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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


Google News advance search


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!


Christmas, A Season for Gratitude

Cocoa the Cat

The snow is falling gently at my home in Colorado and it reminds me of the purity of birth that Christians celebrate at this time of year.

One of the purest ways to communicate is to express gratitude. This is one of the practices of cooperative communication. There are so many way to express gratitude. A thank-you when someone does something nice is a good start, since we often take these simple acts for granted. There are people in our lives who are often unseen as we go rushing through our lives, like the person behind the counter at the post office who scarcely has time to look up from work for the throngs of people sending out and picking up holiday packages and greeting cards. This year I decided to bake some cookies for our post office staff in my little home town. I took them in last Saturday about 15 minutes before closing. The line was about 40 people long and it was so hot in there. I just walked up to the middle clerk and put the cookies on her weight scale and said, “Merry Christmas, thanks for all that you do.” All 3 clerks looked up at the same time, somewhat dazed from their frenetic pace, and smiled. The cookies evaporated…I had been meaning to do this for several years, but had never remembered. My husband and I sent out many Christmas packages that day, and were happy to share a little gratitude in the midst of the holiday craziness.

This Christmas is bittersweet for me as I mourn the loss of my Dad who died just before Thanksgiving. It takes a while to bring the good memories to the forefront of one you were with pretty intensely as he died.

I like the anticipation that accompanies the Christmas season. When I think about my Dad I anticipate how my life is going to change as I more avidly bring in his good practices into my life. I am so grateful to have been influenced by this good man. He was very warm and giving, and shared a great enthusiasm for life. It’s one thing to bring these practices into your personal life, but I find it more challenging to bring them into business since business is often so self-centered, especially in competitive intelligence, where often companies are looking to be better at the expense of their competitors. Maybe it’s time for me to shift my focus towards opportunity analysis, that is helping companies uncover and develop business opportunities. Competitive analysis is a part of the process, but looking ahead and anticipating and planning are the focus of this initiative.

Ever since Dad died I have brought this blog back more to its original focus of cooperative intelligence since it focuses on being warm and giving—a lot like my Dad.

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 to Detect and Prevent Lying Behaviors

Do you ever get that feeling that someone is lying to you, but you’re not quite sure, and you don’t want to ask them since you want to keep the conversation flowing. Perhaps this is a friend who is telling a little white lie or perhaps it is a co-worker who is warming up to the boss.  We are surrounded by lies in our society, and it’s good to identify when you’re being lied to. One way is to ask a question that alludes to a person’s possible lying behavior since if you accuse the person outright, you will put him on the defensive.  Another way is to present a similar scenario and ask the person how they would correct it.  A third way is to start the sentence out with, “Isn’t it amazing” and allude to the behavior or lie in a general way.

Never Be Lied to Again by David Lieberman, is a good read and gives you a myriad of concrete examples to raise your awareness as to when someone is lying to you.  In my fields of competitive intelligence and sales intelligence, we are often asking questions to collect data, whether developing an opportunity analysis for new product or service, finding out when a competitor is introducing a new product, or determining why our customers really buy or don’t buy from us. It is imperative to be attuned as to whether the person you’re talking to is telling you the truth or not. Important decisions are being affected by the information and analysis we develop.

Here are a few tips David shares that I have noticed in my experience:

* Deceitful responses to your questions about beliefs and attitudes take longer to deliver.
* Beware of overreaction to your questions or statements.
* He depersonalizes his answer to your question by offering his belief about the subject instead of answering your question directly.
* He will use your words to make his point.
* Liars often slouch, and are unlikely to stand tall with their arms out or outstretched.
* A liar won’t face you if you’re accusing him, and may turn his head or shift his body away.
* The person makes little or no eye contact.
* There is little or no physical contact during his attempt to convince you.
* The guilty tells his story bit by bit until he gets a verbal communication to stop. He speaks to fill the gap left by silence.
* A liar willingly answers your questions, but asks none of his own.
* Might say, “To be perfectly honest” or “To tell the truth” at the start of the sentence unless they do this all the time.
* Beware of answers that are pat and seem too well rehearsed.
* Use stalling techniques like asking you to repeat the question or answering your question with a question.

I’ve just touched the tip of what David offers to help you spot and prevent deception.  Do you have any tips you would like to share?

Opportunity Analysis in These Tough Economic Times

I am traveling with my artist husband, Rodgers this week so I am writing from Rockport which is a charming art town by the Gulf in South Texas. Since we live in the mountains of Colorado, the ocean beckoned us in between Rodgers’ art shows in Houston. How can you go wrong hanging out in the friendly state of Texas?! Last weekend was Houston’s Bayou City Art Festival. This weekend is the Woodlands Waterway Art Festival about 40 miles North of Houston.

I was going to take the rest of this week off from blogging, but I have been inspired by my customer, who works in the industrial space manufacturing products and their main factory and R&D facility are US based. If that isn’t unusual enough, they have hired me to help improve their competitive intelligence process, and improve their sales intelligence by getting Sales to capture competitor data, market intelligence, new technology (CTI) and ideas for product and service development.  This is not a Fortune 500 company, but they are the market leader in their space, and after talking to their leadership and hearing their drive, I am not surprised!

Folks, they aren’t missing a beat in this depression or whatever you want to call these rocky economic times. They are introducing new products, in fact a new technology that will be disruptive in their industry since it can be installed without shutting down the customer’s machinery! They are adding new services to their product line, which are services the customer used to do themselves. However, with all the outsourcing that goes on today, many customers had outsourced these services to contractors, who are not as skilled in providing these services as my customer would be.

The message here is do an opportunity analysis. These are tough times for sure. Study what your customers are going through and how they’re being impacted. This might be the perfect time to introduce a disruptive technology, especially if it saves the customer money or is easier to install and maintain than the “old” technology. It could be that there are more services you can offer your customers today since they’ve reduced their staff in areas where you are very qualified to step in.

Here’s an example in my trade, competitive intelligence. I notice many companies are downsizing their research and library functions.  This is an opportunity for competitive intelligence professionals to add competitor, market trends and technology monitoring to your marketing mix. It’s a complementary skill to what we already do, and I see the demand rising.

So what are you going to offer your customers that they will value in these tough times?

Opportunity Analysis in Bad Times

I had a most provocative breakfast with my dear friend, Cyndy Claussen on Saturday.  Like many around the world we’re trying to figure out how to make it in this wretched economy.  The doom and gloom of economic woes is omnipresent.  But with a little attitude adjustment, you can be opportunistic.

For personal investing, think about the businesses that people will still frequent in this bad economy such as Wal-Mart or Costco, the discount big stores.  How about mainstream grocery stores like Safeway and Kroger? They’ll probably gain at the expense of most restaurants, except McDonald’s. What about small, regional banks which were not caught up in this mortgage mess?  For all the talk about clean energy, I don’t think oil companies are going away any time soon.  I’m not going to pretend I can guess the right time to get back into the stock market, but I think if you’re willing to do the research and track companies every day, there are opportunities.  And there is plenty of free research on the Internet through Google AlertsYahoo Finance and The Street.

Now that the big banks are being bailed out, they have an opportunity to lend money to exciting new businesses.  The government also has this opportunity and I like the start in the Obama stimulus package where renewable energy business innovators can monetize their tax credits directly through the US Treasury for for projects that start between now and the end of 2010.

I enjoyed Tom Friedman’s perspective in yesterday’s NY Times column, “Start Up the Risk-Takers.” He discusses how America is bailing out our major businesses, like the auto industry which might still not survive, or will be greatly slimmed down best case.  While we need to shore up our banking industry as it’s the foundation for business, we need to consider the entrepreneurial businesses, which have made America great such as Google, Intel and Microsoft.  Let’s be on the lookout for the next Google to invest in.  We still have great innovation in America.  Let’s not curb their enthusiasm. Look for the next generation of information technology, bio-tech, nanotech and clean-energy companies to be what pulls America out of this recession: not only with their great ideas, but with their sense of excitement and hunger to succeed.

As a small business, I am affected by this economy as well.  This time last year, I had solid paying training gigs around the world.  This year I am doing webinars.  Management consulting gigs are not rolling in either, so I have returned to my knitting: research projects and monitoring industry trends, key customer activity, competitors, products and brands.  There is always demand for research.  I have expanded my social networks in the past year and notice that really enhances the resources I can draw on to supplement primary and secondary research.

We all need to make adjustments in these tough times: as consumers, personal investors, corporate investors and small businesses.  Some of us have more choices than others.  Don’t just wallow in this media.  Stand back and be flexible: think opportunistically.

What opportunities are you digging up in these crazy times? I would love to hear from you.

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