Recent Competitive Intelligence Insight

Here are some insightful articles related to competitive intelligence and customer intelligence.

Make A Choice Between 2 Alternatives - Two-Way Street SignEmotional Intelligence: Cult or Competitive Advantage This is a great rebuttal to Adam Grant’s recent article, “Emotional Intelligence is Overrated.” There is a lot more scientific proof that a high EQ is a teachable skill, and that people respond well to those who have empathy. Competitive intelligence is a people business, and those who can motivate people to share have a leg up. Having a high EQ and empathy motivates most people to share. As Dr. Kenneth M. Nowack concluded in his article on this subject, “It’s not how smart you really are that matters in terms of work and life success, but how you are smart.”

How to Build a Culture of Givers: 4 Tips Authored by Laura Montini, this article reports on Prof Adam Grant’s recommendations, the same one who somewhat slammed emotional intelligence above. You can see this perspective here, “What you want is a disagreeable giver–one who will tell it like it is without regard for your feelings, but only because he or she has the best intentions for your organization at heart.” As a proponent of emotional intelligence, I think it’s better if they do have some regard for your feelings.

In competitive intelligence, we expect our sources to share with us. I enjoy Prof Grant’s Reciprocity Ring as a crowdsourcing way to get people to ask and provide answers in an open forum within the company. Everyone in the ring is required to ask for something. “When the whole room is making requests, it’s not uncomfortable,” Grant said.

When everyone’s requests are out in the open, individuals in the group decide which ones they’re best equipped to handle based on their expertise. “And make no mistake. Everyone will give,” Grant says.

“The takers actually start giving because everybody’s contributions are visible and they worry that if they don’t volunteer to help anyone, they’re going to get caught. The end result? Employees will get on board with the idea of building a culture of givers. That’s because they’ll see that if they give more, everyone can get more of what they want.”

This is a visible and cooperative way to engage your fellow employees to ask for and give tips to strengthen your company’s competitive position. How do you engage your employees to share?

Employers Want Critical Thinkers, But Do They Know What It Means? This article spoke to me as a competitive intelligence professional since many in our profession spend too much time monitoring the competitive market and place too much weight on digital information. Critical thinking takes time and reflection, which corporations don’t give in the rush, rush, rush culture of most. Critical thinking is an essential skill for competitive intelligence professionals, and many of us are too reactive due to the influx of data that is streaming our way. What do you think?

10 Great Questions Product Managers Should Ask Customers, shares some great questions that can also be used in win loss interviews. After all product managers need to know how and why customers use your products, and how they could work better for them. Customer intelligence is such a key piece of competitive intelligence. My 3 favorite questions that Jim Semick suggests are:

  • How do you feel about the current solution or product? This one is good for understanding opportunities to differentiate your product from competitors or simply learning how they use the product or service presently.
  • What is the most frustrating thing about the current solution or product? This is how to discover your customer’s pain. You can go deep on this one with some follow up probing.
  • What do you wish you could do with this product or solution that you can’t do today? This is a great feed to product development, and sometimes opens up unintended uses for the product.

What are your favorite questions?

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Motivation: Treat Them the Way They Want to Be Treated

I have been conducting primary research collection interviews for over 25 years. I am most fascinated by what motivates people to share, and how to figure this out quickly, especially during a telephone conversation where you don’t have the benefit of body language. Contrary to what I have been taught: “Do not treat others like you want to be treated.” Treat them the way THEY want to be treated. Give or ask for information in a way that they are comfortable hearing the message.

For years, I relied mostly on the Myers Briggs personality types to gauge how people were motivated. However, I think that DiSC Behavioral Styles as developed by Dr. William Marston, are a better indicator of how you should best communicate with people in conversation. There are 4 personality types: Dominant (driver), Influencer (socializer), Steady (relater) Compliant (thinker). The focus of DISC is to understand the behavior, fear and motivation people exhibit in communication.

DISC Styles

In intelligence, we think about Johari’s Window as a model for knowledge acquisition as we gather data by talking to individuals. We consider what we do and don’t know as we seek to fill the gaps of our knowledge: what we know with certainty; what knowledge we have that needs to be verified; what we don’t know that will be hard to find; and what is simply the vast unknown.

I have applied this model to classifying those we talk to in the collection process. It’s helpful to be aware of their pre-disposition towards sharing versus what they know.

1. Egocentric: They are “know it alls,” who really don’t know that much, but have this need to let us know they are an expert and are always right. These are dangerous sources, and often want to linger on the telephone conversation. I guess they aren’t listened to enough or respected by their co-workers.

2. Deeply Knowledgeable: They are experts with deep knowledge about our research topic. They don’t have the need to be “right” like Egocentrics. They just know and pull information from their brain. They recognize the value of what they know, so might be reluctant to share when you probe deeply, especially if they feel you are querying about proprietary, sensitive information. People in the legal field and finance are often this way.

3. Intellectual: They are knowledgeable, but unlike the Deeply Knowledgeable, they don’t recognize the value of what they know and will share freely. They may suffer from low self esteem, which motivates sharing or they may not realize the value of they know, since this is what they do and they assume everyone knows what they know. Technical and scientific people often fall into this category, as they are highly focused in what they know and love to talk about it. They often have passion for what they do, and are happy to talk with anyone who will listen. They are often proud of their knowledge and might seek recognition from you during the conversation. But beware, you better know something about their expertise and their professional vocabulary or they will not open up much. Although not thought of as Intellectual, people in sales and marketing tend to be chatty, and often know a lot about products, how they’re marketed and sold, and about future products.

4. Helper: Many in America want to help, even if they don’t know. Helpers will try to answer your questions, but their knowledge is shallow, and what they share is incomplete and inaccurate. When you probe more deeply, you find this out. I tend to have shorter conversations with Helpers, but I do leave them feeling good about themselves. If I sense they are open, I will ask if they can refer me to a more knowledgeable source, especially when they admit, “I really don’t know,” when I probe more deeply. They sometimes give great referrals since they feel guilty that they couldn’t have helped more. They can be anywhere in the company.

Armed with elicitation skills–and an awareness of the person’s DiSC behavior and their pre-disposition towards sharing versus what they know– is very empowering for you whether interviewing people at trade shows, through cold calls or win loss interviews.

How to Incent Sales to Share Competitive Intelligence

Last week I read Using Your Sales Force’s Competitive Intelligence Wisely. The source of this sales intelligence is business customers, and the reps who are the most likely to receive it are those who have formed strong customer relationships and focus on long-term customer satisfaction and placing the customer’s needs first while developing solutions to help the customer to reach their goals. These are the sales people that go above and beyond to help the customer.

Armed with this competitive information, a flexible rep will adapt their selling style and work on better solutions for the customer. Low-adaptive sellers often fail to use customer information to more strongly position a product to meet the customer’s needs, so the customer gets a negative impression of the company’s products, and also don’t see the value of sharing so they stop.

The value of good intelligence through the sales channel is precious to those in product development, strategic planning, marketing and customer service. However, it can be challenging to get sales to share with marketing, the obvious conduit to push good data to other sources in the company. The article suggested that engaging sales in collaboration to develop the company’s strategy can promote communication.

SharingLearningTogetherThe key to success in communication to and from sales is to understand your company’s sales culture, and what might be fun and engaging for them to be cooperative in sharing what they learn in a timely manner. Sales has a shorter term focus than most in the company, and they keep score so you need to give to get. At the very least, you need to thank them publicly within the company, and show them how better decisions for product development or marketing strategy were modified for the better, thanks to an individual sales person’s contribution. They also love publicity about a big sale that was made. Perhaps a competitive tidbit that they learned or shared, helped make the sale.

Go to where sales is to get them to engage. Sales managers communicate at least weekly through a teleconference or digitally on what’s happening. Become a part of this process by contributing content that sales values. Most value news about their customers that you dig up. That gives them an excuse to make another sales call and look knowledgeable. Sales people like to look good and be in the know. They also value information from their peers. Maybe you can facilitate more sharing among peers, even informally.

Most companies have annual or quarterly sales meetings. Insert yourself as a speaker, a panelist, an attendee, however you can best serve them.

Many sales people travel extensively, so they have time in the car or airplane to write, tape or text about what they’re learning. This is when they learn the good stuff: make communication easy for them. Some companies let them call in and leave a recording of what they learn or maybe even a human being answers the telephone and engages in conversation to promote even more real-time intelligence sharing. Others use a text bulletin board.

Many do sharing through their sales force management software since sales uses this extensively in the course of doing business. While this sharing might not be in-depth, it is usually enough for the intuitive person to probe deeper with select sales people and detect patterns that sales alone might not have put together. Their job is to make the sale, not to put all the marketing pieces together. This is something you can share back with sales and sales management. If you get sales management on your side, good sales people will often cooperate.

Exercise your creativity to incent sales to share. A colleague had a PC bag designed that was truly classy. She would give them out sparingly to sales people who gave her excellent leads. They became a status symbol and it was common for the sales person to display the bag in his office rather than use it.

You can have a contest each quarter and give the winner gift certificates on Amazon, dinner for 2, a sporting event, something that you know they will enjoy. You cannot compete with the money they make on the commission plan, but they appreciate the recognition and the treat.

When I worked with sales, they most appreciated that I was responsive to them when they were in touch for competitive data, since many others were not. In return, they supplied me with incredible competitive information. However, this took a couple of years to develop as it takes time to build relationships and you have to earn their trust.

Be creative in how you communicate with sales. Change up your ideas and keep them fresh. Recognize how many touch points you can have with sales, and where you can be the most useful. I guarantee they will open up over time.

7 Steps to Prepare for a Choice Conversation

ChoiceI have been realizing how much choice I have for just about everything I do in life, especially how I spend my time. The same thing is true when I prepare to conduct a telephone or in-person interview when gathering information to help clients make important strategic or tactical decisions.

How do I realize choice when interviewing? Interview Preparation is the key!

  1. I organize the questions I want answered.
  2. I hypothesize how people might answer my questions.
  3. I think about other questions they might be able to answer if I probe deeper based on what they share with me initially in the interview.
  4. I reorder the questions in a way that I think will make the person feel comfortable sharing. I think about a conversational approach rather than being so direct for some of the questions.
  5. I think why they want to help me. What’s in it for them? What motivates them to share? How does their profession and/or industry motivate sharing? Can I gain insight about the person through social media like LinkedIn or talking to someone who knows them? Is it worth the time to find out more about this person?
  6. I put myself in their place, receiving a call from me, whether a cold call or a warm call, possibly with a reference to someone we both know or the client who values their time and opinion.
  7. I get myself in the zone to make a call. How I get in the zone depends on my mood: usually it involves being still; doing some breathing exercises; thinking about why they will engage with me; and turning my ego off. Yet, I feel confident they will help me. In the spirit of cooperative intelligence I set the intention that they will feel better at the end of our conversation than they did beforehand.

Why do I go through these steps? This seems so rigid, methodical and analytical. Where is the choice?

If you go through these steps in preparation for a conversation, you will be prepared for a choice conversation. You will have the confidence, intelligence and intuition to be flexible enough for however the conversation flows. Conversations often don’t go as planned. You will be ready for those left turns and have the judgment to either bring the conversation back or have a sense that the left turn will take you to more sharing and better information.

Note these 7 steps work regardless of the reason you are conducting the conversation. You could be interviewing a book author, conducting a cold call to dig up competitive intelligence, conducting a win loss analysis interview, connecting on a deeper level with a friend or conducting a coaching call.

Try these 7 steps next time you prepare for a conversation, and let me know how your conversation goes. I assure you that you will notice a lot more sharing due to your preparation, parked ego and open mind.

Read Fast Company’s “What Improv can teach your team about creativity and collaboration” for more ideas on how to promote cooperation and sharing in a team environment.  Their suggestions also go a long way towards getting people to share in a one-on-one conversation.

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.

Cooperative Intelligence: Kindness in Competitive Intelligence

George Saunders

George Saunders

Earlier this month several sources including Tom Peters and The NY Times publicized What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. This was author, George Saunders‘ key point in his graduation remarks to students at Syracuse University. There is some validity to Huffington Post Mitch Joel’s remark, “We go to work and turn from kind loving family members, friends and community citizens into military generals who use warring terms to get through the work day (“let’s crush the competition!”).

There has been a lively discussion on the Association for Strategic Planning’s-ASP-LinkedIn Group around the conflict between the profit motivation in business and kindness based on Mitch’s article, “In Business, You Can Still Be Kind.”

Jim Sinegal

Jim Sinegal

Kindness comes in many flavors. I feel Jim Sinegal, former CEO and Founder of Costco, was a kind leader with a longer term outlook for financial profitability, growth and relationships. He put into place kind practices to employees and customers, which over time have benefited stockholders. Costco takes good care of its employees financially and has more of a big brother culture. They pay employees well above the minimum wage that the competition pays, and provide decent health benefits. Recent customer surveys place Costco among the top companies in America.

No, I don’t think there needs to be a conflict between kindness and good financial results. That more gruff, “I gotta win at your expense mentality,” does proliferate many business deals and corporate cultures, but it doesn’t need to.

That’s how I came up with the idea of cooperative intelligence almost 10 years ago. I heard colleagues in the competitive intelligence world complain that senior managers would not listen to what they shared. They ignored their good advice around the competition, the competitive landscape, disruptive technologies—all the good stuff they collected.

Cooperative Intelligence: Leadership

Many had not figured out how to give executives the information and tools they needed to make the decisions at hand or perhaps in a format that executives could devour. It’s back to having an attitude of kindness. Rather than pushing out what you think is “good stuff”, have conversations with executives to find out what they need, when they need it and why they need it. Sounds simple, but it’s not especially in large companies, since everyone else is vying for senior management’s attention.

So you need to be patient, and serve those people in your organization who more readily appreciate and understand competitive intelligence. Don’t worry, over time, the executives will find out about your good work.

Cooperative intelligence is kindness: you give without an expectation of something in return. People realize that you genuinely want to help them in their work. After all, competitive intelligence is a support function. You need to keep giving, and eventually those you support will provide you with great tidbits on the competitive environment since your giving is infectious, and they just can’t help themselves. This has been my experience in setting up competitive intelligence programs since 1985. People are attracted to you by your good example of producing the goods they need and your giving attitude.

Cooperative Intelligence: Connection

Part of cooperative intelligence is realizing than anyone you meet can be a valuable contact, and you make each person feel that way. You make them feel like they’re the only person in the room that matters as you listen to them intently and ask good reflective questions so they know you’ve heard. This is a great way to build your network, and it works well provided you have the discipline to stay in closer touch with those who are immediately relevant to your work.

Cooperative Intelligence: Communication

Cooperative intelligence also includes good communication skills. The most important communication skill is the ability to listen with an open heart without judgment and to be entirely present. In conversation, many of us interrupt others as they are speaking, and can’t wait to make our point. The other person is painfully aware from seeing or feeling our impatience as we eagerly await our turn to speak.

If we listen fully to what others say, we often notice things they haven’t shared in words, and their body expression tells us more. Good listeners wait patiently for the other person to finish what they are saying. They trust and truly receive the words of others, and realize that sometimes people don’t require a reply, they just need to be heard. They listen intuitively and kindly.

A second cooperative communication skill is to share what you learn with those in your company in the format and frequency they are comfortable with. This encourages them to open up and respond to your emails or whatever form of communication you agree on. You also need the judgment to realize when something is so important that you need to break the rules and get it to the person as expeditiously as possible.

While competitive intelligence is not a kind business function, it is a forward looking and necessary discipline, and we can be kind people when we bring cooperative intelligence practices into our work.

Conversational Intelligence

I have heard two discussions around conversation this week, coming from very different angles, which have similar recommendations. Engage in a true dialog with the other individual. That means listen to them, and don’t go off on a monologue.

So what happens when we monologue? Biologically our body releases a higher level of reward hormones and we feel great. Our bodies crave that high and we become blind to what we’re doing to the other person, who is feeling invisible, unimportant and minimized. Meanwhile they are experiencing the same neurochemicals as physical pain.

Conversational intelligenceJudith Glaser’s upcoming book, Conversational Intelligence, focuses on getting business people, and particularly sales people, to listen to their customers and to engage them in conversation. But first we need to recognize our blind spots. Two common ones are:

  • Assuming that others see what you see, feel what you feel, and think what you think
  • Thinking you understand and remember what others say, when you really only remember what you think about what they’ve said

Harville Hendrix explains that many people become self absorbed due to emotional events in their childhood, usually from their major caregivers that trigger an anxious response. This goes deeply into their emotional memory and follows them into adulthood. Ever wonder why most people live in the WIFM (what’s in it for me) world? At meetings and conferences, they are the ones who tell you what they do, how you can help them, and jam their business card at you without finding out about you aside from your name, which they probably forget immediately. Or conversely, they want to know all about you, but don’t tell you about themselves even when you probe.

Harville Hendrix Helen LaKelly HuntHarville Hendrix and his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt have found that three factors lead to “conscious partnership” between marital partners: safety, connection and joyful aliveness. Low self esteem and interpersonal negativity (putting others down) make it hard to feel safe and connected in an intimate relationship. Gee, doesn’t that sound familiar with relationships we forge in business too?

In couples research, Harville and Helen concluded that most individuals talk in monologue with their mate. We listen, but we don’t hear. Actually I think this is a common phenomenon in everyday life in personal and business dealings. We forget that our true self is part of the bigger whole, and a great place to start is at home with your loved ones.

Tips for improving your dialog skills:

  • Pay attention and minimize the time you monopolize the conversational space
  • Share that space by asking open-ended questions that let the other person know you heard and are listening
  • Listen non-judgmentally to their answers
  • Mirror their responses to make sure you understood
  • Validate what they’re saying
  • Empathize and respond to their feelings

These are the same skills of a good researcher and competitive intelligence professional who is in the collection mode. Good dialog skills can help you in relationship building. It’s a shame that we are not taught from a young age in the US how to conduct a decent dialog. Schools teach us to be competitive and to excel rather than to be cooperative and to learn from others through conversation. Competitiveness encourages that boring monologue, WIFM tendency from an early age.

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 be a Competition Detective: Motivation

quotes-motivation3

This is the first in a series of blogs to improve your collection skills. Figuring out how others are motivated is a great start. Even if you’re cold calling, you can get a hint of how they might be motivated by learning more about their profession. In a recent project I called trades people from various industries who worked with electricity. I had to learn their language and the innuendos of the marketplace, the products, the competition and what people liked or didn’t about various product models they used.

In addition to the major provider’s websites, I visited stores that sold these products so I could see how they looked and felt in 3D versus the Internet. One provider really stood out as their product is ergonomic whereas other competitor’s products looked and felt more like a brick. I also spoke to sales people in retail stores. Not too many women inquire about this equipment so I was an anomaly, and they were all too happy to tell me everything they knew about the equipment and which models sold better and why.

Amazon increasingly sells this equipment and customer comments were quite helpful, as were trades people’s comments to each other on industry Internet panels. I learned that most trades people wanted the best product in the marketplace, and that product quality and reliability were important for most since they worked with electricity. But there were some who bought based on price and found that an inferior product was good enough. I also learned from experts on YouTube who showed how this equipment worked. One person even took one of the products apart to show how well made it was as compared to some competitor’s models.

Meanwhile I spoke to sales, marketing and product development in the company that hired me. I got as much information about the marketplace, trends and projections so I could share these ideas as I saw fit with some of those people I would interview without divulging proprietary information.

We were trying to assess why the marketplace for certain products was shrinking while others were growing. We agreed on a list of questions I would ask which were both quantitative and qualitative. I considered the many ways that a person might answer each question as this was not a survey. I set the questions up like a decision tree in my mind. If they answered one question a certain way, I might not go to the next question, but would query them differently sensing they knew additional information. This process helps me be more flexible when I interview people, and it doesn’t go quite as planned.

Lastly before I called each person, I took a quick gander at their company’s website so I would have an idea of what type of tradesperson I might be speaking to. Often enough their company website wasn’t informative enough, so I made a guess as to what this person might be doing. If I was wrong, they were happy to correct me, and interestingly enough they just kept on informing me.

None of these people knew who I was before I called them. If I got through to the targeted person they were quite cooperative. After all, who ever asked their opinion about anything? While they were pressed for time like anyone else, they wanted to be heard. There are not enough listeners in this world.

One of my favorites was a crane operator who I didn’t know was a crane operator until he answered the phone and told me he was up in his crane. I chewed him out for answering his phone while operating this machinery and immediately asked if I could call him back when he was safely on the ground. I called him back at the designated time and he gave me a good chunk of his lunch hour.

People like that you appreciate their occupation, and I have found this to be a prime motivator to get people to open up to me regardless of their profession. It also pays to be polite regardless of which profession you are targeting. So many people are rude these days, especially to trades people, who feel they are taken for granted. Some of those I interviewed thanked me at the end of the interview, when it was I who should do the thanking. In today’s rushed society, having good manners really stands out.

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.

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