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!

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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!

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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

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!

SLA Annual Conference Competitive Intelligence Division: Presentations, Fun & Book Signings

The Competitive Intelligence Division (CID) of Special Libraries Association (SLA) has a great line-up of presentations and fun events at this year’s annual conference in Philadelphia from June 12-15.  In the spirit of cooperative intelligence, I have listed the competitive intelligence (CI) events below in chronological order by date with book signings at the end. Look under Twitter #slacid for CI Division Tweets!

Sunday, June 12: Pre-Conference Workshop

1 – 5 p.m.: Convention Center 203B. Seena Sharp: Sharp Market Intelligence

How to Create the Advantage of Competitive Intelligence in Your Organization. Seena will share wisdom and highlights from her book, Competitive Intelligence Advantage.

Monday, June 13

10-11:30 a.m.: Convention Center 104B. Dr. Craig Fleisher: College of Coastal Georgia CI Division UnConference. Explore the future of competitive intelligence as we look to 2020.

Noon-1 p.m: SLA Bookstore Booth 1321. Craig’s book signing Business & Competitive Analysis

2-3:30 p.m., Convention Center 109B. Toni Wilson: MarketSmart Research CI Best Practices for Creating Value & Collaboration. Show how to create collaboration between Information Professionals and other areas of your company.

4-5:30 p.m., Convention Center 109B. Panel Discussion: Dispelling Myths about Competitive Intelligence

Moderator: Fred Wergeles, Fred Wergeles & Associates

Panelists: Victor Camlek-Thomson Reuters; Jill Heinze-Affinion Loyalty; Nathan Rosen-Morrison & Foerster; Seena Sharp-Sharp Market Intelligence

SLA’s Competitive Intelligence + Legal Divisions

5:30-7:30 p.m., Marriott Salon D. CI Division Open House. Listen to fast paced Pecha Kucha presentations among 6 juried competitors. Winner gets an iPad 2!

Moderator: Dr. Craig Fleisher-College of Coastal Georgia

Judges: Scott Brown-Social Information Group; Ellen Naylor-Business Intelligence Source; Cindy Romaine-Romainiacs Intelligence Research, SLA President & Instigator of SLA’s Future Ready blog

Sponsor: Aurora WDC; Booth 533 & 1429

Tuesday, June 14

8-9:30 a.m., Convention Center 203A. August Jackson: Verizon Researching Privately Held Companies: Information Sources & Techniques that Work

CI Division + News Division

10-11:30 p.m., Marriott Salon B. The Intelligence Café Join 10 CI experts in interactive sessions to learn several CI topics in an informal setting.

Moderators: Arik Johnson-Aurora WDC and August Jackson-Verizon

Topic Leaders:

Dr. Craig Fleisher-College of Coastal Georgia: Analytical Techniques for CI

Carolyn Vella & John McGonagle-The Helicon Group: Legal & Ethical CI

Ellen Naylor-Business Intelligence Source: Build Internal Knowledge Network for Primary Intelligence

Craig McHenry-Pfizer:Technical Tools for CI

Anna Shallenberger-Shallenberger Intelligence: Unique Collection Sources

Eric Garland-Competitive Futures: The Future is Hidden in Your Library

Derek Johnson-Aurora WDC: CI Model Innovation

Toni Wilson-MarketSmart Research: Collaboration with Clients & End Users

Seena Sharp-Sharp Market Intelligence: The CI Advantage: CI Value Proposition of SLA Members

Nathan Rosen-Morrison & Foerster: CI in the Law Library

Sponsor: IEEE Xplore Digital Library, Booth 1401

Noon-1:30 p.m.: Convention Center 203A, Scott Brown-Social Information Group & Joe Murphy-Yale University 60 Apps in 60 Minutes especially for iPhone, iPad and Android! Bring Your Lunch and Learn!

Sponsor: Dow Jones & Company, Booth 600

2-3:30 p.m.: Convention Center Ballroom AB. Seena Sharp: Sharp Market Intelligence Extreme Makeover: CI Edition—Spotlight & Need to Know Session. How to minimize risk, avoid surprises and grow your business. Tippers from Seena’s Competitive Intelligence Advantage book on how CI makes money or saves money every time!

CI + Advertising & Marketing + Business & Finance Divisions

Sponsor: LexisNexis, Booth 411

4-5:30 p.m.: Booth 411. Book Signing by Seena Sharp.

6:30 – 8 p.m.: Meet in Philadelphia Marriott lobby. No Host Competitive Intelligence Dinner. Sign‐up for the dinner during the CID Open House (June 13 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Marriott Salon D) or email Robin Swan at r6s0wan@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, June 15

10-11:30 p.m.: Convention Center 105B. Integrating with Sales & Marketing to Capture & Deliver Intelligence Learn how to gain and provide competitive intelligence for Sales & Marketing in your company. Panel discussion. Informal venue: Q&A format. No PowerPoint.

Moderator: Toni Wilson-MarketSmart Research

Panelists: Susan Berkman-Research Ability; Ellen Naylor-Business Intelligence Source; Marcy Phelps-Phelps Research; Anna Shallenberger-Shallenberger Intelligence

Book Signings by CI Division Speakers:

June 13: Dr. Craig Fleisher: Business & Competitive Analysis—Noon-1 p.m.

SLA Bookstore: #1321 Exhibitor Hall

June 14: Seena Sharp: Competitive Intelligence Advantage—4-5:30 p.m.

LexisNexis Booth #411 Exhibitor Hall

June 14: Marcy Phelps: Research on Main Street—4:30-5:15 p.m.

SLA Bookstore: #1321 Exhibitor Hall

Research on Main Street: Find the Right Local Information to Make Strategic Decisions

Research on Main Street written by Marcy Phelps, CEO of Phelps Research, focuses on using free Internet, social media and low cost databases to access a broad spectrum of local data to support key strategic decisions. Specifically it provides an extensive directory of US city, county and state government resources; local news resources; local demographics and economic sources; and local company data and community issues. In addition to Internet sources, the book discusses how to connect with local people, such as reporters and authors, professors, chambers of commerce, economic developers, local company managers and other local industry and government experts.

This book has broad appeal as so much decision-making either is local or regional or contains a local component. How good a decision-maker feels when you have incorporated his specific local business information using his industry’s jargon backed up by local insight and demographics to support your research findings. Even a salesperson can use the information in this book to bring a local aspect to his sales presentation with better knowledge of his client’s decision-maker, which will set him apart from his competition.

What sets this book apart is the strategic approach that the Marcy develops to ensure success for information gathering:

* Think: who cares about the issue you’re researching?
* Invest in the upfront time to identify your research goals and approach, and identify the required timeframe to locate the data and do the analysis.
* Access the appropriate website resources provided in this book and drill down for the specifics to support your research goals.
* Pick sources to help you learn all sides of the issue which will keep you from being blindsided.
* Uncover experts to telephone who will verify your Internet research findings, and gain the additional insight from a live conversation.

Marcy provides the added perspective of a seasoned researcher with these tippers:

* Separate facts from opinions and know which one to use in order to support your marketing and business requests.
* Question your findings with a healthy skepticism and cross-check and verify your data.
* Benchmark your local findings with larger picture regional and/or national statistics and other research.
* Consider the age and accuracy of your sources such as demographics and articles.

Follow the advice in this book to boost your knowledge about local and regional events that may trigger change, such as a major layoff, a change in leadership, deregulation, new regulation or a technical breakthrough. Collect business information and particularly local personalities to warm up cold calls before connecting.

The sources to numerous local and state government websites, demographics and regional figures help companies make practical decisions such as:

* Which city is the best location for your company’s headquarters?
* Which neighborhood is the best location for that new restaurant and how big should it be?
* Does the community have the right demographics to sell your company’s products?
* Does the local market contain the right talent to support your company’s hiring needs?
* If you relocate employees to your new headquarters, how does the school system measure up?

Find data in often overlooked sources, such as local, regional and federal government agencies that regulate your industry or the “approved vendor list” from a state’s official website, which often includes a description of company’s business or lines of business.

If you miss an online resource or reference as you read a chapter, do not despair. Appendix A provides a chronological list and description of each reference source, including the chapter location to read more about it.

The blend of case studies and expert interviews breathe life into the dry business of information gathering and analysis to support specific local strategic business initiatives. There are numerous case study examples sprinkled throughout the book which identify the combination of resources you might tap into in order to find the information to support your local business or marketing initiative. The interviews with research experts lend a practical element as to why and how you conduct business research. Appendix B contains a set of specific business or marketing issues and lists the resources where you can find more information.

This book stands alone as the only research source I know of which focuses on how to find and use local and regional sources in the US. In short, Research on Main Street is a must read for anyone seeking the right local information to make strategic decisions.

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.

Improve Your Competitive Intelligence Skill: Move out of Your Comfort Zone

Yesterday I impatiently waited for the lady driving the car in front of me to turn left onto the Freeway. The coast was wide open. Her head just kept wagging from left to right for what seemed like an eternity. So I went around her onto the right hand lane to turn left. As I swung onto the Freeway, so did she. She was going straight across the Freeway to a restaurant. I never assumed that’s where she was headed, as I always turn left from that lane as does most of our neighborhood. Fortunately, I stopped in time and she got to her destination.

How often do we get stuck in patterns and either make mistakes or don’t see events coming?  In competitive intelligence, we look for what is missing or what looks odd or out of place since oddity often is a precursor to change. How many people predicted that the overturn of the Tunisian government would lead to the riots in Egypt and the resignation of 30 year dictator, Hosni Mubarak? And now the wave continues to grow in that part of the world as other country’s citizens express discontent with their government. It reminds me of the surprise the world felt when the Iron Curtain tumbled in 1989.

There is always surprise in life and business. How we prepare ourselves for surprise is what separates the excellent from the average. I find I react better to surprises if I move out of my comfort zone more often.

  • Don’t rely on RSS feeds too much! That’s too much the same old same old.
  • Be spontaneous and pick up magazines you don’t normally read.
  • Pursue Twitter links that are out of your mainstream.
  • Comment on blogs out of your mainstream.
  • Go to a trade show which is not relevant to what you do.

In cooperative intelligence, I follow the time tested “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.” Retain and cultivate your Gold relationships, but keep your connections fresh!

Don’t always rely on the same colleagues to support your research projects. Reach out to new people, and prevent yourself from being blindsided by industry changes, new competitors, innovative technology and regulatory change. Seek new sources of intelligence on the Internet and social networks, but don’t forget the reliable standbys. Did you know that Highbeam Research is coming out with a business research product that will compete with Hoovers? Connect with people on LinkedIn that you don’t know, who are not “relevant” to what you do. You won’t believe how many more people you can connect with for research projects when you have over 10,000 first connections rather than the 300 people you already know!

The explosive growth of e-publishing makes me squirm as a prospective book author. However, I am squirming less as I just attended a class on “how to” given through our Denver Author U by the good folks at Darkfire Productions! Darkfire Productions will format your book for e-publishing. I’m excited as a first time book writer, since I don’t have to wait 1 year to get my book published! I have only myself to blame for any delay in getting published.

10 Tips to Find Competitive Intelligence Online

Yesterday I listened to a most engaging and informative AIIP webinar presentation by Arthur Weiss of CEO of Aware. I have taken many of Arthur’s Internet tippers especially to beef up Google Chrome searching and connection to improve my specialty,  primary research, that is finding information by talking to people. In a spirit of cooperative intelligence, I share these tippers which will help you both locate better information and identify relevant people more expeditiously.

The 10 Tips

1. Know What You are Looking For. Switch your perspective and look at the target company as though you were them, their competitor or a customer.

2. Create a Collection Plan. Identify sources: Why will the information be available? Where will you find it? How can you find it ethically?

3. Use Advanced Search Techniques. Start with the search engines & take advantage of the innuendos of key word searching, advanced search techniques and language translation. I like Wonder Wheel which visually mindmaps your Google search, which I didn’t realize was so easy to enable through Google Chrome. Arthur also reminded us to search Amazon for sources and to take advantage of the Even More features of Google and Google Labs. One Google Chrome extension I like in particular, is the Augment Search feature, which allows you to add/change search engines to your search.

4. Search the Deep Web. Arthur shared numerous Deep Web sites. Some of my favorites are NorthernLight, Deep Dyve, Biznar, Highbeam Research and Silobreaker.

5. Don’t Ignore Competitor websites. Aside from reading them thoroughly, don’t forget Domain Tools and Open Site Explorer since sites linked to your target company can be very telling, and may also provide you people to talk to. Don’t forget to search cache memory for some history of the website over time on Archive.org.

6. investigate Social Media. Aside from Twitter, LinkedIn, Xing, Facebook and industry Nings, don’t forget Slideshare, YouTube and Glassdoor. One of my favorite takeaways was the Rockmelt browser, a one stop access to all your social networks! Talk about a time saver!

7. It’s the people that make the difference! In addition to the common social media connections, Arthur recommends Quora. Other people search tools include Jigsaw, Yasni, Wink, Spokeo. Arthur wasn’t as keen on Zoominfo, since they have converted to fee based mostly. Be aware that these sources all need to be cross-checked. Look at your own profile and note the errors.

8. Remember the Quality of Paid Databases. Many of us at AIIP take advantage of the discounted rates from these service providers such as Dialog, Factiva, Skyminder, Morningstar and Lexis Nexis to name a few.

9. Keep Up-to-Date! I particularly valued Arthur’s tipper to follow industry and competitive intelligence experts on Twitter. This is so easy and you can clump their Tweets so easily in a Tweet Deck column. I also like to stay current with CI Ning, SCIP, AIIP and IntelCollab.

10. Think Differently. Look for things that are odd or out of place. If something doesn’t look right, feel right, or sound right, find out why.  Be a critical thinker.

This is just a smattering of what Arthur shared! These webinars are one of the key benefits of AIIP membership. They are all taped so you can listen to them anytime, and AIIP members can download a copy of the slides as well.

Assess the Reliability of Your Research Network

No Matter what form of research you are doing, when you talk to people, you need to assess the reliability of their information or insight. I have a rule of thumb when locating the best people to talk to. How motivated are they to know the information I am seeking? Generally those who are the most motivated, are the most reliable sources if they will share with you, and if they speak the truth. Another good connection is the person who might know what you’re looking for, but not realize the value of the data so will readily share.

In America, many people try to be helpful when you call them. It’s our culture. However, in their desire to be helpful, people can unintentionally misinform you. If you have done your secondary research before making your calls, you’ll often have learned enough that you’ll have a sense when the information doesn’t sound quite right. That’s where you need to trust your intuition. This is the art and science of primary research collection.

When setting up a competitive intelligence process, you locate diverse and reliable sources both within your company and externally. These are people who you will connect with periodically, and in the spirit of cooperative intelligence, you share information and connections that they value. Since we all seem to do more in less time, it’s important to pinpoint the right people to connect with, to stay connected with, and realize when the connection is no longer working. In that vein I developed some questions to ask about people. Positive answers and strong responsiveness help me stay focused on those who will be most helpful.

  • How responsive is each person when you reach out in meetings, by phone or e-mail?
  • Does s/he always get back to you within a few hours, a couple of days, a week or are they unpredictable?
  • When s/he gets back to you, does s/he share useful information or knowledge?
  • What is the quality of this person’s knowledge sharing?  Is it commonly known news, less known news, and do they offer any insight?
  • Do you have a good enough working relationship with this person so as to know their biases?
  • Does this individual connect you with people who are valuable to you, or are their connections not so useful?
  • How often do you interact with this person?
  • Is this person highly regarded by another person you know?  Who and why?  If not, how did you get linked to this person?

I am writing this blog to help my SCIP friend, Paul Nimalan. He is looking for some ideas about how people assess the validity of human source contacts when they do CI for his thesis at the Institute for Intelligence Studies at Mercyhurst College. He posed this question on our CI Ning and Trip Krant shared some of his ideas from the military intelligence world.

Do you have any best practices to share? Paul was thinking about creating a evaluating grid like Dax Norman developed to assess the credibility of web sites.

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