12 Tips to Guarantee Your Success in Collecting Intelligence from Sales

Recently I gave a webinar for SCIP chapters in Mercyhurst and Ohio on how to capture competitive intelligence from Sales by using cooperative intelligence skills. I love serving Sales Reps since I can easily translate what I provide into an ROI benefit, namely more sales. Ongoing sales intelligence is the best tactical competitive intelligence, and it’s current.

1. First realize how Sales is motivated: they have a short-term outlook, want to look good, are often in competition with each other, and have a high need for recognition.

2.You need to Give to Sales before they will believe in you. And it better be what they need, not what your corporation wants Sales to have. Likewise if you don’t use what Sales provides, they will stop giving.

3. Gaining cooperation from Sales isn’t tough. It’s in their best interest to collect competitive intelligence to do their job, to win more deals. You just need to convince them that you’re a worthy client.

4. Find out what’s hard for them to get that they value. You have access to so much information. What about those industry analyst or financial analyst reports? How about competitor profiles you’ve developed? They’ll tell you what they need.

5. Make it easy for them to locate what you develop for them. It’s best if you can make it part of a software system that they already use like salesforce.com. Remind them where your nuggets of information reside periodically.

6. Think about ways you can help sales depending on where they are in the sales cycle. What do they already produce that you can build off of?

7. Start slow in Sales and find the right people to service. They can be low in the organization as long as they’ll publicize how great what you provided is. While Sales Reps spend a lot of time out of the office, it’s amazing how connected they can be. As you start producing the right deliverables for Sales, their bosses will find out, and you will be recognized.

8. Insert yourself into Sales events like teleconferences, conferences, webinars or blogs to maintain your visibility.

9. Be easy to find and responsive since many in corporations hide from Sales rather than service them.

10. I enjoy developing win loss analysis programs since I can cooperatively include Sales as I get positioned with their customers and prospects to learn how we can improve win rates, customer service, product features, implementation, tech support, customer testimonials, develop better products and so much more.

11. Involve Sales for Trade Show collection since they’re already at shows with their customers, so put them to work collecting competitive information since most have not a shy bone in their body. They know how to ask the right questions, so you don’t need to train them.

12. A final tip: don’t forget to ask Sales how you’re doing so you continue to deliver the right products to your sales force.

Serve Sales well and you will have job security even in a tough economy since they are the company’s revenue producers!

I have posted the Sales Intelligence presentation in Slideshare.

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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.

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.

Integrate Emotional Intelligence & Selling into Competitive Intelligence

Colleen Stanley

Last week I attended a webinar to improve my selling skills led by Colleen Stanley, Founder and Chief Sales Officer of SalesLeadership, Inc. Effective selling will help competitive intelligence professionals, product management and researchers gain respect, cooperation and appreciation from internal peers. Since many of us have no reporting employees, selling yourself is even more important in this “new economy”.

People obtain more knowledge than ever through the Internet, so they may feel like they don’t need you to provide them competitive intelligence. Due to the recession more people want to see a visible ROI for your solution. This isn’t always possible in competitive intelligence, but be creative and you can develop an ROI solution often enough. People are more skeptical due to the scandals which triggered this recession so really don’t like to be pushed into decision-making–not that they ever did.

Find the pain points and match your communication style to the decision-makers and key influencers in the buying process. This works for every business function I can think of!

People who are optimistic outsell those who aren’t by 33%. When bad things happen they realize that this is just temporary and their self-talk reflects this as they expect positive outcomes since they’re happy. They often find humor when others would be dragged down by unfortunate circumstances or stress. They live with an attitude of gratitude. Optimism must be real: people will see right through you if it’s feigned.

To really be successful in selling, your prospect needs to admit that they have a problem, and identify what it is costing them. This outlook works very well in competitive intelligence. I often ask what it will cost if we do nothing. Sometimes there is a very low cost to do nothing, so it’s not important enough to fix compared to bigger problems where we can more readily measure the impact of success or failure.

I loved Colleen’s Principles of Expectation:
1. Can the Sales person pass the pop quiz test? Make sure all parties in the meeting clearly understand the objective of the meeting.
2. Is there a Mutual Fit? Is the solution we’re discussing mutually good for all parties?
3. Examine your Intention. Are you there to Impress or to Influence? Influencers are intent on understanding customer’s issues; impressing is just selling.

Sales people with high emotional intelligence outsell those with low EI. I think high EI benefits anyone.

Here are some tippers to improve your EI:
Improve your Self-Awareness. Most people don’t take enough downtime to be reflective and introspective to learn why they react a certain way to situations. Solitude triggers the right brain where creativity often kicks in.
Be Assertive: Express your feelings and ask questions without being aggressive or abusive. You have the right to ask for what you need to know to do your job whether sales, marketing, research or competitive intelligence.
Delayed Gratification is usually worth it: Look beyond the immediate. Adopt a long term outlook when selling as relationships are always in development. Be a planner and work on time management towards connection and building these relationships.

Combine these emotional intelligence practices and selling with the collection skill of elicitation and cooperative intelligence, and watch your effectiveness as a competitive intelligence professional soar!

Tips on Setting up a Competitive Intelligence Process

RunnerI was recently asked by a prospective client to summarize how I could help his company develop and implement a competitive intelligence process. While I tend to follow certain steps in setting up a CI process, I was taken aback since this company’s industry is such a specialized niche within financial services, and I am not a “one size fits all” consultant.

Here are some of the takeaways that apply to any industry:

Determine the most important areas to track and analyze or what we in competitive intelligence refer to as Key Intelligence Topics (KITs). You can’t focus on everything or you won’t do anything well. Within in that, focus on the most essential KIT immediately and make a big splash within your company. Your company executives and marketing people will have a lot of good ideas about KITs, but don’t just rely on them. Ask people in other functional areas so you gain balance and aren’t blindsided.

Don’t forget to market and position your CI initiative. Start by letting people know what CI is: what you do and don’t do and set up ethical boundaries. Nobody owes you anything in the busy workplace. Present CI in the context of what they do and how you can help them, and that will go a long way to gaining their cooperation. Create a logo so people can readily identify what you send them by its look, and share only quality stuff and not too often.

I think most companies are close to parity when it comes to conducting secondary research, that is monitoring competitors, market trends including and all the components of the STEEP analysis:

S=social
T=technological
E=economic
E=environmental
P=political

However, where excellent companies stand out is in connecting with people who are responsive both inside and outside their companies across a variety of disciplines. The initial challenge is to locate these connections, and then keep track of them as they move to different areas within your company, leave your company, or start at your company. It’s even more of a challenge to track your external contacts. I use both ACT!, a great contact database to keep track of my contacts, as well as Outlook.

If you establish cooperative relationships and disciplined communication with relevant people you will have a competitive advantage. You will keep your network informed and over time, those people you connect with will think to inform you when they find nuggets that they know you value.

Trade shows are often overlooked as a means to obtain competitive intelligence and so much more. Dig into your company’s trade show strategy and engage those who are attending to become collectors of CI. Sales is often conducting some form of win loss analysis, and is a great conduit to your customers, a great source of CI if recorded.

Lastly, don’t forget your competitors are collecting against you, which we call counterintelligence. Influence your company to take steps to protect your company’s important information like R&D, product development & intellectual property.

For lots more detail about setting up a CI process, I suggest you buy SCIP’s intelligence guide book, Starting a Competitive Intelligence Function.

Find out how we can work with you to develop a competitive intelligence program.

Win/Loss Analysis book gives you a process to learn why you’re losing business and how to keep more of it!

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Contrasting the Traits of Good Product Managers & Competitive Intelligence Managers

Barbara Tallent

Barbara Tallent

Yesterday I listened to Barbara Tallent of LiveBinders deliver “Why are there so few good product managers: a CEO’s Perspective.” She has been both a CEO and product manager and had interviewed 6 CEOs to prepare for this webinar. As I listened, I couldn’t help but put on my competitive intelligence hat, as many of the traits that make a good product manager also make a good competitive intelligence manager. Yet the jobs are so different!

Product managers have all the responsibility for the product, yet none of the authority. The best product managers need to understand the customer’s world. Don’t filter customer’s input based on what you believe. A common question product managers ask executives is “what keeping you up at night?” to get focused on what the executive needs immediately. That is the same question I ask executives during the competitive intelligence needs analysis process, and for the same reasons.

Another big one was LISTEN. While you need to be an excellent communicator and deliver insightful and engaging presentations, you need to know when to stand back and listen.  That is a key competitive intelligence skill as well, and one of my key cooperative intelligence practices, since in any profession our communication too often is expressing our opinions without carefully listening to the other person.

Don’t let the appearance of process become more important than the outcome! Your career will advance once you prove yourself, just not today! Put the success of your product first and your career will follow!

Desirable traits for product managers include good communication, smart, articulate and dogged. I would add “curious” for a competitive intelligence professional since we do a lot of digging!

Here is what was different. While CEOs may be critical of product managers, they expect future leaders to have product management experience. Product management is more a career advancing position.  Product managers typically look to round out their background, so after a few years in the job are more apt to take jobs in marketing or development–somewhere new that moves them up the organization. Few competitive intelligence professionals have a progressive career path. And CEOs don’t look for leadership to have competitive intelligence experience!

Like product managers, competitive intelligence professionals rely on others in their company for support who do not report to them. Both jobs require that delicate balance of gaining cooperation from others by pushing the organization where it needs to go while being constructive and NOT creating an adversarial role with other people. Product managers focus on a product or service. Competitive intelligence professionals often do damage control and prevent companies from making the wrong moves and present opportunities for growth.

Competitive intelligence is a behind the scenes profession whereas product management is a visible position. Every company has product managers, and everyone knows what product management is. Many don’t know what competitive intelligence is, or who is spearheading the company’s initiative. In this weak economy many companies have laid off their competitive intelligence managers, so various employees in sales, marketing, product management, strategic planning, R&D and engineering are doing competitive intelligence as part of their job, and more companies are outsourcing competitive intelligence: they are not outsourcing product management!

Ryma provides free weekly webinars on topics of interest to product managers, open to anyone. If you miss a webinar, you can listen to it later as the sessions are taped and slides are included.

How a Good Relationship between Marketing & R&D Improves Product Development

ShakingHandShadowsWhen Marketing and R&D are truly focused on understanding and acting on customer needs, it makes both of their jobs easier and their results more productive! This is a powerful competitive weapon since this is not the case at many companies.

R&D employees complain that Marketers provide weak data, that they’re most useful in developing launch plans rather than in developing new products. Meanwhile Marketing employees perceive that R&D doesn’t involve marketing early enough in the product development process. R&D will take credit for successful products while blaming marketing when a product doesn’t sell.  Does this sound familiar?

But the point is that neither function will reach its full potential without the cooperation of the other! So here are some tippers to encourage cooperative behavior:

R&D and Marketing need to work together.  Perhaps R&D can be masters of the art of Possibility while Marketing can master the art of the Possible–that is what customers need and are willing to pay for.  It helps to boost awareness of each other’s functions and their value within the company.  Another idea is to get R&D to quantify the value of their work by how it will help the customer. Encourage Marketing to be more technically aware so as to appreciate R&D’s value to the company.

When Marketing has too much power, it stifles the creativity of engineers, so product advances may only be incremental  On the other hand when R&D has too much clout, Marketing is only called in at the end of the product development process, when it’s time to develop a launch plan.  Products might get developed that the customer will never buy!

Other ways to get Marketing and R&D to cooperate is to create cross-functional teams to discover unmet customer needs.  This forces people to experience each others’ contributions and to forge connections and communication.

A major oil company forces R&D to prepare its reports for Marketing and Sales based on how the new technologies will help customers.  Thus R&D has to explain all the critical benefits in layman’s terms.

Focus on the customer. Get both sides to ask good questions to customers. Observe and engage with customers to generate reliable, robust marketing insight. Let engineers spend time with current and potential customers.

Companies that bring R&D and Marketing together around what really matters to their customers will build a strong competitive company!

Check out an earlier blog on how teaching Sales elicitation skills–that is knowledge acquisition through conversation, rather than direct questions–will improve a company’s competitive intelligence, product development, and customer intelligence. This is also a good way to get Marketing, Sales, Product Developers and R&D to connect. They have to so that Sales knows and understands the key questions they need to get answered by their customers.

What behaviors have helped your company get marketing, R&D and product developers to communicate constructively?

This blog contains excerpts from “Playing Well with Others,” a Wall Street Journal article by Phil KotlerRobert C.Wolcott and Suj Chandrasekhar.

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