How You Can Become a Conversation Rockstar

So much about life revolves around effective communication.

As a primary research expert, I am always looking to for ways to motivate others to share. You need to understand what makes them comfortable to share.

Traci Brown Persuasion PointI recently read Traci Brown’s book, Persuasion Point: Body Language and Speech for Influence. While the book focuses on closing sales deals, the same tactics will work to promote sharing when conducting competitive intelligence collection or win/loss interviews. I will focus on speech, since we are often conducting these interviews over the telephone, so we don’t have the benefit of seeing the other person, although we can surely sense beyond their words.

One quick and easy way to start the connection is to match their speed and tone of speech. This also pushes you over to their side by being flexible, and forgetting about yourself.

Traci describes four communication preferences:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic
  • Auditory Digital

First, figure out your own communication preference, so you learn how to modify your language, tone and pace to match the other person’s communication preference. If you don’t, you’re apt to lose them in your conversation.

Visual people are quick as they are often competent and confident. They think and speak quickly. If you slow down, their mind will wander. They require less detail to process information, and when they change the subject you know they are ready for the next topic. They are interested in how things look or will look. They often focus on the future and have a big picture, strategic focus. They can easily think other are idiots. They are judgmental, very observant and don’t automatically like you or your ideas until you prove yourself.

Words/phrases to use: see, look, appear, show, dawn, view. “I see what you’re saying. It’s unclear. How does this look to you?”

Auditory people learn by listening, and are interested in how things sound. They are easily distracted by noise. Tone of voice is important, and they can be hurt by the wrong tone. They like sequence and order and to be told how they’re doing. They are less interested in how things look, and live in the here and now. Structure kills them as they like freedom. A plus is they automatically like you and your idea.

Words/phrases to use: hear, listen, sound, harmonize, music. “I hear you. That rings a bell. How does this sound? Clear as a bell.”

Kinesthetic people tend to speak slowly, in long phrases and breathe deeply. Slow your speech if you’re a fast talker and be patient as conversations tend to be longer. Listen for their deep feelings to emerge slowly. They’re often in occupations that use their hands: carpenter, chef, mechanic, artist.

They need more extensive detail to process information, and respond to touch. They tend to like you and your ideas, a plus. Like Auditories, they live in the here and now.

Words/phrases to use: feel, touch, grasp, get a hold of, slip through. “Does it feel right? Do you grasp this idea?”

Auditory Digital people like detail, structure and order. They are often lawyers, computer programmers, engineers or financial professionals. They often exhibit characteristics of the other three communication preferences.

They tend to be smart, curious and know a little about most things. They can operate in their own head, are often judgmental and don’t necessarily like you or your ideas, until you objectively prove yourself.

Words/phrases to use: think, learn, process, understand, learn. “So does this make sense to you? This is a great way to learn. Do you think this is a good idea?”

In reality, many people jump among these communication preferences depending on what you’re talking about. Sometimes you can’t detect a communication style quickly enough in a telephone conversation. So pepper words of each of the communication preferences, and note what they seem to resonate most by listening to their tone and words.

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Is Mindset Block a Lack of Listening?

Listening DogI read two great blogs in the last couple of weeks: David Harkelroad’s which asserted that the biggest problem in strategy is mindset; and an HBR blog on “What Gets in the Way of Listening?” I think they are related since if you truly listen, you are open to having your mind changed.

There are many reasons people don’t listen well. We aren’t trained on listening from childhood with the competition that seems to thrive in the classroom for the best answer, to be the best, often at the expense of the other students. Sometimes we don’t listen since we’re scared. We are trying to appear confident and assertive and miss others’ perspectives in the process.

I like the flexible mindset shared in the HBR blog, “I do have a viewpoint going in, but I don’t assume or try to show I’m the smartest person in the room. I’m willing to hear them (colleagues) out for the sake of getting the best answer, not just my answer.” Listening is a sign of incredible self-confidence. Back to David’s point about mindset. I think many leaders don’t fully listen since they aren’t confident, but they want to appear confident. In the example cited of Blockbuster’s Wayne Huizenga having the intelligence to get into digital media, there is something that stops many executives from taking corrective action. Maybe the extremely generous pay that executives receive clouds their judgment and reinforces them not to change their mindset.

“Leaders who take organizational conversation seriously, know when to stop talking and start listening.” (“Leadership is a Conversation” by Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind). When you put aside your fear and anticipation, you are more open to listening. You are fully present and ready to respond to whatever gets thrown your way. You’re not thinking about what you might say next. You realize that a critical part of your job is to fully listen. Good interviewers and journalists have known this for years.

Interestingly enough, when you focus on yourself, you can pick out your listening weaknesses.

  • Do you listen to your inner critic rather than your audience when giving a presentation or sharing findings in a meeting?
  • Do you only see your role as an information professional? (fill in your job title)
  • Does your listening shut down when you are emotionally uncomfortable?
  • Are you trying so hard to show confidence and be right that you aren’t listening?

So what can we do as marketing, strategic or competitive intelligence professionals to change our leadership’s mindset as we provide them information and insight to assist in decision-making, which perhaps doesn’t support where they were headed? I have found that many of them possess a major ego. If I can provide them with the intelligence to feed their ego in a way that makes them think it’s their idea, I don’t have to change their mindset, which I think is a lot harder. But they do change their course of  action when it becomes “their idea.”

I am curious as to how others deal with their leadership’s lack of listening ears? I know as a telephone interviewer that there are not enough listening ears and that job disengagement in the US is around 70%, so if they answer their phone, they are likely to be informative.

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Motivation: Treat Them the Way They Want to Be Treated

I have been conducting primary research collection interviews for over 25 years. I am most fascinated by what motivates people to share, and how to figure this out quickly, especially during a telephone conversation where you don’t have the benefit of body language. Contrary to what I have been taught: “Do not treat others like you want to be treated.” Treat them the way THEY want to be treated. Give or ask for information in a way that they are comfortable hearing the message.

For years, I relied mostly on the Myers Briggs personality types to gauge how people were motivated. However, I think that DiSC Behavioral Styles as developed by Dr. William Marston, are a better indicator of how you should best communicate with people in conversation. There are 4 personality types: Dominant (driver), Influencer (socializer), Steady (relater) Compliant (thinker). The focus of DISC is to understand the behavior, fear and motivation people exhibit in communication.

DISC Styles

In intelligence, we think about Johari’s Window as a model for knowledge acquisition as we gather data by talking to individuals. We consider what we do and don’t know as we seek to fill the gaps of our knowledge: what we know with certainty; what knowledge we have that needs to be verified; what we don’t know that will be hard to find; and what is simply the vast unknown.

I have applied this model to classifying those we talk to in the collection process. It’s helpful to be aware of their pre-disposition towards sharing versus what they know.

1. Egocentric: They are “know it alls,” who really don’t know that much, but have this need to let us know they are an expert and are always right. These are dangerous sources, and often want to linger on the telephone conversation. I guess they aren’t listened to enough or respected by their co-workers.

2. Deeply Knowledgeable: They are experts with deep knowledge about our research topic. They don’t have the need to be “right” like Egocentrics. They just know and pull information from their brain. They recognize the value of what they know, so might be reluctant to share when you probe deeply, especially if they feel you are querying about proprietary, sensitive information. People in the legal field and finance are often this way.

3. Intellectual: They are knowledgeable, but unlike the Deeply Knowledgeable, they don’t recognize the value of what they know and will share freely. They may suffer from low self esteem, which motivates sharing or they may not realize the value of they know, since this is what they do and they assume everyone knows what they know. Technical and scientific people often fall into this category, as they are highly focused in what they know and love to talk about it. They often have passion for what they do, and are happy to talk with anyone who will listen. They are often proud of their knowledge and might seek recognition from you during the conversation. But beware, you better know something about their expertise and their professional vocabulary or they will not open up much. Although not thought of as Intellectual, people in sales and marketing tend to be chatty, and often know a lot about products, how they’re marketed and sold, and about future products.

4. Helper: Many in America want to help, even if they don’t know. Helpers will try to answer your questions, but their knowledge is shallow, and what they share is incomplete and inaccurate. When you probe more deeply, you find this out. I tend to have shorter conversations with Helpers, but I do leave them feeling good about themselves. If I sense they are open, I will ask if they can refer me to a more knowledgeable source, especially when they admit, “I really don’t know,” when I probe more deeply. They sometimes give great referrals since they feel guilty that they couldn’t have helped more. They can be anywhere in the company.

Armed with elicitation skills–and an awareness of the person’s DiSC behavior and their pre-disposition towards sharing versus what they know– is very empowering for you whether interviewing people at trade shows, through cold calls or win loss interviews.

Learn Elicitation Skills at AIIP in Baltimore, Apr 2: 8 – Noon

AIIP Logo 2014AIIP holds its annual conference from April 2 – 6 this year in Baltimore, Maryland at the Hyatt Regency in the Inner Harbor. I will be giving a half day workshop from 8 am – Noon on April 2. The topic is elicitation skills with my corporate spin rather than the military intelligence angle.  The talk is entitled, “How to Use Conversation to Optimize Data Collection.” After all, elicitation is best done conversationally.

So here is a little more detail about why you might want to attend this workshop, especially if you live in the DC or Baltimore metro areas.

Many info pros and CI professionals dread conducting telephone, video, or in-person interviews, an essential skill for data collection. Through conversational interviewing, we can probe more deeply, and gain much more intelligence than through the Internet and social media. Actually my best audience for this workshop has been sales people who want to close more deals and retain their customer base. Elicitation forces them to organize their thoughts about what they’ll cover before they visit or telephone their customers.

Attend this workshop and learn how to successfully conduct interviews every time. Discover how to take your collection skills to the next level, and use this session to practice your skills.

Prepare yourself to conduct a conversational interview: physically, mentally and emotionally
Conduct a conversation to optimize data gathering–whether it’s a cold or warm call
Present your findings persuasively to your client

Ellen Speaking AIIP2012 1For those of you who don’t know me (Ellen Naylor), I have been using elicitation skills since about 1985, and have led workshops at SCIP and for clients privately for many years. I keep learning new ways to be more effective, which go far beyond the elicitation skills that we learn as competitive intelligence professionals.

The fee is $125 for AIIP, SCIP and SLA members, and $150 for everyone else. This is about 1/3 what I charge when I give this training at corporations. The maximum class size will be 20, and you will get individual attention, not just from me, but from fellow attendees. For more details about this workshop, check out AIIP’s site.

For more details about the AIIP’s conference, check out the detailed schedule, and the 4 other pre-conference workshop presenters. You can register for the full conference on line, which includes the pre-conference sessions on page 2 of the registration form.  There is a member rate for my session–How to Use Conversation to Optimize Data Collection–listed at $125, but it doesn’t specify SCIP and SLA specifically. I will honor these memberships, so if you belong to either, take the “member rate.” If there is a problem, we will sort it out at the session.

Benefit from Analog Communication aka Conversation

When you rely solely on the Internet and social media as sources of intelligence, you just have your interpretation of what you think is going on. You perpetuate your blind spots, which we all have. That’s why I like to engage in conversation with others when I seek information for important things in my life, such as where I will attend school. I have almost completed my health study at the Institute for integrative Nutrition (IIN) to become a certified health coach. I am so pleased with how much I have learned in just a year’s time. IIN is the largest nutrition school in the world and I found them on the Internet.

health coaching IINBeing a long time researcher, I was skeptical that I could learn enough in one year to be an effective health coach. I found other programs on the Internet including a couple in Colorado not too far from home that were 2 years programs. I spoke to people at one of the programs, and since the other didn’t respond to my call, they were disqualified. I interviewed people at out of state health programs. When I spoke to people at IIN, they answered my questions thoroughly and were professional. A former student is assigned to you when you telephone IIN. She ended our call by telling me that I would have a transformational year if I attended IIN as that was her experience. “Yah right,” I thought. I did, but that’s a conversation for another time.

The point is while I found the program on the Internet, this was an important decision for me, so I reached out to several people before I settled on IIN. At my age, I also favored a one year program, since I was anxious to get my new coaching business launched, Naylor Wellness, which will focus on corporate wellness programs.

It’s a relief to me that leadership in America is stressing the importance of conversation. Perhaps there is some correction from the imbalance and overreliance of digital connections to provide us with the answers we seek in our personal and business lives.

Here is what a couple of leaders have shared about conversation versus email communication:
According to Diego Rodriguez, Partner at IDEO, “Here’s the truth: when it comes to making stuff happen, email can’t hold a candle to talking. The root issue is that email makes it difficult to recognize critical communication signals such as humor, fear, anger, defensiveness, kindness, curiosity… Empathy gets stymied. The generative give-and-take of an in-person conversation devolves into a disjointed, inefficient volley of keyboard strokes.

There’s a productivity hack that riffs on that age-old military saying, “never stand when you can sit”:

* Never email when you can call
* Never call when you can video chat
* Never video chat when you can face-to-face

Whenever possible, talk. Listen. Talk some more. Digest. And then talk again.

Yes, plain old talking is the ultimate productivity hack in situations involving anything beyond your quotidian routine. Why? Because crafting solutions to new problems demands the highest fidelity communications possible. Success comes from grappling with the most important issues via the energetic collaboration of warm-blooded human beings, each a wonderful mélange of hopes, fear, talents, and foibles.” (Excerpt from LinkedIn’s Productivity Hacks: More Talk Less Type.)

Another LinkedIn influencer, Ilya Pozin, Founder of OpenMe and Ciplex recommends that people skip social media and pick up the phone as a way to improve productivity and reduce distractions. “Let’s be honest, sometimes the quickest route to information is to actually just pick up the phone. The typical employee sends about 43 emails per day and receives a whopping 130 messages. Instead of wading through a never-ending deluge of emails, picking up the phone can be a much faster and more personal way of getting the information you need. Not only will you be building connections with your coworkers, you’ll be cutting down on your distraction-filled inbox.” (Excerpt from LinkedIn Productivity Hacks: 6 Ways to Fight Distractions).

I have certainly found the conversation to be a useful conduit to great information in my competitive intelligence practice, and wonder what others think.

How to Incent Sales to Share Competitive Intelligence

Last week I read Using Your Sales Force’s Competitive Intelligence Wisely. The source of this sales intelligence is business customers, and the reps who are the most likely to receive it are those who have formed strong customer relationships and focus on long-term customer satisfaction and placing the customer’s needs first while developing solutions to help the customer to reach their goals. These are the sales people that go above and beyond to help the customer.

Armed with this competitive information, a flexible rep will adapt their selling style and work on better solutions for the customer. Low-adaptive sellers often fail to use customer information to more strongly position a product to meet the customer’s needs, so the customer gets a negative impression of the company’s products, and also don’t see the value of sharing so they stop.

The value of good intelligence through the sales channel is precious to those in product development, strategic planning, marketing and customer service. However, it can be challenging to get sales to share with marketing, the obvious conduit to push good data to other sources in the company. The article suggested that engaging sales in collaboration to develop the company’s strategy can promote communication.

SharingLearningTogetherThe key to success in communication to and from sales is to understand your company’s sales culture, and what might be fun and engaging for them to be cooperative in sharing what they learn in a timely manner. Sales has a shorter term focus than most in the company, and they keep score so you need to give to get. At the very least, you need to thank them publicly within the company, and show them how better decisions for product development or marketing strategy were modified for the better, thanks to an individual sales person’s contribution. They also love publicity about a big sale that was made. Perhaps a competitive tidbit that they learned or shared, helped make the sale.

Go to where sales is to get them to engage. Sales managers communicate at least weekly through a teleconference or digitally on what’s happening. Become a part of this process by contributing content that sales values. Most value news about their customers that you dig up. That gives them an excuse to make another sales call and look knowledgeable. Sales people like to look good and be in the know. They also value information from their peers. Maybe you can facilitate more sharing among peers, even informally.

Most companies have annual or quarterly sales meetings. Insert yourself as a speaker, a panelist, an attendee, however you can best serve them.

Many sales people travel extensively, so they have time in the car or airplane to write, tape or text about what they’re learning. This is when they learn the good stuff: make communication easy for them. Some companies let them call in and leave a recording of what they learn or maybe even a human being answers the telephone and engages in conversation to promote even more real-time intelligence sharing. Others use a text bulletin board.

Many do sharing through their sales force management software since sales uses this extensively in the course of doing business. While this sharing might not be in-depth, it is usually enough for the intuitive person to probe deeper with select sales people and detect patterns that sales alone might not have put together. Their job is to make the sale, not to put all the marketing pieces together. This is something you can share back with sales and sales management. If you get sales management on your side, good sales people will often cooperate.

Exercise your creativity to incent sales to share. A colleague had a PC bag designed that was truly classy. She would give them out sparingly to sales people who gave her excellent leads. They became a status symbol and it was common for the sales person to display the bag in his office rather than use it.

You can have a contest each quarter and give the winner gift certificates on Amazon, dinner for 2, a sporting event, something that you know they will enjoy. You cannot compete with the money they make on the commission plan, but they appreciate the recognition and the treat.

When I worked with sales, they most appreciated that I was responsive to them when they were in touch for competitive data, since many others were not. In return, they supplied me with incredible competitive information. However, this took a couple of years to develop as it takes time to build relationships and you have to earn their trust.

Be creative in how you communicate with sales. Change up your ideas and keep them fresh. Recognize how many touch points you can have with sales, and where you can be the most useful. I guarantee they will open up over time.

Why I like Company Transparency in Win Loss Interviews

Transparency

Transparency

Why is it that companies don’t want to disclose who they are in win loss interviews? Is it fear? Transparency versus blind win loss interviews is a question that plagues many in marketing.

Many feel if they don’t identify who they are, they’ll get a more objective interview. They are also afraid if they let the customer know who they are—especially when they lost the business—the customer won’t take the interview or if they do, they won’t tell much. A third common reason is they don’t want their sales force to know that they’re conducting these interviews since some of the questions assess the effectiveness and quality of the sales force.

Do these reasons make sense? Let’s explore each separately:

Get a more objective interview: I don’t find that interviews are any more objective when the company’s identity is blind. People are opinionated period. When you conduct blind interviews, where the client doesn’t know the identity of the company behind the call, they usually can guess. So often, it’s the market leader who is going to take the time and has the resources to research deeper. Often enough there are only 2 or 3 companies competing for the business. Customers are not stupid. While they may not let on that they know who is behind the call, they usually figure it out sooner or later.

Sometimes those I interview try so hard to get me to tell them who hired me to telephone them. When they think they know, then they’ll start sharing more. It’s an ego thing: they want to know who is asking. I think it’s also decency: they deserve to know.

Rather than feeling threated by identity disclosure, smart companies realize that a win loss interview is another marketing touch point, even if it’s conducted by a third party. It’s an opportunity for connection with customers and prospects to let them know you value their business enough to ask and listen to what went right and what went wrong, and then take corrective action.

If the customer knows the company which is behind the call, they won’t agree to an interview: I have found that just the opposite is true, even when Sales botched up the deal or it was won by a caustic competitor. Even if another service provider won the business, people will agree to an interview, unless they don’t have time. Time is the biggest enemy to getting the interview, not company identity!

Don’t want Sales to know we’re checking up on their customer relationships: This is one I just don’t get in a society where we are surveyed to death. Even after a cashier rings up a sale in a retail store, they ask us to fill out a survey on the Internet on his or her performance. It’s ridiculous: how can we assess the performance of this person when we barely had a touch point!

However, responsible companies that have a direct or indirect Salesforce and want to keep winning deals for the right reasons, should want to know how effectively and professionally Sales is representing their company and its products and services. There is a relationship here to protect, and you want to keep it ongoing. Too bad if Sales doesn’t like the win loss process.

You come out ahead if you are straight with Sales and let them know you follow up on some sales events. In fact, I like to involve Sales in creating the questions to ask customers. I get better questions and they feel less threatened since they are part of the planning process. Likewise if you share customer communication with Sales, they have an opportunity to learn what they are doing well and their shortcomings. They can feel good about what they do well, and can make improvements where they are weak.

I still like how Rick Marcet, author of Win/Loss Reviews: A New Knowledge Model for Competitive Intelligence, considers the win loss analysis process to be an advanced sales skill. Responsible sales people want to know how they’re doing. They want to improve and close more deals. In fact, best in class companies let their customers know that as part of the sales process, they may be contacted post sale for a win or loss interview as part of doing business.

7 Steps to Prepare for a Choice Conversation

ChoiceI have been realizing how much choice I have for just about everything I do in life, especially how I spend my time. The same thing is true when I prepare to conduct a telephone or in-person interview when gathering information to help clients make important strategic or tactical decisions.

How do I realize choice when interviewing? Interview Preparation is the key!

  1. I organize the questions I want answered.
  2. I hypothesize how people might answer my questions.
  3. I think about other questions they might be able to answer if I probe deeper based on what they share with me initially in the interview.
  4. I reorder the questions in a way that I think will make the person feel comfortable sharing. I think about a conversational approach rather than being so direct for some of the questions.
  5. I think why they want to help me. What’s in it for them? What motivates them to share? How does their profession and/or industry motivate sharing? Can I gain insight about the person through social media like LinkedIn or talking to someone who knows them? Is it worth the time to find out more about this person?
  6. I put myself in their place, receiving a call from me, whether a cold call or a warm call, possibly with a reference to someone we both know or the client who values their time and opinion.
  7. I get myself in the zone to make a call. How I get in the zone depends on my mood: usually it involves being still; doing some breathing exercises; thinking about why they will engage with me; and turning my ego off. Yet, I feel confident they will help me. In the spirit of cooperative intelligence I set the intention that they will feel better at the end of our conversation than they did beforehand.

Why do I go through these steps? This seems so rigid, methodical and analytical. Where is the choice?

If you go through these steps in preparation for a conversation, you will be prepared for a choice conversation. You will have the confidence, intelligence and intuition to be flexible enough for however the conversation flows. Conversations often don’t go as planned. You will be ready for those left turns and have the judgment to either bring the conversation back or have a sense that the left turn will take you to more sharing and better information.

Note these 7 steps work regardless of the reason you are conducting the conversation. You could be interviewing a book author, conducting a cold call to dig up competitive intelligence, conducting a win loss analysis interview, connecting on a deeper level with a friend or conducting a coaching call.

Try these 7 steps next time you prepare for a conversation, and let me know how your conversation goes. I assure you that you will notice a lot more sharing due to your preparation, parked ego and open mind.

Read Fast Company’s “What Improv can teach your team about creativity and collaboration” for more ideas on how to promote cooperation and sharing in a team environment.  Their suggestions also go a long way towards getting people to share in a one-on-one conversation.

The Why, What & How of Win/Loss Analysis

win loss imageA week ago I delivered an IntelCollab webinar on win loss analysis, and have now posted my win loss analysis slides on my Slideshare account. At the conclusion we had time for a goodly number of questions, which I have recapped below. For those who are unfamiliar with win loss analysis, it is the process of interviewing customers and non customers, usually over the telephone, as to why they chose to do business with you or another service provider. You tally up the results of these telephone interviews, and provide quantitative and qualitative analysis based on what you learned from the interviews. It is my favorite tactical competitive intelligence practice since you learn so much from these short interviews, much of which you can take action on almost immediately.

How do you validate that you are talking to the right person, the decision-maker for the win loss interview? I usually get the right connection at the customer’s company from the company’s sales force, who usually knows the decision-maker. If I am not talking to the right person, I can usually tell. They are uncertain of how to answer my questions, and they are happy to tell me who the right person is, on the rare occasion when that happens. Sometimes the decision-maker has left the company. Those are some of my favorite win loss interviews since their replacement must live with another person’s decision, which perhaps might have been different had they been the decision-maker.

I am just starting a win loss process: are there some tips you might share about how to set it up? First I find out what Sales is already doing, and build off of it. Many sales forces do some abbreviated form of win loss through automated systems like Salesforce.com. You will save yourself a lot of time by working with Sales. Note Sales’ culture: how responsive will they be to this win loss interview process? Will they feel threatened? How will you sell them on the benefits? Usually they will win more deals armed with better knowledge about why customers buy or don’t. That usually works. They also need to clearly understand that you are working with them, not behind them. They are not going to lose their job based on what you uncover. You are not going to undermine any customer relationships they have developed. You are another customer touch point, and most customers are happy to participate. On occasion, I have uncovered new marketing opportunities from win loss interviews. Sales people love this. That said, win loss is not for everyone. Sometimes your customers don’t want to be queried.

There are 5 minute surveys and there are win/loss interviews. How long should the win loss interview be? I like to limit these interviews to about 20 minutes although sometimes they go for a half hour. People are too busy today for much longer. You need to get all the relevant information from Sales before the interview: how they left it with the customer, who won the business, why they think the customer decided the way they did, and who else competed. That way you don’t waste the customer’s time with these small questions. You can get right to the meat of the interview, which they really appreciate.

My sales force is resisting my efforts to interview customers when they lost the business. How can I bring them around? This is usually not so tough, unless this loss of business is part of a bigger piece of business from that customer. Even so, Sales has only to gain if they are armed with why the customer decided on a competitor or made no decision to upgrade your company’s software, for example. Your sales person will be armed with a better approach to use with other customers who are considering your solution, from your win loss findings. Sometimes I find out the customer is considering my client for another piece of business that Sales doesn’t know about yet. Another way to bring Sales around is to make sure to interview customers where they won the business. It can be depressing to Sales if all you interview is lost business. You are also missing out on a great opportunity to learn about how your company treats its customers from implementation moving forward, which is absent when all you interview is lost business.

Sometimes Sales won’t acknowledge that a deal is actually lost: how do we contact these customers? I suggest that you don’t contact customers until the deal is clearly won or lost for win loss analysis. There are certain touch points along the way in the Sales process where you engage with customers, but that is for another discussion along the lines of pre-sales due diligence.

What is the best model for conducting win loss analysis? Should internal people conduct the interviews or should they all be outsourced to a 3rd party? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each approach?

Either model can work. Here are some of the plusses and minuses of each.

Internal people are already on the payroll, so that keeps the cost down. No one knows your company’s culture, industry, products and services like employees do. This helps when it’s time to probe for additional details around product features, for example. A consultant, unless they worked at your company quite recently, will not have all that company understanding. They might have the industry experience or can learn enough about your industry to make these phone calls. I have a checklist of things I ask a client to share with me so I can learn the industry; the sales process; and how to organize a win loss process quite effectively since I have done these since the late 1980s. Most internal company employees are not so organized with this process in my experience, but they sure have the product and sales knowledge.

Your customers are usually more open to telling a 3rd party all the reasons why they chose to do business with your company or not. Somehow they are more at ease sharing with a 3rd party. In fact, I find in some cases they actually almost gush with all that they share. Consultants that do a lot of these win loss interviews are skilled at getting people comfortable with sharing. In my practice we teach elicitation skills, and use them quite effectively during these interviews. Consultants will charge a fee to conduct these interviews and to analyze the findings, so you need to have money in the budget. Consultants often find things and pull things out of these interviews to analyze that your internal people won’t think about, since this is not what most internal people do most of the time. The consultant also doesn’t have your company cultural blinders on, which is helpful both in conducting these interviews and writing up the analysis.

I notice that I am most valued by companies who are just considering a win loss process; have never done it before; don’t know how to organize it or how to explain to Sales what this win loss process means to them; and why it’s a good idea. When I walk in with my process and organization, I notice it’s most appreciated.

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Ellen Naylor & Arik Johnson

Ellen Naylor & Arik Johnson

I have been doing competitive intelligence since 1985. Win/loss interviews and analysis, are still one of my favorite tactical collection techniques. This is a low cost form of primary collection which always provides a high return for improving your company’s bottom line. Who better than your customers and those who decided on a competitor to tell you what you are doing well and what you need to change?  I have noticed that actions taken from win loss analysis are particularly effective at improving customer retention. Retaining customers is more economic than obtaining new ones.

Yet many companies still don’t include win loss analysis as part of their sales process:

  • They think they are conducting win/loss interviews, and they aren’t. Sales fills out a few reason codes for the win or loss, and that passes for win loss analysis…NOT
  • Sales doesn’t want any part of this process since it challenges their egos and they fear this customer connection by an outsider will jeopardize their customer relationship
  • The company doesn’t want to change how it’s doing business. Win/loss analysis provides ammunition around behaviors, product features, and so much more, which if changed will improve sales results
  • Ignorance. Some companies have no idea how much valuable information their customers/non customers will share, if only they ask.

What are the traits of someone who masterfully conducts win loss interviews?

#1 Be organized. Make sure you have all the relevant facts around the sale or lost business, before you dial. Share your process for conducting win loss interviews with those in marketing and sales who need to know. They need to understand why you are calling their customers, how this process works, and that this form of communication is not a threat to their livelihood. On a cooperative note, include their good ideas in win loss interviews to their customers/prospects.

#2 Be grounded before you dial. I take some deep breaths, and think, “I want this person to feel better about themself at the end of our call than they do when they pick up the telephone.” Intention is powerful and people sense this immediately, and tend to engage unless they’re really tied up.

#3 Be sensitive to those you’re calling. Make sure you are calling at a good time. I can always tell without asking since they’re usually agitated when the time is bad. Be punctual and stick to the prearranged length for the call unless you sense they are in the sharing mode, and you don’t want to interrupt their flow. Often they are venting, and I would rather they vent to me than to their sales rep.

#4 Find that balance between professional, curious and somewhat playful. This is a fine line. People enjoy sharing with people who are interested in them, and at the same time don’t take themselves too seriously. Most people like a little humor. I find that just smiling as I am speaking on the telephone leads to more sharing on the other end.

#5 Be persistent. We conduct these interviews over the telephone, and many people view telephone conversation as an unwelcome interruption to their work flow. You need to figure out the best way to get that person to pick up their phone and engage with you. I start by creating a compelling email to get their attention, and then follow up with those who don’t respond, however it best makes sense. It’s different with everyone, so follow your intuition. In some cases, they don’t want to connect, so let it go. In other cases, they will say they have very little time, and once they start talking, you almost have to cut them off.

#6 Be a good listener, but guide the conversation. This is a most important trait for all collection conversations. Lay aside your ego, and let them broadcast theirs.

If you want to learn more about the value of conducting win loss analysis; how to do it; and what you can expect to learn, please join host, Arik Johnson, Founder of Aurora WDC, and me, President of The Business Intelligence Source, on September 4 for a webinar at Noon Eastern US time.  It’s free to attend. Details including sign-up here. I will speak for a half hour, then we will open up the discussion to you.

Get your free copy of the most comprehensive list of competitive intelligence books with links to purchasing them. One of my favorite books on win loss analysis is Win Loss Reviews: A New Knowledge Model for Competitive Intelligence by Rick Marcet.

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