Win Loss: Indecision is Often Stress

Lost maze conceptI have been conducting win loss analysis for 25 years, and have wondered how stress affects decision-making, since it crawls into most aspects of daily life.

I recently discovered Stephen W Martin’s studies on this very topic. In 2012, he interviewed several hundred B to B salespeople about their challenges in winning deals with prospective clients. Their companies ranged from start-ups to billions of dollars with the majority between $50 – $150 million in annual revenue. He has also interviewed thousands of decision-makers in the win loss analysis process.

The top finding from Sales is that their biggest enemy is not the competition: it’s “no decision.” Customers are afraid to make decisions due to the stress of buying. Psychologically, stress shortens attention spans, escalates mental exhaustion, and contributes to poor decision making. This can lead to analysis paralysis. To reduce the fear, uncertainty and doubt in decision making, customers will:

  • List needs in lengthy RFP documents
  • Hire consultants to help them make the right decision
  • Conduct lengthy product evaluations
  • Talk to existing product users to ensure they work as the vendors claim they do

Customers are seldom sure they are purchasing the right product or solution, and there are often naysayers in their organizations who are against moving forward. So customers increasingly don’t make a purchase even after a thorough evaluation. They feel too overwhelmed with information and contradicting evidence to make a decision.

I have paraphrased and embellished on the specific forms of stress Stephen has uncovered in his research that can postpone decision making or lead to indecision.

Budgetary Stress – Is the money available and justified for this purchase? A company’s budgeting process is not only designed to prioritize where money is to be spent but also to remove the fear of spending it.

Evaluation Committee Stress – Finding common agreement for a solution. Whenever a company makes a purchasing decision that involves groups of people, self-interests, politics, and group dynamics will influence the final decision, and can cause it to stagnate.

Vendor Selection Stress – What is the difference among competitors? The difference between most products is often small in that they share the same basic features, functions and benefits, which makes decision making more difficult.

Information Stress – What is Truthful? Most customers have had a negative experience with a salesperson which leads them into the stressful position of separating fact from fiction. Thus salespeople carry the burden of proving they’re telling the truth. Later in the sales cycle, competitors will often sabotage one another and this quarreling can cause customers to postpone or cancel decision-making.

Corporate Stress – What is the best solution for the company? Evaluators want to do what’s in the best interest of their company and to be good corporate citizens. Even after a formal evaluation process, the likelihood that a purchase will not be made jumps tenfold when the recommended solution is not aligned to the company’s goals and direction. This is more often the case with purchases that are instigated by lower level employees.

Peer Level Stress – What will my peers think? Whether from above, below, or the same level in an organization, coworkers continually evaluate the behavior, success, and failures of those in the decision-making process. This exerts pressure on the evaluators to make the right decision and not to make a decision if there isn’t an obvious choice or clear-cut direction.

Individual Stress – Retaining my job. Today, employment is never guaranteed and loyalty frequently goes unrewarded by companies. This leads some prospective buyers to feel continual pressure to put their individual needs before the company’s to keep their job or to help them land another opportunity.

Conclusion: I believe the stresses that employees face in making a wrong decision gives incumbents and big companies with strong brand ID even better odds at winning business. According to Stephen, incumbents have 80% odds of winning the business. This makes customer retention an even more valuable goal for companies.

In the last 10 years, I have lost business increasingly due to being small and having lower brand ID than larger firms even though I have been doing competitive intelligence since 1985, have led initiatives at two Fortune 500 companies, and am widely published. In many cases I feel that decision-makers are too stressed out to change providers or to seriously consider a smaller solution provider. I would love to hear other people’s stories on this.

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Templates for Win Loss Analysis

loss win photoI am now writing my win loss analysis book in earnest, over 2500 words, and adding at least 500 per day although I take Sundays off.

The question I get asked the most often is: “Can you share your win loss templates?”

This is a hard question to answer. While there is some commonality among the questions you want to ask your customers and prospects based on your industry and the things sales, marketing and product developers want to know; you need to use your creative juices. You also want to ask the right questions to answer your goals for conducting win loss interviews and analysis. For example, you might want to learn how your product or service is used, since it might be different from your company’s intention. Product developers will eat this up. Sales people will too if it means they can sell more.

Creativity aside, below is my template to stimulate your line of questioning for win loss interviews.

I break down questions into 4 buckets:

  • Relationship health
  • Company reputation
  • Product/Service attributes
  • Servicing issues

Win Loss Template

I hope this helps you create your win loss interview questions. Stay tuned for more tips on how to set up and execute a win loss program to help retain and grow your business.

In the meantime, feel free to checkout my Slideshare on “The Why, What and How of Win Loss Analysis.”

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

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20 Reasons to Do Win Loss Analysis

loss win photoI have some exciting news to share. I am writing a book on how to develop a win/loss program, even if you only do it for one quarter. I had thought that you would only gain benefit if you conducted these interviews quarterly, but I found out that you can learn so much, even from 20-25 interviews.

I hope to share this skill so small and mid-size companies can take advantage of what they can learn from more in-depth interviews with customers and prospects a couple of months after the sales event. I have been doing win loss interviews and analysis since the late 1980s and I keep coming back to it, since my customers learn more from these interviews than any other tactical analytic technique, as long as they take corrective action from the findings.

Why do you care about doing win/loss interviews?

  1. You learn things that your customers and prospects don’t want to tell Sales
  2. You learn things that your customers and prospects do tell Sales, but Sales doesn’t tell you
  3. You learn why customers really chose your solution
  4. You learn why prospects chose another solution provider
  5. You learn why undecided customers aren’t upgrading their solution
  6. You learn what your company is doing well
  7. You learn where your company can make improvements
  8. You learn what the competition does well
  9. You learn where they can make improvements
  10. You learn that the competition doesn’t always deliver on what they promise
  11. You learn that your company doesn’t always deliver on what your sales force promises
  12. You learn about good customer testimonials
  13. You learn about bad customer testimonials
  14. You learn how customer testimonials affect the sale
  15. You learn about shortcomings in the marketplace
  16. You learn about new technology being promised
  17. You learn how customers and non-customers perceive your selling process from start to finish
  18. From your wins, you learn how well implementation, training and customer service is perceived
  19. From your losses, you learn how well the competition’s implementation, training and customer service is perceived
  20. You learn about other marketing factors that affect customer perception: your trade show booth, industry write-ups, your advertising, etc.

Given all these benefits, I don’t understand why more companies don’t conduct win loss interviews and the resulting analysis. It’s the most cost effective form of research I know of, and talk about real-time intelligence. You gain so much more insight from a conversation than from conducting on-line surveys. I wish companies did fewer on-line surveys, since most of them seem meaningless. How can I assess good customer service from a grocery store cashier or retail cashier, who just rings up my sale?

You can gain great intelligence from talking to your customers, and win loss interviews are another marketing touch point if they are properly positioned as learning how you can improve your relationship with customers and prospects.

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

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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.

Competitive Intelligence Software Integrated into Salesforce.com

Compelligence recently introcompelligenceuced the Compelligence App which is competitive and market intelligence software that integrates seamlessly within Salesforce.com. It builds off the strengths of Salesforce.com in that it helps sales close more deals since it extends the reach of Salesforce.com to include data from the competitive marketplace.  Armed with this information at their fingertips, account reps have even more time to sell. Typically, sales people and others populate the fields at various points in the sales cycle, most notably at the conclusion of the sale in conjunction with reporting results in the Salesforce.com world. This information is shared with the sales force, but can also arm marketing and competitive intelligence personnel with current information about customers, competitors, suppliers and partners as well as market trends. The Compelligence solution enables sales teams to win competitive deals faster by providing them with on-demand, customized sales strategies that are tailored to each deal.

The Compelligence App is the only app on the market that can provide sales people with customized competitive sales strategies directly within Salesforce.com.  By simply specifying the products or services that a customer is considering, the sales person is given guidance that includes:

  • Detailed competitive product or service comparisons
  • Highlighted strengths and weaknesses
  • Competitive sales positioning guidance
  • Access to relevant content and news

When I interviewed Mitch Emerson, Compelligence President and Co-Founder, he said, “We really believe our strongest unique capability is Dynamic Comparison, where we can determine relative strengths/weaknesses between sets of specified products or between products and the rest of the industry in general.  We are building this into a feature that will allow the system to create customized silver bullet lists for each sale.” Anyone who has sold or supported sales knows that silver bullets are what sales people crave, and they do help them close deals.

Mitch Emerson

Mitch Emerson

When I first read about this Compelligence App I thought, “Finally, a nice place to park the results of win loss interviews and the analysis in a place where sales, marketing and product developers can access it right in salesforce.com, a software they already know and use.” My customers have been screaming for this capability. Compelligence captures so much more, such as data from suppliers, partners and how the various players are positioning themselves in the competitive marketplace. Not only will Sales win more deals and improve retention rates with existing customers: product developers, marketing and competitive intelligence people will be armed with a real-time flow of data from customers and sales people that previously was not shared dynamically at best, and in many cases not shared at all.

The Compelligence solution is being used at Hill-Rom, a leading worldwide manufacturer and provider of medical technologies and related services for the health care industry. Another customer is electronics manufacturer, Jabil. The product is in beta trial at a major financial services company as well.

Compelligence’s CI software is available as through the Salesforce1 App exchange. You can walk through the demo and take it for a test drive.

Put your request here for a more detailed walk through with the Compelligence team. Mitch Emerson or one of his staff will provide the demo and answer your questions right on the spot.

Why I like Company Transparency in Win Loss Interviews

Transparency

Transparency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Steps to Prepare for a Choice Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Why, What & How of Win/Loss Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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.

Phone Interviewer soloHow 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!

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