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.

Small 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.

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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?

Tips to Improve Your Collection Interviews

I recently gave a webinar for our SLA competitive intelligence division on “How to improve your collection skills through interviewing and elicitation.” I particularly enjoyed the Q&A and will share my 2 favorites which I have embellished on since I have had more time to think about them.

How do you differentiate yourself from a telemarketer? Do you say what you’re doing, like a research project?

I usually don’t tell people exactly what I am up to in a cold call. It isn’t really necessary and most people don’t care. We are usually more experienced in communication than telemarketers, who try to have us not hang up on them. A telemarketer usually has the same approach and objective for every phone interview, such as to get us to buy something or to donate money to their charity. Not surprisingly, there is high turnover in telemarketing. I have been doing primary collection interviews for over 20 years. I have specific and different objectives for every telephone call. I also have multiple approaches to obtain information, but I am not asking anyone to buy my service or donate money to a charity. I don’t expect anyone to hang up on me and am polite. I have a level of confidence in the tone of my voice that telemarketers don’t have, just as soon as I say “Hello.” Remember it’s not just what you say, but how you say it that makes you a successful interviewer.

What are some tips to get the interview in the first place? Reaching people live, referrals or customized email requests leading up to a telephone call?

When it’s a cold call, it’s pretty straightforward. I call the company and ask to be transferred to the department that I think will best help me. Switchboard operators are usually quite helpful. If one is not, I will wait until lunchtime, when s/he is often replaced with someone else, or the telephone goes into auto-attendant, so I can make my best guess and get transferred through automation. Sometimes I don’t know who I should talk to and the switchboard will give me a name to connect with as she is transferring the call. It is now a referral which warms the call up a bit.

If it’s not a cold call, people increasingly expect you to email them to set up a time to talk on the phone, since they don’t appreciate having their day interrupted with unscheduled telephone calls. You have to figure out a short value proposition to get their attention, and be willing to call them to set up a time, since often enough they don’t email you back in a timely fashion. This is particularly true when querying people in technology.

However, with all the turnover in technology, the person you want to talk with to may have left the company. Meanwhile the administrator will let you know who their replacement is, ever willing to connect you immediately. You can decide to call later and look them up on LinkedIn, or you can be transferred right in to the person immediately. I always opt to be transferred immediately. By now I know enough about that person’s job and have done a little research on their company. Reading their LinkedIn profile isn’t going to help me that much, and will delay me from talking to them. These are often win loss analysis calls. They have inherited someone else’s decision, and are now responsible to make it work. They are happy to tell me all about their experience, and in these interviews I probably do about 10% of the talking. I think it’s also because they’re new with the company, and not so well connected with other employees just yet. I am a pair of willing, listening ears.

Here is the Interviewing & Elicitation presentation. Here is the YouTube that combines audio with the slides. However, the slides are a out of sync with the audio. For those who attended the webinar, I have included the YouTube link to the video of the awesome Walter Cronkite predicting the office of 2001 with pretty close accuracy, back in 1967!

Cooperative Communication: Digital versus Voice

Everyday communication has become a complex business. When I started my job, it was so much easier. We had 3 choices: face-to-face, telephone and hardcopy. It was challenging enough then, since few of us received training on communication as part of our education. In years past, I picked up the telephone to communicate without an appointment. If it was a bad time, the other person would tell me and we would set up a better time.

Now we have so many additional choices ranging from old fashioned email, the various forms of social media, texting, blogs, wikis, and face to face electronic conferencing like SKYPE or Google hangouts. Where do you get trained on when and how to effectively use all these ways to communicate?

A recent HBR blog post, “Just Call Someone Already,” attracted over 100 comments and focused on when to use the phone versus email, often used instead of the phone. I resonated with the author, Dan Pallotta in his comment, “Much worse than the inefficiency of using email to set up phone calls are the missed opportunities and unnecessary misunderstandings that come when we use email instead of phone calls.”

Today many feel compelled to text or email a person to schedule a call, and better yet to avert the call, since many view phone calls as an inefficient use of time, an interruption to their day. Nobody has a monopoly on busy, and this attitude about interruption and efficiency at the expense of building human relationships seems unkind. It also feels selfish to me, since these folks are just considering their preferences, not the other person’s.

Email is often used to express emotions or feelings that people are too embarrassed to say. However, I think it’s better to confront the other person and clear things up over the telephone or better yet in person. I have received more rude emails, where people write things they would not have the nerve to say to my face or on the telephone. Another downfall of email is when it gets sent to too many people that don’t need to know or care about your communication.

I also notice rudeness in LinkedIn comments, Twitter and Facebook, where there is one up man ship professionally, for example. I resent the number of emails I get in my LinkedIn inbox asking for endorsements; please take a survey; buy my service—which these people presumably blast out to their LinkedIn connections just like email spammers. There is more blatant WIFM (what’s in it for me) in the digital world.

Everyone seems to agree that face-to-face is still the best way to connect as you can read the person’s body language which is so revealing. But in today’s world we are so scattered that many of us can’t easily or cheaply meet face-to-face. I always recommend that people connect the next best way which is often the telephone, SKYPE or Google hangouts.

However, email is still the steam engine for digital communication since it leaves a written trail, and you can communicate with many people simultaneously in one email, and time zones don’t matter. You can also attach a document for people to review, not an option with the phone, but an option with SKYPE or Google hangouts.

A best cooperative intelligence practice is to think about how the individual you want to reach likes to be communicated with, even if it’s not your preference. People in Sales figure this out pretty quickly.  They call; they fax; they email; they in-mail; whatever it takes connect to decision-makers. Another cooperative best practice is only send communication to those who will value it.

I am pretty open minded about communication. I like to stay in touch with friends and colleagues. In one win/loss project, I was doing one on one interviews. I emailed to set up a call with one non-customer. He refused, but did offer that he would be happy to email me answers to my questions. I got some of the best insight from this gentleman—all because I listened and accepted his preferred communication.

How to be a Competition Detective: Eliciting Conversation

People often ask me how I engage people so readily in conversation over the telephone.

“Who do you say you are? Why do you say you’re calling?”

The first question is easy to answer. I always say I’m Ellen Naylor.

The second question is harder to answer without more context. Is it a cold call or a warm call? A cold call is when you don’t know the person and they don’t know you. A warm call is when the other person doesn’t know you, but you know them through your sources. Or it might be a hot call which is the easiest: you and the person you’re calling both know each other and why you’re calling. You have different preparation for each type of call. But you need to have a good entrée to each person so they know in short order why you’re calling, what you want and what’s in it for them to give you their time for an interview.

With all calls, you want to give the person a good reason to talk with you, and not waste their time with small talk and listen very closely to how and what they share and don’t share with you. With a cold call, I research the person’s profession and try to find out what about that profession I can relate to or not, and get the conversation going. After a few interviews you get even more ideas about what they do and don’t tend to like about their job.

In a healthcare query each person I spoke to was a recruiter for medical professionals who traveled to different hospitals around the US for work. I got their attention by mentioning that it must be challenging for their employees to be away from their families. With others, I mentioned how much I liked to travel. This simple entrée got most of them talking.

Using elicitation techniques, another great entrée for me is, “I’m Ellen Naylor and I wonder if you can help me.” Then I tell them why. People often can’t resist the urge to be helpful in our US culture, especially when talking to a female who sounds young.

People can’t resist the urge to show off a bit if you flatter them with, “I hear you’re an expert in this area,” or “I want to understand what you do and don’t like about this equipment. Companies can only make product improvements if they hear what’s wrong. They also need to hear what’s really right so they don’t go changing those features.”

If someone is a little hesitant and less interactive, I often ask if this is a bad time, and will call them back later. Other times this hesitation means they expect me to share something in return before they’ll start talking. So I will share some tidbits I have learned, and these can be my best interviews. In a recent project, I called one of these hesitant guys back at 6:30 a.m. his time. We conversed for about 45 minutes, and I felt like I had a new friend by the end.

Warmed up calls are so much easier since you don’t have to quickly convince a stranger that you’re worth talking to. However, you do need to respect their time and be polite. One way is to hone in on relevant information about them so you can ask better and tighter questions.

The bottom line is I consider who I am talking to and the questions I need to have answered. I try to think of all the ways the person might answer them, so I am more prepared for the unexpected. Calls seldom go as planned whether they’re cold, warm or hot. You are dealing with another human being. Be flexible and prepare additional questions for the unexpected turns of an interview. Don’t take yourself too seriously and keep that smile on your face.

How to become an expert in primary intelligence: Interviewing

Last night I gave at talk to our DC SCIP chapter on primary intelligence collection and elicitation. I promised I would share the slides with attendees. They are on Slideshare.

Here are some of the key points from the talk about interviewing. The next blog will cover key points on elicitation.

When conducting an interview, most people know who you are and why you want to talk to them, except when you are cold calling, which is what we do often enough in competitive intelligence.

The first step in primary collection regardless of whether it’s a standard interview, elicitation or some combination is preparation. Do your homework. Find out about the person you will talk to, even if it’s a cold call. At the very least, you know their profession and their industry, which will help you develop reasons why they would want to talk with you, and more importantly, share! Do not skimp on this upfront time. Often conversations and interviews don’t go as planned. If you have done your preparation, you can more easily be flexible and go with plans b, c or d!

As you prepare for your collection project, think about what it is you will share and NOT share before you pick up the telephone or attend that trade show.

Think about why people will be motivated to share with you based on who they are: their profession, personal issues, politics, predisposition, and emotional intelligence. Be sensitive as to how they like to be communicated with based on how they come across in those first few seconds of the call or the meeting, and alter your communication style accordingly to a dominant, expressive, conscientious or amicable type. Recognize that people may change their practice and predisposition when they are under stress.

Reword your questions to motivate people to open up and share. Start with open ended questions that are easy for them to answer, and that you think they will enjoy answering. Then move to more hypothetical questions and indirect questions before you get to the more narrow questions. I find that bracketing those narrow questions gets a better response.

Listen closely to what the target is telling you, and be flexible. Perhaps they really don’t know the answers to some of those issues that you thought they would know. What are they not sharing that you thought they knew? Did they really know it or are they purposely not telling you? With so many participating in social networks there are too many self proclaimed experts who aren’t so expert once you start probing.

Lay aside your preconceived notions. Many of us listen for what we think is the ‘right’ answer or for what we want to hear. We don’t listen to the full story that the other person is telling us. Listen and put your ego aside if you want to be good in primary collection.

If you are at a trade show or another form of in-person collection, take advantage of the person’s body cues. Do the words match the facial and body expressions? If they don’t, believe the body: it’s easy to lie. In America, people often misinform. They are often just trying to be helpful, but it’s misinformation. Sometimes that’s harder to discern. One way is to make an obvious mistake in a key assumption or statistic as I ask a question. If they don’t pick up on it, I am suspicious about their knowledge level.

Also realize when dealing with people in person that it’s easier for people to manipulate their smiles and facial expressions, less easy for them to control other parts of their body such as their shoulders, arms, legs, feet and breathing.

If you are connecting on the telephone listen for a change in their tone of voice, pitch, cadence, confidence, speed of speech, hesitation, sigh, shallow breathing, silence. There are so many cues when you listen to people beyond what they say or don’t say. Trust your intuition: it’s usually right.

In closing, many people asked me how I represent myself when I talk to people. I tell them who I am right away. Many people seem to think there is one approach that will work with every person, that there is a simple answer to this question. There isn’t. You should choose to be ethical when you conduct research. SCIP has a code of ethics; AIIP and SLA have codes of ethics. Your company probably has a code of ethics or business practices they want you to follow. But most importantly you have to be true to yourself.

BTW, if you want to watch a great interview check out John Clees here and look for my next blog on elicitation.

Competitive Intelligence in 1985

When I wrote my Pecha Kucha presentation for our SLA Competitive Intelligence tournament, I decided to go back in time to 1985, the first year I focused entirely on competitive intelligence. This is the first in a series about how I evolved in my career in competitive intelligence, and what I have learned over time. Overall I am glad I had a start back then for the critical thinking and deeper relationships I developed. I am glad to still be in this field today where I can reach out to sources quickly that I would never have dreamed even existed, thanks to social networking.

1985 was a very different time and I will focus on the US.

  • Gas was $1.09/gallon
  • Movies were $2.75
  • Rent averaged $375/month
  • The Fed’s interest rate was 10.75%.

Technical differences were also noteworthy:

  • Windows 1.0 was introduced
  • CDs were introduced in the US in 1985
  • The first mobile telephone call was made in the UK by Ernie Wise

I started to focus on what we called competitive analysis just before the Society of Competitive Intelligence (SCIP) was formed, and didn’t learn about SCIP until 1989, two years before SCIP published its first membership directory. I worked for Bell Atlantic, a new company then, a Baby Bell from the initial AT&T divestiture. We were working out our company infrastructure as I was figuring out how best to provide and collect competitive intelligence.

I did not have a PC at my desk. My telephone was the most immediate form of communication with most of the company, although I could easily have in-person meetings with our product and marketing managers who sat close-by. In fact I had to be careful not to attend too many of their meetings else I wouldn’t get my work done. It correlates somewhat to spending too much time on email and social networks today.

We shared a fax machine among many of us, and waited in line at the photocopy machine. Secretaries typed up memos and reports. We took notes by hand. We memorized people’s phone numbers and had a Rolodex of names. I cross referenced my Rolodex names by job function in case I forgot a person’s name. We used company mail and US mail (which we didn’t call snail mail) for written communication.

Presentations would be typed up, given on overhead machines or written up on flip charts. I spent less time putting together presentations through these primitive means than I do today on PowerPoint decks since our standards were lower. I think people spent more time listening to what you had to say back then, since what you produced wasn’t much to look at. It also meant you had to know your stuff since there wasn’t the crutch of media to support you. People asked more questions and had more comments since they couldn’t easily get smart before a meeting like we can today by accessing the Internet to read up a bit.

I read the news in hard copy. We distributed news sources like Time, Business Week and Fortune among ourselves. I got my own copy of The Wall Street Journal which I read daily. We noted who got which industry consultant reports and subscriptions throughout Bell Atlantic. It could be that our Philadelphia office would get the only copy of an expensive industry report, and we would have to wait our turn to read it due to copyright issues.

The first organizational thing I did was a personal SWOT. My strength has always been visionary. I can see the big picture pretty readily and am creative. I am not strong with the details and execution although I am highly intuitive. I was lucky and found a wonderful lady to work with who was great with people and had a similar work ethic to mine. Unlike me, she was attentive to detail and great with execution. Over time we became a strong team, and are still friends some 25+ years later, although we live 2000 miles apart.

Our opportunity and our immediate threat were the same thing:

  • Learn how each of our regions communicated
  • Learn each region’s culture
  • Learn how individuals were motivated to share
  • Learn how individuals and each region would accept facts and ideas from a centralized group outside their region, namely us

We had to talk with each other more often than we do today, since there was no email; no voice mail or social media connection. I got copies of company’s (competitor’s) press releases from my company’s industry liaison person soon after she received them, so I could pass on the scoop to my company clients.

We had to use our creativity to achieve real-time intelligence, since people were our only real-time source, and we had fewer people we could reach out to since our world was smaller. On a positive note, our relationships with people were deeper, perhaps since we had fewer relationships. Our critical thinking skills were naturally sharpened with these deeper relationships. I had a few people outside the company that I had provocative discussions with often. These people helped me reach outside of Bell Atlantic’s culture and expand my vision of the competitive environment.

Timing is Everything in Win/Loss Interviews

Too many product managers seem to avoid customer interaction. While they know that customer Insights are useful to define products, features and the marketing message, there is this fear of customer confrontation. Yet most customers are actually quite willing to share the experience of dealing with your sales force, and how they chose your product or a competitor’s.

In a recent webinar I learned a few new things about the psychology behind conducting win/loss interviews. I have always told clients to makes sure that the sale is complete and implemented before handing them off to me to interview. In the webinar, Steve Johnson of discussed the timing of the win/loss interview.

Customers are the least confident during implementation, and often experience stress, so you are less likely to get a clear headed reaction to their decision-making process, and what features they do/don’t like or what they think of your products or marketing message. They will be preoccupied with the process of implementation. For example, they might have thought they would get more handholding or professional services during implementation.

Timing is everything in life, and the same is true in win loss analysis. I think the best time to call customers is after implementation, since how that went will often affect their desire to do future business with you or the competition. If implementation did not go well with a lost customer, you might have a chance to jump back into the sales mode sooner. The loss interview will uncover this. You will also learn, in detail, how the competition implemented the product or service, which is great competitive intelligence. The customer is more level headed after the stressful implementation phase is complete and they are trained on how to use the product.

Another observation: It used to be rude to email customers/prospects to schedule win/loss interviews. Now, this is the best way for connection. People appreciate knowing who you are; the value proposition of partaking in a win/loss interview; and that you are not trying to jump back in to sell. Another reason I like to connect via email ahead of time is I hope that they will pick up the telephone when I call them. Caller ID is not a win/loss interviewer’s friend since many people won’t pick up the phone unless they recognize the telephone number.

I like it the best if my client informs their customers and prospects that I will be calling. Better yet, if Sales informs all prospects and customers during the sales presentation that win/loss interviews are part of doing business, and they occur after the sale is consummated and the product is installed regardless of who wins the business: your company or a competitor.

Win/loss learning is often more about the failure of the selling process rather than selling the product. There were several sources that Steve shared that are worthwhile for those who want to understand customers and the buying and selling processes.

The New Rules of Sales Enablement by Jeff Ernst – This explains that the way we sell is often out of synch with how people want to buy.
Buyer Persona – Adele Revella instructs people on how to ask probing questions to learn what matters to your buyers. This relates to win/loss since it’s by probing that you learn the real reasons why your buyers choose you or your competitors, or decide to do nothing at all. You want to uncover how to delight the person who is buying your solution. Other books include: Innovation Games and Never Eat Alone.

In conclusion, if you just have one time to conduct win/loss interviews, wait until after implementation or a rule of thumb is wait 2-3 months after the sale closes. If you wait too long, they’ll forget the details around the sales event that you are trying to collect and analyze.

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

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