Learn Elicitation Skills at AIIP in Baltimore, Apr 2: 8 – Noon

AIIP Logo 2014AIIP holds its annual conference from April 2 – 6 this year in Baltimore, Maryland at the Hyatt Regency in the Inner Harbor. I will be giving a half day workshop from 8 am – Noon on April 2. The topic is elicitation skills with my corporate spin rather than the military intelligence angle.  The talk is entitled, “How to Use Conversation to Optimize Data Collection.” After all, elicitation is best done conversationally.

So here is a little more detail about why you might want to attend this workshop, especially if you live in the DC or Baltimore metro areas.

Many info pros and CI professionals dread conducting telephone, video, or in-person interviews, an essential skill for data collection. Through conversational interviewing, we can probe more deeply, and gain much more intelligence than through the Internet and social media. Actually my best audience for this workshop has been sales people who want to close more deals and retain their customer base. Elicitation forces them to organize their thoughts about what they’ll cover before they visit or telephone their customers.

Attend this workshop and learn how to successfully conduct interviews every time. Discover how to take your collection skills to the next level, and use this session to practice your skills.

Prepare yourself to conduct a conversational interview: physically, mentally and emotionally
Conduct a conversation to optimize data gathering–whether it’s a cold or warm call
Present your findings persuasively to your client

Ellen Speaking AIIP2012 1For those of you who don’t know me (Ellen Naylor), I have been using elicitation skills since about 1985, and have led workshops at SCIP and for clients privately for many years. I keep learning new ways to be more effective, which go far beyond the elicitation skills that we learn as competitive intelligence professionals.

The fee is $125 for AIIP, SCIP and SLA members, and $150 for everyone else. This is about 1/3 what I charge when I give this training at corporations. The maximum class size will be 20, and you will get individual attention, not just from me, but from fellow attendees. For more details about this workshop, check out AIIP’s site.

For more details about the AIIP’s conference, check out the detailed schedule, and the 4 other pre-conference workshop presenters. You can register for the full conference on line, which includes the pre-conference sessions on page 2 of the registration form.  There is a member rate for my session–How to Use Conversation to Optimize Data Collection–listed at $125, but it doesn’t specify SCIP and SLA specifically. I will honor these memberships, so if you belong to either, take the “member rate.” If there is a problem, we will sort it out at the session.

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Debra Fine & The Fine Art of Small Talk

Debra Fine was the keynote at our AIIP 2013 Annual Conference in Denver, Colorado. Here are some of her shares.

Debra FineSmall talk is an appetizer to any relationship. People like to do business with their friends. For example, when you see someone at a trade show, and you have forgotten their name, you could just avoid them, and then they’ll think you’re aloof. Or you could approach them with, “You look so familiar, but I forgot your name.” This might be gutsy for a shy person, but it’s a great way to open a conversation and put the other person at ease. You are assuming the burden of their comfort. Remember what a low risk it is to engage in conversation.

When two people are talking and a third person walks up, a good conversationalist will make sure that all the people know each other. Look for approachable. Often enough the person who is alone will engage in conversation, and will think you’re a savior since they’re by themselves.

Often at meetings, there are clusters of people who know each other, hang out together. The lonely person, the outsider, feels like the spotlight is on them since they are alone with no one to talk to. Debra says, “Get over this.” The people in these clusters are not paying attention to you. It’s up to you to expand your network by meeting some of these people.

People decide if they have time to talk with you that often has nothing to do with your opening line. It’s about them: not you.

Here are some common questions, often enough icebreakers that Debra recommends we discontinue:

  • What do you do? It makes people feel they’re being interrogated.
  • Are you married? This is a bit too personal.
  • Do you have kids? This is almost presumptuous. Not everyone wants kids or can have them.

Realize that “How have you been?” “How was your day?” “How are you?” and “What’s been going on?” are equivalent communication for “Hello.”

Rather break the ice with:

  • “What keeps you busy outside of work?”
  • “Describe your most important work experience?”
  • “What significant changes have you seen take people in your work since you started?”
  • “Bring me up to date…”

Why people don’t answer and build relationships:

  • Don’t think you care
  • Are lazy
  • Are too busy

Debra also shared a couple of exit strategies that are graceful:

  • “I have a couple more minutes before I need to wrap this up.”
  • “Would you like to join me and see the exhibits?”

The psychology of assuming the burden of someone else’s comfort is similar when you are on the telephone doing research or competitive intelligence. Make the other person feel you care, but also keep in mind that you might be catching them at a busy time.

Debra ended her talk with a poem, “Thoughts from a New Member,” to remind us to reach out to newbies.

  • I see you at the meetings,
  • but you never say hello.
  • You’re busy all the time you’re there
  • with those you really know.
  • I sit among the members,
  • yet I’m a lonely gal.
  • The new ones feel as strange as I;
  • the old ones pass us by.
  • Darn it, you folks urged us to join
  • and talked of fellowship,
  • You could just cross the room, you know,
  • but you never make the trip.
  • Can’t you just nod your head and smile
  • or stop and shake a hand,
  • Then go sit among your friends?
  • Now that I’d understand.
  • I’ll be at your next meeting
  • And hope that you will spend
  • The time to introduce yourself,
  • I joined to be your friend.

Anonymous, pp 15 -16 The Fine Art of Small Talk by Debra Fine

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.

How Intuition Can Guide Your Research & Research Business

I recently was the recipient of the AIIP’s Connections Writer’s Award, which is presented to “the writer of the best original article published in AIIP Connections each year.” Unfortunately you have to be an AIIP member to access this article. However, in the spirit of cooperative intelligence, I will provide a summary, and encourage you independent entrepreneurs to consider joining AIIP to help you grow your business. This is a group of people who want to help you succeed in your small business, whether you’re just starting out or have been in business for a while. In addition to full members who own their business, AIIP also offers associate membership to those who work in larger companies and student membership.

Critical thinking and intuition are two skills that are often overlooked in this information explosion. We often jump to conclusions with more certainty without testing our conclusions by standing back and questioning our assumptions in a broader context. Likewise, many of us have lost touch with our intuition, which I consider the barometer of veracity. Nothing replaces the gut reaction that tells a researcher that something doesn’t feel right, something is missing, or that she is confident with her findings.

I recall a project where I couldn’t understand why the target company would remain in the glass industry when they were losing more money every year in this business. I learned that the company had invested as little as it could to keep the operation running, that there were occasional accidents, and that many glass products were trashed since the quality was so bad. There were glass trash piles around the factory and it sounded like an awful place to work.

The company was making money in its other divisions, and was publicly held so there was scrutiny by analysts about its operation. My client suggested I listen to a quarterly earnings discussion, which I reluctantly agreed to as I figured I could more quickly read it later. Boy was I wrong. One analyst asked the CEO about the failing glass business. The CEO’s voice turned emotional as he skirted the question in a mournful tone of voice. His Dad had bought the glass business, and the CEO was emotionally attached to it. He would feel like a failure were he to sell this business.

My intuition told me that it would take a major bad event to push this CEO out of the glass business, such as a bad factory accident or a disgruntled stockholder. A couple of years later, a disgruntled stockholder, an investment company with a large share of stock ownership, issued a formal written complaint (Form 13D) with the SEC. Divestiture followed. My client was ready to grab the business.

I have been in business for almost 20 years, and still make mistakes when I don’t listen to or trust my intuition. Listening to your intuition is one of the most precious gifts you have in life. It can save you a lot of time in the research and competitive intelligence processes, and can help you qualify your sales prospects and deal with people authentically.

Personality Profiling: Gauge Your Competitor’s Management Team

Last week I attended AIIP’s annual conference in Indianapolis, IN. I learned so much about running a small business better!

I gave a talk on competitive intelligence, and how information professionals can make a decent living by adding this skill to their research toolkit. Many are good at the collection and organization of findings. However, one area that folks seemed less familiar with was analytic tools, which allow you to communicate findings more persuasively if you use the right tool. In an earlier post, I described the Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) Matrix model  and how I used this to set the marketing stage for an acquisition some years ago.

Another great analytic tool is personality profiling. Most often companies study their competitor’s management team or key employees such as the head of R&D. Usually their strengths and weaknesses follow them from job to job. It’s good to understand their predisposition; what mistakes they have made in the past; and what blind spots they might have. You can obtain the intelligence to develop personality profiles easily enough for executives in publicly held companies since you have plenty of sources such as speeches made to various audiences such as industry conferences and the financial community. It can be trickier to find information for executives running privately held companies. I find that local sources are the best, such as local newspapers and magazines, the chamber of commerce, economic development offices and perhaps their schools. In some cases you will get lucky and locate a chatty employee or ex-employee through a social network such as LinkedIn, Twitter, an industry Ning, forum or association.

Don’t just focus on their professional experience as their personal life is just as important, and often highly influences their professional decision-making. Sometimes you get great intelligence through an executive’s favorite charitable cause or hobby. The non-profit that they make donations to probably has some information on this executive, since they will need this information to pitch their cause to him or her.

My favorite grid for organizing what you need to collect and how to organize it comes from Walter Barndt, Professor and author of User Directed Competitive Intelligence. This is one of my favorite competitive intelligence books since Walter gets the reader to empathize with the user of competitive intelligence, rather than simply describing how to conduct competitive intelligence.

For those who want to read some books on analytical tools, I have listed three favorites here. Just recently, another analytical book, Analyst’s Cookbook, Volume 2 was published by Mercyhurst College for the Kindle. I have not read it yet but see that it’s a short book, less than 90 pages and retails for $4.99. Here is the Amazon connection to purchase it.

Strategies, Techniques & Sources to Find Local Business Information

I just listened to a most informative AIIP (Association of Independent Information Professionals) webinar on finding and using local sources—Internet, Social Networks & People—by Marcy Phelps, CEO of Phelps Research and author of the recently published, Research on Main Street. In the spirit of cooperative intelligence, I would like to share some of the key points I learned.

As a primary researcher, I was listening to clues which provide connection to people, often the best and most current sources of intelligence, recognizing that the web contains numerous sites for companies, demographics, population statistics, country, city, county and state data—the core for research.

Marcy’s 5th strategy tipper “Go Off-line” resonated with me. So much local information is simply not in print anywhere, including the Internet. Also when searching privately held companies or subsidiaries within a large company, it’s great to interview local people, since these companies are often the big fish in a small pond. Some of Marcy’s favorite local sources include: journalists, government workers, librarians, local chapter association leaders, local economists, and economic development executives.

Chamber of commerce sites and their employees are a rich source of local data, and often brag about their local companies and personalities, and can refer you to other people, local newspapers and librarians, among others. Speaking to locals is essential to get at sentiment and opinion, which often bring life to research findings. Other local sources include convention/visitors bureaus, economic development  organizations and local chapters of national associations.

I also liked Marcy’s discussion around local news sources since they can lead you to the right people.

American City Business Journals

ABYZ News Links

News Voyager

Radio-Locator

Google News advance search

Topix

Marcy also included discussion around social networks, a fertile source for finding experts. She included LinkedIn and Twitter, but did you know about Nearby Tweets or Local Tweeps to find people by location? Twitter’s advanced search allows you to find local Tweeters and so much more. Placebloggers is a good resource to find bloggers by location. Others include Feedmap and InOtherNews.

Read Marcy’s handouts from this webinar. You can also link to numerous, relevant links which correspond to each chapter in Marcy’s book, Research on Main Street. While these links are valuable, learning how to use them in context is the key. I recommend that you buy the book to learn how to strategically plan your quest for research, whether it’s to locate your new business, conduct an opportunity analysis, provide sales intelligence or conduct competitive intelligence. She covers so much more especially government sources (chapters 4 & 5), which I didn’t even discuss here. One last tipper: use your creativity and have a Plan B in place! Local information is not that easy to locate, but this book will surely boost your approach to finding it!

You must be an AIIP member for the full transcript and PowerPoint for Marcy’s webinar, which can be accessed anytime through AIIP’s website. Learn more about the benefits of being an AIIP member. If you’re an independent running a research, private eye, library or competitive intelligence practice, AIIP is the place to get invaluable advice and resources to help you start and run your business successfully!

Real-Time Competitive Intelligence

Competitive Intelligence has historically focused on strategic and tactical forms of intelligence. In fact, SCIP changed its acronym from Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals to Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals. While competitive intelligence is an important component in strategic planning, and companies benefit from scenario planning: many companies miss the boat by not conducting and communicating competitive intelligence in real-time. Real-time competitive intelligence deserves to be a focus within the profession.

Many companies think they are conducting real-time competitive intelligence since they monitor their market landscape continuously on the Internet and increasingly through social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook as well as industry specific forums or social networks like Ning. While monitoring is the foundation of real-time market intelligence, it is not actionable. The action you take in real-time will give you a competitive advantage.  As David Meerman Scott said at our AIIP conference, “Speed and agility bring competitive advantage…Act now before the window of opportunity vanishes.”

That’s the point: many in competitive intelligence sit on the knowledge they gain from monitoring the environment. I think part of the reason is that competitive intelligence is a staff job, and many in the profession don’t have the authority to take action. Some corporate cultures reward information hoarding, the exact opposite of sharing and taking action.

However, competitive intelligence managers can inform our company employees in real-time, and in areas where we have more knowledge, we can make recommendations. The balancing act in our job is to offer cooperative intelligence: don’t inundate people with too much information, just what you know is important to them.

When you read a rumor about a competitor or marketing trend that could significantly impact your company, check it out right away. This usually involves talking to another human being. That’s why having a deep human source network is essential for every competitive intelligence practitioner.

When you’re at a trade show, report back your findings several times during the day to the sources in your company who are asking. Invariably your findings bring up more questions.

It’s interesting that Sales will quickly follow up with leads immediately after a conference or trade show. With the same exuberance, you need to fire off a report of your key findings to those who need to know, and those you suspect should know. Don’t put it off: some of the most timely intelligence comes from trade show interviews. What I really like is that much of this is not published yet, and can be used to give your company’s marketing, sales and product teams a leg up.

When you hear that a competitor is merging or acquiring another company, put the word out immediately at your company, especially to sales people, as they can reassure your customers that your good service will continue, and perhaps instill doubt about the merged competitor entity.

The point is those companies that take action more immediately are the winners these days. Those that ignore events or sit on valuable information lose. What has been your experience with real-time competitive intelligence?

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