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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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Creative Librarians in Competitive Intelligence: SLA 2009

I taught two Click University competitive intelligence certificate programs at SLA 2009: intermediate and management CI analytical tools and techniques. My students had a cooperative spirit, great curiosity and a strong desire to learn. This is my favorite kind of student.

One student group devised a creative use of the Radar Screen 360 degree analytical tool. I learned about this tool through Adrian Slywotsky’s Value Migration book, where competitors are placed around a dart board in accordance with how competitive they are relative to your company. Your company is the bull’s eye and your key competitors are placed in the inner rings of the dartboard, where as outliers or potential competitors might be placed towards the outer rings and even outside the entire dartboard.

We were analyzing an executive in the hotel industry, in an attempt to predict what his next move might be. Would he buy the hotel next door or not? The case told us his life story, including his personality all the way from his childhood to the present as a middle aged man. We were provided with his history of buying and managing hotels, including his keen ability as a financial manager, his tendency to micromanage, his habit of reinvesting earnings back into the business, and his drive to grow and take risk in the entrepreneurial spirit.  The first step this team took was to use the Radar Screen to show us how this executive perceived his hotel business relative to the competition.


They broke the radar screen into quadrants which depicted customer service, attention to detail, financial stability, and risk taker/entrepreneur. What a brilliant use of the Radar Screen as a psychological tool! They concluded he was an INTJ on the Myers Brigg Scale. He was extremely well organized, independent and a classic entrepreneur who experienced growth through risk taking, by extending himself to buy or rebuild hotels. From this analysis we could see that he had a robust ego and that he thought he did everything well, if not better than the competition. The hotel group’s financial results underscored that he was a savvy, smart businessman.

From this analysis we could study the executive’s decision-making patterns to date, and figure that as an entrepreneur with no hobbies, he was likely to continue his habit of extending himself financially and buying the hotel next door. He didn’t know how to operate any other way: there was nothing that seemed to provide enough impetus in his life to change this behavior.

This team was right: the executive did buy the hotel next door even though it meant extending his and his wife’s work life by several more years. He didn’t know how to stop this cycle, and perhaps wasn’t ready to make changes towards retirement at age 49, while his wife had quit her law practice in a step towards retirement.

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