• Twitter Updates

    Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

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.

Win/Loss Analysis book gives you a process to learn why you’re losing business and how to keep more of it!

Receive our 6-page Win/Loss Cheat Sheets

Connect on LinkedIn  Connect on Twitter

Improve Your Win Loss Analysis Skills: IntelCollab Webinar

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.

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

How to Find Health Information for Veterans

Dana AbbeyDana Abbey, Health Information Literacy Coordinator at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Library gave a most informative presentation entitled “Combating Information Fatigue: Health Information Resources for Veterans,” to our Rocky Mountain SLA chapter. In the spirit of cooperative intelligence you will gain the benefit of the research that Dana has compiled.

Skills and coping mechanisms developed during military service, particularly at war, may be counterproductive or misunderstood in civilian life. Readjustment after returning from war is a major challenge, not just for veterans, but also for their families, friends and caregivers. Looking at the numbers: there are 8 million Vietnam veterans; 6.7 million World War II veterans; 4.3 million Korean conflict veterans; 697,000 Gulf War veterans and 1.4 million Afghanistan/Iraq war veterans.

Military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan are surviving wounds in numbers far greater than previous wars. This is largely due to advances in body armor, combat medicine and the rapidity of evacuation. Thus many suffer polytrauma, which is multiple injuries. These severe injuries require sophisticated, comprehensive and often lifelong care. Many injuries are the result of explosives which can cause traumatic brain injury (TBI), blindness, spinal cord injury, burns and damage to limbs causing amputation. TBI can cause attention, memory and language problems, headaches, sleep disturbances and personality changes. A closed TBI injury can be hard to detect, and sometimes goes untreated. PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) is common among veterans, many who have survived traumatic events.

Veterans suffer higher rates of diabetes and overweight/obesity than the average population. One third of US veterans suffer from arthritis. One third of US veterans from the Iraq war access mental health services after returning home. The prevalence rate of mental health is higher for Iraq veterans: 19.1% versus 11.3% for Afghanistan veterans and 8.5% from other war locations. Veterans suffering from depression are 7-8x more likely to commit suicide than the general population. That amounts to 22 suicides per day or one every 65 minutes.

Homelessness is another issue among veterans. Poverty and high housing costs contribute, as do the lingering effects of PTSD and TBI which render unstable behavior and substance abuse.  More than 11% of the newly homeless veterans are women. The VA (Veterans Affairs) is making a large effort to prevent homelessness by providing 2 years of free medical care and identifying psychological and substance abuse problems early.

1.3 million veterans have no insurance and with ACA (Affordable Care Act) about 50% will qualify for Medicaid coverage. The VA encourages veterans to examine their eligibility for VA health benefits using its Health Benefits Explorer.

Dana shared the robust CU Health Sciences Library resource guide she developed (and updates) for veterans and their families looking for support. Following are some of the categories of data provided in the resources guide:

Limb loss and prosthetics; Mental health services and resources; Spinal cord injury and disease; Traumatic brain injury; MedlinePlus health topics; General military health; Health resources; Demographic group resources; Insurance and benefits; and Support groups and organizations.

There are links to government websites, white papers and relevant books including:

There are numerous libraries across North America which have compiled on-line resources to help veterans and their families find support, as well as personal support for physical, mental and emotional issues incurred from deployment in wars. Don’t forget to email or telephone your friendly librarian if you need help navigating through this maize of information. CU Health Sciences Library can be reached at AskHSL@lists.ucdenver.edu or 303-724-2152.

BTW, here is a great PTSD blog, which I became aware of since writing this blog.

Debra Fine & The Fine Art of Small Talk

Debra Fine was the keynote at our AIIP 2013 Annual Conference in Denver, Colorado. Here are some of her shares.

Debra FineSmall talk is an appetizer to any relationship. People like to do business with their friends. For example, when you see someone at a trade show, and you have forgotten their name, you could just avoid them, and then they’ll think you’re aloof. Or you could approach them with, “You look so familiar, but I forgot your name.” This might be gutsy for a shy person, but it’s a great way to open a conversation and put the other person at ease. You are assuming the burden of their comfort. Remember what a low risk it is to engage in conversation.

When two people are talking and a third person walks up, a good conversationalist will make sure that all the people know each other. Look for approachable. Often enough the person who is alone will engage in conversation, and will think you’re a savior since they’re by themselves.

Often at meetings, there are clusters of people who know each other, hang out together. The lonely person, the outsider, feels like the spotlight is on them since they are alone with no one to talk to. Debra says, “Get over this.” The people in these clusters are not paying attention to you. It’s up to you to expand your network by meeting some of these people.

People decide if they have time to talk with you that often has nothing to do with your opening line. It’s about them: not you.

Here are some common questions, often enough icebreakers that Debra recommends we discontinue:

  • What do you do? It makes people feel they’re being interrogated.
  • Are you married? This is a bit too personal.
  • Do you have kids? This is almost presumptuous. Not everyone wants kids or can have them.

Realize that “How have you been?” “How was your day?” “How are you?” and “What’s been going on?” are equivalent communication for “Hello.”

Rather break the ice with:

  • “What keeps you busy outside of work?”
  • “Describe your most important work experience?”
  • “What significant changes have you seen take people in your work since you started?”
  • “Bring me up to date…”

Why people don’t answer and build relationships:

  • Don’t think you care
  • Are lazy
  • Are too busy

Debra also shared a couple of exit strategies that are graceful:

  • “I have a couple more minutes before I need to wrap this up.”
  • “Would you like to join me and see the exhibits?”

The psychology of assuming the burden of someone else’s comfort is similar when you are on the telephone doing research or competitive intelligence. Make the other person feel you care, but also keep in mind that you might be catching them at a busy time.

Debra ended her talk with a poem, “Thoughts from a New Member,” to remind us to reach out to newbies.

  • I see you at the meetings,
  • but you never say hello.
  • You’re busy all the time you’re there
  • with those you really know.
  • I sit among the members,
  • yet I’m a lonely gal.
  • The new ones feel as strange as I;
  • the old ones pass us by.
  • Darn it, you folks urged us to join
  • and talked of fellowship,
  • You could just cross the room, you know,
  • but you never make the trip.
  • Can’t you just nod your head and smile
  • or stop and shake a hand,
  • Then go sit among your friends?
  • Now that I’d understand.
  • I’ll be at your next meeting
  • And hope that you will spend
  • The time to introduce yourself,
  • I joined to be your friend.

Anonymous, pp 15 -16 The Fine Art of Small Talk by Debra Fine

Elicitation with Enthusiasm

I have been pondering the use of elicitation skills in competitive intelligence collection.  I have been using these techniques for many years, but not quite in the military intelligence way, which seems like using the other person in a more negative way. The techniques take advantage of human tendencies to complain, gossip, correct and inform, which certainly works. However, I like to capture the human desire to be happy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile my research assignment is to get information that clients can use to make the decision at hand, I have a relationship goal as well. By the end of the telephone call, my goal is to make the other person feel good about themselves. This was inspired by Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

A great way to make people feel good about themselves is for you to have an attitude of optimism, joy, and enthusiasm while you converse with the other person. Enthusiasm is infectious, and people like to share with you because you are making them feel happy. There are three ways I get myself in this zone:

1. Overall, I don’t take myself too seriously, so laughter comes easily in conversation. Work is a serious, less fun environment for many that I talk to. A little levity is often appreciated, but only if you sense that the other person is open to it. In my experience, most Americans are.

2. I put a smile on my face just as I am dialing to remind myself that happy is a good way to be. There is something about putting a smile on my face that puts me in a happy place. When I first make that connection with the person I am interviewing, they can feel my smile.

3. Before I dial, I get myself grounded and focused, by taking deep breathes. I want to forget about me, and to just concentrate on the person who I will be connecting with, even if this is a cold call. I want to get myself on their channel, sort of like sitting in their chair in my own mind. This also helps me be prepared for however the interview might go, since they seldom quite go as planned.

Being grounded is the one technique that has improved my success in collection more than any other. I can spend all the time in the world getting my value proposition written out and etched in my brain. But if I am not confident and grounded, the person at the other end can sense it right away, and won’t feel like connecting or sharing with me. When I am grounded and confident they will share, since I am in their zone, and the words just flow.

These practices also have another benefit: they help me get to the other person more readily, since I am more absorbed in how they are, and readily forget about myself while in conversation. My challenge is to remember to cover all the material that the client has hired me to collect, since I will often get lost in conversation as I let the other person control the flow of sharing, according to how they are comfortable.

Learn more about elicitation techniques here. Learn how you can become an elicitation expert.

Win/Loss Analysis book gives you a process to learn why you’re losing business and how to keep more of it!

Receive our 6-page Win/Loss Cheat Sheets

Connect on LinkedIn  Connect on Twitter

The Enduring Importance of Communication & Curiosity

 

Last week I saw a thought provoking video of Sally Blount, Dean of the Kellogg School of Management on the Enduring Importance of Curiosity and Communication. In the last 10 years, the world has become more complex, inherently unstable, a world that is reaching for a new equilibrium. The technological capabilities have far outstripped our very rudimentary human ability to organize effectively. Sally is amazed how important effective communication still is, and how important and well curiosity serves a human being.

She talks about “organizational intelligence.” We can see social networks in our brain; who is linked to whom; which groups convene regularly or not; and how if you interact and intervene in that system, you can change outcomes over time. By being an architect of collaboration, you can affect outcomes through team meetings or Facebook, for example. You need to orchestrate conversations in person and virtually to move the team forward.

As the school’s dean, she comes into contact with Millennials frequently. There are two things she would like to see them do since their brain works in new ways due to their early exposure to technology. They are excellent data collectors. She would like to see them get away from collecting information and into generating insight and inspiration for what to do with that information. The only way she knows to do this is to step away from the chatter and the stimuli.

Secondly, she ponders on how we develop more organizational intelligence. How do we think with more deliberateness about the conversations that we need to have in order to move humankind forward? Her hope is that the sacredness of face to face interaction isn’t lost.

I am also reading MIT psychology Professor Sherry Turkle‘s book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. From her extensive research, she concludes that people look at technology for ways to be in relationships and yet protect ourselves from being in them at the same time. In her 15 years of research, she describes the “always on, always on you,” relationship that many people have with their smartphones, which keeps them from living in their present space.

Short, shallow, frequent bursts of communication via Twitter, Facebook or texting do not develop deep and emotional relationships, whether among friends, parent to child or between business colleagues. Taking all this time to be social media connected has reduced individual’s time and capacity for solitude, which nurtures relationships and critical thinking that Sally Blount also alludes to.

I fear that people are losing their ability to hold a conversation in our infected society of social networks, which favors many forms of digital connection with numerous people who are practically strangers, rather than really getting to know fewer people a whole lot better.

I spend a lot of time talking to people on the telephone. They answer even though they have caller ID, and don’t know who I am. Some of these folks don’t use social media so they aren’t part of that overstimulated world. Most do, but many still answer their telephone since they are inherently curious, and there aren’t enough listening ears these days, at work or at home. Technology will never replace true human connection.

What has been your experience?

%d bloggers like this: