Listening Provided the Pivotal Clue for Competitive Intelligence

The Competitive Situation

A glass manufacturing company wanted to know why a competitor was still in the glass business, as its glass business was losing money, and had been for several years. Their ultimate goal was to predict when this competitor would exit the glass business so they could capture the competitor’s customers.

competitive intelligence

My Mission

My goal was to learn as much as I could about the competing glass company, and most importantly why they were motivated to remain in the glass business. Most of the publicly held competitor’s revenue, and all of its profit, came from their food business.

My Findings

I had found out that the competitor was investing minimally in their glass factory operation, and hired many Spanish speaking immigrants to work in the less hot and less dangerous jobs. There were piles of scrap glass around the factory, but they didn’t bother hauling them away.

It was time for the quarterly earnings phone call, and my client suggested I listen in. I almost didn’t as I figured I could read this later. However, something made me listen. The competitor’s CEO was all cheery when discussing the food business. Then an analyst asked, “And what about the glass business? What are you doing there?” “Ah…the glass business…well…,” uttered the CEO in a dejected and hesitant tone.

Hmmm I thought, it sounds like the CEO is emotionally attached to the glass business. I researched and found out that the CEO’s Dad had bought the glass business, and surmised that he wanted to stay in it for that reason, not for revenue or profit. I called the analyst who had asked about the glass business to learn why he thought the company remained in the glass business, and what might cause the company to exit it. He agreed that the CEO was emotionally attached to the glass business. Thus, he was not likely to leave the glass business for any rational reason, else he would have already done so.

These conversations and research gave me the insight to answer my client’s question: what would cause the competitor to divest or sell the glass business?

While I couldn’t say when, I concluded that it would take a catastrophic event for the CEO to exit the glass business. It would have to be an event that was out of his control. I figured an accident in the factory or something that serious, could be a trigger.

I recommended that my client should closely monitor the competitor since something was bound to push the company out of the glass business. Thus, my client closely monitored the competitor’s activity. The trigger was when a stockholder’s group filed a complaint and threatened to submit a class action suit against the company if they didn’t divest the money losing glass business. Bingo, this was the event my client was waiting for. They went after the competing company’s glass business. The time was right, and they were ready.

Conclusion

All too often we rely only on written digital data. It turned out the CEO’s tone of voice in the competitor’s earnings conference call provided the pivotal clue. If I had only read the earnings report—my original intention—I would have missed it. My lesson learned: in competitive intelligence projects, when you can listen to the human voice, especially the company’s CEO, do so.

Learn more about competitive intelligence

Win/Loss Analysis book; Amazon link to Win/Loss Analysis book

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How to Connect with Senior Leaders

I was sorry to miss Scott Leeb’s talk, “CI Guerilla Warfare: Winning the Hearts and Minds of Senior Leadership.” Turns out I didn’t: it was videotaped here.

Small business team in theSo my Thanksgiving treat is a recap of Scott’s talk. Almost everyone I know in competitive intelligence complains about their lack of connection to senior management.

Many of us in competitive intelligence are our own worst enemy since we are steeped in competitive intelligence DNA and language, and don’t understand how the c-suite operates.

Treat getting in with the c-suite like battle:  “If you know the enemy and you yourself you need not fear the results of a 100 battles.” Sun Tzu, 500BC

Mind your Ps and Qs

Over deliver, but don’t overwhelm. Start with how your insight ties into the business results the executive cares about. Use their language, which is the language of business and know enough about the executive to understand his/her quirks. Their Admin will know these. Scott would schedule 5 minutes with an executive before his talk to make sure he was touching on what the executive cared about. They will find 5 minutes for you: it’s in their best interest, right?

Scott also applies his 7Ps from his military training to knowing how executives operate:

  • Proper
  • Planning and
  • Preparation
  • Prevent
  • Pitifully
  • Poor
  • Performance

Recognize the differences

Most executives live to work. They are under tremendous pressure and you don’t want to add to it.

Pick and maintain a voice, which is consistent and in alignment with the business goals

  • Be Bold
  • Be Brief
  • Be Gone
  • Be Authoritative
  • Be Opinionated
  • Be Balanced
  • Be Flexible
  • Be Careful (politics)

Scott suggests three practices when communicating with executives:

  • BLUFF: Bottom Line Up Front results Fast
  • KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid
  • 4Qs: Quantify Qualify Quality Quickly – Fast and Forcefully make your presentation to executives

Show them the tip of the iceberg from your analysis. Use appropriate language, not CI, and tie your deliverable to business results that you know the executive is focused on. But be prepared with all the supporting data for questions.

Scott’s motto here:

  • Get the analysis to the
  • Right person at the
  • Right time……to Support the
  • Right decision

Be a Salesperson

Build a competitive intelligence brand in your company with a logo and a name to your group that everyone can easily identify with. While many in competitive intelligence have this stealth mode for what we do, we need to be more outgoing in order to be seen and heard. Scott had a catchy name for his CI group at Prudential, PruView.

If you aren’t good at selling, find champions who are. Ideally they should have some skin in the game, that is rely on you for good work. Ideally these champions should be senior, vocal, CI smart and committed.

I recall when I was at Bell Atlantic, now part of Verizon, I gained a VP of Sales as my champion. I didn’t realize he was testing me when he sent me on what I thought was a wild goose chase to lead a competitor response analysis in a highly political RFP that our sales folks had already answered. What would be the value of this, I thought as I drove to their site with very little notice.

The sales team thought if we didn’t win, AT&T would. There were two other competitors: Rolm (now part of Siemens) and Nortel. They didn’t think either of them had a good chance to win the business. I thought that Rolm had the best chance to win as this was a university, and Rolm was owned by IBM, who manufactured PCs at this time. They could sweeten the deal through discounted PCs, which were very expensive then. Rolm won the business for the reason I had suspected, and the Sales VP became my champion.

Provide Insights

  • Focus on what they need and keeping asking “so what” until you get to this.
  • Also get them to think about, “What’s the cost of inaction?”

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it.

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20 Reasons to Do Win Loss Analysis

loss win photoI have some exciting news to share. I am writing a book on how to develop a win/loss program, even if you only do it for one quarter. I had thought that you would only gain benefit if you conducted these interviews quarterly, but I found out that you can learn so much, even from 20-25 interviews.

I hope to share this skill so small and mid-size companies can take advantage of what they can learn from more in-depth interviews with customers and prospects a couple of months after the sales event. I have been doing win loss interviews and analysis since the late 1980s and I keep coming back to it, since my customers learn more from these interviews than any other tactical analytic technique, as long as they take corrective action from the findings.

Why do you care about doing win/loss interviews?

  1. You learn things that your customers and prospects don’t want to tell Sales
  2. You learn things that your customers and prospects do tell Sales, but Sales doesn’t tell you
  3. You learn why customers really chose your solution
  4. You learn why prospects chose another solution provider
  5. You learn why undecided customers aren’t upgrading their solution
  6. You learn what your company is doing well
  7. You learn where your company can make improvements
  8. You learn what the competition does well
  9. You learn where they can make improvements
  10. You learn that the competition doesn’t always deliver on what they promise
  11. You learn that your company doesn’t always deliver on what your sales force promises
  12. You learn about good customer testimonials
  13. You learn about bad customer testimonials
  14. You learn how customer testimonials affect the sale
  15. You learn about shortcomings in the marketplace
  16. You learn about new technology being promised
  17. You learn how customers and non-customers perceive your selling process from start to finish
  18. From your wins, you learn how well implementation, training and customer service is perceived
  19. From your losses, you learn how well the competition’s implementation, training and customer service is perceived
  20. You learn about other marketing factors that affect customer perception: your trade show booth, industry write-ups, your advertising, etc.

Given all these benefits, I don’t understand why more companies don’t conduct win loss interviews and the resulting analysis. It’s the most cost effective form of research I know of, and talk about real-time intelligence. You gain so much more insight from a conversation than from conducting on-line surveys. I wish companies did fewer on-line surveys, since most of them seem meaningless. How can I assess good customer service from a grocery store cashier or retail cashier, who just rings up my sale?

You can gain great intelligence from talking to your customers, and win loss interviews are another marketing touch point if they are properly positioned as learning how you can improve your relationship with customers and prospects.

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

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Competitive Intelligence Software Integrated into Salesforce.com

Compelligence recently introcompelligenceuced the Compelligence App which is competitive and market intelligence software that integrates seamlessly within Salesforce.com. It builds off the strengths of Salesforce.com in that it helps sales close more deals since it extends the reach of Salesforce.com to include data from the competitive marketplace.  Armed with this information at their fingertips, account reps have even more time to sell. Typically, sales people and others populate the fields at various points in the sales cycle, most notably at the conclusion of the sale in conjunction with reporting results in the Salesforce.com world. This information is shared with the sales force, but can also arm marketing and competitive intelligence personnel with current information about customers, competitors, suppliers and partners as well as market trends. The Compelligence solution enables sales teams to win competitive deals faster by providing them with on-demand, customized sales strategies that are tailored to each deal.

The Compelligence App is the only app on the market that can provide sales people with customized competitive sales strategies directly within Salesforce.com.  By simply specifying the products or services that a customer is considering, the sales person is given guidance that includes:

  • Detailed competitive product or service comparisons
  • Highlighted strengths and weaknesses
  • Competitive sales positioning guidance
  • Access to relevant content and news

When I interviewed Mitch Emerson, Compelligence President and Co-Founder, he said, “We really believe our strongest unique capability is Dynamic Comparison, where we can determine relative strengths/weaknesses between sets of specified products or between products and the rest of the industry in general.  We are building this into a feature that will allow the system to create customized silver bullet lists for each sale.” Anyone who has sold or supported sales knows that silver bullets are what sales people crave, and they do help them close deals.

Mitch Emerson

Mitch Emerson

When I first read about this Compelligence App I thought, “Finally, a nice place to park the results of win loss interviews and the analysis in a place where sales, marketing and product developers can access it right in salesforce.com, a software they already know and use.” My customers have been screaming for this capability. Compelligence captures so much more, such as data from suppliers, partners and how the various players are positioning themselves in the competitive marketplace. Not only will Sales win more deals and improve retention rates with existing customers: product developers, marketing and competitive intelligence people will be armed with a real-time flow of data from customers and sales people that previously was not shared dynamically at best, and in many cases not shared at all.

The Compelligence solution is being used at Hill-Rom, a leading worldwide manufacturer and provider of medical technologies and related services for the health care industry. Another customer is electronics manufacturer, Jabil. The product is in beta trial at a major financial services company as well.

Compelligence’s CI software is available as through the Salesforce1 App exchange. You can walk through the demo and take it for a test drive.

Put your request here for a more detailed walk through with the Compelligence team. Mitch Emerson or one of his staff will provide the demo and answer your questions right on the spot.

Why I like Company Transparency in Win Loss Interviews

Transparency

Transparency

Why is it that companies don’t want to disclose who they are in win loss interviews? Is it fear? Transparency versus blind win loss interviews is a question that plagues many in marketing.

Many feel if they don’t identify who they are, they’ll get a more objective interview. They are also afraid if they let the customer know who they are—especially when they lost the business—the customer won’t take the interview or if they do, they won’t tell much. A third common reason is they don’t want their sales force to know that they’re conducting these interviews since some of the questions assess the effectiveness and quality of the sales force.

Do these reasons make sense? Let’s explore each separately:

Get a more objective interview: I don’t find that interviews are any more objective when the company’s identity is blind. People are opinionated period. When you conduct blind interviews, where the client doesn’t know the identity of the company behind the call, they usually can guess. So often, it’s the market leader who is going to take the time and has the resources to research deeper. Often enough there are only 2 or 3 companies competing for the business. Customers are not stupid. While they may not let on that they know who is behind the call, they usually figure it out sooner or later.

Sometimes those I interview try so hard to get me to tell them who hired me to telephone them. When they think they know, then they’ll start sharing more. It’s an ego thing: they want to know who is asking. I think it’s also decency: they deserve to know.

Rather than feeling threated by identity disclosure, smart companies realize that a win loss interview is another marketing touch point, even if it’s conducted by a third party. It’s an opportunity for connection with customers and prospects to let them know you value their business enough to ask and listen to what went right and what went wrong, and then take corrective action.

If the customer knows the company which is behind the call, they won’t agree to an interview: I have found that just the opposite is true, even when Sales botched up the deal or it was won by a caustic competitor. Even if another service provider won the business, people will agree to an interview, unless they don’t have time. Time is the biggest enemy to getting the interview, not company identity!

Don’t want Sales to know we’re checking up on their customer relationships: This is one I just don’t get in a society where we are surveyed to death. Even after a cashier rings up a sale in a retail store, they ask us to fill out a survey on the Internet on his or her performance. It’s ridiculous: how can we assess the performance of this person when we barely had a touch point!

However, responsible companies that have a direct or indirect Salesforce and want to keep winning deals for the right reasons, should want to know how effectively and professionally Sales is representing their company and its products and services. There is a relationship here to protect, and you want to keep it ongoing. Too bad if Sales doesn’t like the win loss process.

You come out ahead if you are straight with Sales and let them know you follow up on some sales events. In fact, I like to involve Sales in creating the questions to ask customers. I get better questions and they feel less threatened since they are part of the planning process. Likewise if you share customer communication with Sales, they have an opportunity to learn what they are doing well and their shortcomings. They can feel good about what they do well, and can make improvements where they are weak.

I still like how Rick Marcet, author of Win/Loss Reviews: A New Knowledge Model for Competitive Intelligence, considers the win loss analysis process to be an advanced sales skill. Responsible sales people want to know how they’re doing. They want to improve and close more deals. In fact, best in class companies let their customers know that as part of the sales process, they may be contacted post sale for a win or loss interview as part of doing business.

Improve Your Win Loss Analysis Skills: IntelCollab Webinar

Ellen Naylor & Arik Johnson

Ellen Naylor & Arik Johnson

I have been doing competitive intelligence since 1985. Win/loss interviews and analysis, are still one of my favorite tactical collection techniques. This is a low cost form of primary collection which always provides a high return for improving your company’s bottom line. Who better than your customers and those who decided on a competitor to tell you what you are doing well and what you need to change?  I have noticed that actions taken from win loss analysis are particularly effective at improving customer retention. Retaining customers is more economic than obtaining new ones.

Yet many companies still don’t include win loss analysis as part of their sales process:

  • They think they are conducting win/loss interviews, and they aren’t. Sales fills out a few reason codes for the win or loss, and that passes for win loss analysis…NOT
  • Sales doesn’t want any part of this process since it challenges their egos and they fear this customer connection by an outsider will jeopardize their customer relationship
  • The company doesn’t want to change how it’s doing business. Win/loss analysis provides ammunition around behaviors, product features, and so much more, which if changed will improve sales results
  • Ignorance. Some companies have no idea how much valuable information their customers/non customers will share, if only they ask.

What are the traits of someone who masterfully conducts win loss interviews?

#1 Be organized. Make sure you have all the relevant facts around the sale or lost business, before you dial. Share your process for conducting win loss interviews with those in marketing and sales who need to know. They need to understand why you are calling their customers, how this process works, and that this form of communication is not a threat to their livelihood. On a cooperative note, include their good ideas in win loss interviews to their customers/prospects.

#2 Be grounded before you dial. I take some deep breaths, and think, “I want this person to feel better about themself at the end of our call than they do when they pick up the telephone.” Intention is powerful and people sense this immediately, and tend to engage unless they’re really tied up.

#3 Be sensitive to those you’re calling. Make sure you are calling at a good time. I can always tell without asking since they’re usually agitated when the time is bad. Be punctual and stick to the prearranged length for the call unless you sense they are in the sharing mode, and you don’t want to interrupt their flow. Often they are venting, and I would rather they vent to me than to their sales rep.

#4 Find that balance between professional, curious and somewhat playful. This is a fine line. People enjoy sharing with people who are interested in them, and at the same time don’t take themselves too seriously. Most people like a little humor. I find that just smiling as I am speaking on the telephone leads to more sharing on the other end.

#5 Be persistent. We conduct these interviews over the telephone, and many people view telephone conversation as an unwelcome interruption to their work flow. You need to figure out the best way to get that person to pick up their phone and engage with you. I start by creating a compelling email to get their attention, and then follow up with those who don’t respond, however it best makes sense. It’s different with everyone, so follow your intuition. In some cases, they don’t want to connect, so let it go. In other cases, they will say they have very little time, and once they start talking, you almost have to cut them off.

#6 Be a good listener, but guide the conversation. This is a most important trait for all collection conversations. Lay aside your ego, and let them broadcast theirs.

If you want to learn more about the value of conducting win loss analysis; how to do it; and what you can expect to learn, please join host, Arik Johnson, Founder of Aurora WDC, and me, President of The Business Intelligence Source, on September 4 for a webinar at Noon Eastern US time.  It’s free to attend. Details including sign-up here. I will speak for a half hour, then we will open up the discussion to you.

Get your free copy of the most comprehensive list of competitive intelligence books with links to purchasing them. One of my favorite books on win loss analysis is Win Loss Reviews: A New Knowledge Model for Competitive Intelligence by Rick Marcet.

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

REPORT: COMPETITIVE INTELLIGENCE – THE UNTAPPED RESOURCE

See on Scoop.itcooperative intelligence

Few marketers have a formal competitive review process in place. The extent to which they do competitive analysis typically consists of subscribing to their competitors’ email promotions and newsletters; there is little analysis of their programs. Understanding a competitor’s frequency, use of personalization, and other apparent tactics is a necessary, but often-untapped knowledge resource.

Late last year, David Daniels, a leading e-mail expert and consultant surveyed 333 marketing executives on the competitive intelligence tactics they’re using. The data featured a balance of B2C and B2B email senders. The survey participants were mainly in the following industry verticals: financial services, retail, travel/hospitality and media/publishing.

See on http://sq1agency.com/blog/2013/03/report-competitive-intelligence-the-untapped-resource/

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