, which then adds a whole quantitative piece to the study we do; so it's no longer, 'I spoke to these five people and they said this,' but, 'We went in the field, and not only are they saying this to the world, but they're saying this to the people in the field.'"

The call center also allows Fletcher CSI to do more prospecting support for its clients. "We get cold calls from various companies that say they want to manage our payables, etc., etc.," says Glitman. "They're generally trying to set up a meeting with us. We don't do that kind of prospecting. The prospecting is going to be, say, you are selling a diagnostic tool to auto dealers. What we would be able to do is develop of set of questions that would indicate whether or not a particular dealer is a likely purchaser of that diagnostic tool. We would call the senior service manager and find out the volume they had, training of their salespeople, satisfaction and budgets they have to buy new equipment. Ranking each of those criteria, we would come back to our clients and say, 'Out of 1,000 dealers, here are the 600 who meet your idea of an ideal buyer.' It's a much more effective way to close a sale."

While Glitman spends a considerable amount of time on the road often to address Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals colleagues family and leisure time activities rank high. He and Diane have two daughters, Sarah, 9, and Abbi, 8. "I'm very passionate about skiing and bicycling," says Glitman, who chairs the marketing subcommittee for the annual MS Society's Bike Tour 150 and sponsors a corporate team. "I also get passionate about the role of government in individual lives and issues of freedom."

A mini-passion, which garners occasional ribbing, is his interest in feng shui. "Our office is not completely but somewhat designed with feng shui principles in mind. I'm not superstitious. It's just simple things like having your desk so your seat is facing your door." Glitman's corner office features a fountain and plants abound throughout the space. "The hallway is slightly askew when you walk in so the view isn't one long hall, but rather a little bit of a jog."

Mainly, though, his interest is his business. "I enjoy the challenge that this career gives me, because I'm always fighting up a learning curve about why something happens and what makes something successful."

Originally published in January 2003 Business People-Vermont

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