7 Top Competitive Intelligence Blogs Read in 2016

competitive intelligenceFour of the top 7 competitive intelligence blogs were written in 2009. 2 were competitive intelligence analytic tools, which the other 2 were relationship skills: emotional intelligence; and marketing, R&D and product development relationships. These topics are timeless.

Here they are in order of popularity:

1. Templates for Win/Loss Analysis – The Win Loss request I get asked the most often is, “Can you share your Win Loss templates?” I break down Win Loss analysis questions into 4 buckets: relationship health, company reputation, product/service attributes, and servicing issues.

2. How a Good Relationship between Marketing and R&D Improves Product Development – When both marketing and R&D focus on understanding and acting on customer needs, it makes their jobs easier and their results more productive. This is a powerful competitive weapon since this is not the case at many companies. Perhaps R&D can be masters of the Art of Possibility while Marketing can master the Art of the Possible – that is what your customers want and are willing to pay for.

3. Sharpen Your Emotional Intelligence Skills – In competitive intelligence, strong emotional skills are essential since we’re often delivering bad news to management or threats to the business, which causes stress since they don’t want to hear it, even if it is the truth. Be sensitive as to how management will react to our news and analysis, and don’t spring surprises. What’s neat about EQ versus IQ, is that we can learn and be coached to improve our EQ skills.

4. How You Can Become a Conversation Rockstar – So much about life revolves around effective communication. As a primary researcher, I look for ways to motivate people to share. You need to understand what makes them comfortable to share with you. One source I read in 2016 is Traci Brown’s book, Persuasion Point: Body Language and Speech for Influence. While the book focuses on closing sales, the same tactics will work to promote sharing when conducting competitive intelligence collection or Win Loss interviews.

5. 7 Timeless Competitive Intelligence Tips – Here are a few: Company insularity is not a competitive advantage. Don’t forget that your employees are smart. What ever happened to good old fashioned customer service? Let employees create and have access to customer, sales and market intelligence.

6. Visualize Your Competitiors on a Radar Screen Competitor Map, a Great Competitive Intelligence Tool – The Radar screen is a totally visual tool which fits on one page for easy digestion. It can be used both strategically and tactically, and is a great way to visualize how competitors are positioned relative to your company and each other. The uses for the Radar Screen are endless. It can be divided into 4 quadrants which might depict competitors by 4 separate business units, 4 geographies, or 4 different reasons why customers buy. Read more about the Radar Screen in Adrian Slywotsky’s book, Value Migration: How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition 

7. BCG Matrix Study: A Visual Strategic Competitive Intelligence Tool: Explanation and Case Study – Use the BCG Matrix to visually depict a share of market snap shot among competitors.

See you in 2017.

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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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How to become an expert in primary intelligence: Interviewing

Last night I gave at talk to our DC SCIP chapter on primary intelligence collection and elicitation. I promised I would share the slides with attendees. They are on Slideshare.

Here are some of the key points from the talk about interviewing. The next blog will cover key points on elicitation.

When conducting an interview, most people know who you are and why you want to talk to them, except when you are cold calling, which is what we do often enough in competitive intelligence.

The first step in primary collection regardless of whether it’s a standard interview, elicitation or some combination is preparation. Do your homework. Find out about the person you will talk to, even if it’s a cold call. At the very least, you know their profession and their industry, which will help you develop reasons why they would want to talk with you, and more importantly, share! Do not skimp on this upfront time. Often conversations and interviews don’t go as planned. If you have done your preparation, you can more easily be flexible and go with plans b, c or d!

As you prepare for your collection project, think about what it is you will share and NOT share before you pick up the telephone or attend that trade show.

Think about why people will be motivated to share with you based on who they are: their profession, personal issues, politics, predisposition, and emotional intelligence. Be sensitive as to how they like to be communicated with based on how they come across in those first few seconds of the call or the meeting, and alter your communication style accordingly to a dominant, expressive, conscientious or amicable type. Recognize that people may change their practice and predisposition when they are under stress.

Reword your questions to motivate people to open up and share. Start with open ended questions that are easy for them to answer, and that you think they will enjoy answering. Then move to more hypothetical questions and indirect questions before you get to the more narrow questions. I find that bracketing those narrow questions gets a better response.

Listen closely to what the target is telling you, and be flexible. Perhaps they really don’t know the answers to some of those issues that you thought they would know. What are they not sharing that you thought they knew? Did they really know it or are they purposely not telling you? With so many participating in social networks there are too many self proclaimed experts who aren’t so expert once you start probing.

Lay aside your preconceived notions. Many of us listen for what we think is the ‘right’ answer or for what we want to hear. We don’t listen to the full story that the other person is telling us. Listen and put your ego aside if you want to be good in primary collection.

If you are at a trade show or another form of in-person collection, take advantage of the person’s body cues. Do the words match the facial and body expressions? If they don’t, believe the body: it’s easy to lie. In America, people often misinform. They are often just trying to be helpful, but it’s misinformation. Sometimes that’s harder to discern. One way is to make an obvious mistake in a key assumption or statistic as I ask a question. If they don’t pick up on it, I am suspicious about their knowledge level.

Also realize when dealing with people in person that it’s easier for people to manipulate their smiles and facial expressions, less easy for them to control other parts of their body such as their shoulders, arms, legs, feet and breathing.

If you are connecting on the telephone listen for a change in their tone of voice, pitch, cadence, confidence, speed of speech, hesitation, sigh, shallow breathing, silence. There are so many cues when you listen to people beyond what they say or don’t say. Trust your intuition: it’s usually right.

In closing, many people asked me how I represent myself when I talk to people. I tell them who I am right away. Many people seem to think there is one approach that will work with every person, that there is a simple answer to this question. There isn’t. You should choose to be ethical when you conduct research. SCIP has a code of ethics; AIIP and SLA have codes of ethics. Your company probably has a code of ethics or business practices they want you to follow. But most importantly you have to be true to yourself.

BTW, if you want to watch a great interview check out John Clees here and look for my next blog on elicitation.

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!

Purposeful Cooperative Leadership in Competitive Intelligence

Cooperative Leadership

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?

Key Insights to Be a Better Leader in Today’s World

leadershippanelists2009DenIn the spirit of cooperative intelligence I am sharing my takeaways from this workshop on leadership sponsored by Denver-based Sustainable Business Group, a leadership and management consulting firm led by Herb Rubenstein.

Wayne Nelson, Chief Strategist at Anderson Professional Systems Group kicked off the meeting with a discussion about emotional intelligence, telling us the 5 components of emotional intelligence: self awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill from Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence.

What I found even more interesting was his discussion about 6 leadership styles:

Coercive – Tight control over things. “Do what I tell you.”
Authoritative – Build the vision. “Get people to follow where you need to go.”
Affiliative – Promote harmony, cooperation. “Puts people first, tasks second.”
Democratic – Builds on group consensus. “So what do you think?”
Pacesetting – Intent on setting high performance standards. “Do as I do it.”
Coaching – Develop the team or individual for the future. “Try this: How can I support you?”

We all have a tendency towards a particular leadership style.  A good manager is flexible and uses the right style to be effective at the appropriate time. It’s also good to employ people whose styles you lack to keep balance in the workplace.

Jennifer Churchill of Opus Leadership Group focused on talent retention.

She suggests 3 key areas to promote talent retention:
1. Senior Management must be involved (acquisition/retention of top talent)
2. Conduct a gap analysis of your company’s talent to find what’s missing
3. Strong leaders attract and retain strong talent (management by example)
So know yourself and the kind of leader you are.

Kevin Asbjörnson, Founder and Principal Performing Artist of Inspire! Imagine! Innovate!  brought a global aspect to leadership. Music is a global language and inspires whole person leadership by getting us to use the right side of our brain and connect both sides of the brain to bring leadership balance and passion. One take-away for me was that Empathy is the foundation of emotional intelligence regardless of your culture. I had thought it was Self-Awareness. As a behind the scenes primary researcher I am an ‘off the chart’ empath, and don’t think of myself as a leader. I look forward to hearing and experiencing Kevin’s piano performance around leadership. Somehow we didn’t have room for a Yamaha at our session!

Inevitably, the topic of social networks came up in the context of emotional intelligence as people reach out for connection in cyberspace. I have the idea that social networks have taken off since the workplace has become lonely. Gone are the days when a product team meets in the company cafeteria. We work remotely from each other all too often with a lack of leadership and weak connection. We have this human need to connect and cooperate and help each other out. This is increasingly achieved through connections made via social networks!

I liked the saying that Herb shared with us, “Nobody cares what you know until they know you care.” That’s good to keep in mind when you’re connecting, whether through the old fashioned ways of in-person meetings, telephone and email; or the various forms of social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Keep that communication two-way and listen!

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