How to be a Competition Detective: Eliciting Conversation

People often ask me how I engage people so readily in conversation over the telephone.

“Who do you say you are? Why do you say you’re calling?”

The first question is easy to answer. I always say I’m Ellen Naylor.

Crazy woman on phoneThe second question is harder to answer without more context. Is it a cold call or a warm call? A cold call is when you don’t know the person and they don’t know you. A warm call is when the other person doesn’t know you, but you know them through your sources. Or it might be a hot call which is the easiest: you and the person you’re calling both know each other and why you’re calling. You have different preparation for each type of call. But you need to have a good entrée to each person so they know in short order why you’re calling, what you want and what’s in it for them to give you their time for an interview.

With all calls, you want to give the person a good reason to talk with you, and not waste their time with small talk and listen very closely to how and what they share and don’t share with you. With a cold call, I research the person’s profession and try to find out what about that profession I can relate to or not, and get the conversation going. After a few interviews you get even more ideas about what they do and don’t tend to like about their job.

In a healthcare query each person I spoke to was a recruiter for medical professionals who traveled to different hospitals around the US for work. I got their attention by mentioning that it must be challenging for their employees to be away from their families. With others, I mentioned how much I liked to travel. This simple entrée got most of them talking.

Using elicitation techniques, another great entrée for me is, “I’m Ellen Naylor and I wonder if you can help me.” Then I tell them why. People often can’t resist the urge to be helpful in our US culture, especially when talking to a female who sounds young.

People can’t resist the urge to show off a bit if you flatter them with, “I hear you’re an expert in this area,” or “I want to understand what you do and don’t like about this equipment. Companies can only make product improvements if they hear what’s wrong. They also need to hear what’s really right so they don’t go changing those features.”

If someone is a little hesitant and less interactive, I often ask if this is a bad time, and will call them back later. Other times this hesitation means they expect me to share something in return before they’ll start talking. So I will share some tidbits I have learned, and these can be my best interviews. In a recent project, I called one of these hesitant guys back at 6:30 a.m. his time. We conversed for about 45 minutes, and I felt like I had a new friend by the end.

Warmed up calls are so much easier since you don’t have to quickly convince a stranger that you’re worth talking to. However, you do need to respect their time and be polite. One way is to hone in on relevant information about them so you can ask better and tighter questions.

The bottom line is I consider who I am talking to and the questions I need to have answered. I try to think of all the ways the person might answer them, so I am more prepared for the unexpected. Calls seldom go as planned whether they’re cold, warm or hot. You are dealing with another human being. Be flexible and prepare additional questions for the unexpected turns of an interview. Don’t take yourself too seriously and keep that smile on your face.

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Improve your Primary Collection through Relational Voice

Lee Glickstein

Yesterday I was reading Lee Glickstein’s relational presence description, and it spoke to me. In relational voice, you start with deep, relaxed breathing and use your voice to almost do inner calisthenics. As your voice comes out in the exhalation with great pleasure, you free up your brain and allow yourself to relax. Lee discusses this in the context of public speaking, where is the founder of Speaking Circles International.

I was thinking this exercise will strengthen those doing primary research of any type whether it’s cold calling, win loss analysis calls or trade show collection. If you learn to love your voice, and allow yourself those extra seconds to interact with those you are interviewing, you will listen more intently and talk more consciously. This is powerful stuff for those of us who interview people. In those extra seconds, which is such a short time, if you are really grounded and connected with the other person, you can think of additional ways to connect or to simply tweak the next question on your list since you might notice how they don’t like to talk much, so you shorten the question and ask it more softly.

These days the people we interview are so busy that they don’t have time for long interviews, so you need to make every minute count. The same exercise to help you reach your relational voice can help you connect with those you interview more quickly since you put yourself aside in this process, and just concentrate on the other person’s energy. Just imagine how powerful you will be when combining this skill with elicitation/interview preparation.

Check out Lee’s site, and try his exercise to get grounded with your eyes closed before you make those phone calls. I guarantee if you get fully grounded, those calls will go a whole lot better. You will also be more effective on those days when you really don’t feel like making phone calls. Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

How to Encourage Cooperative Communication from Sales

Many in competitive intelligence, marketing, research and product development complain about poor communication from their sales force, who has a direct conduit to your customers—one of the best sources of knowledge about what your company is doing right and wrong as well as ideas for new products, services and tweaks to your existing products that can be revenue generating!

So how do you encourage cooperative communication from Sales?

1. Give to Get

This is a golden rule with any person or group that you deal with, but especially with Sales who has a very short attention span. You need to feed them snippets and golden nuggets which help them sell. I can’t tell you what they are: you have to figure that out since it changes constantly. But responsiveness and a cooperative attitude of giving, along with supplying those nuggets, will convince Sales that you’re worth giving back to.

2. Teach Sales How to Give

As you provide Sales with golden nuggets, teach them how to give. One way I have been successful is by teaching sales people elicitation skills. This means creating a purposeful conversation to get customers to share what they know about the competition, innovation, and improvements to your products and services—including customer service.

Oh, and by the way, elicitation skills help Sales close more deals, sooner, which is the value proposition to Sales. In my sales experience, customers are almost waiting to be asked since it’s human nature to want to teach, share and correct you. However, beware, as your sales force starts asking, your customers will also be asking more about your future products and services. Make sure Sales is armed with the right information to share at the right time!

3. Make it Easy for Sales to Share

This is the downfall of many organizations. They make it hard for Sales to share. What are they already sharing through their sales process that you can access? Can your information sharing be tacked onto what they already do? Can you set up a tips line, so they can just call it in? Text it in? Email it in?

4. Acknowledge Sales Contribution

Go beyond Thank-You. Write up the best sales tips in your company magazine, Intranet site—wherever is most likely to be noticed and read. Get on the agenda for sales force gatherings such as conference calls and meetings where you can share the good news about great tippers that individual sales people have given, and specifically cite how they have helped. Write their boss and/or Sales VP about their contribution.

5. Share Share Share

Go the next step and set up a mechanism to share tippers you hear from one sales person to your sales force. This can be high tech if your company is set up that way, but it doesn’t have to be. Talk to top contributing sales people to get clarification and insight that goes beyond information sharing. Share that insight with your sales force, marketing, product developers and whoever else will benefit from this insight, AND acknowledge that sales person or sales team.

My shameless sales plugs.

1. AMA’s Spring Marketing Workshop (April 6-8): I will be leading a workshop (April 6) which teaches sales elicitation skills among other best practices to improve sales and marketing’s productivity.

2. AIIP’s annual conference (April 6-10): I will be sharing a poster session (April 7) on how I have reinvented myself in my 18 years in business from primary research collector to win loss collection and analysis to workshops such as elicitation which empowers Sales to close more deals and provides companies with needed sales intelligence.

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

ShakingHandShadowsWhen 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.

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