7 Timeless Competitive Intelligence Tips

I have worked in competitive intelligence for over 25 years and here are some timeless key findings.

competitive intelligence tips

1. What Is Competitive intelligence Anyway?

Competitive Intelligence is NOT competitor spying. While competitors are definitely part of the external scanning and analysis process: customers, suppliers, regulators, new technology and so many more sources are part of the competitive puzzle.

2. Company Insularity Is Not a Competitive Advantage.

Too many companies spend too much time being insular since it is comfortable and are encouraged by executives who want to do it their way. Unfortunately many companies compensate their executives to be low risk takers since they get paid very well whether the company is doing well or not.

3. Don’t Forget: Your Employees Are Smart!

Yet, you don’t want to be too focused on the external environment so as to disregard what your employees are telling you. You don’t want to stifle their creativity by saying it won’t work, since it didn’t before or at company X. You want to give employees adequate time to be creative and exploratory, and to make allowances for mistakes: not just in research and development.

4. Let Employees Create and Have Access to Customer, Sales & Market Intelligence.

Customers are a key source for product development, competitive intelligence and the future of your marketplace. Don’t assume you know what your customers want: ask them. I notice that the the most successful companies are good at figuring out what will delight their customers–which goes far beyond “asking them”. This comes from letting the brains in the company be creative and develop neat products and services. Yet they need to have a tie to customers and other external sources to feed their creativity while internal marketing and sales people help them with practical things like pricing.

5. What Ever Happened to Good Old Fashioned Customer Service?

Many companies fixate on innovation at the cost of good customer service around existing products and services. One key learning from many Win/Loss interviews with customers is that customer service and company reputation are often the reasons customers buy and stay with you. Innovation and pricing are almost always lower in the decision-making totem pole. In a similar vein, some companies seem more eager to steal competitor’s customers than to retain their own. Costly move.

6. Many Companies Can’t Afford a Competitive Intelligence Process.

If your company doesn’t have the budget to sustain a competitive intelligence process, at least establish and maintain a list of internal and external experts who you can rely on when you have those competitive intelligence quick turnaround projects. Realize the value of cross-functional input towards key decisions, as cross-discipline output will reduce blind spots in your strategy. Input from external resources, who have never worked at your company, also reduces blind spots.

7. Be Actionable.

I have noticed that most companies actually have the intelligence they need about their marketplace to make smart decisions: they just aren’t willing to make the changes. Being nimble and willing to make organizational, product or service changes is a competitive advantage. Don’t get bogged down in organizational practices and procedures that aren’t necessary. Having management that is incented to make these changes is also a competitive advantage!

Extra Tip: Learn Why Your Competitors Got the Business that You Didn’t.

Win/Loss Analysis book gives you a process to learn why you’re losing clients and how to keep more business!

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Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want: Q and A Part II

Earlier this year, I was honored to give a Win Loss analysis webinar, as part of the competitive intelligence #IntelCollab series facilitated by Craig Fleisher, Chief Learning Officer at Aurora WDC.

You can view the slides and listen to the webinar entitled: Win/Loss Analysis Captures and Keeps New Business. You will get a preview of my recently published book, Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want.

win/loss analysisSince people often disconnect for Q&A, I am including the second group of them here. (The first Q & A)

What percent of Win Loss analysis interviews are blind versus not-blind? First let me explain the question. A blind interview means that the interviewer does not identify the company who hired him or her to conduct the Win Loss interviews. Not-blind Win Loss interviews mean that the interviewer discloses the name of the company who is conducting (or the recipient of, if outsourced) the interviews.

I suspect that most B2B Win Loss interviews are not blind as it is more professional to be upfront about the company who wants the information. It is another touch-point with your customer or potential customer, in the case of losses. I have found that for every 2o Win Loss interviews I conduct, I find one lead for my client’s sales reps. This wouldn’t happen were it a blind interview.

Trust needs to be earned when interviews are blind. You need to offer those you interview something in exchange for not disclosing the company’s identity. This is not necessary when you are open about the hiring company. You also get on the same page sooner when you share the company’s identity. When you don’t, those you interview will be trying to guess who hired you to conduct the interview. This is just human nature. I think it’s playing games not to disclose the hiring company when I conduct B2B Win Loss interviews, which is what most of them are.

That said, there are companies who specialize in conducting Win Loss interviews that are blind. I suspect they are a minority. I am not one of them.

Do you have a horror story to share about a Win Loss interview that went badly? Do you have tips on how to deal with this? The worst thing that will happen is they will hang up on you, although I have never had that happen. These are warm calls, so there is a low risk that things will go wrong. Win Loss interviews are not cold calls, where the person has no idea who you are, when you’ll be calling or what you’ll be calling about.

In Win/Loss interviews, you have a warm introduction to the person you’ll be interviewing either directly from Sales or an introductory email that explains why you want to connect with them, giving them some good reasons why they would want to talk with you. The closest thing to disappointment is that more people don’t agree to Win Loss interviews or they forget about our scheduled interview time.

My biggest disappointment has come from a company who hired me to conduct Win Loss analysis. When I called the Sales person to find out more about their account before calling their customer, and I realized that their sales management hadn’t told them word one about this Win Loss process. They had no idea what it was, that management had agreed to this process, what was in it for them, and that they were to cooperate with me.

You mentioned that you use a decision tree approach to developing the Win Loss questions. How do you prepare them? Do you share with the sales force to validate it? I don’t share my decision tree with my clients. They don’t care to see this level of detail. They just want results.

I develop the decision tree approach especially around areas where I need to learn more before I conduct the Win Loss interviews. Examples might be technology or a manufacturing process. I would need to learn all the innuendos of the technology that might impact a decision to buy the customer’s product. I learn enough about the technology to probe deeper and deeper depending on how the customer might answer the questions. For example, I might learn all the technical features, training on how to use it, and the strengths and weaknesses the marketplace perceives about this company’s technology.

The decision-tree is thinking and plotting all the different ways that a customer could possibly answer my questions, and what questions I might pose depending on how they answer. Not only does this process give me ammunition to probe more deeply. There are fewer surprises in these interviews since I have done my homework. They run more smoothly.

Another example is decision-making criteria. It could be based on price, features, customer service, ease of use, compatibility with the customer’s other technology, company reputation/longevity, account rep, professionalism, or what others are saying about the company (industry consultants, other customers, Wall Street). Usually there are several factors at play, and if you do your homework, you’ll find out which are the most important ones and why.

To learn more about how to conduct your company’s Win Loss analysis, check out my book: Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want.

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Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want: Q and A

In May, I was honored to give a Win/Loss analysis webinar, as part of the competitive intelligence #IntelCollab series facilitated by Craig Fleisher, Chief Learning Officer at Aurora WDC.

You can view the slides and listen to the webinar entitled: Win/Loss Analysis Captures and Keeps New Business. You will get a sneak preview of my soon to be published book, Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want. (Amazon pre-sale until July 11 launch)

Since people often disconnect for Q&A, I am including them in this blog.

What internal group supports Win/Loss programs in your experience? If it’s not competitive intelligence (CI), as not all companies have a CI person or team, it’s usually a manager or executive in business development or marketing.

What are some of the best practices to break through internal company resistance to Win/Loss analysis? First, only one part of Win/Loss analysis targets sales performance and professionalism as you’ll see in the Win/Loss topics chart below.

win loss topics BIG

Other areas include product attributes, service issues and company reputation. Sales also is motivated to cooperate from this Win/Loss statistic: taking action from a formal Win/Loss program can improve win rates from 15 – 30%. On the other hand, know that Win/Loss isn’t for every company. As mentioned in the webinar, some companies have never heard of Win/Loss. Some think they’re doing it when they’re not. Others are going through the steps of Win/Loss, but aren’t making any changes from the results. Some are stymied by politics and/or arrogance to seriously consider a Win/Loss program.

When is the best time after the buying decision to conduct Win/Loss analysis interviews? Ideally it’s 2 to 3 months after the buying decision has been made, and people know you aren’t selling to them. If you wait too long, people forget the details of their buying decision, and sometimes they move onto another position within the company or leave the company. Sometimes I have great interviews when the decision-maker has left the company and I listen to the person who has been forced to adopt the solution or product. While I don’t learn about the decision-making process, I do find out how well the product is working, often in much more detail than I would have from the decision-maker.

Due to the sensitivity of Win/Loss analysis, is it better to hire a third party? First of all: if you conduct the interviews in-house, don’t have sales people do them. Customers don’t want to deliver bad news to sales people: it’s just human nature. You want to hear everything. Although it’s great to have sales people pave the way for whoever is conducting the Win/Loss interviews. In more complex deals, sales people might even be present for the Win/Loss interviews, but I would have someone else be the key interviewer. Marketing or Product Developers can conduct these interviews since they often have the product knowledge and the bigger picture of where your company wants to go. However, many of them are not expert interviewers, as this is just a small part of their job responsibilities.

Third parties are often preferred for two reasons: they are a neutral source so customers and those who chose a competitor feel more free to share; Win/Loss consultants are expert interviewers since this tends to be their full-time job. Their focus is customer intelligence. Don’t ask me why, but I find that when I conduct Win/Loss interviews, people are happy to share the good, the bad and the ugly with me, even though they know that my client is the recipient of all this information (although I do not disclose the names of the individuals interviewed).

I will include the next 5 questions in a future blog or on my LinkedIn blog. Don’t forget to check out my book on Amazon: Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want.

Rocky Mountain #SCIP Meeting: Mar 30 #Denver

You are invited to our Rocky Mountain SCIP networking meeting on March 30.

Rocky Mountain SCIP MeetingWhere: The Bookbar MAP

Address: 4280 Tennyson St. Denver, CO 80212

Time: 6 – 8 p.m.

Cost: Cash bar. Food available too. MENU

 

Come to meet fellow competitive intelligence professionals.

We also want your suggestions for programs!

  • Where to meet?
  • What time/day to meet?
  • How often to meet?
  • What topics do you want to hear more about?
  • Which CI speakers do you want at future meetings?
  • Local speakers? National speakers? International?

We have a table reserved under Gordon’s name and SCIP. Feel free to reach out to Gordon or me (Ellen) with program suggestions, especially if you can’t attend our meeting.

BTW we have a Denver/Rocky Mountain LinkedIn group, where you can share ideas and pose questions.

Ellen Naylor                                                    Gordon Muschett

answers@thebisource.com                         gmuschett1@gmail.com

Be Smart: Be Human: Be Flexible

I read a moving post about the value of being flexible by my friend and book counselor, Judith Briles. She totally changed gears from talking about her book, The Confidence Factor, on a morning show in Cleveland due to a tragedy where some high school students had been killed the night before. The community was reeling from it. She decided it was time to talk from her heart. She had such incredible empathy from her experience losing her son at age 19, also in a terrible accident. The local community couldn’t get enough of her. The show extended her time by two segments and she was invited back.

manager woman doing yoga at white background

How flexible are you in competitive intelligence and Win/Loss analysis? We usually aren’t in situations where the daily news changes how we’ll be with people. However, it’s likely that no matter how much planning we do, there are surprises.

Flexibility at Trade Shows

In my first Neocon, the largest N America-based commercial interior and design trade show, I was asked to get specific information on three competitors. I had done my homework before the conference: I knew where are the competition’s exhibits were in the huge Chicago Merchandise Mart. I had memorized considerable facts about each competitor, and had my questions all organized in my head. I was sure of my game plan.

I came up to the market leader’s showroom and asked to have a tour of their space which featured some new products. The snooty sales person asked if I had an appointment. “Why no,” I answered. “I didn’t know I needed an appointment just to see your furniture display.” So I walked away feeling dejected.  To add spice to the day, I was rapidly losing my voice.

What was I to do? I could not succeed in my assignment unless I could get into the competitor’s showroom and get answers to our questions. Then I got an idea: “Why couldn’t I find a group who had an appointment and just tag along?” So I stood outside the market leader’s space until I saw a group of gentlemen from a well known software firm, heading to the competitor’s exhibit area. I asked if they had an appointment, and when they answered in the affirmative, I asked if I could tag along. “Sure,” they said. “Happy to have you join us.”

Ironically the snooty sales person was their account rep, who gave us the tour being as informative as she could be. She told us all about their new products, and why they were better than the competition, which answered most of my client’s questions. She glared at me, but graciously answered my questions, since I imagine this was one of her largest accounts as this software firm was expanding exponentially. Meanwhile her client had questions that I hadn’t thought of, as they were steeped in the commercial interior space. Their jobs varied among purchasing, design and decision-making, so you can just imagine how much I learned, all because I hung back and waited for a major customer to get the tour.

Flexibility in Win/Loss Interviews

In Win/Loss interviews, I like to research who I’ll be speaking to, and usually can find something about them from the sales team and social media, especially on LinkedIn. No matter how much you learn, you need to be flexible as soon as you connect with them on the phone, SKYPE or however you converse. Sometimes you cold call these people, especially in B2C Win/Loss interviews.

In one case, I was trying to reach those who used test and measurement tools. When the gentleman answered his phone I could barely hear him and wondered why he had even bothered. I could hear machinery very close by and asked where he was. “I am a crane operator, and that’s where I am.” I chewed him out for answering his mobile on the job and asked to schedule a time when he would not be operating his crane. We had a great interview during his lunch hour the next day.

In another case, I thought I was going to talk to a user of these test and measurement tools, which was the target of this project. Instead I got through to a person who repaired all the brands of these test and measurement tools. I revised the questions on the spot, and asked him about the repair track record of all the manufacturers’ test and measurement tools. This was one of the most informative interviews we had, since he had about 20 years of experience. Not only did we get the current trend in repair protocol and need, but we also got the history of how it had changed, and his future assessment of the industry.

Competitive Intelligence Collection

In another project, I was researching the glass industry. My client thought I might benefit from listening in on the quarterly earnings call. I thought I might just as well read the report later, and look at the slides. But he insisted that I should listen in. I was so glad I did. When the CEO was asked about the failing glass business, his tone of voice changed to a sad one. Yet he didn’t indicate any desire to sell it. A rational business person would have sold it a few years before I was hired to investigate this company. This made me wonder what emotional tie this CEO might have to the glass business. I found out his dad had bought the business, and that he wanted to keep it going for his dad.

So I told my client I couldn’t predict what would trigger the sale of this business, which was inevitable, but it would be a major event where the CEO would be forced to sell the business. Perhaps it might be a terrible accident in the glass factory. A couple of years later, some stockholders filed to force the CEO to sell this unprofitable business and won. My client was ready to capture this company’s glass business.

So the bottom line is as with many things in life. Do your homework and be prepared. Be flexible and swallow your pride, and let your heart speak when it’s needed. That way when the unexpected happens, you will have an ability to shift gears.

Check out our book, Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want.

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How You Can Become a Conversation Rockstar

So much about life revolves around effective communication.

As a primary research expert, I am always looking to for ways to motivate others to share. You need to understand what makes them comfortable to share.

Traci Brown Persuasion PointI recently read Traci Brown’s book, Persuasion Point: Body Language and Speech for Influence. While the book focuses on closing sales deals, the same tactics will work to promote sharing when conducting competitive intelligence collection or win/loss interviews. I will focus on speech, since we are often conducting these interviews over the telephone, so we don’t have the benefit of seeing the other person, although we can surely sense beyond their words.

One quick and easy way to start the connection is to match their speed and tone of speech. This also pushes you over to their side by being flexible, and forgetting about yourself.

Traci describes four communication preferences:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic
  • Auditory Digital

First, figure out your own communication preference, so you learn how to modify your language, tone and pace to match the other person’s communication preference. If you don’t, you’re apt to lose them in your conversation.

Visual people are quick as they are often competent and confident. They think and speak quickly. If you slow down, their mind will wander. They require less detail to process information, and when they change the subject you know they are ready for the next topic. They are interested in how things look or will look. They often focus on the future and have a big picture, strategic focus. They can easily think other are idiots. They are judgmental, very observant and don’t automatically like you or your ideas until you prove yourself.

Words/phrases to use: see, look, appear, show, dawn, view. “I see what you’re saying. It’s unclear. How does this look to you?”

Auditory people learn by listening, and are interested in how things sound. They are easily distracted by noise. Tone of voice is important, and they can be hurt by the wrong tone. They like sequence and order and to be told how they’re doing. They are less interested in how things look, and live in the here and now. Structure kills them as they like freedom. A plus is they automatically like you and your idea.

Words/phrases to use: hear, listen, sound, harmonize, music. “I hear you. That rings a bell. How does this sound? Clear as a bell.”

Kinesthetic people tend to speak slowly, in long phrases and breathe deeply. Slow your speech if you’re a fast talker and be patient as conversations tend to be longer. Listen for their deep feelings to emerge slowly. They’re often in occupations that use their hands: carpenter, chef, mechanic, artist.

They need more extensive detail to process information, and respond to touch. They tend to like you and your ideas, a plus. Like Auditories, they live in the here and now.

Words/phrases to use: feel, touch, grasp, get a hold of, slip through. “Does it feel right? Do you grasp this idea?”

Auditory Digital people like detail, structure and order. They are often lawyers, computer programmers, engineers or financial professionals. They often exhibit characteristics of the other three communication preferences.

They tend to be smart, curious and know a little about most things. They can operate in their own head, are often judgmental and don’t necessarily like you or your ideas, until you objectively prove yourself.

Words/phrases to use: think, learn, process, understand, learn. “So does this make sense to you? This is a great way to learn. Do you think this is a good idea?”

In reality, many people jump among these communication preferences depending on what you’re talking about. Sometimes you can’t detect a communication style quickly enough in a telephone conversation. So pepper words of each of the communication preferences, and note what they seem to resonate most by listening to their tone and words.

Check out our book, Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want.

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Reflecting on Present Moments with Amy Cuddy

amy cuddyEarly this week Amy Cuddy presented her book, Presence, at our Denver independent bookstore, Tattered Cover.  Here are some of my favorite nuggets from Presence, and how they relate to primary research and Win/Loss analysis interviewing.

Presence has a number of definitions in Amy’s book.

“Removing judgment, walls, and masks so as to create a true and deep connection with people and experiences.” Pam, Washington State

“Being myself and keeping confident, whatever happens.” Abdelghani, Morocco

“Confidence without arrogance.” Rohan, Australia

“When all your senses agree on one thing at the same time.” Majiid, United Arab Emirates

So let’s interpret presence in primary research—such as Win/Loss interviews—where you had better be present. Not only do you need to be prepared with the questions you want answered, you need to be you: a confident interviewer, who expects the other person to be responsive, while being polite and not arrogant. You need to listen with all your senses.

This is challenging, as primary research is often done over the telephone so there is no body language to read. But you do have words, intonation, pauses, changes of tone, breathing, and facial expressions that you can sense like a smile or a frown as people talk. You also have your intuition to tap into.

William (Bill) Ury, world famous negotiator, cofounder of Harvard ‘s Program on Negotiation, and author of the decades old acclaimed book, Getting to Yes, offers great advice.

“When you listen to someone, it’s the most profound act of human respect.” Bill Ury.

Marianne Williamson adds to this, “As we let our own light shine, we … give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Why is it so hard to be quiet and listen? When we meet someone for the first time, we fear we won’t be taken seriously. So we talk first. We want to show what we know, what we think and what we have accomplished. Talking first says I know better than you. I am smarter than you. I should speak while you listen.

When I let you talk first, who knows what you’ll say? I am giving up control of the situation, and where will that leave me?

Listening is difficult at times and the eagerness to reach a quick solution can take over, when in negotiations like Bill Ury. Bill says look for the present moment. In most situations, there is an opening if we are attentive enough to see or hear it. It is all too easy to miss since we may not be paying full attention. It is easy to be distracted thinking about some past event or worrying about a future one. Yet it is only in the present moment that we can change the direction of a conversation (towards agreement…Bill Ury).

This is also true in Win/Loss interviews. You need to be sensitive as to what the interviewee knows and what they don’t know. While your company wants answers to 10 questions, for example, the interviewee may only be knowledgeable and willing to share on 5 of them, and two of them in great depth. As the interviewer you need to be present to pick up on the cues to probe more deeply, and to pass over quickly those questions that the interviewee doesn’t know the answer to or won’t share.

Real listening is crucial to presence. But it can’t happen unless you have a real desire to understand what you’re hearing. This means you have to suspend judgement, even if you’re bored, scared, anxious, impatient, frustrated or feeling threatened. Give the other person the space and safety to be honest. You can’t respond defensively when you’re truly listening. This also means you need to overcome the fear of silence as you let the other person speak their mind.

Remaining silent is one of the main behaviors of a good interviewer. You want the interviewee—in the case of Win/Loss—the customer or former prospect to do the talking. They need to feel comfortable when you are silent that you are giving them time to think, and are listening to what they’re saying. That’s why mirroring or a simple, “uh huh” encourages the interviewee to continue sharing.

By listening, which is viewed by many as relinquishing power, you become more powerful. When you stop talking and listen, you can expect:

  • People will trust you.
  • They will feed you useful information.

That’s what you are looking for in a Win/Loss interviewer, that they will build trust almost instantly so the customer or former prospect will share how they went about making their buying decision, and for example, what variables would have changed their buying decision, if any.

When people feel heard, they are more willing to listen.

You value this as an interviewer as well since you want people to answer your questions honestly. Once they feel heard, they will listen more closely as you probe more deeply into some of the issues where you sense they know more.

Meanwhile keep in mind that listening to another person does not guarantee a favorable outcome every time.  Part of presence is accepting the possibility of disappointment, and moving on.

In Win/Loss interviews, not everyone is going to give you great information. In fact, some won’t agree to be interviewed. In my experience, everyone you interview shares some valuable information. However, about a third of them share the most insightful information. In primary research, we often cold call, so we experience even more disappointment when people are unresponsive and/or don’t take our calls. It’s good to keep in mind that you can always find another person who has the knowledge and willingness to help you. You just need to be persistent.

I love this from Maya Angelou:

“Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.”

Presence bookOh yes, I recommend you buy a copy of Presence.

Check out our book, Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want.

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