Honoring Maya Angelou

The world has lost one of our greatest women this week, Maya Angelou. Her words have inspired so many people ranging from world leaders to the mainstream population of men and women around the world.

Years ago, I read about her life, and how she chose to be silent for a number of years during her difficult youth. I am so grateful she endured that time, and chose to share her many reflections about life over the years. She has impacted my life with her statements, particularly this one.

Maya Angelou

So many of us, myself included, spend too much time thinking about saying the right words when we hold a conversation. Maya made me realize that it’s my intention and the tone that I share that influence the conversation much more than the exact words.

I intend to make the person I talk to feel better at the conclusion of our conversation than when we started, even when I cold call.

I reinforce this intention with a short meditation or reflection before a conversation. This helps me think about the other person.

Another habit that reinforces this intention, physically is to put a smile on your face, whether on the phone or in person. Sometimes I have to force it at first, and then it just stays.

“Don’t take yourself too seriously.” What’s the worst thing that will happen in a conversation? Nothing life threatening that’s for sure.

Be enthusiastic: it’s infectious and you bring good energy to the other person, which is a gift.

Show appreciation for their time and what they’re sharing; and not just at the end of your conversation.

Be polite. This is a rare commodity in this digital world.

Listen closely and without judgment. Wow, it’s amazing what great questions you will ask; how much you’ll learn; and how good you’ll make them feel.

I share this Maya Angelou wise saying in almost every competitive intelligence, elicitation training, interviewing or conversational presentation or training session I give.

Thank you Dr. Maya Angelou.

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Motivation: Treat Them the Way They Want to Be Treated

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

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

DISC Styles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn Elicitation Skills at AIIP in Baltimore, Apr 2: 8 – Noon

AIIP Logo 2014AIIP holds its annual conference from April 2 – 6 this year in Baltimore, Maryland at the Hyatt Regency in the Inner Harbor. I will be giving a half day workshop from 8 am – Noon on April 2. The topic is elicitation skills with my corporate spin rather than the military intelligence angle.  The talk is entitled, “How to Use Conversation to Optimize Data Collection.” After all, elicitation is best done conversationally.

So here is a little more detail about why you might want to attend this workshop, especially if you live in the DC or Baltimore metro areas.

Many info pros and CI professionals dread conducting telephone, video, or in-person interviews, an essential skill for data collection. Through conversational interviewing, we can probe more deeply, and gain much more intelligence than through the Internet and social media. Actually my best audience for this workshop has been sales people who want to close more deals and retain their customer base. Elicitation forces them to organize their thoughts about what they’ll cover before they visit or telephone their customers.

Attend this workshop and learn how to successfully conduct interviews every time. Discover how to take your collection skills to the next level, and use this session to practice your skills.

Prepare yourself to conduct a conversational interview: physically, mentally and emotionally
Conduct a conversation to optimize data gathering–whether it’s a cold or warm call
Present your findings persuasively to your client

Ellen Speaking AIIP2012 1For those of you who don’t know me (Ellen Naylor), I have been using elicitation skills since about 1985, and have led workshops at SCIP and for clients privately for many years. I keep learning new ways to be more effective, which go far beyond the elicitation skills that we learn as competitive intelligence professionals.

The fee is $125 for AIIP, SCIP and SLA members, and $150 for everyone else. This is about 1/3 what I charge when I give this training at corporations. The maximum class size will be 20, and you will get individual attention, not just from me, but from fellow attendees. For more details about this workshop, check out AIIP’s site.

For more details about the AIIP’s conference, check out the detailed schedule, and the 4 other pre-conference workshop presenters. You can register for the full conference on line, which includes the pre-conference sessions on page 2 of the registration form.  There is a member rate for my session–How to Use Conversation to Optimize Data Collection–listed at $125, but it doesn’t specify SCIP and SLA specifically. I will honor these memberships, so if you belong to either, take the “member rate.” If there is a problem, we will sort it out at the session.

The Why, What & How of Win/Loss Analysis

win loss imageA week ago I delivered an IntelCollab webinar on win loss analysis, and have now posted my win loss analysis slides on my Slideshare account. At the conclusion we had time for a goodly number of questions, which I have recapped below. For those who are unfamiliar with win loss analysis, it is the process of interviewing customers and non customers, usually over the telephone, as to why they chose to do business with you or another service provider. You tally up the results of these telephone interviews, and provide quantitative and qualitative analysis based on what you learned from the interviews. It is my favorite tactical competitive intelligence practice since you learn so much from these short interviews, much of which you can take action on almost immediately.

How do you validate that you are talking to the right person, the decision-maker for the win loss interview? I usually get the right connection at the customer’s company from the company’s sales force, who usually knows the decision-maker. If I am not talking to the right person, I can usually tell. They are uncertain of how to answer my questions, and they are happy to tell me who the right person is, on the rare occasion when that happens. Sometimes the decision-maker has left the company. Those are some of my favorite win loss interviews since their replacement must live with another person’s decision, which perhaps might have been different had they been the decision-maker.

I am just starting a win loss process: are there some tips you might share about how to set it up? First I find out what Sales is already doing, and build off of it. Many sales forces do some abbreviated form of win loss through automated systems like Salesforce.com. You will save yourself a lot of time by working with Sales. Note Sales’ culture: how responsive will they be to this win loss interview process? Will they feel threatened? How will you sell them on the benefits? Usually they will win more deals armed with better knowledge about why customers buy or don’t. That usually works. They also need to clearly understand that you are working with them, not behind them. They are not going to lose their job based on what you uncover. You are not going to undermine any customer relationships they have developed. You are another customer touch point, and most customers are happy to participate. On occasion, I have uncovered new marketing opportunities from win loss interviews. Sales people love this. That said, win loss is not for everyone. Sometimes your customers don’t want to be queried.

There are 5 minute surveys and there are win/loss interviews. How long should the win loss interview be? I like to limit these interviews to about 20 minutes although sometimes they go for a half hour. People are too busy today for much longer. You need to get all the relevant information from Sales before the interview: how they left it with the customer, who won the business, why they think the customer decided the way they did, and who else competed. That way you don’t waste the customer’s time with these small questions. You can get right to the meat of the interview, which they really appreciate.

My sales force is resisting my efforts to interview customers when they lost the business. How can I bring them around? This is usually not so tough, unless this loss of business is part of a bigger piece of business from that customer. Even so, Sales has only to gain if they are armed with why the customer decided on a competitor or made no decision to upgrade your company’s software, for example. Your sales person will be armed with a better approach to use with other customers who are considering your solution, from your win loss findings. Sometimes I find out the customer is considering my client for another piece of business that Sales doesn’t know about yet. Another way to bring Sales around is to make sure to interview customers where they won the business. It can be depressing to Sales if all you interview is lost business. You are also missing out on a great opportunity to learn about how your company treats its customers from implementation moving forward, which is absent when all you interview is lost business.

Sometimes Sales won’t acknowledge that a deal is actually lost: how do we contact these customers? I suggest that you don’t contact customers until the deal is clearly won or lost for win loss analysis. There are certain touch points along the way in the Sales process where you engage with customers, but that is for another discussion along the lines of pre-sales due diligence.

What is the best model for conducting win loss analysis? Should internal people conduct the interviews or should they all be outsourced to a 3rd party? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each approach?

Either model can work. Here are some of the plusses and minuses of each.

Internal people are already on the payroll, so that keeps the cost down. No one knows your company’s culture, industry, products and services like employees do. This helps when it’s time to probe for additional details around product features, for example. A consultant, unless they worked at your company quite recently, will not have all that company understanding. They might have the industry experience or can learn enough about your industry to make these phone calls. I have a checklist of things I ask a client to share with me so I can learn the industry; the sales process; and how to organize a win loss process quite effectively since I have done these since the late 1980s. Most internal company employees are not so organized with this process in my experience, but they sure have the product and sales knowledge.

Your customers are usually more open to telling a 3rd party all the reasons why they chose to do business with your company or not. Somehow they are more at ease sharing with a 3rd party. In fact, I find in some cases they actually almost gush with all that they share. Consultants that do a lot of these win loss interviews are skilled at getting people comfortable with sharing. In my practice we teach elicitation skills, and use them quite effectively during these interviews. Consultants will charge a fee to conduct these interviews and to analyze the findings, so you need to have money in the budget. Consultants often find things and pull things out of these interviews to analyze that your internal people won’t think about, since this is not what most internal people do most of the time. The consultant also doesn’t have your company cultural blinders on, which is helpful both in conducting these interviews and writing up the analysis.

I notice that I am most valued by companies who are just considering a win loss process; have never done it before; don’t know how to organize it or how to explain to Sales what this win loss process means to them; and why it’s a good idea. When I walk in with my process and organization, I notice it’s most appreciated.

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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Elicitation with Enthusiasm

I have been pondering the use of elicitation skills in competitive intelligence collection.  I have been using these techniques for many years, but not quite in the military intelligence way, which seems like using the other person in a more negative way. The techniques take advantage of human tendencies to complain, gossip, correct and inform, which certainly works. However, I like to capture the human desire to be happy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile my research assignment is to get information that clients can use to make the decision at hand, I have a relationship goal as well. By the end of the telephone call, my goal is to make the other person feel good about themselves. This was inspired by Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

A great way to make people feel good about themselves is for you to have an attitude of optimism, joy, and enthusiasm while you converse with the other person. Enthusiasm is infectious, and people like to share with you because you are making them feel happy. There are three ways I get myself in this zone:

1. Overall, I don’t take myself too seriously, so laughter comes easily in conversation. Work is a serious, less fun environment for many that I talk to. A little levity is often appreciated, but only if you sense that the other person is open to it. In my experience, most Americans are.

2. I put a smile on my face just as I am dialing to remind myself that happy is a good way to be. There is something about putting a smile on my face that puts me in a happy place. When I first make that connection with the person I am interviewing, they can feel my smile.

3. Before I dial, I get myself grounded and focused, by taking deep breathes. I want to forget about me, and to just concentrate on the person who I will be connecting with, even if this is a cold call. I want to get myself on their channel, sort of like sitting in their chair in my own mind. This also helps me be prepared for however the interview might go, since they seldom quite go as planned.

Being grounded is the one technique that has improved my success in collection more than any other. I can spend all the time in the world getting my value proposition written out and etched in my brain. But if I am not confident and grounded, the person at the other end can sense it right away, and won’t feel like connecting or sharing with me. When I am grounded and confident they will share, since I am in their zone, and the words just flow.

These practices also have another benefit: they help me get to the other person more readily, since I am more absorbed in how they are, and readily forget about myself while in conversation. My challenge is to remember to cover all the material that the client has hired me to collect, since I will often get lost in conversation as I let the other person control the flow of sharing, according to how they are comfortable.

Learn more about elicitation techniques here. Learn how you can become an elicitation expert.

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

Receive our 6-page Win/Loss Cheat Sheets

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Tips to Improve Your Collection Interviews

I recently gave a webinar for our SLA competitive intelligence division on “How to improve your collection skills through interviewing and elicitation.” I particularly enjoyed the Q&A and will share my 2 favorites which I have embellished on since I have had more time to think about them.

Phone Interviewer soloHow do you differentiate yourself from a telemarketer? Do you say what you’re doing, like a research project?

I usually don’t tell people exactly what I am up to in a cold call. It isn’t really necessary and most people don’t care. We are usually more experienced in communication than telemarketers, who try to have us not hang up on them. A telemarketer usually has the same approach and objective for every phone interview, such as to get us to buy something or to donate money to their charity. Not surprisingly, there is high turnover in telemarketing. I have been doing primary collection interviews for over 20 years. I have specific and different objectives for every telephone call. I also have multiple approaches to obtain information, but I am not asking anyone to buy my service or donate money to a charity. I don’t expect anyone to hang up on me and am polite. I have a level of confidence in the tone of my voice that telemarketers don’t have, just as soon as I say “Hello.” Remember it’s not just what you say, but how you say it that makes you a successful interviewer.

What are some tips to get the interview in the first place? Reaching people live, referrals or customized email requests leading up to a telephone call?

When it’s a cold call, it’s pretty straightforward. I call the company and ask to be transferred to the department that I think will best help me. Switchboard operators are usually quite helpful. If one is not, I will wait until lunchtime, when s/he is often replaced with someone else, or the telephone goes into auto-attendant, so I can make my best guess and get transferred through automation. Sometimes I don’t know who I should talk to and the switchboard will give me a name to connect with as she is transferring the call. It is now a referral which warms the call up a bit.

If it’s not a cold call, people increasingly expect you to email them to set up a time to talk on the phone, since they don’t appreciate having their day interrupted with unscheduled telephone calls. You have to figure out a short value proposition to get their attention, and be willing to call them to set up a time, since often enough they don’t email you back in a timely fashion. This is particularly true when querying people in technology.

However, with all the turnover in technology, the person you want to talk with to may have left the company. Meanwhile the administrator will let you know who their replacement is, ever willing to connect you immediately. You can decide to call later and look them up on LinkedIn, or you can be transferred right in to the person immediately. I always opt to be transferred immediately. By now I know enough about that person’s job and have done a little research on their company. Reading their LinkedIn profile isn’t going to help me that much, and will delay me from talking to them. These are often win loss analysis calls. They have inherited someone else’s decision, and are now responsible to make it work. They are happy to tell me all about their experience, and in these interviews I probably do about 10% of the talking. I think it’s also because they’re new with the company, and not so well connected with other employees just yet. I am a pair of willing, listening ears.

Here is the Interviewing & Elicitation presentation. Here is the YouTube that combines audio with the slides. However, the slides are a out of sync with the audio. For those who attended the webinar, I have included the YouTube link to the video of the awesome Walter Cronkite predicting the office of 2001 with pretty close accuracy, back in 1967!

Interviewing Versus Elicitation

People often ask, “What is the benefit of elicitation versus the standard interview?” Actually they have a lot in common.

Preparation in similar. You want to learn as much about that person as you can before you talk to them. Is there something about their profession that you can comment on to get the conversation flowing? Do they work in an interesting industry? Is there some industry jargon that you better know to be believed? What is their communication style? What will put them at ease to share with you early in the interview? Do you have something in common that you can build rapport with?

phone intv 2 peopleFor an interview, I list all the questions I want answered and then rephrase them in a way that makes it easier for the person to become engaged based on my research of their personality, preferred communication style and profession. This is a great exercise since mentally I start thinking about all the different ways they might respond, and in turn what other questions I might ask, that are not on my list, based on their response. I create something like a decision tree for interviewing, and you thought decision trees were just used in statistics. You can never be too prepared to talk to people, since interviews seldom go as planned, especially over the phone.

Whether you have an appointment or make a cold call, you are interrupting the person’s day, so you need to use your words wisely so as not to waste their time. With some people, a little small talk is all it takes to jump start the interview. With others, state your purpose and get to the point. Others will ask you questions to test your knowledge before they’ll share.

Elicitation is a conversational interview, a planned conversation. People remember the beginning and the end of a conversation more than what is spoken in the middle. If you are asking a series of questions they might wonder why you are asking those questions, and how they should answer. How is the interviewer going to use the information I share? Hmm, I wonder how much I should share? What’s in it for me to share this information?

So you start and end your elicitation conversation with some inconsequential questions about the weather, last night’s football score or ask what brings them to the trade show. Other than this small talk, you don’t ask questions. For some this takes practice. For me it comes naturally, since it’s human nature. When John Nolan taught us a workshop on elicitation in 1995, I remember thinking that I had been using some of these techniques and didn’t know this was elicitation.

Elicitation builds off human tendencies that most people have: a desire for recognition, showing off, curiosity, gossip, complaining, correcting you. Most people can’t keep a secret. There are numerous techniques, and I will illustrate a couple.

One of my favorites is flattery. Some people have a strong ego while others get so little recognition that stroking their ego really works.  Simple flattery often coaxes a person into a conversation that otherwise would not have taken place. Everybody, whether prominent, or very low on the totem pole, reacts to flattery as long as it’s genuine. A common way to use flattery is, “I’ve heard you’re the best…an expert…”

Another favorite is coming across as naïve. People just can’t resist enlightening you. Naïve doesn’t mean stupid. It just means that you don’t quite understand something.  For example when I spoke to a trades person about his instrument, I wanted to learn why he liked this particular competitor’s model. I simply said, “I am not as familiar with this company as I only know the market leader’s instrument which you replaced with this competitor’s model.” That’s all it took, and he told me what he liked about the competitor’s model, and why he didn’t replace it with the market leader’s.

This above call didn’t go as planned. According to my client’s database, this trades person was using one of their instruments. However, that was an error, and he was using a competitor’s model. I didn’t hesitate to find out more information about the competition.

I bet many of you who conduct primary research or interviews use elicitation techniques and don’t even realize it. If you want to learn more about this, you can read John Nolan’s book, Confidential. I gave a webinar for SLA’s Competitive Intelligence division. Check out the Slideshare deck.

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