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.


Improve Your Cold Calling

I was writing an article for FUMSI and editor Marcy Phelps suggested that I add a list of ways to be better at cold calling. It was a challenge since most of my experience with cold calling is following my intuition. However, in the spirit of cooperative intelligence I will share some of the practices that I have developed over the years as a researcher. Like anything else, practice makes you a lot better. I am always thinking about ways to empathize and be more sensitive to the other person. I am most effective when I focus on the person I am speaking with, think emotional intelligence, and forget about myself. I also strive to keep an eye on the clock to respect their time.

Think and Do
How do you think they’re motivated?
Why would they want to talk with you?
Can you guess what they’re like based on their occupation?
Read up on their profession if you don’t know it.
Prepare a good intro about yourself: short and crisp.
Be ready for their questions about you. Decide what you won’t share.
Prepare the list of questions you need to have answered.
Why would they want to answer these questions?
Which questions might be easier for them to answer?
Make sure you have some open ended questions to start.
Do you want to mix your interview tactics with questions and elicitation? (that is getting a conversational interview rather than questions and answers)
Can you learn about them on LinkedIn, Zoom Info, Jigsaw or other social media?
Warm up the call up with this information: do you have something in common?
Or is it easier just to call the person without taking the time to research who they are?

How to Be
Psych yourself up: envision and expect them to share with you.
Be interesting on your end, even if you’re horrified!
Smile as you talk: your optimism travels through your tone of voice.
Think confidence: this comes through the phone line too.
Psych yourself up: what’s the worst thing that will happen? (They’ll hang up or ask you too many questions & you’ll hang up.)
Prepare yourself for the call to go differently than you had planned so you’re not taken by surprise. Some of my best intelligence collection comes from being open when the call takes a unexpected twist!
Learn what works with every phone call & tweak your approach accordingly.
If you listen closely to their tone, their words, their silence and confidence, you’ll be amazed at your creativity to probe in different ways.
Leave them feeling good about themselves: it’s always a good practice. Making them feel good also leaves the door open for future communication!

What are you doing to improve your cold calling?

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!

The Present of Presence & Listening

Yesterday our excellent homilist ended with a story I had read on the Internet several times, yet it hit me differently due to the recent loss of my Dad. An old man had recently lost his wife, and was so heartbroken that he just couldn’t do anything. A neighbor’s little girl saw how sad he was, just sitting on the porch staring out into space, and ran to him and sat in his lap. The old man was delighted and told the little girl’s family that she had brought him back the will to live. They asked: “What did she say?” And he replied, “Nothing. She just sat on my lap.”

This story reminded me of the hours I had spent with my Dad in those last weeks, quietly sitting with him, particularly late at night when he couldn’t sleep even though he wanted to. Sleep deprivation particularly haunted him in the hospital with all the disturbances, noises and lights. I like to think he just didn’t want me to go home. After he came home I continued to sit with him when it was my turn, quietly watching TV, and sometimes while he slept during the day or the night. I stayed up with him the last night he was on planet earth, and I think Dad took great comfort that I was there with him, quietly sitting close by and periodically touching him.

I think this phenomenon of being quiet is also very valuable in business as part of cooperative communication, one of the arms of cooperative intelligence. Sometimes, people just need us to listen to them, and not offer any advice. It is a difficult thing to do: to just listen and listen and perhaps at the end of their ranting just wish them good luck. Often just allowing the other person to talk and talk allows them to release some steam, but also can be used more constructively. If you stay quiet, the other person may share some great ideas to improve your business practices and unleash their creativity. This practice also builds incredible trust and connection between two people since you think enough of the other person to stay quiet and listen.

In my fields of research and competitive intelligence, knowing when to be silent is a great gift, since there aren’t enough listening ears, especially these days with all the downsizing in America. When I call people, even cold calls, I will initiate the conversation, but then I will be silent and give the other person a chance to share what they know. Many of them are so grateful that someone cares enough to ask their opinion, even a total stranger, that a number of them have invited me to call them back any time. I have made them feel good about themselves and warmed up their life just a little bit by asking and caring.

It takes time, life experience and a certain amount of intuition to know when it’s right to just sit back, be quiet and listen. I am still learning and wonder what your experience has been with being quiet and listening.

Jeffrey Immelt’s Ideas on Renewing America’s Competitiveness

As we approach this Independence Day in America, my cooperative spirit pushes me to share Jeffrey Immelt’s ideas about how to renew America. Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE is one of America’s stewards of leadership and innovation and I highly recommend that you view his talk given in late June 09 at the Detroit Economic Club.

JeffImmeltAmerica has a myriad of economic problems, not the least of which is it has moved from a technology-driven manufacturing economy to one that is services oriented. We are known as a country where CEOs are viewed as short-term speculators, which has been re-enforced by our “leadership” in the financial global meltdown. There is something seriously wrong when “a mortgage broker is pulling down $5 million a year while a Ph.D. chemist is earning $100,000.”

Jeff thinks the US needs to create an industrial renewal as follows:

1. Invest in new technology

2. Win where it counts in Clean Energy and Affordable Healthcare

3. Become a country that’s good at manufacturing and exports

4. Embrace public/private partnerships

5. Encourage leaders that are also good citizens

During this recession, GE has not reduced its R&D expenditures, which are pegged at 6%, while the US average is only 2% of sales. In 2008, GE exported $19 billion and plans to increase exports each year. GE is partnering with local government to fix the US educational system by investing at inner city schools to improve math and science since only 4% in the US study engineering, which often produces innovators.

GE has two great initiatives to stimulate innovative product development: “eco-imagination” and “health-imagination”. Eco-imagination focuses on alternative, clean energy development and renewable energy products as well as making better use of traditional energy sources. One initiative is a GE + Duke energy coal degasification plant project. America is like the Saudi Arabia of coal supply! Through innovations in health research, GE will launch hundreds of new products in the next few years to reduce the cost of healthcare, particularly in areas like infant care and mammography.

GE invests $1B per year in training. One way this has paid off is that their educated locomotive teams reduced the time it takes to manufacture a locomotive from 100 days to 20. Jeff’s talk is full of these examples of “can do”, which I think is missing from America’s fabric in these tough times.

GE practices what it preaches: it changes with the global demand for its products. Over 50% of what GE produces today didn’t exist 10 years ago. GE will introduce more new products during this recession than any time in its history.

Big business needs to fund small businesses to invent and in the supply chain to compete globally. He states that as “Business leaders we are responsible for the competitiveness of our own country.” This comes from a free marketer and Republican. I wish more of our country’s leadership felt this way. The US is at a competitive disadvantage globally since the private and public sectors are often at odds and do not cooperate like they do in most other countries in the world! The US needs to welcome government as a catalyst for leadership and change. Look at all the creativity and innovation that came from NIH and NASA over the years. The government can be creative and foster cooperation!

I’ll conclude by sharing that Jeff is practicing what he preaches: GE is investing $100 million to develop a manufacturing lab near Visteon Center in the Detroit metro. This will provide 1200 professional jobs to start. Jobs will focus in three areas of innovation: advanced manufacturing technology including applications in aviation and energy products; software applications such as the smart grid; and a training program for information technology. GE is working with the public sector in Detroit and drawing talent from MI universities, in addition to the local work force.

I hope more of America’s leadership adopts Jeff Immelt’s attitudes and practices so America can once again feel proud. US competitiveness will only improve as we become a more self confident society. America’s consumer spending is not going to pull us out of this recession: this alone is not sustainable! America’s business investment in technology, innovation and value-added manufacturing will.

Creative Librarians in Competitive Intelligence: SLA 2009

I taught two Click University competitive intelligence certificate programs at SLA 2009: intermediate and management CI analytical tools and techniques. My students had a cooperative spirit, great curiosity and a strong desire to learn. This is my favorite kind of student.

One student group devised a creative use of the Radar Screen 360 degree analytical tool. I learned about this tool through Adrian Slywotsky’s Value Migration book, where competitors are placed around a dart board in accordance with how competitive they are relative to your company. Your company is the bull’s eye and your key competitors are placed in the inner rings of the dartboard, where as outliers or potential competitors might be placed towards the outer rings and even outside the entire dartboard.

We were analyzing an executive in the hotel industry, in an attempt to predict what his next move might be. Would he buy the hotel next door or not? The case told us his life story, including his personality all the way from his childhood to the present as a middle aged man. We were provided with his history of buying and managing hotels, including his keen ability as a financial manager, his tendency to micromanage, his habit of reinvesting earnings back into the business, and his drive to grow and take risk in the entrepreneurial spirit.  The first step this team took was to use the Radar Screen to show us how this executive perceived his hotel business relative to the competition.


They broke the radar screen into quadrants which depicted customer service, attention to detail, financial stability, and risk taker/entrepreneur. What a brilliant use of the Radar Screen as a psychological tool! They concluded he was an INTJ on the Myers Brigg Scale. He was extremely well organized, independent and a classic entrepreneur who experienced growth through risk taking, by extending himself to buy or rebuild hotels. From this analysis we could see that he had a robust ego and that he thought he did everything well, if not better than the competition. The hotel group’s financial results underscored that he was a savvy, smart businessman.

From this analysis we could study the executive’s decision-making patterns to date, and figure that as an entrepreneur with no hobbies, he was likely to continue his habit of extending himself financially and buying the hotel next door. He didn’t know how to operate any other way: there was nothing that seemed to provide enough impetus in his life to change this behavior.

This team was right: the executive did buy the hotel next door even though it meant extending his and his wife’s work life by several more years. He didn’t know how to stop this cycle, and perhaps wasn’t ready to make changes towards retirement at age 49, while his wife had quit her law practice in a step towards retirement.

Visualize Your Competitors on a Radar Screen Competitor Map, a Great Competitive Intelligence Tool

adrian-slywotskyThe Radar Screen competitor map is one of my favorite competitive intelligence tools.  It is totally visual, and fits on one page for easy digestion. It can be used both strategically and tactically, and is a rich communication tool. I first read about it in Adrian Slywotzky’s Value Migration: How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition  in the 1990s.

It’s a great way to visualize how competitors are positioned relative to your company and each other. The Retail Radar Screen example below shows competitors relative to Macy’s, the large retail store which offers a broad spectrum of products including clothing, housewares, bed & bath, jewelry, shoes, cosmetics, fine china, handbags, and various accessories. It could be argued that Sears and JC Penney are Macy’s most direct competitors, as they offer a broad spectrum of similar products in their stores. Thus they are placed in the middle of the radar screen to show their relative position as a more direct competitor to Macy’s. Wal-mart and Target might fit in the next tier as they both sell clothing and housewares, but also sell food and sporting goods where they don’t compete. Outliers include Costco and Sam’s Club as they compete across some products such as clothing and housewares, but don’t offer the depth in either area, and sell food where Macy’s scarcely competes, and offer other products that Macy’s doesn’t such as computers and automotive.


Ideally you would have a cross-functional team create a Radar Screen competitor snapshot. There is rich discussion about where and why competitors should be placed which is extremely valuable to capture.  Some companies use the Radar Screen as the home page for their company’s competitive intelligence Intranet. They will re-position the competitors based on the news, and visually depict changes with a different color, for example. If you would click on each competitor, there would be the relevant news and a competitor profile explaining its positioning.

Be creative: the uses for the Radar Screen competitor map are as rich as your imagination. The screen can be divided into 4 quadrants which might depict competitors by 4 separate business units, 4 different geographies, and on a tactical level 4 different reasons why customers buy.

I have used the Radar Screen with companies who claim they have 20 major competitors in one business unit. This exercise achieves more focus, and we will often narrow that list to 6 – 8 competitors after some rigorous discussion.

How do you use Radar Screen competitor maps?  I would love to hear from you.

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