7 Top Competitive Intelligence Blogs Read in 2016

competitive intelligenceFour of the top 7 competitive intelligence blogs were written in 2009. 2 were competitive intelligence analytic tools, which the other 2 were relationship skills: emotional intelligence; and marketing, R&D and product development relationships. These topics are timeless.

Here they are in order of popularity:

1. Templates for Win/Loss Analysis – The Win Loss request I get asked the most often is, “Can you share your Win Loss templates?” I break down Win Loss analysis questions into 4 buckets: relationship health, company reputation, product/service attributes, and servicing issues.

2. How a Good Relationship between Marketing and R&D Improves Product Development – When both marketing and R&D focus on understanding and acting on customer needs, it makes their jobs easier and their results more productive. This is a powerful competitive weapon since this is not the case at many companies. Perhaps R&D can be masters of the Art of Possibility while Marketing can master the Art of the Possible – that is what your customers want and are willing to pay for.

3. Sharpen Your Emotional Intelligence Skills – In competitive intelligence, strong emotional skills are essential since we’re often delivering bad news to management or threats to the business, which causes stress since they don’t want to hear it, even if it is the truth. Be sensitive as to how management will react to our news and analysis, and don’t spring surprises. What’s neat about EQ versus IQ, is that we can learn and be coached to improve our EQ skills.

4. How You Can Become a Conversation Rockstar – So much about life revolves around effective communication. As a primary researcher, I look for ways to motivate people to share. You need to understand what makes them comfortable to share with you. One source I read in 2016 is Traci Brown’s book, Persuasion Point: Body Language and Speech for Influence. While the book focuses on closing sales, the same tactics will work to promote sharing when conducting competitive intelligence collection or Win Loss interviews.

5. 7 Timeless Competitive Intelligence Tips – Here are a few: Company insularity is not a competitive advantage. Don’t forget that your employees are smart. What ever happened to good old fashioned customer service? Let employees create and have access to customer, sales and market intelligence.

6. Visualize Your Competitiors on a Radar Screen Competitor Map, a Great Competitive Intelligence Tool – The Radar screen is a totally visual tool which fits on one page for easy digestion. It can be used both strategically and tactically, and is a great way to visualize how competitors are positioned relative to your company and each other. The uses for the Radar Screen are endless. It can be divided into 4 quadrants which might depict competitors by 4 separate business units, 4 geographies, or 4 different reasons why customers buy. Read more about the Radar Screen in Adrian Slywotsky’s book, Value Migration: How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition 

7. BCG Matrix Study: A Visual Strategic Competitive Intelligence Tool: Explanation and Case Study – Use the BCG Matrix to visually depict a share of market snap shot among competitors.

See you in 2017.

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Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want: Q and A Part II

Earlier this year, I was honored to give a Win Loss analysis webinar, as part of the competitive intelligence #IntelCollab series facilitated by Craig Fleisher, Chief Learning Officer at Aurora WDC.

You can view the slides and listen to the webinar entitled: Win/Loss Analysis Captures and Keeps New Business. You will get a preview of my recently published book, Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want.

win/loss analysisSince people often disconnect for Q&A, I am including the second group of them here. (The first Q & A)

What percent of Win Loss analysis interviews are blind versus not-blind? First let me explain the question. A blind interview means that the interviewer does not identify the company who hired him or her to conduct the Win Loss interviews. Not-blind Win Loss interviews mean that the interviewer discloses the name of the company who is conducting (or the recipient of, if outsourced) the interviews.

I suspect that most B2B Win Loss interviews are not blind as it is more professional to be upfront about the company who wants the information. It is another touch-point with your customer or potential customer, in the case of losses. I have found that for every 2o Win Loss interviews I conduct, I find one lead for my client’s sales reps. This wouldn’t happen were it a blind interview.

Trust needs to be earned when interviews are blind. You need to offer those you interview something in exchange for not disclosing the company’s identity. This is not necessary when you are open about the hiring company. You also get on the same page sooner when you share the company’s identity. When you don’t, those you interview will be trying to guess who hired you to conduct the interview. This is just human nature. I think it’s playing games not to disclose the hiring company when I conduct B2B Win Loss interviews, which is what most of them are.

That said, there are companies who specialize in conducting Win Loss interviews that are blind. I suspect they are a minority. I am not one of them.

Do you have a horror story to share about a Win Loss interview that went badly? Do you have tips on how to deal with this? The worst thing that will happen is they will hang up on you, although I have never had that happen. These are warm calls, so there is a low risk that things will go wrong. Win Loss interviews are not cold calls, where the person has no idea who you are, when you’ll be calling or what you’ll be calling about.

In Win/Loss interviews, you have a warm introduction to the person you’ll be interviewing either directly from Sales or an introductory email that explains why you want to connect with them, giving them some good reasons why they would want to talk with you. The closest thing to disappointment is that more people don’t agree to Win Loss interviews or they forget about our scheduled interview time.

My biggest disappointment has come from a company who hired me to conduct Win Loss analysis. When I called the Sales person to find out more about their account before calling their customer, and I realized that their sales management hadn’t told them word one about this Win Loss process. They had no idea what it was, that management had agreed to this process, what was in it for them, and that they were to cooperate with me.

You mentioned that you use a decision tree approach to developing the Win Loss questions. How do you prepare them? Do you share with the sales force to validate it? I don’t share my decision tree with my clients. They don’t care to see this level of detail. They just want results.

I develop the decision tree approach especially around areas where I need to learn more before I conduct the Win Loss interviews. Examples might be technology or a manufacturing process. I would need to learn all the innuendos of the technology that might impact a decision to buy the customer’s product. I learn enough about the technology to probe deeper and deeper depending on how the customer might answer the questions. For example, I might learn all the technical features, training on how to use it, and the strengths and weaknesses the marketplace perceives about this company’s technology.

The decision-tree is thinking and plotting all the different ways that a customer could possibly answer my questions, and what questions I might pose depending on how they answer. Not only does this process give me ammunition to probe more deeply. There are fewer surprises in these interviews since I have done my homework. They run more smoothly.

Another example is decision-making criteria. It could be based on price, features, customer service, ease of use, compatibility with the customer’s other technology, company reputation/longevity, account rep, professionalism, or what others are saying about the company (industry consultants, other customers, Wall Street). Usually there are several factors at play, and if you do your homework, you’ll find out which are the most important ones and why.

To learn more about how to conduct your company’s Win Loss analysis, check out my book: Win/Loss Analysis: How to Capture and Keep the Business You Want.

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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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Reflecting on Present Moments with Amy Cuddy

amy cuddyEarly this week Amy Cuddy presented her book, Presence, at our Denver independent bookstore, Tattered Cover.  Here are some of my favorite nuggets from Presence, and how they relate to primary research and Win/Loss analysis interviewing.

Presence has a number of definitions in Amy’s book.

“Removing judgment, walls, and masks so as to create a true and deep connection with people and experiences.” Pam, Washington State

“Being myself and keeping confident, whatever happens.” Abdelghani, Morocco

“Confidence without arrogance.” Rohan, Australia

“When all your senses agree on one thing at the same time.” Majiid, United Arab Emirates

So let’s interpret presence in primary research—such as Win/Loss interviews—where you had better be present. Not only do you need to be prepared with the questions you want answered, you need to be you: a confident interviewer, who expects the other person to be responsive, while being polite and not arrogant. You need to listen with all your senses.

This is challenging, as primary research is often done over the telephone so there is no body language to read. But you do have words, intonation, pauses, changes of tone, breathing, and facial expressions that you can sense like a smile or a frown as people talk. You also have your intuition to tap into.

William (Bill) Ury, world famous negotiator, cofounder of Harvard ‘s Program on Negotiation, and author of the decades old acclaimed book, Getting to Yes, offers great advice.

“When you listen to someone, it’s the most profound act of human respect.” Bill Ury.

Marianne Williamson adds to this, “As we let our own light shine, we … give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Why is it so hard to be quiet and listen? When we meet someone for the first time, we fear we won’t be taken seriously. So we talk first. We want to show what we know, what we think and what we have accomplished. Talking first says I know better than you. I am smarter than you. I should speak while you listen.

When I let you talk first, who knows what you’ll say? I am giving up control of the situation, and where will that leave me?

Listening is difficult at times and the eagerness to reach a quick solution can take over, when in negotiations like Bill Ury. Bill says look for the present moment. In most situations, there is an opening if we are attentive enough to see or hear it. It is all too easy to miss since we may not be paying full attention. It is easy to be distracted thinking about some past event or worrying about a future one. Yet it is only in the present moment that we can change the direction of a conversation (towards agreement…Bill Ury).

This is also true in Win/Loss interviews. You need to be sensitive as to what the interviewee knows and what they don’t know. While your company wants answers to 10 questions, for example, the interviewee may only be knowledgeable and willing to share on 5 of them, and two of them in great depth. As the interviewer you need to be present to pick up on the cues to probe more deeply, and to pass over quickly those questions that the interviewee doesn’t know the answer to or won’t share.

Real listening is crucial to presence. But it can’t happen unless you have a real desire to understand what you’re hearing. This means you have to suspend judgement, even if you’re bored, scared, anxious, impatient, frustrated or feeling threatened. Give the other person the space and safety to be honest. You can’t respond defensively when you’re truly listening. This also means you need to overcome the fear of silence as you let the other person speak their mind.

Remaining silent is one of the main behaviors of a good interviewer. You want the interviewee—in the case of Win/Loss—the customer or former prospect to do the talking. They need to feel comfortable when you are silent that you are giving them time to think, and are listening to what they’re saying. That’s why mirroring or a simple, “uh huh” encourages the interviewee to continue sharing.

By listening, which is viewed by many as relinquishing power, you become more powerful. When you stop talking and listen, you can expect:

  • People will trust you.
  • They will feed you useful information.

That’s what you are looking for in a Win/Loss interviewer, that they will build trust almost instantly so the customer or former prospect will share how they went about making their buying decision, and for example, what variables would have changed their buying decision, if any.

When people feel heard, they are more willing to listen.

You value this as an interviewer as well since you want people to answer your questions honestly. Once they feel heard, they will listen more closely as you probe more deeply into some of the issues where you sense they know more.

Meanwhile keep in mind that listening to another person does not guarantee a favorable outcome every time.  Part of presence is accepting the possibility of disappointment, and moving on.

In Win/Loss interviews, not everyone is going to give you great information. In fact, some won’t agree to be interviewed. In my experience, everyone you interview shares some valuable information. However, about a third of them share the most insightful information. In primary research, we often cold call, so we experience even more disappointment when people are unresponsive and/or don’t take our calls. It’s good to keep in mind that you can always find another person who has the knowledge and willingness to help you. You just need to be persistent.

I love this from Maya Angelou:

“Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.”

Presence bookOh yes, I recommend you buy a copy of Presence.

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

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Win/Loss Analysis: Create a Value Proposition that Gets YES for the Interview

we build relationships

we build relationships

One of the most common questions I am asked in the Win/Loss analysis process is, “How do we create a value proposition to get our customers or non-customers to participate in a Win/loss conversation?” Include the value proposition as to why you are reaching out to interview each customer and prospect. The value proposition will vary depending whether the company chose your product or a competitor’s.

Interviewers seems to want to have a one size fits all value proposition. That’s not how it works: this is an individual you want to connect with. How would you like to be presented with a one-size fits all value proposition if the roles were reversed? It might feel phony, and you sure won’t feel very important since you can sense a generic value proposition.

That said you can lead in with a generic value proposition such as the following:

  • We want to improve how we do business with our customers.
  • Our customers are our best source of intelligence. We continually strive to improve our sales, marketing and products through your feedback.
  • Win/Loss gives you an opportunity for a frank discussion about how we can improve our relationship with you and your company.

Stuck for a more tailored value proposition, think, “What’s in it for them to give me their time?”

I think doing a little research on each person you’ll call is a great way to improve connectivity, especially if Sales is not introducing you to their customers/non-customers. I look on social media.  Since most Win/Loss interviews are B2B, most people are on the more common social media outlets such as LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. You might look at more industry-specific social media groups, if that makes sense. Perhaps they write a blog.

If their social media presence is weak, look at their company website to see if you can work an angle of familiarity into your introduction. If you can add just one tidbit of interest in your introduction, you will improve your odds at getting a YES for the conversation with that customer.

Perhaps you went to the same school, worked in the same industry, or have a common hobby. Comment on an insightful article or blog they wrote, or talk about something remarkable their company does that you admire.

Good luck with you Win/Loss analysis program.

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

For a list of common questions about Win/Loss Analysis check out: Win/Loss Analysis Q&A from July SCIP Webinar.

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Win Loss Interviews: Compensation and Recording

Win Lose or Draw

Win Lose or Draw

As many of you know, I am writing, Win, Lose or Draw, a book on how to set up a world class win loss program.

 

 

 

 

In this book I am sharing some best practices to capture customer intelligence through win loss interviews:

  • The Steps to Take to Establish a Sustainable Win Loss Program
  • How to Include Sales People in Your Win Loss Process
  • Determining Which Customers and Prospects to Target
  • The Value of Interviewing Wins AND Losses
  • How Your Company Culture Will Impact the Execution of Win Loss
  • What to Look for if You Outsource Win Loss Interviews and / or the Analysis
  • What You Should Cover in a Win Loss Interview
  • How to Conduct a Win Loss Interview to Maximize Sharing
  • Tips on How to Structure Win Loss Analysis

What are your best practices in there two areas:

  • Monetary Compensation to those you interview for a win or loss
  • Recording Win Loss Interviews

#1 Do you compensate the customers and prospects you interview?

If you compensate, has this improved your success at getting people to agree to be interviewed?

If you compensate, what do you think is a competitive rate per interview?

Which industries are you expected to compensate, such as doctors?

Where had you better not compensate, such as government employees?

 #2 How do you feel about recording interviews?

If you record interviews, do you transcribe them?

What software do you use?

Do you use the transcripts for data mining?

I have mixed emotions and experience in both of these areas. I tend to get a pretty good interviewing rate without compensation, but I haven’t queried doctors. I always have a good value proposition, and have an organized process which is more apt to lead to YES for the interview.

Win loss is a good use of a customer’s or prospect’s time, since it gives them an opportunity to tell you what they do and don’t like about doing business with you and the competition—after the pressure of the decision to buy has been made. Yet I am realistic in that people’s schedules are so filled these days that I am competing for their time, so sweetening the deal with a monetary reward will encourage them to find the time.

I feel kind of like a spy when I record conversations. Call me old fashioned. I have such an established shorthand for note taking that I don’t miss much, and have no problem asking them to clarify or I repeat what I thought I heard them say to slow them down a bit. I don’t mind getting back with a question after the interview since I always have their email. I always provide interview summaries, which can be data mined. My clients are more apt to read the summaries since they are a quick read compared to transcripts.

While Win Loss is a relationship business, like all business processes, it continues to evolve. With the advent of big data, some companies include win loss transcripts in their big data to more scientifically uncover trends, for example.

If you’re uncomfortable sharing your best practices on social media or my blog, please email me at ellen at thebisource.com or send me a private message on LinkedIn or Twitter.  Thanks so much. I am closing in on my rough draft for the book. It feels good to get this far.

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How Culture Affects the Win Loss Process

Culture in Win LossI continue to write my Guide to Win Loss Analysis book, which is the best of source of customer intelligence I know of. I still need to find a better title: any ideas?

I have had the pleasure of interviewing two impressive Directors of Win Loss programs. Both work for large companies that have done win loss analysis for a long while. Both emphasized the importance of company culture in how they set up their win loss programs; how they conduct win loss interviews—both internally and with customers—and how they write up the win loss analysis.

Culture at a Telecommunications Company

At a large telecommunications firm, the win loss team and sales people work cooperatively. At the outset, the win loss team worked with the various sales organizations and other key stakeholders, such as pricing and product groups, to develop an exhaustive set of testable hypotheses regarding root causes of sales successes and failures. This process had the benefits of buy-in from Sales and other key stakeholders as well as a higher quality analysis.

This telecommunication firm holds a full blown 360 internal company debrief before conducting a win loss interview with the customer or prospect. The meeting is not recorded so people share freely. Lessons learned along the way are noted as well as why those at the meeting think they won or lost the deal.

After the internal company debrief, the win loss person accompanies the sales person to conduct the win loss interview. The win loss team does not want to interfere with the rapport that sales people have developed with the customer. Thus the sales person is a member of the win loss interviewing team.

The win loss process is not a Sales witch hunt. Rather it is more holistic:

  • Why did we win or lose the bid?
  • What are the gaps in the RFP (request for proposal)?

The aim is not to assess or critique the performance of Sales outside of factual relationship questions that can be tied to a win or a loss:

  • Frequency of sales visits
  • Executive alignment from the telecommunications company with the client company’s C-levels

This cooperation permeates the win loss report. The win loss team is empathetic and sensitive to company politics and face saving in their reports on losses. The recommendations you make at the conclusion of the win loss report can impact people’s jobs. In this vein, the win loss team interviews those who are criticized during a loss interview to get their side of the story before publishing the quarterly win loss report.

Culture at a Big Four Firm

Win Loss is particularly sensitive since consulting firms only provide services. Thus there is no product to assess like there is at the telecommunications firm, so it’s entirely subjective. It’s all about the people: their skills, expertise, presentation, communication and project management. Professional services work tends to be long term, and the projects major, so wins and losses have the potential to make or break a career.

The lead sales person is an Account Partner, which adds another level of politics to the win loss process. Thus the Win Loss Director realized he needed to be collaborative with Account Partners to gain access to their accounts. Being a Director rather than a Manager gives him credibility with his company’s Account Partners and their senior level clients.

Every win loss interview is a sales job in this culture, so the Win Loss Director reduces the politics around which clients to query. He will ask the Account Partner if he can conduct a win loss interview with his client, just after the Account Partner has pitched the sale. Since this request is put forth before knowing how the deal with close, win loss is seen as less punitive.

Due to the company culture and the high stakes of most sales, the Win Loss Director assures the Account Partners, while letting them know he needs their help to be positioned for win loss interviews with their clients:

  • I am an internal third party, but I’m outside of Sales. I need you Mr./Ms. Account Partner to gain entrée to your client
  • Remember we work for the same firm so we have consistent client service standards
  • The first person I will get back to is you, Mr./Ms. Account Partner. At a minimum, I will go to you first with sensitive information so you will not be blind-sided
  • If I find damaging information, I will act with discretion, consideration, and a sense of partnership. We use what we uncover in win loss interviews as lessons learned

Recording Win loss Interviews

The culture around recording is different between the telecommunications company and this big four firm. At the big four firm, the Win Loss Director records every conversation, and asks for permission beforehand. This process gives internal clients assurance that the quoted client verbatim statements are accurate. This also gives the Win Loss Director the ability to pull out the conversation that led up to the verbatim. The report makes a great impact especially from direct client quotes which add credibility and authority to the win loss analysis. Since their conversation is being recorded, the client being interviewed feels important. They know that their feedback is appreciated and that they will not be misunderstood.

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