Use Trade Shows as Fact-Finding Missions

Recently, I blogged about “5 Tactics to Research Your Marketplace using Competitive Intelligence Skills” originally published by Adam Sutton of MarketingSherpa. As promised, I am focusing on each tactic. This week’s is #3.

Trade shows are a Mecca for competitive intelligence. Nowhere are there more people who want to share their knowledge and insight with you: industry experts, prospects, competitors, other industry participants such as suppliers and distributors and journalists. This is cooperative intelligence at its finest since everyone is marketing to you whether at formal presentations, exhibitor booths or even informal places like the conference bar or hotel café.

Here are some tippers to help you be more productive at the trade show:

Beforehand: Do your homework and prepare a game plan that includes both formal and informal intelligence gathering opportunities. Study the exhibitor floor plan and all the presentations to decide how best to use your time. Write out the questions you will ask to the various audiences to help you be more articulate.  Keep your action plan rough as you’ll need to be flexible to jump on opportunities as they arise. For example, you might find out about a cocktail party that you didn’t even know existed until you arrived at the conference! You don’t want to miss it since alcohol consumption makes loose lips. Just make sure they aren’t yours and drink very little or none. I learned that lesson in the late 1990s when I was invited to a cocktail party and had to return to the scene the next day. I was lucky that the show was on for that third day. The competitor’s employees were quite attentive as their exhibit area was almost empty except for me. I don’t recommend what I did there, although I made good connections and got great information!

At the Conference: Be observant. Most people think about gathering competitive intelligence from competitors’ exhibit areas and formal presentations. However, I have found the best intelligence is gathered at informal settings such as the conference coffee shops, the conference hotel cafe, the elevator, cocktail parties, the bus ride to the airport, even during the airplane ride–by simply listening.

It’s a great time to practice your elicitation skills. I spend my time sorting out how I will approach each competitor or press personality prior to the show and often have to revise my approach mid-stream since I meet so many people for the first time, cold. If you read body communication you can figure out who is most approachable and how they might be motivated. Who is leaning forward as they talk to the booth visitors? Who is the technical person you see fiddling with cable and the computer at the booth? They probably have technical knowledge and are willing to share.

Be creative: If the booth staff doesn’t seem friendly, just wait, in time they’re likely to be relieved. Perhaps you can ask another booth visitor if you can tag along with them. Be smart about who you pick: I accompanied one of the competitor’s key clients, so the account rep answered all my questions and remarks to impress the client. The client had a number of additional questions that I would never have thought of since my product knowledge in that industry was not as deep as his!

After the Conference: Start writing up your findings during the conference and see if your home office has more questions based on what you’ve uncovered. You can pull more information out of a conference especially if you have a few people’s input, even if you’re attending by yourself.

I have even ducked into the ladies room to write out some technical details after a booth visit before I forget. I review my findings every night and often wake up with better questions. I don’t write up anything in the airplane ride home since there might be other attendees around and I don’t want to arouse any suspicion. Also they might start talking about the conference among themselves. Share your findings ASAP with co-workers upon returning to the office!

Note #1: Your competitors and other industry experts are collecting information about your company at trade shows too. How do you qualify who you will share what, and how much to share? Your booth personnel are a target, as are your company’s presenters. Have you thought about how you will answer difficult questions in public? Have you trained your employees not to have private conversations in public places like the elevator, the restroom, airplane or restaurants?

Note #2: Here is an article with more detail on cooperatively collecting at trade shows.

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Connect Cooperatively to Internal & External Experts

Recently, I blogged about “5 Tactics to Research Your Marketplace using Competitive Intelligence Skills” originally published by Adam Sutton of MarketingSherpa. As promised, I am focusing on each tactic. This week’s is #2.

Tactic#2 Talk to internal and external experts

If you work for a company versus consulting, your co-workers can be such valuable sources for scoop on the competition and trends in your marketplace. Sales is one of the best places to start since this is part of their job, to win business over the competition. Many folks have trouble getting sales to cooperate, but that’s usually because they don’t understand Sales’ point of view, and expect Sales to cooperate without giving them useful information in return.

A good way to think about who to connect with internally is: who is dealing with my competitors, customers, the investor community, suppliers, distributors, regulators or attends trade shows? This list of internal connections is longer than you would think and includes: investor relations, product managers, product developers, market research, and trade show personnel.

Externally, you need to consider who tracks the marketplace you compete in, in all its aspects: technology, innovation, the environment, economic conditions, politics/lobbyists, regulatory, social issues and the competition. When you’re new, you find these people gradually. I found that product managers, investor relations and market researchers often subscribe to publications and connect with many of the same external people I want to meet. Our incentive for knowing them is different, but why not be cooperative and share your external people sources, and buy fewer copies of the same report.

You can also find these experts using social networks such as LinkedIn groups or #Twitter groups such as #prodmgmt for product management or product development. You can find experts through the Question & Answer sections of LinkedIn. Sometimes someone else has already posed your question on LinkedIn, so no one can track your interest in that topic or competitor. You need to be wary of this since the Q&A on LinkedIn forms a permanent record. The same this is true of your Twitter Tweets.

Use a cooperative connection approach with internal and external experts regardless of how you reach them. I noticed when email came into vogue in the mid-1990s, people tended to be quite rude sometimes. They would email messages that they would never have delivered face to face. I notice that people using social networks can often be quite rude, and just push stuff at me without any regard for my actual interest in the topic. Next thing I know I’m on someone’s newsletter list, and they’re a recruiter or a business coach looking to expand their business. I’m not a good prospect.

Here is a little test to think about before you issue communication: Put yourself into the receiving end of your communication, and think how you would feel.  If you still email, pare down the list to those who care. If you do social media, share other people’s blogs, news, and comment on other’s Tweets, blogs etc. Social media is meant to be shared, but for many it is one-way, SELLING!

Be sure to thank your experts and send them information you come across that they might find helpful. This two way communication and connection is invaluable to your knowledge pool, whether co-workers, folks you deal with regularly outside your company or your social media contacts.

Capture Win Loss Analysis Cooperatively

Last week, I shared a summary of “5 Tactics to Research Your Marketplace using Competitive Intelligence Skills” originally published by Adam Sutton of MarketingSherpa. As promised, I am focusing on the first one, and will cover Tactics 2-5 individually in future blogs.

#1 Conduct win loss analysis
Win loss interviews and the ensuing analysis are one of my favorite cooperative intelligence tools, since it’s a win/win. Your company receives valuable information from your customers and prospects, and you make them feel important since you care enough to query them and give them an opportunity to provide honest, candid feedback on what they like and don’t like about you, and what they like about the competition, for example.

During these interviews, uncover the motivations behind their decisions and learn from what they impart to improve product development, tweak your existing products or service, change your marketing message, learn how and when in the sales process your competitors are successfully unseating you and so much more.

Many companies ask me to develop their win loss analysis process, and just want to focus on their losses. This is a shame as they get an unbalanced view of their win loss track record. Let’s face it: loss customers are gone, unless they buy other products or services from your company. In all cases those who continue to be your customers often care for your wellbeing, and usually give deeper answers that you can use towards product development. Remember they want you to continue to be successful since your product/service helps them in their business, especially B to B.

I recommend you conduct these interviews in cooperation with your sales force, rather than behind their back. Building trust with Sales is the biggest reason to include them as part of the win loss analysis process. Additionally, Sales can save you so much time by telling you how the people you’re going to interview are motivated to share. You only have a short window to conduct this interview, so having sales intelligence, recognizing Sales’ bias is a good use of time. Wow, that reason alone is enough to work with Sales. I shared this point last week since some clients want me to conduct win loss interviews without letting sales know we’re even querying their customers. This is such a bad idea. Sales will find out soon enough that this is going on and will often feel betrayed.

On a final note, it is also demoralizing for Sales if you conduct only loss interviews with their customers. How would you like it if only your losses were being queried and amplified about the company? I feel like Darth Vader when I am reduced to connecting with Sales only around their losses. They know when I call it’s always in connection with another loss. Is that how you want to treat your sales force? I don’t think so!

Here are a couple of articles I have written about the benefits of conducting win loss analysis:

Win/Loss Analysis: The Cooperative Angle + Increasing Sales through Win Loss Analysis

What has been your experience in conducting win loss analysis? Do you conduct it in cooperation with Sales? Do you prefer to conduct win loss analysis blind, where people don’t know the identity of the company you represent and Sales doesn’t know this is happening?

Be notified when our book, Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want is published.

5 Tactics to Research Your Marketplace using Competitive Intelligence Skills

Recently I was interviewed by Adam Sutton of MarketingSherpa, and in the spirit of cooperative intelligence I am sharing some highlights. For the full article you need to subscribe to MarketingSherpa. Check out MarketingSherpa’s free trial. It is chock full of marketing information, studies, white papers and current articles like this one. I will summarize each of the five tactics, and then blog on each of them individually this month.

Tactic #1 Conduct win loss analysis
Interview new customers and prospects you lost to the competition. Your goal is to uncover the motivations behind their decisions and to learn whatever great information they impart to help improve product development, tweak your existing products or service, change your marketing message, learn how your competitors are successfully unseating you and so much more.

I recommend you conduct these interviews in cooperation with your sales force, rather than behind their back. Building trust with Sales is the biggest reason to include them as part of the win loss analysis process. Sales can save you so much time by telling you how the people you’re going to interview are motivated to share. Wow, that reason alone is enough to work with Sales.

Tactic#2 Talk to internal and external experts
Use a cooperative approach when connecting with internal and external experts. People inside your company tend to know a lot about your industry and can connect you with external contacts who might be helpful. Be sure to thank your experts and send them information you come across that they might find helpful. This two way communication and connection is invaluable to your knowledge pool.

Tactic #3 Use trade shows as fact-finding missions
Trades shows are the biggest Meccas for competitive intelligence. No where are there more people who want to share their knowledge and insight with you: industry experts, prospects, competitors and journalists.

Do your homework: Prepare a game plan before the conference. Study the exhibitor floor plan and all the presentations and decide how best to use your time and write out the questions you will ask to the various audiences.  Keep the plan rough as you’ll need to be flexible since you’ll need to jump on opportunities as they arise, which you can’t predict.

Be observant. Most people think about gathering competitive intelligence from competitor’s exhibit areas and formal presentations, but sometimes the best intelligence is gathered at informal settings such as the conference coffee shops, the conference hotel cafe, the elevator, cocktail parties, the bus ride to the airport, even in the airplane.

Tactic #4 Build an information database
Build a database for all the information you have on the competition and the marketplace that can easily be browsed and that is easily kept up-to-date. Also build a database of contacts both internal and external to your company who are great sources of information about your industry, the marketplace, the competition…and make this sortable as well! This quick access to contacts and information greatly speeds up your research timeline!

Tactic #5 Remain ethical and avoid deception
Make sure anyone you use to collect information is operating under the same ethical standards as held by your company. Check out SCIP’s website for its code of ethics.

Remember I will provide more detail about each of these 5 tactics in future blogs.

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