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Reach out to people for the best & most real-time intelligence

Welcome to another episode of CI Life. In this episode, we’re going to tackle a subject that I think is really important, for basically every CI team that works inside a company. Especially a larger company. Which is the role of internally oriented human intelligence.  And by that we mean, talking with someone versus searching the Web.

Ellen Naylor‘s insight:

Many are too focused on what they can find from “big data,” the Internet and social media–which anyone can have access to who has time and money. If you want to learn what’s really happening, you need to talk to human beings on a regular basis, not just for competitive intelligence, but for anything in life that you care about such as my newfound hobby of birding and my new passions, nutrition, health and wellness. For those who don’t know I am studying to be a health coach at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and I am now half way there at 22 weeks into the program!

I can read a lot about all of these topics on the Internet, and particularly gather great information from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media like Slideshare. However, I gain the most valuable insight, more expeditiously by engaging in conversation with a few people in my vast network of wonderful friends and colleagues.

I have been doing competitive intelligence and research since 1985 and having strong people connections is something that simply does not change. I think it’s even more important today to be connected to people, both inside and outside your company, since that is your competitive advantage. With the high turnover in many companies, it’s even more important to make a connection with new employees who have valuable knowledge.

My friend and colleague, Babette Bensoussan wrote a succint article about “Big Data does not make you smarter.” Babette reminds us that it’s the questions we ask based about data we read, and questioning the assumptions, hypothesis or bias we have, that gives us our competitive edge.

Find human sources to connect with both inside and outside your company by checking out this visual PDF to get you started with your communication reach. Happy connecting!

See on http://cascadeinsights.com/ci-life-35-humint-inside-the-4-walls/

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

The Enduring Importance of Communication & Curiosity

 

Last week I saw a thought provoking video of Sally Blount, Dean of the Kellogg School of Management on the Enduring Importance of Curiosity and Communication. In the last 10 years, the world has become more complex, inherently unstable, a world that is reaching for a new equilibrium. The technological capabilities have far outstripped our very rudimentary human ability to organize effectively. Sally is amazed how important effective communication still is, and how important and well curiosity serves a human being.

She talks about “organizational intelligence.” We can see social networks in our brain; who is linked to whom; which groups convene regularly or not; and how if you interact and intervene in that system, you can change outcomes over time. By being an architect of collaboration, you can affect outcomes through team meetings or Facebook, for example. You need to orchestrate conversations in person and virtually to move the team forward.

As the school’s dean, she comes into contact with Millennials frequently. There are two things she would like to see them do since their brain works in new ways due to their early exposure to technology. They are excellent data collectors. She would like to see them get away from collecting information and into generating insight and inspiration for what to do with that information. The only way she knows to do this is to step away from the chatter and the stimuli.

Secondly, she ponders on how we develop more organizational intelligence. How do we think with more deliberateness about the conversations that we need to have in order to move humankind forward? Her hope is that the sacredness of face to face interaction isn’t lost.

I am also reading MIT psychology Professor Sherry Turkle‘s book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. From her extensive research, she concludes that people look at technology for ways to be in relationships and yet protect ourselves from being in them at the same time. In her 15 years of research, she describes the “always on, always on you,” relationship that many people have with their smartphones, which keeps them from living in their present space.

Short, shallow, frequent bursts of communication via Twitter, Facebook or texting do not develop deep and emotional relationships, whether among friends, parent to child or between business colleagues. Taking all this time to be social media connected has reduced individual’s time and capacity for solitude, which nurtures relationships and critical thinking that Sally Blount also alludes to.

I fear that people are losing their ability to hold a conversation in our infected society of social networks, which favors many forms of digital connection with numerous people who are practically strangers, rather than really getting to know fewer people a whole lot better.

I spend a lot of time talking to people on the telephone. They answer even though they have caller ID, and don’t know who I am. Some of these folks don’t use social media so they aren’t part of that overstimulated world. Most do, but many still answer their telephone since they are inherently curious, and there aren’t enough listening ears these days, at work or at home. Technology will never replace true human connection.

What has been your experience?

Tips to Improve Your Collection Interviews

I recently gave a webinar for our SLA competitive intelligence division on “How to improve your collection skills through interviewing and elicitation.” I particularly enjoyed the Q&A and will share my 2 favorites which I have embellished on since I have had more time to think about them.

Phone Interviewer soloHow do you differentiate yourself from a telemarketer? Do you say what you’re doing, like a research project?

I usually don’t tell people exactly what I am up to in a cold call. It isn’t really necessary and most people don’t care. We are usually more experienced in communication than telemarketers, who try to have us not hang up on them. A telemarketer usually has the same approach and objective for every phone interview, such as to get us to buy something or to donate money to their charity. Not surprisingly, there is high turnover in telemarketing. I have been doing primary collection interviews for over 20 years. I have specific and different objectives for every telephone call. I also have multiple approaches to obtain information, but I am not asking anyone to buy my service or donate money to a charity. I don’t expect anyone to hang up on me and am polite. I have a level of confidence in the tone of my voice that telemarketers don’t have, just as soon as I say “Hello.” Remember it’s not just what you say, but how you say it that makes you a successful interviewer.

What are some tips to get the interview in the first place? Reaching people live, referrals or customized email requests leading up to a telephone call?

When it’s a cold call, it’s pretty straightforward. I call the company and ask to be transferred to the department that I think will best help me. Switchboard operators are usually quite helpful. If one is not, I will wait until lunchtime, when s/he is often replaced with someone else, or the telephone goes into auto-attendant, so I can make my best guess and get transferred through automation. Sometimes I don’t know who I should talk to and the switchboard will give me a name to connect with as she is transferring the call. It is now a referral which warms the call up a bit.

If it’s not a cold call, people increasingly expect you to email them to set up a time to talk on the phone, since they don’t appreciate having their day interrupted with unscheduled telephone calls. You have to figure out a short value proposition to get their attention, and be willing to call them to set up a time, since often enough they don’t email you back in a timely fashion. This is particularly true when querying people in technology.

However, with all the turnover in technology, the person you want to talk with to may have left the company. Meanwhile the administrator will let you know who their replacement is, ever willing to connect you immediately. You can decide to call later and look them up on LinkedIn, or you can be transferred right in to the person immediately. I always opt to be transferred immediately. By now I know enough about that person’s job and have done a little research on their company. Reading their LinkedIn profile isn’t going to help me that much, and will delay me from talking to them. These are often win loss analysis calls. They have inherited someone else’s decision, and are now responsible to make it work. They are happy to tell me all about their experience, and in these interviews I probably do about 10% of the talking. I think it’s also because they’re new with the company, and not so well connected with other employees just yet. I am a pair of willing, listening ears.

Here is the Interviewing & Elicitation presentation. Here is the YouTube that combines audio with the slides. However, the slides are a out of sync with the audio. For those who attended the webinar, I have included the YouTube link to the video of the awesome Walter Cronkite predicting the office of 2001 with pretty close accuracy, back in 1967!

Interviewing Versus Elicitation

People often ask, “What is the benefit of elicitation versus the standard interview?” Actually they have a lot in common.

Preparation in similar. You want to learn as much about that person as you can before you talk to them. Is there something about their profession that you can comment on to get the conversation flowing? Do they work in an interesting industry? Is there some industry jargon that you better know to be believed? What is their communication style? What will put them at ease to share with you early in the interview? Do you have something in common that you can build rapport with?

phone intv 2 peopleFor an interview, I list all the questions I want answered and then rephrase them in a way that makes it easier for the person to become engaged based on my research of their personality, preferred communication style and profession. This is a great exercise since mentally I start thinking about all the different ways they might respond, and in turn what other questions I might ask, that are not on my list, based on their response. I create something like a decision tree for interviewing, and you thought decision trees were just used in statistics. You can never be too prepared to talk to people, since interviews seldom go as planned, especially over the phone.

Whether you have an appointment or make a cold call, you are interrupting the person’s day, so you need to use your words wisely so as not to waste their time. With some people, a little small talk is all it takes to jump start the interview. With others, state your purpose and get to the point. Others will ask you questions to test your knowledge before they’ll share.

Elicitation is a conversational interview, a planned conversation. People remember the beginning and the end of a conversation more than what is spoken in the middle. If you are asking a series of questions they might wonder why you are asking those questions, and how they should answer. How is the interviewer going to use the information I share? Hmm, I wonder how much I should share? What’s in it for me to share this information?

So you start and end your elicitation conversation with some inconsequential questions about the weather, last night’s football score or ask what brings them to the trade show. Other than this small talk, you don’t ask questions. For some this takes practice. For me it comes naturally, since it’s human nature. When John Nolan taught us a workshop on elicitation in 1995, I remember thinking that I had been using some of these techniques and didn’t know this was elicitation.

Elicitation builds off human tendencies that most people have: a desire for recognition, showing off, curiosity, gossip, complaining, correcting you. Most people can’t keep a secret. There are numerous techniques, and I will illustrate a couple.

One of my favorites is flattery. Some people have a strong ego while others get so little recognition that stroking their ego really works.  Simple flattery often coaxes a person into a conversation that otherwise would not have taken place. Everybody, whether prominent, or very low on the totem pole, reacts to flattery as long as it’s genuine. A common way to use flattery is, “I’ve heard you’re the best…an expert…”

Another favorite is coming across as naïve. People just can’t resist enlightening you. Naïve doesn’t mean stupid. It just means that you don’t quite understand something.  For example when I spoke to a trades person about his instrument, I wanted to learn why he liked this particular competitor’s model. I simply said, “I am not as familiar with this company as I only know the market leader’s instrument which you replaced with this competitor’s model.” That’s all it took, and he told me what he liked about the competitor’s model, and why he didn’t replace it with the market leader’s.

This above call didn’t go as planned. According to my client’s database, this trades person was using one of their instruments. However, that was an error, and he was using a competitor’s model. I didn’t hesitate to find out more information about the competition.

I bet many of you who conduct primary research or interviews use elicitation techniques and don’t even realize it. If you want to learn more about this, you can read John Nolan’s book, Confidential. I gave a webinar for SLA’s Competitive Intelligence division. Check out the Slideshare deck.

Cooperative Communication: Digital versus Voice

email-phone-face-to-faceEveryday communication has become a complex business. When I started my job, it was so much easier. We had 3 choices: face-to-face, telephone and hardcopy. It was challenging enough then, since few of us received training on communication as part of our education. In years past, I picked up the telephone to communicate without an appointment. If it was a bad time, the other person would tell me and we would set up a better time.

Now we have so many additional choices ranging from old fashioned email, the various forms of social media, texting, blogs, wikis, and face to face electronic conferencing like SKYPE or Google hangouts. Where do you get trained on when and how to effectively use all these ways to communicate?

A recent HBR blog post, “Just Call Someone Already,” attracted over 100 comments and focused on when to use the phone versus email, often used instead of the phone. I resonated with the author, Dan Pallotta in his comment, “Much worse than the inefficiency of using email to set up phone calls are the missed opportunities and unnecessary misunderstandings that come when we use email instead of phone calls.”

Today many feel compelled to text or email a person to schedule a call, and better yet to avert the call, since many view phone calls as an inefficient use of time, an interruption to their day. Nobody has a monopoly on busy, and this attitude about interruption and efficiency at the expense of building human relationships seems unkind. It also feels selfish to me, since these folks are just considering their preferences, not the other person’s.

Email is often used to express emotions or feelings that people are too embarrassed to say. However, I think it’s better to confront the other person and clear things up over the telephone or better yet in person. I have received more rude emails, where people write things they would not have the nerve to say to my face or on the telephone. Another downfall of email is when it gets sent to too many people that don’t need to know or care about your communication.

I also notice rudeness in LinkedIn comments, Twitter and Facebook, where there is one up man ship professionally, for example. I resent the number of emails I get in my LinkedIn inbox asking for endorsements; please take a survey; buy my service—which these people presumably blast out to their LinkedIn connections just like email spammers. There is more blatant WIFM (what’s in it for me) in the digital world.

Everyone seems to agree that face-to-face is still the best way to connect as you can read the person’s body language which is so revealing. But in today’s world we are so scattered that many of us can’t easily or cheaply meet face-to-face. I always recommend that people connect the next best way which is often the telephone, SKYPE or Google hangouts.

However, email is still the steam engine for digital communication since it leaves a written trail, and you can communicate with many people simultaneously in one email, and time zones don’t matter. You can also attach a document for people to review, not an option with the phone, but an option with SKYPE or Google hangouts.

A best cooperative intelligence practice is to think about how the individual you want to reach likes to be communicated with, even if it’s not your preference. People in Sales figure this out pretty quickly.  They call; they fax; they email; they in-mail; whatever it takes connect to decision-makers. Another cooperative best practice is only send communication to those who will value it.

I am pretty open minded about communication. I like to stay in touch with friends and colleagues. In one win/loss project, I was doing one on one interviews. I emailed to set up a call with one non-customer. He refused, but did offer that he would be happy to email me answers to my questions. I got some of the best insight from this gentleman—all because I listened and accepted his preferred communication.

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.

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