Use Trade Shows as Fact-Finding Missions

Recently, I blogged about “5 Tactics to Research Your Marketplace using Competitive Intelligence Skills” originally published by Adam Sutton of MarketingSherpa. As promised, I am focusing on each tactic. This week’s is #3.

Trade shows are a Mecca for competitive intelligence. Nowhere are there more people who want to share their knowledge and insight with you: industry experts, prospects, competitors, other industry participants such as suppliers and distributors and journalists. This is cooperative intelligence at its finest since everyone is marketing to you whether at formal presentations, exhibitor booths or even informal places like the conference bar or hotel café.

Here are some tippers to help you be more productive at the trade show:

Beforehand: Do your homework and prepare a game plan that includes both formal and informal intelligence gathering opportunities. Study the exhibitor floor plan and all the presentations to decide how best to use your time. Write out the questions you will ask to the various audiences to help you be more articulate.  Keep your action plan rough as you’ll need to be flexible to jump on opportunities as they arise. For example, you might find out about a cocktail party that you didn’t even know existed until you arrived at the conference! You don’t want to miss it since alcohol consumption makes loose lips. Just make sure they aren’t yours and drink very little or none. I learned that lesson in the late 1990s when I was invited to a cocktail party and had to return to the scene the next day. I was lucky that the show was on for that third day. The competitor’s employees were quite attentive as their exhibit area was almost empty except for me. I don’t recommend what I did there, although I made good connections and got great information!

At the Conference: Be observant. Most people think about gathering competitive intelligence from competitors’ exhibit areas and formal presentations. However, I have found the best intelligence is gathered at informal settings such as the conference coffee shops, the conference hotel cafe, the elevator, cocktail parties, the bus ride to the airport, even during the airplane ride–by simply listening.

It’s a great time to practice your elicitation skills. I spend my time sorting out how I will approach each competitor or press personality prior to the show and often have to revise my approach mid-stream since I meet so many people for the first time, cold. If you read body communication you can figure out who is most approachable and how they might be motivated. Who is leaning forward as they talk to the booth visitors? Who is the technical person you see fiddling with cable and the computer at the booth? They probably have technical knowledge and are willing to share.

Be creative: If the booth staff doesn’t seem friendly, just wait, in time they’re likely to be relieved. Perhaps you can ask another booth visitor if you can tag along with them. Be smart about who you pick: I accompanied one of the competitor’s key clients, so the account rep answered all my questions and remarks to impress the client. The client had a number of additional questions that I would never have thought of since my product knowledge in that industry was not as deep as his!

After the Conference: Start writing up your findings during the conference and see if your home office has more questions based on what you’ve uncovered. You can pull more information out of a conference especially if you have a few people’s input, even if you’re attending by yourself.

I have even ducked into the ladies room to write out some technical details after a booth visit before I forget. I review my findings every night and often wake up with better questions. I don’t write up anything in the airplane ride home since there might be other attendees around and I don’t want to arouse any suspicion. Also they might start talking about the conference among themselves. Share your findings ASAP with co-workers upon returning to the office!

Note #1: Your competitors and other industry experts are collecting information about your company at trade shows too. How do you qualify who you will share what, and how much to share? Your booth personnel are a target, as are your company’s presenters. Have you thought about how you will answer difficult questions in public? Have you trained your employees not to have private conversations in public places like the elevator, the restroom, airplane or restaurants?

Note #2: Here is an article with more detail on cooperatively collecting at trade shows.

Improve Your 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.

Resurrecting Cold Calling for Research

With all the excitement and buzz around social networks, I have been favoring them as a source to warm up cold calls. In a recent project I called a particular department within hospitals to learn about their usage of a specific technology.  I got lucky and found an association which listed chapter leaders around the US who worked in this part of the hospital including phone numbers. That was sure a stroke of good luck. However, after connecting with about 20 of them I realized that I didn’t have enough interviews to give my client the information they needed to develop their opportunity analysis for this new product.

I had a list of potential hospitals filtered according to the number of specific procedures which might require this new technology.  I figured I could find people to call through LinkedIn by identifying the hospital and job title using the advanced search feature. Armed with some names I would warm up the calling process.

I spent about an hour and I really came up short. I was disappointed since with other projects LinkedIn and/or Twitter had been more helpful. Instead I Googled and got the phone numbers for a goodly number of hospitals. I called the main number at each hospital and asked to be transferred to the appropriate department. It wasn’t so straightforward since hospitals don’t all call this medical area by the same name. However, I managed to get through to another 20 hospitals through cold calling. I was pleasantly surprised that one of my best interviews, with one of the largest US hospitals, came through a cold call. In cold calls, the person answering the phone often didn’t know the information I was seeking, but would find out who did, and would transfer me to the right person or give me their telephone number to callback later.

It was a wake-up call for me. Although this wasn’t a competitive intelligence project, it reminded me that the same technique often works when you cold call regardless of the reason why. You organize why someone would want to talk with you by putting yourself in their shoes. Early in this project I listened in on a conference call where managers in this medical discipline were being interviewed. I learned how they were motivated, and developed my approach around that. I also read up on the technology and competing technologies, so I could ask better questions or use elicitation skills to get more information depending on how the person answered me.

Not everyone was helpful, but I would say about 90% of those I connected with tried to be helpful based on what they knew about the technology I was querying.

I don’t know how else I could have completed this project in about 70 hours. Cold calling does take nerve since they often don’t go as you plan them. I find that if I don’t take myself too seriously and listen really closely, not just to the words, but to the tone and attitude, I am pretty successful. It helps that I have been cold calling for a while so have built up some confidence.

Cold calling can still be a real time saver, and in the case of the project I am just concluding, it was a fast and effective way to get the client the information they needed to forecast their opportunity to sell a new product! What are your experiences in cold calling?

How a Good Relationship between Marketing & R&D Improves Product Development

When Marketing and R&D are truly focused on understanding and acting on customer needs, it makes both of their jobs easier and their results more productive! This is a powerful competitive weapon since this is not the case at many companies.

R&D employees complain that Marketers provide weak data, that they’re most useful in developing launch plans rather than in developing new products. Meanwhile Marketing employees perceive that R&D doesn’t involve marketing early enough in the product development process. R&D will take credit for successful products while blaming marketing when a product doesn’t sell.  Does this sound familiar?

But the point is that neither function will reach its full potential without the cooperation of the other! So here are some tippers to encourage cooperative behavior:

R&D and Marketing need to work together.  Perhaps R&D can be masters of the art of Possibility while Marketing can master the art of the Possible–that is what customers need and are willing to pay for.  It helps to boost awareness of each other’s functions and their value within the company.  Another idea is to get R&D to quantify the value of their work by how it will help the customer. Encourage Marketing to be more technically aware so as to appreciate R&D’s value to the company.

When Marketing has too much power, it stifles the creativity of engineers, so product advances may only be incremental  On the other hand when R&D has too much clout, Marketing is only called in at the end of the product development process, when it’s time to develop a launch plan.  Products might get developed that the customer will never buy!

Other ways to get Marketing and R&D to cooperate is to create cross-functional teams to discover unmet customer needs.  This forces people to experience each others’ contributions and to forge connections and communication.

A major oil company forces R&D to prepare its reports for Marketing and Sales based on how the new technologies will help customers.  Thus R&D has to explain all the critical benefits in layman’s terms.

Focus on the customer. Get both sides to ask good questions to customers. Observe and engage with customers to generate reliable, robust marketing insight. Let engineers spend time with current and potential customers.

Companies that bring R&D and Marketing together around what really matters to their customers will build a strong competitive company!

Check out an earlier blog on how teaching Sales elicitation skills–that is knowledge acquisition through conversation, rather than direct questions–will improve a company’s competitive intelligence, product development, and customer intelligence. This is also a good way to get Marketing, Sales, Product Developers and R&D to connect. They have to so that Sales knows and understands the key questions they need to get answered by their customers.

What behaviors have helped your company get marketing, R&D and product developers to communicate constructively?

This blog contains excerpts from “Playing Well with Others,” a Wall Street Journal article by Phil KotlerRobert C.Wolcott and Suj Chandrasekhar.

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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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.

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.

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