Be Smart: Be Human: Be Flexible

I read a moving post about the value of being flexible by my friend and book counselor, Judith Briles. She totally changed gears from talking about her book, The Confidence Factor, on a morning show in Cleveland due to a tragedy where some high school students had been killed the night before. The community was reeling from it. She decided it was time to talk from her heart. She had such incredible empathy from her experience losing her son at age 19, also in a terrible accident. The local community couldn’t get enough of her. The show extended her time by two segments and she was invited back.

manager woman doing yoga at white background

How flexible are you in competitive intelligence and Win/Loss analysis? We usually aren’t in situations where the daily news changes how we’ll be with people. However, it’s likely that no matter how much planning we do, there are surprises.

Flexibility at Trade Shows

In my first Neocon, the largest N America-based commercial interior and design trade show, I was asked to get specific information on three competitors. I had done my homework before the conference: I knew where are the competition’s exhibits were in the huge Chicago Merchandise Mart. I had memorized considerable facts about each competitor, and had my questions all organized in my head. I was sure of my game plan.

I came up to the market leader’s showroom and asked to have a tour of their space which featured some new products. The snooty sales person asked if I had an appointment. “Why no,” I answered. “I didn’t know I needed an appointment just to see your furniture display.” So I walked away feeling dejected.  To add spice to the day, I was rapidly losing my voice.

What was I to do? I could not succeed in my assignment unless I could get into the competitor’s showroom and get answers to our questions. Then I got an idea: “Why couldn’t I find a group who had an appointment and just tag along?” So I stood outside the market leader’s space until I saw a group of gentlemen from a well known software firm, heading to the competitor’s exhibit area. I asked if they had an appointment, and when they answered in the affirmative, I asked if I could tag along. “Sure,” they said. “Happy to have you join us.”

Ironically the snooty sales person was their account rep, who gave us the tour being as informative as she could be. She told us all about their new products, and why they were better than the competition, which answered most of my client’s questions. She glared at me, but graciously answered my questions, since I imagine this was one of her largest accounts as this software firm was expanding exponentially. Meanwhile her client had questions that I hadn’t thought of, as they were steeped in the commercial interior space. Their jobs varied among purchasing, design and decision-making, so you can just imagine how much I learned, all because I hung back and waited for a major customer to get the tour.

Flexibility in Win/Loss Interviews

In Win/Loss interviews, I like to research who I’ll be speaking to, and usually can find something about them from the sales team and social media, especially on LinkedIn. No matter how much you learn, you need to be flexible as soon as you connect with them on the phone, SKYPE or however you converse. Sometimes you cold call these people, especially in B2C Win/Loss interviews.

In one case, I was trying to reach those who used test and measurement tools. When the gentleman answered his phone I could barely hear him and wondered why he had even bothered. I could hear machinery very close by and asked where he was. “I am a crane operator, and that’s where I am.” I chewed him out for answering his mobile on the job and asked to schedule a time when he would not be operating his crane. We had a great interview during his lunch hour the next day.

In another case, I thought I was going to talk to a user of these test and measurement tools, which was the target of this project. Instead I got through to a person who repaired all the brands of these test and measurement tools. I revised the questions on the spot, and asked him about the repair track record of all the manufacturers’ test and measurement tools. This was one of the most informative interviews we had, since he had about 20 years of experience. Not only did we get the current trend in repair protocol and need, but we also got the history of how it had changed, and his future assessment of the industry.

Competitive Intelligence Collection

In another project, I was researching the glass industry. My client thought I might benefit from listening in on the quarterly earnings call. I thought I might just as well read the report later, and look at the slides. But he insisted that I should listen in. I was so glad I did. When the CEO was asked about the failing glass business, his tone of voice changed to a sad one. Yet he didn’t indicate any desire to sell it. A rational business person would have sold it a few years before I was hired to investigate this company. This made me wonder what emotional tie this CEO might have to the glass business. I found out his dad had bought the business, and that he wanted to keep it going for his dad.

So I told my client I couldn’t predict what would trigger the sale of this business, which was inevitable, but it would be a major event where the CEO would be forced to sell the business. Perhaps it might be a terrible accident in the glass factory. A couple of years later, some stockholders filed to force the CEO to sell this unprofitable business and won. My client was ready to capture this company’s glass business.

So the bottom line is as with many things in life. Do your homework and be prepared. Be flexible and swallow your pride, and let your heart speak when it’s needed. That way when the unexpected happens, you will have an ability to shift gears.

Check out our book, Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want.

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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.

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

Improve your Primary Collection through Relational Voice

Lee Glickstein

Yesterday I was reading Lee Glickstein’s relational presence description, and it spoke to me. In relational voice, you start with deep, relaxed breathing and use your voice to almost do inner calisthenics. As your voice comes out in the exhalation with great pleasure, you free up your brain and allow yourself to relax. Lee discusses this in the context of public speaking, where is the founder of Speaking Circles International.

I was thinking this exercise will strengthen those doing primary research of any type whether it’s cold calling, win loss analysis calls or trade show collection. If you learn to love your voice, and allow yourself those extra seconds to interact with those you are interviewing, you will listen more intently and talk more consciously. This is powerful stuff for those of us who interview people. In those extra seconds, which is such a short time, if you are really grounded and connected with the other person, you can think of additional ways to connect or to simply tweak the next question on your list since you might notice how they don’t like to talk much, so you shorten the question and ask it more softly.

These days the people we interview are so busy that they don’t have time for long interviews, so you need to make every minute count. The same exercise to help you reach your relational voice can help you connect with those you interview more quickly since you put yourself aside in this process, and just concentrate on the other person’s energy. Just imagine how powerful you will be when combining this skill with elicitation/interview preparation.

Check out Lee’s site, and try his exercise to get grounded with your eyes closed before you make those phone calls. I guarantee if you get fully grounded, those calls will go a whole lot better. You will also be more effective on those days when you really don’t feel like making phone calls. Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

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.

12 Tips to Guarantee Your Success in Collecting Intelligence from Sales

Recently I gave a webinar for SCIP chapters in Mercyhurst and Ohio on how to capture competitive intelligence from Sales by using cooperative intelligence skills. I love serving Sales Reps since I can easily translate what I provide into an ROI benefit, namely more sales. Ongoing sales intelligence is the best tactical competitive intelligence, and it’s current.

1. First realize how Sales is motivated: they have a short-term outlook, want to look good, are often in competition with each other, and have a high need for recognition.

2.You need to Give to Sales before they will believe in you. And it better be what they need, not what your corporation wants Sales to have. Likewise if you don’t use what Sales provides, they will stop giving.

3. Gaining cooperation from Sales isn’t tough. It’s in their best interest to collect competitive intelligence to do their job, to win more deals. You just need to convince them that you’re a worthy client.

4. Find out what’s hard for them to get that they value. You have access to so much information. What about those industry analyst or financial analyst reports? How about competitor profiles you’ve developed? They’ll tell you what they need.

5. Make it easy for them to locate what you develop for them. It’s best if you can make it part of a software system that they already use like salesforce.com. Remind them where your nuggets of information reside periodically.

6. Think about ways you can help sales depending on where they are in the sales cycle. What do they already produce that you can build off of?

7. Start slow in Sales and find the right people to service. They can be low in the organization as long as they’ll publicize how great what you provided is. While Sales Reps spend a lot of time out of the office, it’s amazing how connected they can be. As you start producing the right deliverables for Sales, their bosses will find out, and you will be recognized.

8. Insert yourself into Sales events like teleconferences, conferences, webinars or blogs to maintain your visibility.

9. Be easy to find and responsive since many in corporations hide from Sales rather than service them.

10. I enjoy developing win loss analysis programs since I can cooperatively include Sales as I get positioned with their customers and prospects to learn how we can improve win rates, customer service, product features, implementation, tech support, customer testimonials, develop better products and so much more.

11. Involve Sales for Trade Show collection since they’re already at shows with their customers, so put them to work collecting competitive information since most have not a shy bone in their body. They know how to ask the right questions, so you don’t need to train them.

12. A final tip: don’t forget to ask Sales how you’re doing so you continue to deliver the right products to your sales force.

Serve Sales well and you will have job security even in a tough economy since they are the company’s revenue producers!

I have posted the Sales Intelligence presentation in Slideshare.

Questions to Ask Competitive Intelligence Software Providers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what questions would you add to this list?

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