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Personality Profiling: Gauge Your Competitor’s Management Team

Last week I attended AIIP’s annual conference in Indianapolis, IN. I learned so much about running a small business better!

I gave a talk on competitive intelligence, and how information professionals can make a decent living by adding this skill to their research toolkit. Many are good at the collection and organization of findings. However, one area that folks seemed less familiar with was analytic tools, which allow you to communicate findings more persuasively if you use the right tool. In an earlier post, I described the Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) Matrix model  and how I used this to set the marketing stage for an acquisition some years ago.

Another great analytic tool is personality profiling. Most often companies study their competitor’s management team or key employees such as the head of R&D. Usually their strengths and weaknesses follow them from job to job. It’s good to understand their predisposition; what mistakes they have made in the past; and what blind spots they might have. You can obtain the intelligence to develop personality profiles easily enough for executives in publicly held companies since you have plenty of sources such as speeches made to various audiences such as industry conferences and the financial community. It can be trickier to find information for executives running privately held companies. I find that local sources are the best, such as local newspapers and magazines, the chamber of commerce, economic development offices and perhaps their schools. In some cases you will get lucky and locate a chatty employee or ex-employee through a social network such as LinkedIn, Twitter, an industry Ning, forum or association.

Don’t just focus on their professional experience as their personal life is just as important, and often highly influences their professional decision-making. Sometimes you get great intelligence through an executive’s favorite charitable cause or hobby. The non-profit that they make donations to probably has some information on this executive, since they will need this information to pitch their cause to him or her.

My favorite grid for organizing what you need to collect and how to organize it comes from Walter Barndt, Professor and author of User Directed Competitive Intelligence. This is one of my favorite competitive intelligence books since Walter gets the reader to empathize with the user of competitive intelligence, rather than simply describing how to conduct competitive intelligence.

For those who want to read some books on analytical tools, I have listed three favorites here. Just recently, another analytical book, Analyst’s Cookbook, Volume 2 was published by Mercyhurst College for the Kindle. I have not read it yet but see that it’s a short book, less than 90 pages and retails for $4.99. Here is the Amazon connection to purchase it.

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18 Tips to Improve Your Telephone Collection Skills

In her recent newsletter, Kendra Lee, CEO of KLA Group lists the worst prospecting voicemail mistakes sales people make. As I reviewed the list, I thought much of it applies to making calls regardless of your profession.

Whether it’s for research, cold calling to collect information, competitive intelligence or win loss analysis, when you instigate a telephone call you are in the sales mode. You want information. In the spirit of cooperative intelligence I have modified these tippers for research and competitive intelligence professionals!

  1. Not having planned what you will talk about in advance. I always prepare a list of questions, but love to start the interview with open ended questions. And often enough this open ended approach renders answers to specific questions, which I won’t have to ask, and we can get to better intelligence gathering sooner.
  2. Forgetting to mention a common colleague or someone who has referred you. Why cold call when you don’t have to!?
  3. Not thinking through the possible responses they might have, thereby missing the chance to probe more deeply.  I like to think about the likely responses, and what additional questions I will ask. This helps me think of entirely new questions that I didn’t think about before the call, based on what the person shares, right on the spot.
  4. Talking about yourself instead of what matters to the other person. People usually like to talk about themselves. It also loosens them up before you talk about the issues you are collecting on. Look them up on social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter or Pipl to gain appreciation of who they are.
  5. Sounding too canned to catch the other person’s attention. Customize each call as much as you can and watch people be responsive unless you have caught them at a busy time.
  6. Speaking so quickly that you can’t be heard. Or worse, mumbling. You want to exude confidence and come across as positive. People like to talk those who are upbeat.
  7. Calling when you’re tired, depressed or not alert. You want to be on top of your game to maximize in collection. If you’re too tired, it’s hard to think of questions and comments to probe more deeply that are outside of your script. You will sound flat and your voice mail will be drippy too.
  8. Not asking if this is a good time for a quick call. You want to let people know that you respect their time!
  9. Not verifying that you have the right contact before leaving multiple messages.
  10. Speaking for more than 30 seconds without letting the other person say anything.
  11. Not showing that you have researched the other person’s situation in your voicemail message.
  12. Leaving a message that’s too short and doesn’t give the other person a compelling enough reason to call you back.
  13. Leaving a message and then passively waiting for a call back, instead of continuing to try to reach the person. (unless of course you find a better source)
  14. Not leaving your name and contact information at the end of the message. Better yet, leave it at the beginning when the prospect is poised to take notes.
  15. Leaving a voicemail with lots of verbal pauses (“ums” or “ahs”) that make you sound less confident, and less credible.
  16. Using a tone of voice that suggests you don’t expect a call back.
  17. Failing to stick to one topic per voicemail message.
  18. Not following up via other means like email.

What tips can you add?

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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4 Steps to Plan for Successful Win Loss Interviews

I am in the planning stages of a win loss analysis project and in the spirit of cooperative intelligence will share why many of these endeavors don’t shed much light and never really get off the ground. One reason is the person conducting the win or loss interview does not have all the material s/he needs before conducting the interviews. Often people ask me for the template that I use when conducting the interviews. While that’s important, I find that people will tell me what they know once I get to interview them. The real challenge is convincing them to take the time for the interview in the first place!

What you need to get in the door:

 #1 Basic Sales Intelligence about the situation for each person/company you will be interviewing. At a minimum, I like to have:

The Company’s Name I will be interviewing

The Customer’s Name(s) (I like to get two or three if possible and let the customer decide who has time for this interview.)

Customer’s Title

Customer’s Contact Information: Phone number AND email address

Account Rep’s Name

How Long with the Company

Annual Revenue from theSale

Approximate Date of the Sales Decision

Win, Loss or Undecided

If Win, check what applies: Incumbent, Win back, Win with Competition, Win with little competition, Customer testimonial already

If Loss, check what applies: Was previously a customer, Was Never a Customer. Loss to ______ fill in the name of the Winner

All competitors whether win, loss or undecided

Deal Summary (Share the relevant details around the win or loss including the key challenges.)

Specific to the industry or customer. I will create categories of “customer” based on what marketing tells me, so sales can just check that off. I want to make this as easy as I can for Sales.

#2 A good value proposition as to why the customer or prospect wants to talk to you that you will either tell them over the phone or email to them in advance of a phone call to schedule a convenient time to connect.

#3 Flexibility on time and communication for the feedback you need on the win or loss situation. This is the real challenge today. So many people are doing the work of 4 people that they simply don’t have time. Some have that 15-20 minutes that you need to go over a survey and also allow them to simply tell you the real reasons why you won or loss and share precious nuggets about their business and the competitors. Others don’t, so you need to be creative about letting them tell you their story. Sometimes it’s useful to let them tell you some hard hitting information via email and then have a 10 minute call.  Somehow this isn’t as painful to them. Ironically it would probably take less of their time to give you a 20 minute call since email does take time to compose but somehow it often isn’t perceived that way.

#4 Research the companies and the people that you will be interviewing. In yesteryear I spoke to Sales to get this information. Now Sales doesn’t have time to talk to me in most situations, so I check out LinkedIn and other social networks to get an idea of how that person I need to connect with will be motivated to share based on their communication style. This is a good use of time since you can customize your communication based on this intelligence and this really opens up sharing. If you don’t know the company, check out their site so you can appreciate what they do.

So, I have shared the start to my win/loss projects, what do you have to add?

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

Connect on LinkedIn  Connect on Twitter

 

Strategies, Techniques & Sources to Find Local Business Information

I just listened to a most informative AIIP (Association of Independent Information Professionals) webinar on finding and using local sources—Internet, Social Networks & People—by Marcy Phelps, CEO of Phelps Research and author of the recently published, Research on Main Street. In the spirit of cooperative intelligence, I would like to share some of the key points I learned.

As a primary researcher, I was listening to clues which provide connection to people, often the best and most current sources of intelligence, recognizing that the web contains numerous sites for companies, demographics, population statistics, country, city, county and state data—the core for research.

Marcy’s 5th strategy tipper “Go Off-line” resonated with me. So much local information is simply not in print anywhere, including the Internet. Also when searching privately held companies or subsidiaries within a large company, it’s great to interview local people, since these companies are often the big fish in a small pond. Some of Marcy’s favorite local sources include: journalists, government workers, librarians, local chapter association leaders, local economists, and economic development executives.

Chamber of commerce sites and their employees are a rich source of local data, and often brag about their local companies and personalities, and can refer you to other people, local newspapers and librarians, among others. Speaking to locals is essential to get at sentiment and opinion, which often bring life to research findings. Other local sources include convention/visitors bureaus, economic development  organizations and local chapters of national associations.

I also liked Marcy’s discussion around local news sources since they can lead you to the right people.

American City Business Journals

ABYZ News Links

News Voyager

Radio-Locator

Google News advance search

Topix

Marcy also included discussion around social networks, a fertile source for finding experts. She included LinkedIn and Twitter, but did you know about Nearby Tweets or Local Tweeps to find people by location? Twitter’s advanced search allows you to find local Tweeters and so much more. Placebloggers is a good resource to find bloggers by location. Others include Feedmap and InOtherNews.

Read Marcy’s handouts from this webinar. You can also link to numerous, relevant links which correspond to each chapter in Marcy’s book, Research on Main Street. While these links are valuable, learning how to use them in context is the key. I recommend that you buy the book to learn how to strategically plan your quest for research, whether it’s to locate your new business, conduct an opportunity analysis, provide sales intelligence or conduct competitive intelligence. She covers so much more especially government sources (chapters 4 & 5), which I didn’t even discuss here. One last tipper: use your creativity and have a Plan B in place! Local information is not that easy to locate, but this book will surely boost your approach to finding it!

You must be an AIIP member for the full transcript and PowerPoint for Marcy’s webinar, which can be accessed anytime through AIIP’s website. Learn more about the benefits of being an AIIP member. If you’re an independent running a research, private eye, library or competitive intelligence practice, AIIP is the place to get invaluable advice and resources to help you start and run your business successfully!

Real-Time Competitive Intelligence

Competitive Intelligence has historically focused on strategic and tactical forms of intelligence. In fact, SCIP changed its acronym from Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals to Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals. While competitive intelligence is an important component in strategic planning, and companies benefit from scenario planning: many companies miss the boat by not conducting and communicating competitive intelligence in real-time. Real-time competitive intelligence deserves to be a focus within the profession.

Many companies think they are conducting real-time competitive intelligence since they monitor their market landscape continuously on the Internet and increasingly through social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook as well as industry specific forums or social networks like Ning. While monitoring is the foundation of real-time market intelligence, it is not actionable. The action you take in real-time will give you a competitive advantage.  As David Meerman Scott said at our AIIP conference, “Speed and agility bring competitive advantage…Act now before the window of opportunity vanishes.”

That’s the point: many in competitive intelligence sit on the knowledge they gain from monitoring the environment. I think part of the reason is that competitive intelligence is a staff job, and many in the profession don’t have the authority to take action. Some corporate cultures reward information hoarding, the exact opposite of sharing and taking action.

However, competitive intelligence managers can inform our company employees in real-time, and in areas where we have more knowledge, we can make recommendations. The balancing act in our job is to offer cooperative intelligence: don’t inundate people with too much information, just what you know is important to them.

When you read a rumor about a competitor or marketing trend that could significantly impact your company, check it out right away. This usually involves talking to another human being. That’s why having a deep human source network is essential for every competitive intelligence practitioner.

When you’re at a trade show, report back your findings several times during the day to the sources in your company who are asking. Invariably your findings bring up more questions.

It’s interesting that Sales will quickly follow up with leads immediately after a conference or trade show. With the same exuberance, you need to fire off a report of your key findings to those who need to know, and those you suspect should know. Don’t put it off: some of the most timely intelligence comes from trade show interviews. What I really like is that much of this is not published yet, and can be used to give your company’s marketing, sales and product teams a leg up.

When you hear that a competitor is merging or acquiring another company, put the word out immediately at your company, especially to sales people, as they can reassure your customers that your good service will continue, and perhaps instill doubt about the merged competitor entity.

The point is those companies that take action more immediately are the winners these days. Those that ignore events or sit on valuable information lose. What has been your experience with real-time competitive intelligence?

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!

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.

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