How to Connect with Senior Leaders

I was sorry to miss Scott Leeb’s talk, “CI Guerilla Warfare: Winning the Hearts and Minds of Senior Leadership.” Turns out I didn’t: it was videotaped here.

Small business team in theSo my Thanksgiving treat is a recap of Scott’s talk. Almost everyone I know in competitive intelligence complains about their lack of connection to senior management.

Many of us in competitive intelligence are our own worst enemy since we are steeped in competitive intelligence DNA and language, and don’t understand how the c-suite operates.

Treat getting in with the c-suite like battle:  “If you know the enemy and you yourself you need not fear the results of a 100 battles.” Sun Tzu, 500BC

Mind your Ps and Qs

Over deliver, but don’t overwhelm. Start with how your insight ties into the business results the executive cares about. Use their language, which is the language of business and know enough about the executive to understand his/her quirks. Their Admin will know these. Scott would schedule 5 minutes with an executive before his talk to make sure he was touching on what the executive cared about. They will find 5 minutes for you: it’s in their best interest, right?

Scott also applies his 7Ps from his military training to knowing how executives operate:

  • Proper
  • Planning and
  • Preparation
  • Prevent
  • Pitifully
  • Poor
  • Performance

Recognize the differences

Most executives live to work. They are under tremendous pressure and you don’t want to add to it.

Pick and maintain a voice, which is consistent and in alignment with the business goals

  • Be Bold
  • Be Brief
  • Be Gone
  • Be Authoritative
  • Be Opinionated
  • Be Balanced
  • Be Flexible
  • Be Careful (politics)

Scott suggests three practices when communicating with executives:

  • BLUFF: Bottom Line Up Front results Fast
  • KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid
  • 4Qs: Quantify Qualify Quality Quickly – Fast and Forcefully make your presentation to executives

Show them the tip of the iceberg from your analysis. Use appropriate language, not CI, and tie your deliverable to business results that you know the executive is focused on. But be prepared with all the supporting data for questions.

Scott’s motto here:

  • Get the analysis to the
  • Right person at the
  • Right time……to Support the
  • Right decision

Be a Salesperson

Build a competitive intelligence brand in your company with a logo and a name to your group that everyone can easily identify with. While many in competitive intelligence have this stealth mode for what we do, we need to be more outgoing in order to be seen and heard. Scott had a catchy name for his CI group at Prudential, PruView.

If you aren’t good at selling, find champions who are. Ideally they should have some skin in the game, that is rely on you for good work. Ideally these champions should be senior, vocal, CI smart and committed.

I recall when I was at Bell Atlantic, now part of Verizon, I gained a VP of Sales as my champion. I didn’t realize he was testing me when he sent me on what I thought was a wild goose chase to lead a competitor response analysis in a highly political RFP that our sales folks had already answered. What would be the value of this, I thought as I drove to their site with very little notice.

The sales team thought if we didn’t win, AT&T would. There were two other competitors: Rolm (now part of Siemens) and Nortel. They didn’t think either of them had a good chance to win the business. I thought that Rolm had the best chance to win as this was a university, and Rolm was owned by IBM, who manufactured PCs at this time. They could sweeten the deal through discounted PCs, which were very expensive then. Rolm won the business for the reason I had suspected, and the Sales VP became my champion.

Provide Insights

  • Focus on what they need and keeping asking “so what” until you get to this.
  • Also get them to think about, “What’s the cost of inaction?”

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it.

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Is Mindset Block a Lack of Listening?

Listening DogI read two great blogs in the last couple of weeks: David Harkelroad’s which asserted that the biggest problem in strategy is mindset; and an HBR blog on “What Gets in the Way of Listening?” I think they are related since if you truly listen, you are open to having your mind changed.

There are many reasons people don’t listen well. We aren’t trained on listening from childhood with the competition that seems to thrive in the classroom for the best answer, to be the best, often at the expense of the other students. Sometimes we don’t listen since we’re scared. We are trying to appear confident and assertive and miss others’ perspectives in the process.

I like the flexible mindset shared in the HBR blog, “I do have a viewpoint going in, but I don’t assume or try to show I’m the smartest person in the room. I’m willing to hear them (colleagues) out for the sake of getting the best answer, not just my answer.” Listening is a sign of incredible self-confidence. Back to David’s point about mindset. I think many leaders don’t fully listen since they aren’t confident, but they want to appear confident. In the example cited of Blockbuster’s Wayne Huizenga having the intelligence to get into digital media, there is something that stops many executives from taking corrective action. Maybe the extremely generous pay that executives receive clouds their judgment and reinforces them not to change their mindset.

“Leaders who take organizational conversation seriously, know when to stop talking and start listening.” (“Leadership is a Conversation” by Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind). When you put aside your fear and anticipation, you are more open to listening. You are fully present and ready to respond to whatever gets thrown your way. You’re not thinking about what you might say next. You realize that a critical part of your job is to fully listen. Good interviewers and journalists have known this for years.

Interestingly enough, when you focus on yourself, you can pick out your listening weaknesses.

  • Do you listen to your inner critic rather than your audience when giving a presentation or sharing findings in a meeting?
  • Do you only see your role as an information professional? (fill in your job title)
  • Does your listening shut down when you are emotionally uncomfortable?
  • Are you trying so hard to show confidence and be right that you aren’t listening?

So what can we do as marketing, strategic or competitive intelligence professionals to change our leadership’s mindset as we provide them information and insight to assist in decision-making, which perhaps doesn’t support where they were headed? I have found that many of them possess a major ego. If I can provide them with the intelligence to feed their ego in a way that makes them think it’s their idea, I don’t have to change their mindset, which I think is a lot harder. But they do change their course of  action when it becomes “their idea.”

I am curious as to how others deal with their leadership’s lack of listening ears? I know as a telephone interviewer that there are not enough listening ears and that job disengagement in the US is around 70%, so if they answer their phone, they are likely to be informative.

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

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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.

Connecting with Business Colleagues in Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time for sharing, caring and expressing gratitude. I am grateful to have so many wonderful friends in business. In the spirit of cooperative intelligence and sharing, I recently was a panelist in a SLA Competitive Intelligence division (CID) webinar on “Integrating Marketing and Sales to Capture & Deliver Intelligence.”  While this is an SLA CID member benefit, all four of us panelists posted our slides on Slideshare.

I will list us in the order we presented so you have the benefit of a good flow:

Susan Berkman: Producing Intelligence for Sales & Marketing

Marcy PhelpsCompetitive Intelligence for Marketing Professionals

Ellen NaylorCollaborating with Sales

Anna Shallenberger: Research & Analyzing Competitors

Sponsored by Aurora WDC aka Arik & Derek Johnson

Likewise we just concluded a series of Colorado Future Ready blogs on SLA’s FR365 site which features a blog a day. This was initiated by Cindy Romaine, current SLA President as of Jan. 1, 2011. Here is the list and links to each of our Colorado blogs:

Who is SLA? by Connie Clem

Introducing eBooks into the Denver Public Schools by Charles Leckenby

The Value of Information Professionals by Laura Cullerton

How Cooperative Intelligence will make you Future Ready by Ellen Naylor

Economic Gardening by Recca Larson

Collaborative Librarianship by Joseph Kraus

Take a Risk: Reap the Rewards by Shelly Walchak

In closing, here is a poem about Thanksgiving that one of my Facebook buddies shared today. Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow or not, I think it presents a good way to view life!

Thanksgiving…. More Than A Day

As Thanksgiving Day rolls around,

It brings up some facts, quite profound.

We may think that we’re poor,

Feel like bums, insecure,

But in truth, our riches astound.

We have friends and family we love;

We have guidance from heaven above.

We have so much more

Than they sell in a store,

We’re wealthy, when push comes to shove.

So add up your blessings, I say;

Make Thanksgiving last more than a day.

Enjoy what you’ve got;

Realize it’s a lot,

And you’ll make all your cares go away.

By Karl Fuchs

From a Good Sales Call to a Great Sales Call: Book Review

From a Good Sales Call to a Great Sales Call focuses on improving Sales’ post-decision debrief process with prospects, referred to as win loss analysis in the competitive intelligence world. I like how the author, Richard Schroder, adds ‘post-decision debrief’ as the 7th element of the sales process. He insists Sales asks customers for their permission to conduct a post-sales interview during the presentation of your company’s solution rather than waiting until after the buying decision. A professional way to approach your prospect is: “We promote continuous improvement, and whether we win your business or lose it to a competitor, we value your feedback.”

Apparently only 18% of US companies have a formal win loss program. Thus, in most new business situations, sales people don’t have a complete and accurate understanding of why they won or lost sales. If armed with such data, Sales can make behavioral changes to improve close rates by 15%.

According to Anova Consulting Group’s research, the sales process is often a top driver of the purchase decision, whether the business is won or lost.

Key reasons for losses from the sales process include:

**Lack of a customized presentation

**The salesperson doesn’t accurately uncover and understand the prospect’s unique needs, including decision making criteria

**The salesperson and/or team does not thoroughly prepare for prospect meetings and the presentation

Richard believes that sales people should not conduct these win loss interviews since they often take the loss too personally and might try to re-sell the customer on their solution, be aggressive, defensive or dejected, which causes the customer to clam up or just to tell part of the story, the part that doesn’t involve Sales. Prospects can also be uncomfortable talking with the salesperson whose solution they just rejected.

Yet, Richard gives great suggestions to help Sales conduct win loss interviews:

**Do not attempt to gather win loss feedback during the same call when you learn the sales outcome.

**Schedule a phone call or in-person visit with the decision-maker a couple of weeks after the sales decision.

**Take time to prepare the questions you want answered and seek input from your sales organization.

**This debrief questionnaire should include questions around the customer’s decision-making criteria; qualitative questions around your firm’s strengths and weaknesses; benchmarking against competitors; and the sales process (more detail to develop a win loss questionnaire).

**This preparation will get you grounded, and will help you neutralize your emotions around the win or loss and let you focus on how and what you can learn.

**At the end of the win loss interview, ask your customer if you missed anything. In my experience, this is when the floodgates open.

The book is chock full of ways to sell better:

**Build rapport. Learn as much about your prospect(s) as you can through the Internet, LinkedIn, Google, Twitter and industry associations.

**Don’t just plan your presentation: prepare the initial discussion you will have with each prospect. Ask some open ended questions to engage them.

**Develop a second approach to build rapport in case the first approach doesn’t work.

**When in doubt, de-sell. For example, “Perhaps my service doesn’t quite fit your needs.”

**Be consultative: if your product or service is not what the customer is looking for, refer them to someone who can help them.

**Remember people want to buy from experts, not salespeople. Research Research Research!

Appendix B tells Sales Managers how to implement a win loss program. It is practical and well thought-out. Two factors stand out from my experience with developing win loss programs.

1. Does the program have executive level sponsorship and comprehensive buy-in from critical areas of your company?

2. Will the program be well integrated with existing processes already developed at your company?

I have learned the hard way that buy-in is essential at all levels. Some programs never get off the ground due to this lack of communication, sponsorship and integration.

My only criticism is Richard’s strong bias towards using a third party to conduct the win loss analysis. I agree a third party brings less bias to this process, and can offer customers anonymity when reporting back to your company. However, I experienced good results conducting win loss analysis for my company prior to consulting. There are some advantages that internal sources have: they know your company’s products and services better than any third party since this is their full time job. Thus they can probe more deeply in these areas than can a consultant. They also know your company’s culture. Sometimes consulting firms recommend change that won’t work with your company’s culture, even though it’s a great idea.

I recommend this book for those in marketing and sales who want to implement a win loss program. I particularly recommend this book for salespeople who want to be BETTER. It clearly defines the value proposition for conducting win loss analysis, especially for Sales. Don’t be left out!

Your Employees are Your Competitive Advantage, REALLY

How many companies say “Our Employees are Our Most Important Asset,” but their actions don’t match these hollow words?

This is not the case at Southwest Airlines, where employees are valued in all phases of their relationship with the company’s management from the hiring process; allowing them to do their job and to make decisions that don’t quite follow the “rules,” but are often the right decision for the circumstance; to letting an employee go—tough LUV—who isn’t a match for the company’s culture.

Colleen Barrett, Southwest Airlines President Emeritus, was our keynote speaker at ASP’s (Association of Strategic Planning) annual conference. Her recently published book, Lead with LUV, co-authored with Ken Blanchard details Southwest Airline’s formula for success.

One of my favorite quotes from the book epitomizes Southwest Airline’s history:

“Profit is the applause you get for creating a motivating environment for your people and taking care of your customers.”  The airline has been profitable since 1973 two years after it was formed. Hmmmm treating your Employees as Customers works!

Another favorite quote: “We’re in the Customer Service business—we just happen to provide airline transportation.”

Southwest Airline’s employees do their best to ensure that Customers have a safe, on-time flight, for a reasonable price, with as little stress as possible, in a caring environment with a little humor to boot. In these tough times, Southwest Airlines does not charge an extra fee for luggage, unlike all its competitors who do. A resulting customer benefit is that the planes are not crammed full of luggage which takes a long time to stuff into compartments. A resulting operational benefit is passengers get on and off the planes faster, so Southwest Airlines can turn them around faster than the competition.

Employees follow servant leadership practices where they serve first and lead second at every level of the company. This promotes the egalitarian attitude that prevails at Southwest Airlines and makes it such a desirable place to work! Servant leadership was inspired by Robert K Greenleaf: A Life of Servant Leadership by James Sipe and Don Frick . In addition to traditional approaches, such as sending out cards on employees’ birthdays or anniversary dates of hire, the company sends notes of sympathy and condolence to employees when their family members are sick or die. As in cooperative intelligence leadership, all levels of management pitch in to get the job done. When the plane lands, everyone rushes to clean it out, including the pilots, as one of Southwest Airline’s competitive advantages is the speed with which that aircraft is back into the air producing revenue.

Southwest Airlines has a painstaking hiring process, and they run a lean operation. While many candidates have simlar professional qualifications and experience, it’s the right attitude and behavior that differentiate those who are hired and who stay—which is most employees. What differentiates my experience with Southwest Airlines, is the fun that the employees share with us customers.

One of my favorite customer service stories Colleen shared was just after 9 11 when one of the pilots rented a bus to take his stranded, stressed out passengers to the movies. He didn’t have to ask management’s permission, and didn’t tell management what he had done. Management heard from delighted customers. Southwest Airlines has many, many delighted customers. It has grown to be one of the largest US carriers from its humble roots in 1971, where it had to fight hard against the major US airlines to even enter the business.

Southwest Airlines is true to its original goal to make air transportation affordable for most people. What’s interesting to me as a competitive intelligence professional is how Southwest Airlines has publicized its competitive advantages for years giving its competitors the opportunity to study, analyze and adapt them to their operation. The one thing that just doesn’t translate is the supportive, egalitarian and fun loving culture that Southwest Airlines has valued right from its inception.

I was one of the lucky ASP attendees to win a copy of Colleen’s book which she signed “with LUV”.

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

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Design Thinking for Strategic Competitive Advantage

Many strategic planning executives assume that their strong leadership will lead their company to grow and thrive. Some of us are more visionary and curious by nature. Others are more comfortable taking great ideas and immature products and improving them using their analytical, financial and marketing skills. The simple idea behind design thinking is that you need both traits in leadership: the exploratory innovative to produce great ideas, and the analytical that exploits the business, improves the offering, and develops the right processes to gain market share. In the spirit of cooperative intelligence here are some nuggets that Arik Johnson, Chairman of Aurora WDC recently shared with the Denver Association of Strategic Planning (ASP) chapter. Check out his presentation!

The ideas behind design thinking are well expressed in Roger Martin’s The Design of Business. Think of both the learning and the discovery process as moving through a knowledge funnel.  People need to apply analysis and creative thinking at different points within that funnel.

In Martin’s words, “This form of thinking is rooted in how knowledge advances from one stage to another-from mystery (something we can’t explain) to heuristic (a rule of thumb that guides us toward solution) to algorithm (a predictable formula for producing an answer).”

New firms emphasize exploration.  As they mature, they shift to exploiting known ideas, but if they stop at that point, other innovators will surpass them. Your organization must balance predictable or reliable production with validity, experimentation that leads to new ideas and commercial success. To protect a company, leaders must protect the exploration that leads to its validity. However, over time, organizations tend to emphasize reliability instead. We are too analytical which is good for refining current knowledge, but not great for innovating, the mystery stage. Sometimes we push product development too quickly once the product is in the marketplace, and customers aren’t ready to leap that far just yet. Or we make the product too feature rich and hard to use. This gives entrepreneurs a chance to enter the marketplace or competitors to gain share whose product is developed in balance with customers’ needs and acceptance.

Roger Martin gives examples of companies whose leadership supports design thinking. McDonald’s has perfected the hamburger business to be operationally efficient and serves the same hamburger product worldwide. The company creates new food products, and perfects production of products that the public supports.  For example, McDonald’s managers noticed customers were coming in with Starbuck’s coffee when buying their food at McDonald’s. So McDonald’s analyzed the market and developed an upgraded gourmet coffee to capture that business, which has been very successful.

Proctor & Gamble provides another example of applying successful design thinking.  P&G was losing market share across many of its numerous product lines. The company was investing considerable money into internal R&D and their products were losing market share due to lack of innovation. So they set up an external R&D lab (basically outsourcing their R&D), which has encouraged a higher level of innovation. As a result, their market share has climbed back up again.

A third example cited is Research in Motion (RIM) founded in 1984, but didn’t make it big until 1995. CEO Jim Balsillie was an intuitive thinker. Like many leaders with this tendency, he was distracted with new mysteries and got to the heuristic stage and then launched into the next project. It wasn’t until he hired co-CEO Mike Lazaridis to oversee sales and manufacturing (reliability) that the company took off. Now the company has the benefit of design thinking between the two CEOs.

Similarly Arik Johnson explained how he was influenced by design thinking when he promoted his brother Derek to CEO, due to his strong analytical and operational skills. Arik realized his visionary and exploratory skills were critical to create his business, but his brother’s skills would be more valuable in growing the existing business. Company founders are often entrepreneurial and visionary. Arik is now the company’s Chairman and has started an R&D lab, where he can focus on solving complex competitive intelligence problems and develop intellectual property around that line of business.

Morton suggests that to develop your design mind, broaden your “personal knowledge system.”  To start, be honest and identify the gap between what you think you know and what you actually know.  Living in the world of guessing is detrimental to business.  That’s why you need to understand both your known strengths and weaknesses as an individual and gain the knowledge you don’t yet have.

Design thinking and operating can give your company and you a competitive advantage since they provide a good balance between innovation and operational excellence. As a competitive intelligence professional I see another value to design thinking: it helps expose company and individual blind spots just as a course of doing business.  What a competitive advantage is that!

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