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?

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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?

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Questions to Ask Competitive Intelligence Software Providers

One of my colleagues called today and we spoke about what you might be looking for when you team up with a competitive intelligence software provider. I have links to a few of my favorites here. Rather than extolling the virtues of individual providers, in the spirit of cooperative intelligence, here are some practical questions you want to ask a prospective service provider:

How does your system integrate with what I already have installed at various places in my company? Think salesforce.com that many in Sales use, SAP or Oracle systems. How does this software work with what people are already familiar with? Can the service provider provide a mask that makes it transparent to the user? Can this hang off our CRM? What will the CI software enable you to do that you can’t do today? Why?

How does this software enable competitive intelligence: monitoring, collection, dissemination and analysis? Frankly there isn’t a system out there that I know of that supports the entire competitive intelligence (CI) process. You need to decide what is the most important part of the CI cycle that the software will enable. Is translation built in for global organizations? How will it support multiple languages? Or do you build separate software apps in the native tongue and not support translation?

Many companies use CI software to both collect and disseminate intelligence. As a CI professional, I look for a solution that will free up my time to be a critical thinker, to do the analysis, prepare persuasive communication from what I can deduce, and connection with my users and providers of CI–in some cases maintaining that relationship in others finding and building relationships.

In that same vein, what is involved in keeping the information flow up-to-date? Does the software have crawlers that continue to find new information? How does it accommodate and integrate findings from traditional web 1.0 and social networks? Can my clerks be set up to input that timely information? Does it include any audience opinions such as a favorable rating versus slamming your products? How far back do I want to go in storing information? How do I insure that the date of the information is clearly identified so readers know? Do we have guidelines around copyright?

What is the balance between Push and Pull? Can my system users decide which areas they want to follow and have information pushed to them? How will the information be organized so people can easily find it? How does keyword searching work to locate information?

How easy is this system to use? Is any aspect of it visual? How easy is it for people to add information? Can they do it on the fly, such as from a trade show when they learn new intelligence? How do people correct mistakes and outdated information? Can I use the software for CI project management? How can people communicate back and forth through this software? Can we locate experts by topical area, both internal and external to the company?

What is the system security? How do I keep my strategic information away from Sales, for example? How do I keep all that Sales chatter away from R&D and strategic planners who might not be interested? How many levels of security does the system have?

What is your company’s culture? Are people going to engage with a CI software application or do you already have too many apps for people to process? Timing is everything. If your company is receptive to a CI software solution, where do you test it? How long do you test it? What will be the measure of success that will cause you to expand its usage? How will you train users on how the system works and the benefits of using it?

I believe that companies who can react to and predict the marketplace in real-time, while also having a meaningful long-term strategic plan, will be the winners in this global competitive environment. While you need to look out in the future with your crystal ball, you also need to be flexible enough to react to what is happening in the present moment, and be nimble enough to change, adapt and be opportunistic.

So, what questions would you add to this list?

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

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?

Real-Time Competitive Advantage

I am enjoying David Meerman Scott’s book, Real-Time Marketing & PR. He explains the competitive advantage to companies and individuals of being responsive to events that affect them in real-time: that means right NOW, not tomorrow. No longer can you just monitor the news: you have to take action! In this book he tells the story of how United Airlines broke Dave Carroll’s Taylor guitar. Dave Carroll, a songwriter gets back at United with a song about how United breaks guitars which becomes a YouTube hit. The saga continues as Taylor Guitar and Calton Cases (yes you guessed it, they created Dave Carroll guitar cases) capitalized on this event, by responding quickly and decisively. A most amusing story, if you’re not United who came out smelling like a skunk. David tells the story here.

I hadn’t really thought about real-time response as a competitive intelligence professional. Often we’re so busy monitoring, studying and analyzing competitors, market trends and our customers that we ignore what action we should be taking right now to be more competitive. So many companies are stuck in the past and the future and forget that we operate in the NOW!

How many companies are connected to their customers in real-time? Some listen to what their customers say on Twitter and other social media, which is a step in the right direction especially for companies in the B to C space. But what about companies selling B to B? How do they stay connected to their customers in real-time? At SCIP’s annual conference, Rick Marcet spoke about the win/loss model that he developed at Microsoft which is fed by sales. This is the best example I can think of continuous learning from customers. These assessments are completed at the conclusion of the sale, while the information is fresh, and is viewed as part of the sales process. The company takes action on an ongoing basis based on these results. You can read more about this in Rick’s soon to be published book, Win/Loss Reviews: A New Model for Competitive Intelligence.

Carrying this a step further: how many companies have real-time communication with their employees? While many companies claim that their employees are their biggest asset: how many companies really listen to them on a regular basis? Southwest Airlines comes to mind immediately as they solicit suggestions from employees, implement the winning suggestions and reward employees appropriately. This is America’s second largest airline, and has been profitable in an industry which has slim margins and where most competitors have had a bout with bankruptcy.

Almost every company monitors its competitors and the marketplace it perceives that it competes in. However, too many companies just monitor these activities using Google and other forms of electronic connection and social networks. I think this is just a first step and that winning companies take action based on what they learn, and they don’t need to get the board’s approval. Companies that are excellent also have a human source network that they are connected to in real-time who they can count on to be responsive as business needs dictate.

As our world becomes smaller and more easily connected through the Internet and social media, this real-time connection and communication is becoming a way of doing business. Don’t be left out by disallowing your employees to participate in real-time. You will never have enough information to be certain that you are correct, but if you wait until you’re sure of what you “should say” or “should do,” you will be too late.

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