Use Rivalry to Spur Innovation & Competitive Intelligence Sharing

In a recent McKinsey Quarterly, Mark Little, head of General Electric’s Global Research Group described how GE uses rivalry to stimulate innovation. I think these practices help GE be the powerhouse in the many fields where it is a market leader. Rivalry can mean outright competition—a zero-sum contest in which two individuals or teams go head-to-head and one is declared the winner at the expense of the other. But in the case of GE, rivalry is linked to a second notion, called paragon which means comparison. The motivation behind collaboration often is rivalry as two or more teams compete to develop the best product.

Scientists are motivated a lot like anyone else in that they want to be the best: yes, they’re competitive! Due to my love of aviation, my favorite example cited was the GE90, the large, high-thrust engine developed in the 1990s for the Boeing 777, which was developed by two independent teams. While one team won the competition, the other was assigned to challenge and push the winning team. While this pushing process made the teams uncomfortable, it made the GE90 a better engine and helped advance product development.

In the competitive intelligence field, I think of wargaming as a similar exercise where members of each team collaborate and role play as if they were specific competitors, so there is a healthy rivalry among the teams. However, the goal overall in a war game is to help your company be more competitive. More specifically the goal might be to prepare for a competitor’s new product launch, so it isn’t just the competitors who are represented by a team. One team might represent the marketplace which might include customer’s reactions and regulatory hurdles, for example.

Another example where rivalry works is in sales intelligence, when you reward individual sales people for being the best competition detective. Winners might share information around a new competitor entering your company’s space; a significant change in a competitor’s management team; how a team achieved a win back against a key competitor; new innovation in the marketplace; or how to win sales in spite of regulatory constraints. This is fun since most sales people like publicity and you can lay it on thick through your company’s communication channels: sales rallies, sales teleconference calls, complimentary write ups in the company wiki/newsletter or intranet and a handwritten letter to the sales person’s boss and others like the VP of Sales! While your reward system will never compete with a sales person’s commission, this publicity can. This playful rivalry will only grow over time if you figure out different ways to let Sales compete and continue to publicize your thank-you to the best competition detectives.

The real learning is you can use healthy rivalry to stimulate various behaviors since most people are naturally competitive and want to be the best. You need to figure out how best to motivate individuals to reach your company’s goals whether it’s product innovation, competitive intelligence or sales intelligence, the examples cited here. Depending on an individual’s personality type, this healthy rivalry might be fun or it might make them squirm a bit.

In the spirit of cooperative intelligence, here is an article on sales intelligence for your reading pleasure.

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Connect Cooperatively to Internal & External Experts

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 #2.

Tactic#2 Talk to internal and external experts

If you work for a company versus consulting, your co-workers can be such valuable sources for scoop on the competition and trends in your marketplace. Sales is one of the best places to start since this is part of their job, to win business over the competition. Many folks have trouble getting sales to cooperate, but that’s usually because they don’t understand Sales’ point of view, and expect Sales to cooperate without giving them useful information in return.

A good way to think about who to connect with internally is: who is dealing with my competitors, customers, the investor community, suppliers, distributors, regulators or attends trade shows? This list of internal connections is longer than you would think and includes: investor relations, product managers, product developers, market research, and trade show personnel.

Externally, you need to consider who tracks the marketplace you compete in, in all its aspects: technology, innovation, the environment, economic conditions, politics/lobbyists, regulatory, social issues and the competition. When you’re new, you find these people gradually. I found that product managers, investor relations and market researchers often subscribe to publications and connect with many of the same external people I want to meet. Our incentive for knowing them is different, but why not be cooperative and share your external people sources, and buy fewer copies of the same report.

You can also find these experts using social networks such as LinkedIn groups or #Twitter groups such as #prodmgmt for product management or product development. You can find experts through the Question & Answer sections of LinkedIn. Sometimes someone else has already posed your question on LinkedIn, so no one can track your interest in that topic or competitor. You need to be wary of this since the Q&A on LinkedIn forms a permanent record. The same this is true of your Twitter Tweets.

Use a cooperative connection approach with internal and external experts regardless of how you reach them. I noticed when email came into vogue in the mid-1990s, people tended to be quite rude sometimes. They would email messages that they would never have delivered face to face. I notice that people using social networks can often be quite rude, and just push stuff at me without any regard for my actual interest in the topic. Next thing I know I’m on someone’s newsletter list, and they’re a recruiter or a business coach looking to expand their business. I’m not a good prospect.

Here is a little test to think about before you issue communication: Put yourself into the receiving end of your communication, and think how you would feel.  If you still email, pare down the list to those who care. If you do social media, share other people’s blogs, news, and comment on other’s Tweets, blogs etc. Social media is meant to be shared, but for many it is one-way, SELLING!

Be sure to thank your experts and send them information you come across that they might find helpful. This two way communication and connection is invaluable to your knowledge pool, whether co-workers, folks you deal with regularly outside your company or your social media contacts.

Capture Win Loss Analysis Cooperatively

Last week, I shared a summary of “5 Tactics to Research Your Marketplace using Competitive Intelligence Skills” originally published by Adam Sutton of MarketingSherpa. As promised, I am focusing on the first one, and will cover Tactics 2-5 individually in future blogs.

#1 Conduct win loss analysis
Win loss interviews and the ensuing analysis are one of my favorite cooperative intelligence tools, since it’s a win/win. Your company receives valuable information from your customers and prospects, and you make them feel important since you care enough to query them and give them an opportunity to provide honest, candid feedback on what they like and don’t like about you, and what they like about the competition, for example.

During these interviews, uncover the motivations behind their decisions and learn from what they impart to improve product development, tweak your existing products or service, change your marketing message, learn how and when in the sales process your competitors are successfully unseating you and so much more.

Many companies ask me to develop their win loss analysis process, and just want to focus on their losses. This is a shame as they get an unbalanced view of their win loss track record. Let’s face it: loss customers are gone, unless they buy other products or services from your company. In all cases those who continue to be your customers often care for your wellbeing, and usually give deeper answers that you can use towards product development. Remember they want you to continue to be successful since your product/service helps them in their business, especially B to B.

I recommend you conduct these interviews in cooperation with your sales force, rather than behind their back. Building trust with Sales is the biggest reason to include them as part of the win loss analysis process. Additionally, Sales can save you so much time by telling you how the people you’re going to interview are motivated to share. You only have a short window to conduct this interview, so having sales intelligence, recognizing Sales’ bias is a good use of time. Wow, that reason alone is enough to work with Sales. I shared this point last week since some clients want me to conduct win loss interviews without letting sales know we’re even querying their customers. This is such a bad idea. Sales will find out soon enough that this is going on and will often feel betrayed.

On a final note, it is also demoralizing for Sales if you conduct only loss interviews with their customers. How would you like it if only your losses were being queried and amplified about the company? I feel like Darth Vader when I am reduced to connecting with Sales only around their losses. They know when I call it’s always in connection with another loss. Is that how you want to treat your sales force? I don’t think so!

Here are a couple of articles I have written about the benefits of conducting win loss analysis:

Win/Loss Analysis: The Cooperative Angle + Increasing Sales through Win Loss Analysis

What has been your experience in conducting win loss analysis? Do you conduct it in cooperation with Sales? Do you prefer to conduct win loss analysis blind, where people don’t know the identity of the company you represent and Sales doesn’t know this is happening?

Be notified when our book, Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want is published.

5 Tactics to Research Your Marketplace using Competitive Intelligence Skills

Recently I was interviewed by Adam Sutton of MarketingSherpa, and in the spirit of cooperative intelligence I am sharing some highlights. For the full article you need to subscribe to MarketingSherpa. Check out MarketingSherpa’s free trial. It is chock full of marketing information, studies, white papers and current articles like this one. I will summarize each of the five tactics, and then blog on each of them individually this month.

Tactic #1 Conduct win loss analysis
Interview new customers and prospects you lost to the competition. Your goal is to uncover the motivations behind their decisions and to learn whatever great information they impart to help improve product development, tweak your existing products or service, change your marketing message, learn how your competitors are successfully unseating you and so much more.

I recommend you conduct these interviews in cooperation with your sales force, rather than behind their back. Building trust with Sales is the biggest reason to include them as part of the win loss analysis process. Sales can save you so much time by telling you how the people you’re going to interview are motivated to share. Wow, that reason alone is enough to work with Sales.

Tactic#2 Talk to internal and external experts
Use a cooperative approach when connecting with internal and external experts. People inside your company tend to know a lot about your industry and can connect you with external contacts who might be helpful. Be sure to thank your experts and send them information you come across that they might find helpful. This two way communication and connection is invaluable to your knowledge pool.

Tactic #3 Use trade shows as fact-finding missions
Trades shows are the biggest Meccas for competitive intelligence. No where are there more people who want to share their knowledge and insight with you: industry experts, prospects, competitors and journalists.

Do your homework: Prepare a game plan before the conference. Study the exhibitor floor plan and all the presentations and decide how best to use your time and write out the questions you will ask to the various audiences.  Keep the plan rough as you’ll need to be flexible since you’ll need to jump on opportunities as they arise, which you can’t predict.

Be observant. Most people think about gathering competitive intelligence from competitor’s exhibit areas and formal presentations, but sometimes 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 in the airplane.

Tactic #4 Build an information database
Build a database for all the information you have on the competition and the marketplace that can easily be browsed and that is easily kept up-to-date. Also build a database of contacts both internal and external to your company who are great sources of information about your industry, the marketplace, the competition…and make this sortable as well! This quick access to contacts and information greatly speeds up your research timeline!

Tactic #5 Remain ethical and avoid deception
Make sure anyone you use to collect information is operating under the same ethical standards as held by your company. Check out SCIP’s website for its code of ethics.

Remember I will provide more detail about each of these 5 tactics in future blogs.

Reviewing Early Chapters of “Competitive Intelligence Advantage”

I am reading Seena Sharp’s book Competitive Intelligence Advantage. In the spirit of cooperative intelligence, I am reading a couple of chapters at a time and will share what I like in this blog.

Her introduction is compelling. Seena enumerates what questions a person might ask who will benefit from competitive intelligence. Here are my favorites from her list of 12:

Have you been blindsided by the loss of a sale to a competitor—especially one who is unknown, emerging or to a substitute?

Do you question if your assumptions are still valid about your industry, competitors, customers and products?

Have you noticed possible signs of an opportunity, but aren’t sure if it makes sense for your company?

In her first chapter Ms. Sharp explains the dilemma we face when we deal with company executives who are often arrogant and overconfident and don’t want to hear bad or contrarian news (even though that’s what they pay us to do in competitive intelligence). While those who lead companies are often brilliant, all can benefit from better intelligence when making strategic decisions.

I particularly enjoyed chapter 2 which provides the most thorough definitions around competitive intelligence (CI) that I have read anywhere. In an effort to describe and define the benefits of CI, Seena describes other more commonly understood processes such as knowledge management, market research, scenario planning and business intelligence. I especially appreciated her distinctions between market research and competitive intelligence. Both include research on the market while market research tends to focus on consumers or business customers and is more quantitative while competitive intelligence is more qualitative and future oriented as it looks at what is emerging in a market or an industry, and considers other external factors in addition to customers.

Did you know that only 38% provide correct phone numbers all the time? 60% don’t always provide accurate info about their company’s size. 45% do not always provide their company’s true name. These are interesting facts in connection around how consumer technology buyers fill out registration forms, a common form of market research. (Source: a survey by Marketing Sherpa and KnowledgeStorm.) These findings make me question the validity of market research findings taken in isolation. That is why it’s often valuable to include market research as a component of CI. I recall our market research team at Verizon benefited when we added some competitor questions to their major annual survey to our strategic customers.

Also in chapter 2, I enjoyed Seena’s example of knowledge management which started as a simple suggestion box at a company. Due to the company’s sharing and expansion of these suggestions at lunchtime sessions, this process was encouraged and became engrained in this company’s culture. People who made suggestions were positively recognized. This reminded me of similar programs that companies have put in place to gather good sales intelligence from Sales about competitors, emerging competitors, product development and industry trends. If you give employees the freedom to communicate their ideas and drill down deeper, it’s amazing what you learn, and a little recognition and thank you goes a long way.

Assess Your Effectiveness at Trade Shows

In honor of my competitive intelligence colleague, Jonathan Calof, I am writing this post on his subject of expertise, trade shows! Jonathon just won SCIP’s esteemed Fellow’s award which will be officially presented at SCIP’s annual conference in Washington, DC which takes place from March 9 – 12. Trade shows are one of the best venues for cooperative intelligence practices since if you display cooperative connection and communication skills, the floodgates of knowledge will be yours!

Most discussion around trade show analysis measures their effectiveness in ROI terms:
How many sales did we close as a result of connections at our booth? How many new connections did we make that represent customer prospects?

Many of the other benefits are more squishy to measure:

How much scoop did we collect on the competition, market trends, technical innovation, product development, or new technology that helps us develop a better strategy or adjust our sales tactics?

What infrastructure do we have in place to quickly report our findings to those in our company which might engender further collect during the trade show? And after we return from the trade show?

What infrastructure do we have in place to qualify prospects for our business?
This can start right at the booth as you can qualify the better prospects and have coffee or drinks later, since you don’t want to spill all your company secrets right at the booth area since you never know who might be listening in who is not a prospect, but might be collecting on your company!

I like to prepare a cheat sheet which helps me qualify customers when I exhibit. It’s kind of cumbersome, but it is fail proof since people’s answers to these questions guide me on how and if we should further our relationship.  Remember customers aren’t the only great connections at trade shows. For example, industry experts, newspaper reporters and bloggers help sell your company too. They have their biases just like anyone else, and you want to influence them to favor your company and your products and services so they write good things about you. Think: who else do I want to connect at this trade show mecca where people are so pre-disposed to share what they know?

Lastly, I assess if this was even the right show for the company to exhibit at. Many companies don’t think about this as much.  We tend to exhibit at shows since, “We’ve always had a booth at ‘X’ show.” Each year I like to assess our effectiveness at trade shows we’ve attended. Sometimes I use an ROI calculation. Sometimes I realize I can’t afford not to be at a trade show since all my competition is there connecting with a finite number of potential and existing customers. At other shows, product announcements are made: can you afford not to attend this type of show and blow your horn? Where it gets gray in decision-making is when results are gradually getting worse: do you just pull out of the show or do you change your behavior and tactics in hopes of improving your results? Marketing through social networks is also competing with in-person events like trade shows, which could be the subject for another day.

How do you assess your effectiveness 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.

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