Use Rivalry to Spur Innovation & Competitive Intelligence Sharing

In a recent McKinsey Quarterly, Mark Little, head of General Electric’s Global Research Group described how GE uses rivalry to stimulate innovation. I think these practices help GE be the powerhouse in the many fields where it is a market leader. Rivalry can mean outright competition—a zero-sum contest in which two individuals or teams go head-to-head and one is declared the winner at the expense of the other. But in the case of GE, rivalry is linked to a second notion, called paragon which means comparison. The motivation behind collaboration often is rivalry as two or more teams compete to develop the best product.

Scientists are motivated a lot like anyone else in that they want to be the best: yes, they’re competitive! Due to my love of aviation, my favorite example cited was the GE90, the large, high-thrust engine developed in the 1990s for the Boeing 777, which was developed by two independent teams. While one team won the competition, the other was assigned to challenge and push the winning team. While this pushing process made the teams uncomfortable, it made the GE90 a better engine and helped advance product development.

In the competitive intelligence field, I think of wargaming as a similar exercise where members of each team collaborate and role play as if they were specific competitors, so there is a healthy rivalry among the teams. However, the goal overall in a war game is to help your company be more competitive. More specifically the goal might be to prepare for a competitor’s new product launch, so it isn’t just the competitors who are represented by a team. One team might represent the marketplace which might include customer’s reactions and regulatory hurdles, for example.

Another example where rivalry works is in sales intelligence, when you reward individual sales people for being the best competition detective. Winners might share information around a new competitor entering your company’s space; a significant change in a competitor’s management team; how a team achieved a win back against a key competitor; new innovation in the marketplace; or how to win sales in spite of regulatory constraints. This is fun since most sales people like publicity and you can lay it on thick through your company’s communication channels: sales rallies, sales teleconference calls, complimentary write ups in the company wiki/newsletter or intranet and a handwritten letter to the sales person’s boss and others like the VP of Sales! While your reward system will never compete with a sales person’s commission, this publicity can. This playful rivalry will only grow over time if you figure out different ways to let Sales compete and continue to publicize your thank-you to the best competition detectives.

The real learning is you can use healthy rivalry to stimulate various behaviors since most people are naturally competitive and want to be the best. You need to figure out how best to motivate individuals to reach your company’s goals whether it’s product innovation, competitive intelligence or sales intelligence, the examples cited here. Depending on an individual’s personality type, this healthy rivalry might be fun or it might make them squirm a bit.

In the spirit of cooperative intelligence, here is an article on sales intelligence for your reading pleasure.

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.

Reviewing Early Chapters of “Competitive Intelligence Advantage”

I am reading Seena Sharp’s book Competitive Intelligence Advantage. In the spirit of cooperative intelligence, I am reading a couple of chapters at a time and will share what I like in this blog.

Her introduction is compelling. Seena enumerates what questions a person might ask who will benefit from competitive intelligence. Here are my favorites from her list of 12:

Have you been blindsided by the loss of a sale to a competitor—especially one who is unknown, emerging or to a substitute?

Do you question if your assumptions are still valid about your industry, competitors, customers and products?

Have you noticed possible signs of an opportunity, but aren’t sure if it makes sense for your company?

In her first chapter Ms. Sharp explains the dilemma we face when we deal with company executives who are often arrogant and overconfident and don’t want to hear bad or contrarian news (even though that’s what they pay us to do in competitive intelligence). While those who lead companies are often brilliant, all can benefit from better intelligence when making strategic decisions.

I particularly enjoyed chapter 2 which provides the most thorough definitions around competitive intelligence (CI) that I have read anywhere. In an effort to describe and define the benefits of CI, Seena describes other more commonly understood processes such as knowledge management, market research, scenario planning and business intelligence. I especially appreciated her distinctions between market research and competitive intelligence. Both include research on the market while market research tends to focus on consumers or business customers and is more quantitative while competitive intelligence is more qualitative and future oriented as it looks at what is emerging in a market or an industry, and considers other external factors in addition to customers.

Did you know that only 38% provide correct phone numbers all the time? 60% don’t always provide accurate info about their company’s size. 45% do not always provide their company’s true name. These are interesting facts in connection around how consumer technology buyers fill out registration forms, a common form of market research. (Source: a survey by Marketing Sherpa and KnowledgeStorm.) These findings make me question the validity of market research findings taken in isolation. That is why it’s often valuable to include market research as a component of CI. I recall our market research team at Verizon benefited when we added some competitor questions to their major annual survey to our strategic customers.

Also in chapter 2, I enjoyed Seena’s example of knowledge management which started as a simple suggestion box at a company. Due to the company’s sharing and expansion of these suggestions at lunchtime sessions, this process was encouraged and became engrained in this company’s culture. People who made suggestions were positively recognized. This reminded me of similar programs that companies have put in place to gather good sales intelligence from Sales about competitors, emerging competitors, product development and industry trends. If you give employees the freedom to communicate their ideas and drill down deeper, it’s amazing what you learn, and a little recognition and thank you goes a long way.

Improve Your ROI by Integrating Marketing & Sales Intelligence


I (Ellen Naylor) will be giving a 2 hour session at the American Marketing Association’s Spring Marketing Workshop which takes place in Denver, Colorado from March 22 – 25 at the Westin Tabor Center. My talk, “Improve Your ROI by Integrating Marketing & Sales” will be given on March 23 from 2:45 – 4:45 pm, about a week before my birthday.

The Marketing Workshop allows attendees to mix and match sessions according to the following topics:

• Marketing ROI
• Pricing Strategy and Tactics
• Social Media and Marketing
• Branding
• Sales and Marketing Integration
• Customer Loyalty and Relationship Management
• Search Engine Optimization

Below is the write up which is buried in the AMA’s 20 page marketing workshop e-booklet.

Sales and marketing are often at odds. This workshop will focus on tools and techniques that are tried and tested, which integrate the smarts of sales, marketing and product development employees. Elicitation is usually used to collect competitive intelligence. Learn what elicitation is and how it can be used to improve your company’s sales intelligence by closing more deals and enabling Sales to collect valuable information from customers to boost your company’s knowledge about market trends, customer needs and the competition to name a few. Likewise, learn how win loss analysis and trade show analysis integrate sales and marketing often with the voice of the customer and other market intelligence.

You will learn:

Elicitation: what it is and why it’s a more effective means to collect information than direct questioning for interviews
Close more sales deals and collect valuable customer insight through the practice of elicitation
Implement a cooperative win loss analysis process that integrates feedback from sales, marketing and your customers
Improve both your sales lead generation and collection skills at trade shows

Matt Kelly, VP Business Development at Strategy Software will be presenting, “Competitive Affairs: Leveraging Competitor Information to Drive Revenue and Increase Market Share. His session takes place on March 24 from 8:30 – 11:30 a.m. Matt is an engaging speaker who I have known for years through SCIP.

I wanted to share this is the spirit of cooperative intelligence as it is pretty rare for the AMA to host events in Denver. March is also a great month to visit the Rocky Mountains if you like to ski as it’s our snowiest month.

Purposeful Cooperative Leadership in Competitive Intelligence

I was led to the Purposeful Leaderships’ blog, “Leading from the Heart” by Janna Rust earlier this week. Leading from the heart is a trait of cooperative intelligence, namely cooperative leadership as it rings of caring and authenticity.  Janna also discusses taking care of your reporting people by being there for them and listening. Another great point is to “be protective” of your reporting people and let them know you’re all on the same team.

So many things I read about leadership focus on “managing up”, that is impress your bosses. This often comes at the expense of managing your subordinates, who are doing the work! Yet it’s a delicate balance since your boss decides on your pay raise, can open a lot of doors, and often controls or influences budget moneys allocated to your projects. Whether with bosses, peers or subordinates, cooperative leadership is more about “them” and less about me.

In competitive intelligence and research, many of us don’t have any reporting people and report into another functional area of the company such as Sales, Marketing, Strategic Planning, Product Development or Research & Development. Often enough, they aren’t quite sure what to do with us.

Cooperative and purposeful leadership skills are all the more essential when you rely on other people to give you great information or intelligence who don’t report to you, and your boss perhaps views you as an outlier since competitive intelligence doesn’t quite fit into anyone’s area.

I spent a lot of time meeting with people and listening to their business problems as a competitive intelligence manager. I was really attuned to emotional intelligence as I dealt with my network of contacts and internal company customers and was sensitive to how they were motivated. I would attempt to match my communication style with theirs, including my body language. This was how I behaved whether dealing with peers, subordinates, my internal clients, my sources or my superiors.

I was protective of my sources, especially Sales. Everyone in marketing wanted Sales’ input into their projects. Over time I became the “unofficial” marketing liaison person to Sales. This almost eliminated the number of requests that went to Sales for quick turnaround corporate projects. I made it my business to have more interaction with Sales, and to let them know I reduced their work load, and appreciated that their time should be spent selling. This was the most purposeful leadership I had while at Verizon. I knew I needed to be cooperative in order to gain sales intelligence and customer’s input to be successful in competitive intelligence.

In what ways are you purposeful and cooperative in your leadership and management?

Who Says Librarians Can’t be Analytic Competitive Intelligence Professionals?

I taught a couple of courses about analytical tools and techniques to librarians as part of SLA’s (Special Library’s Association) competitive intelligence certificate program.  I was amazed at how quickly these librarians built off their information expertise and applied it to analytics.  Here’s an example of how they dove into win loss analysis, my favorite sales intelligence tool. We used the scenario that they sold for Dialog and were losing cases to Lexis-Nexis.

First we would identify all the products that both vendors sell by geography and their perceived value proposition to our customers. We would divide sales according to our market segments to learn which segments are growing and shrinking. We would also consider our product bundling, and would ask Sales about this. We also would look to Sales and Customer Service for their perception of client’s needs versus wants and our competitor. We would tap into our Customer Service people to learn what problems they deal with and how they resolve them. We would incorporate strategic changes to our product line and how projected new releases would affect our position in the marketplace.

This information would help us develop a profile of our product and positioning versus the competition and identify the important issues so we ask the right questions in win loss interviews.

Start-up Issues
How often do we conduct win/loss interviews? We should conduct these interviews within 3 months of the sales event so people remember. Do we involve Sales in the process or do we conduct these calls anonymously without Sales’ knowledge? The argument for anonymity is that you will get less biased answers with neutrality.  However, you might get less deep answers since the customer isn’t sure where this information is going, even though you promise confidentiality. In all cases, we must stress the confidentiality of customer’s answers.

Is Sales already doing some form of win loss analysis or did they do it previously and discontinue it “for some reason”? If you involve Sales, they have great insight as to what questions we to ask since they know their customer’s decision-making criteria.  They also can help us target the right person at each account who has the most knowledge. Overall we thought it would be better to have sales involved in helping us develop questions, to tell us who to call and some facts about their dealings with this customer, their customer’s personality, motivation and communication style. Sales can also tell us why they think they won or lost a sale. Sales might not be as strong in developing questions around product development.

We needed to have the support of senior management all the way down to Sales if we include Sales in this process. We also need to be sensitive to Sales’ relationships with their customers. Perhaps win loss analysis was conducted before and it was not a positive experience for sales, so we need to find out why and overcome those objections and make it cooperative, a win:win for all, which if done correctly, win loss analysis is!

Questions for Win Interviews
Why did they select us? Was there a particular deal swinger?
How close a call was our “win”? Was this new business or a larger contract or was it harder to win than before? Was there some hesitation to continue business with us or to maintain the same level of business?
Did they consider competitors? Who?
What do we do well that we better continue to do if we want to keep their business? What does the competition do well that we could adopt or build on?
What improvements can we make in how we conduct business?
Are there specific wants or needs that we’re not addressing?

Questions for Loss Interviews
Why did we lose? (not in those words)
Who did we lose to?
Were there also other competitors & if so, how did we rate? Why?
Terms: price and contract duration
What was the customer’s budget for this service?
What improvements can we make in how we conduct business?
Are there specific wants or needs that we’re not addressing? Is there anything we could have done which would have caused us to win the business?

I particularly liked this question for both win and loss interviews: What do we offer, which is included in our cost, which is superfluous to our customers—that is they don’t need it?

Obviously we would reword our questions and perhaps incorporate some elicitation skills to be more conversational, but I was impressed that these librarians were so insightful!

Here is an article to supplement your knowledge in win loss analysis.

Think Before Win Loss Analysis: Stay Connected with Your Customers Before the Sales Event!

I’ve been talking about the sales intelligence practice of win loss analysis a lot lately. It’s the process of interviewing your customers to find out why you REALLY win or lose business, and is one of the best values for collecting market intelligence from your customers. You can get ideas for product development, competitive intelligence, changing account reps, realizing that customers don’t value what you thought they did…the list is as endless as your imagination if you stretch it.

However, many people just interview customers when they have lost business. Be practical: How long will it be before you can do business with them again, unless this loss just represents a portion of the business you do together?

Interview wins since they will give you ideas for product development, and they are interested in maintaining a relationship with you, especially if you can offer products that better meet their needs over time.

Especially in these tough economic times, take the time to develop even deeper relationships with your customers to boost retention rates. This is a key cooperative intelligence practice since your account reps or inside sales will be seen as leaders, connectors and communicators, while the competition won’t since they may be operating with a reduced sales headcount.

If you have the cashflow, don’t lay off your sales force or inside sales: keep them busy connecting with your customers. Here are some processes that you might include in their hardship job description in addition to their periodic account visits:

1. Interview customers one month or a reasonable interval after implementation of the product or service. Keep them happy and engaged, right from the beginning. Work with your marketing and product development people to include some open ended questions so they can vent and you learn what’s on their minds without the bias of closed ended questions.

2. A year after implementation, interview your customers again. They will have had a chance to use the product or service enough to have formed some strong opinions. Listen to their ideas, and let them know that you are considering or have made changes to your product or service based on their feedback. Include open ended questions about market trends, new technology and the competition so you don’t get blind sided.

3. Six months to a year before the contract expires, come back to the customer with another set of questions concerning the product/service, your customer service, you know the drill. Your goal is to influence them to stay with you, and they will be more tempted since you’ve been staying in touch with them…and this is not a last ditch effort just before the sale.

The point it: don’t wait for the sales event and then conduct win loss analysis interviews afterwards to find out what you’re doing right and wrong. Include this as part of the account planning and sales follow-up processes and watch your customer retention soar!

What have you included in your sales intelligence process to increase customer retention in these tough economic times?

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

Capture Competitor & Market Intelligence through Elicitation: Webinar Follow-up

Last Wednesday, I gave a webinar to give product managers a tool to improve their relationship with Sales. Teach Sales elicitation skills: they don’t get it anywhere else and it will help them close more deals and collect information to help your company develop better products. Elicitation is conversational communication that compels people to voluntarily tell you things without you asking. However, it does involve planning to make it work, since most of us grow up asking people questions directly to extract information. You can download the slides from Slideshare, but as of April 31, 2014, Slideshare will discontinue slidecasts, so I am uncertain how to transfer this to another provider.

There were some questions that got me thinking more over the Easter/Passover weekend.

1. What is the personality type of the ideal person who conducts elicitation?

The person who asked the question assumed that this person would be outgoing and extroverted. Actually some of the best elicitors are more introverted since they are likely to be more thorough in their preparation for elicitation interviews. In addition, introverted people are often better listeners than extroverts, who like to hear themselves talk, not what elicitation is about. Its focus is getting the other guy to talk!

Here are some other desired skills for an elicitator: natural gift for making friends; establish rapport well; practical psychological insight; broad general knowledge; good memory; two level listener; non-threateningly curious; appreciates cultural/national differences; understands subtleties of personal relationships; and is intuitive, spontaneous, and discrete.

2. Ethical Considerations around Elicitation

This always comes up when talking about competitive intelligence, especially collection tools, where elicitation fits. There are two codes of ethics that I point to: SCIP’s code of ethics and AIIP’s code of ethics. My own ethics are the most important to me and they are situational. The other thing to consider is practicality and conversation flow. For example, some people want you to disclose who you are, your company name, where you’re based, who your client is, and why they want to know “x”. Try scripting all this “stuff” at the start of a conversation: it is not natural and it’s too long. It’s better to let the person you’re talking to, ask questions and gradually tell them this information as the conversation flows.

3. Resources I recommend

Confidential  by John Nolan and What Every BODY is Saying by Joe Navarro for supplementary reading on elicitation practices.  I have also written an article entitled “Enable Sales to Elicit Market Intelligence”  published in SCIP’s Competitive Intelligence Magazine.

How to Detect and Prevent Lying Behaviors

Do you ever get that feeling that someone is lying to you, but you’re not quite sure, and you don’t want to ask them since you want to keep the conversation flowing. Perhaps this is a friend who is telling a little white lie or perhaps it is a co-worker who is warming up to the boss.  We are surrounded by lies in our society, and it’s good to identify when you’re being lied to. One way is to ask a question that alludes to a person’s possible lying behavior since if you accuse the person outright, you will put him on the defensive.  Another way is to present a similar scenario and ask the person how they would correct it.  A third way is to start the sentence out with, “Isn’t it amazing” and allude to the behavior or lie in a general way.

Never Be Lied to Again by David Lieberman, is a good read and gives you a myriad of concrete examples to raise your awareness as to when someone is lying to you.  In my fields of competitive intelligence and sales intelligence, we are often asking questions to collect data, whether developing an opportunity analysis for new product or service, finding out when a competitor is introducing a new product, or determining why our customers really buy or don’t buy from us. It is imperative to be attuned as to whether the person you’re talking to is telling you the truth or not. Important decisions are being affected by the information and analysis we develop.

Here are a few tips David shares that I have noticed in my experience:

* Deceitful responses to your questions about beliefs and attitudes take longer to deliver.
* Beware of overreaction to your questions or statements.
* He depersonalizes his answer to your question by offering his belief about the subject instead of answering your question directly.
* He will use your words to make his point.
* Liars often slouch, and are unlikely to stand tall with their arms out or outstretched.
* A liar won’t face you if you’re accusing him, and may turn his head or shift his body away.
* The person makes little or no eye contact.
* There is little or no physical contact during his attempt to convince you.
* The guilty tells his story bit by bit until he gets a verbal communication to stop. He speaks to fill the gap left by silence.
* A liar willingly answers your questions, but asks none of his own.
* Might say, “To be perfectly honest” or “To tell the truth” at the start of the sentence unless they do this all the time.
* Beware of answers that are pat and seem too well rehearsed.
* Use stalling techniques like asking you to repeat the question or answering your question with a question.

I’ve just touched the tip of what David offers to help you spot and prevent deception.  Do you have any tips you would like to share?

Opportunity Analysis in These Tough Economic Times

I am traveling with my artist husband, Rodgers this week so I am writing from Rockport which is a charming art town by the Gulf in South Texas. Since we live in the mountains of Colorado, the ocean beckoned us in between Rodgers’ art shows in Houston. How can you go wrong hanging out in the friendly state of Texas?! Last weekend was Houston’s Bayou City Art Festival. This weekend is the Woodlands Waterway Art Festival about 40 miles North of Houston.

I was going to take the rest of this week off from blogging, but I have been inspired by my customer, who works in the industrial space manufacturing products and their main factory and R&D facility are US based. If that isn’t unusual enough, they have hired me to help improve their competitive intelligence process, and improve their sales intelligence by getting Sales to capture competitor data, market intelligence, new technology (CTI) and ideas for product and service development.  This is not a Fortune 500 company, but they are the market leader in their space, and after talking to their leadership and hearing their drive, I am not surprised!

Folks, they aren’t missing a beat in this depression or whatever you want to call these rocky economic times. They are introducing new products, in fact a new technology that will be disruptive in their industry since it can be installed without shutting down the customer’s machinery! They are adding new services to their product line, which are services the customer used to do themselves. However, with all the outsourcing that goes on today, many customers had outsourced these services to contractors, who are not as skilled in providing these services as my customer would be.

The message here is do an opportunity analysis. These are tough times for sure. Study what your customers are going through and how they’re being impacted. This might be the perfect time to introduce a disruptive technology, especially if it saves the customer money or is easier to install and maintain than the “old” technology. It could be that there are more services you can offer your customers today since they’ve reduced their staff in areas where you are very qualified to step in.

Here’s an example in my trade, competitive intelligence. I notice many companies are downsizing their research and library functions.  This is an opportunity for competitive intelligence professionals to add competitor, market trends and technology monitoring to your marketing mix. It’s a complementary skill to what we already do, and I see the demand rising.

So what are you going to offer your customers that they will value in these tough times?

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