How to become an expert in primary intelligence: Interviewing

Last night I gave at talk to our DC SCIP chapter on primary intelligence collection and elicitation. I promised I would share the slides with attendees. They are on Slideshare.

Here are some of the key points from the talk about interviewing. The next blog will cover key points on elicitation.

When conducting an interview, most people know who you are and why you want to talk to them, except when you are cold calling, which is what we do often enough in competitive intelligence.

The first step in primary collection regardless of whether it’s a standard interview, elicitation or some combination is preparation. Do your homework. Find out about the person you will talk to, even if it’s a cold call. At the very least, you know their profession and their industry, which will help you develop reasons why they would want to talk with you, and more importantly, share! Do not skimp on this upfront time. Often conversations and interviews don’t go as planned. If you have done your preparation, you can more easily be flexible and go with plans b, c or d!

As you prepare for your collection project, think about what it is you will share and NOT share before you pick up the telephone or attend that trade show.

Think about why people will be motivated to share with you based on who they are: their profession, personal issues, politics, predisposition, and emotional intelligence. Be sensitive as to how they like to be communicated with based on how they come across in those first few seconds of the call or the meeting, and alter your communication style accordingly to a dominant, expressive, conscientious or amicable type. Recognize that people may change their practice and predisposition when they are under stress.

Reword your questions to motivate people to open up and share. Start with open ended questions that are easy for them to answer, and that you think they will enjoy answering. Then move to more hypothetical questions and indirect questions before you get to the more narrow questions. I find that bracketing those narrow questions gets a better response.

Listen closely to what the target is telling you, and be flexible. Perhaps they really don’t know the answers to some of those issues that you thought they would know. What are they not sharing that you thought they knew? Did they really know it or are they purposely not telling you? With so many participating in social networks there are too many self proclaimed experts who aren’t so expert once you start probing.

Lay aside your preconceived notions. Many of us listen for what we think is the ‘right’ answer or for what we want to hear. We don’t listen to the full story that the other person is telling us. Listen and put your ego aside if you want to be good in primary collection.

If you are at a trade show or another form of in-person collection, take advantage of the person’s body cues. Do the words match the facial and body expressions? If they don’t, believe the body: it’s easy to lie. In America, people often misinform. They are often just trying to be helpful, but it’s misinformation. Sometimes that’s harder to discern. One way is to make an obvious mistake in a key assumption or statistic as I ask a question. If they don’t pick up on it, I am suspicious about their knowledge level.

Also realize when dealing with people in person that it’s easier for people to manipulate their smiles and facial expressions, less easy for them to control other parts of their body such as their shoulders, arms, legs, feet and breathing.

If you are connecting on the telephone listen for a change in their tone of voice, pitch, cadence, confidence, speed of speech, hesitation, sigh, shallow breathing, silence. There are so many cues when you listen to people beyond what they say or don’t say. Trust your intuition: it’s usually right.

In closing, many people asked me how I represent myself when I talk to people. I tell them who I am right away. Many people seem to think there is one approach that will work with every person, that there is a simple answer to this question. There isn’t. You should choose to be ethical when you conduct research. SCIP has a code of ethics; AIIP and SLA have codes of ethics. Your company probably has a code of ethics or business practices they want you to follow. But most importantly you have to be true to yourself.

BTW, if you want to watch a great interview check out John Clees here and look for my next blog on elicitation.

Maximize Your ROI through Competitive Intelligence

This is the second in the series from my Pecha Kucha presentation for our SLA Competitive Intelligence tournament. In the first I described life as a competitive intelligence professional back in 1985.

This will focus on maximizing your ROI (return on investment) while providing market intelligence. You want to prove your worth as soon as you can. First you must find out what is missing that you CAN PROVIDE ETHICALLY! We conduct interviews with those who fund our competitive intelligence initiatives, as well as those we know will ultimately be great sources of CI (CI sources and users will often be the same people, but not always).

I was fortunate in that I came from field Sales, so I knew sales intelligence was an area where I could improve our company’s ROI by helping them win more deals. I had a good idea how I could help without interviewing anyone, since I knew what we were missing. We didn’t have regional detail on how to win against specific competitors. We just had a global outlook on the competition, and this was too broad to be useful. In addition, people in Sales didn’t know each other, so I could connect individuals who were combating the same competitor, and let them strategize together. Then I could share their success story so others could take advantage and win more deals. This would pump up the sales force, so they would share even more with me, since they liked this kind of publicity.

Competitive intelligence is a support role. You need to shelf your ego. I learned that I portrayed a cooperative attitude which I have since dubbed “cooperative intelligence”, which opened up the floodgates of sharing from Sales in particular. I went to them on a mission to help them, rather than to extract information from them. This was a first for them. Since I was a giver and a listener, this cut through politics and promoted information sharing. When you give without the expectation of something in return, anyone can tell.

There are more subtle ways to gain brownie points with Sales. I noticed that most staffers were coming to sales people with requests for information repeatedly, and that their requests were often for similar or even for the same information. I decided to become a conduit for others in our headquarters staff to centralize and consolidate their requests for information from Sales. Sales loved this since this reduced the number of staff requests. I also kept track of what other staffers had collected from Sales, so that I could intervene in some cases when Sales had recently already provided this data to a different staffer. Staffers appreciated this too since most of them didn’t like to call Sales with requests for information. This is a great way to insert yourself into the Sales process and prove your value. It doesn’t take much extra time, and Sales is really grateful.

Even doing all these things “right,” it still took me about 2 years to connect with Sales throughout our company. You cannot rush connection and relationships. It takes time to build trust.

It took me a little longer to connect with Sales Vice Presidents, the subject of my next blog.

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