This is our fourth blog post in JPK Group’s CI Experts series. The following is an interview with CI consultant and win/loss expert Richard Case. Richard is Principal of PSP Enterprises, and will be speaking at the upcoming JPK Group Competitive Intelligence Intensive 2018 in March.
Conducting the interview is Alok Vasudeva of The Marketer’s Continuum.
AV: How did you start your career and, specifically, how about the CI function?
RC: Right out of college, I went to work for Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) as a Software Specialist. I helped to sell their computers and implement software projects as well. I was then promoted to corporate Competitive Analyst to compete directly against IBM, doing this for many years. Subsequently, I was transferred to DEC’s sales organization in order to obtain direct selling experience, and soon became a Sales Unit Manager. A Vice President from Digital called me up one day requesting I return back to corporate headquarters to manage DEC’s Competitive Intelligence Group, because no one could do CI like I could. I was put into a position to train many others, a whole big new team of CIs composed of former VPs from competitors.
During my tenure as Competitive Intelligence Group Manager, I hired an upstart industry analyst firm named Gartner Group, and was one of their first customers. Remember, it was the 1980s.
In 1991, after being two decades on the vendor side, I was recruited to work for Gartner as the Vice President of Win/Loss. We designed and subsequently obtained a patent on our work in analyzing complex decisions.
In 1998, I left Gartner because of their insistence that I use low-level interviewers for our win/loss interviews, while still charging an outrageous amount for that service. After reviewing their work, I realized that the low-leveI interviewers were just not getting the required information. They lacked the technology and business context in order to be successful. I went to management and said, “We need to use high-level analysts to do the actual interviewing or we will not get the level of quality required for effective interviews.” The response was to the effect of, “So long as you charge four times as much!”
Disenchanted and believing I could build a company that offered the highest level interviews and analysis at a fraction of the cost Gartner would charge, I founded PSP (Peer Survey Professionals) Enterprises. My mantra is VP-level interviewers talking with VP-level respondents.
AV: Was your route to competitive intelligence a normal one? What does the typical route look like?
RC: Absolutely not! Software consulting to competitive intelligence to sales, and then back to competitive intelligence? However, this path did prepare me to look at both the technical and business reasons people make decisions. I also learned to give presentations to the highest-level management, including CxO and their external Board of Directors.
I believe the more common path to competitive intelligence is through product marketing or technical sales.
AV: Is technology expertise important in a CI function?
RC: Yes and no. Yes, in that CI needs to understand the technical domain area the customer bases their decision on. All of our questionnaires are custom to that client’s market. And no, I do not believe a CI analyst has to be a technical guru in the field and understand every bit and byte. Many times, when I am interviewing respondents, if they say some technical detail I do not know, I will ask them to explain it to me. It is far better to ask that question than to bull your way through the subject. You will just appear stupid.
I believe it is far more important for the interviewer to understand the detailed business reasons an executive has in purchasing in this area. Some of those you interview will speak technobabble and you need to be able to hold your own with them, but it is far more important to communicate well with an executive.
AV: Give me examples of competitive intelligence that you deliver and what CI metrics do you look at?
RC: My company specializes exclusively in win/loss customer interviews and analysis. Our clients provide us with the names of decision makers in recent deals where the client either won or lost the deal. My day is spent in scheduled interviews one after the other. We also do these interviews anywhere in the world, and in any language (using local language experts).
Once we have a reasonable number of interviews collected, we have a patented deep analysis system that brings out the findings from the interviews and gives a 30,000-foot executive view of the competition. Moreover, we take the next step to formulate concrete ACTIONS that the company can take to improve their win rate. By repeating this process quarter-by-quarter, we can monitor the specific impact of our recommendations.
Win/loss has the ability to impact every single function in the company. From product development to product marketing to technical support to professional services to sales to pricing to management strategic decisions to everything else. And the input from the customer interviews feed directly into effective sales battle cards to help win.
In addition, my company also offers reference interviewing: either for a competitor’s negative references or internal references as well. Negative references are a powerful sales tool. Internal references, especially for customers who rate you very low on customer satisfaction can turn problem customers into advocates. Lastly, we can debrief sales reps to get their viewpoint on what happened in the deal.
AV: What departments do you interface with?
RC: We generally work with product marketing, the CI department, or we are sponsored by executive management who has had direct experience with our program at their previous companies.
We must interface directly with the sales organization to receive customer decision maker contact information; this is usually not found in the company’s CRM system. It’s the sales people and their management who most value our verbatim transcripts, as they provide great input in the account planning process.
AV: What’s the difference between a CI practitioner and a CI consultant?
RC: Win/loss interviewing is extremely time consuming. Our clients confess that it would have cost much more to have internal resources deployed to do non-blind interviews compared with the costs associated with us conducting the blind interviews. Someone with another job focus will not take the time required nor be able to conduct the interview without introducing bias.
It’s very important, in some cases, to do blind respondent interviews where they do not know who you are working for. That prevents any bias in the interview. If the person knows they are talking to a specific company, they will slant what they say to that company. Also, blind interviews are an ethical research practice. We also do non-blind interviews, but only where it makes sense. All our interviews are recorded with the respondent’s permission, and full verbatim transcripts are provided. Summaries are NEVER complete enough.
We prefer blind interviews even though they are harder to find people willing to do such an interview. (My Gartner credentials do help in breaking down this resistance). However, many of our clients choose the combination of blind interviews for losses and non-blind for wins. Blind interviews also have the advantage of avoiding internal management rejection due to the bias inherent in a non-blind interview. The internal executive can argue the customer slanted what they said due to knowing who they were being interviewed for. Blind interviews avoid this rejection.
If you are an in-house CI practitioner, you cannot ethically conduct blind interviews per full disclosure rules, according to the SCIP guidelines, since you must reveal the company you are working for. Only a third-party, external interviewer can act as a buffer and mask the client, in a blind interview.
One more comment about the advantage of using an external company to do win/loss customer interviewing is that, in the executive presentation, we can say things, sometimes very negative things, that higher management needs to hear and that an internal CI person cannot deliver without fear of losing his/her job.
AV: What kind of questions are you asking?
RC: Our interviews are structured in four parts:
First: We ask what the company was trying to accomplish in doing this purchase at all, how did they go about making the decision? Did they have any prior experience? Did they work directly with the vendors and their sales teams or via resellers or both? When did they start looking at the vendors? When did they make the decision or when will they make it if they have not yet decided? What was the role of the respondent in making this decision?
Second: We ask what was the criteria they used to select between the combatants. What really stands out that was different about the winner? Was there any criteria where the winner did not exceed the losers? We ask the respondent the relative importance of their criteria.
Third: We ask the respondent to rate each and every finalist competitor they evaluated. And when the ratings are different, we ask WHY? Why did you rate company A (the winner) a nine and company B (our client) a six? We ask them to justify their scores. Here is where we get the detail needed to recommend concrete ACTIONS for improvement for our clients.
Fourth: The final exit questions have to do with what advice would the customer give to the highest level of vendor management to improve. What happened during the implementation phase after the sale? And any other last minute interesting custom questions our clients want asked.
AV: What form of primary research do you specialize in? Telephone, trade shows, focus groups, etc.?
RC: Telephone or teleconference. Our interviews are very much like one-on-one focus groups, except the discussion is not pushed in any specific direction due to the loudest person in the room. Most of our work is one-on-one interviews.
AV: What forms of analysis do you have experience with?
RC: The mathematical algorithm underlying our analysis is complex and based on a patent. It generates customized charts to show the results in an executive, understandable format.
Wizard chart: We have a custom graphic called a ‘Wizard’ chart which shows in the upper right corner the key reasons for winning and in the upper left corner the key reasons for losing. It’s color-coded to represent statistical confidence in the results. The ‘Wizard’ chart is similar to a 2D/3D Excel bubble chart. The ‘Wizard’ chart presentation is type of a SWOT chart.
Executive Wizard chart: This is the same information as the ‘Wizard’ chart, except we limit it to the top 10 or 12 criteria, and it’d in the form of horizontal bars with the percentage of the reasons for winning or losing. Executives prefer the horizontal bar chart format over the bubble chart format because percentages are hard-hitting, help focus the discussion, and are actionable.
Dashboard chart: We reduce the ‘Wizard’ information into two columns: wins and losses. We then align the columns to look for patterns. The ‘Dashboard’ is a type of Heat Map or Harvey Balls chart, but it’s a custom programmed graphic.
BattlePlan chart: Our final chart takes the results of the ‘Wizard’ and subtracts the losses from the win percentages to get to net customer opinion. The resulting horizonal bars are rank ordered from widest at the top to narrowest at the bottom. The ‘BattlePlan’ provides a prescribed ACTION plan.
Customer Comments: The ‘Wizard,’ ‘Dashboard,’ and ‘BattlePlan’ charts highlight the criteria used by customers to make decisions. We then sort all the thousands of key customer comments by the order represented in the ‘BattlePlan’ to formulate and justify our recommendations.
Finally, we provide our clients with an Excel spreadsheet. All ‘Customer Comments’ on any subject are searchable. These comments are powerful change justifications in presentations to management, the salesforce, or even to customers.
AV: What tools do you use for CI?
We use two telephone recorders to record all calls. Since we transcribe all interviews, we also use the SCRIBE.com call recording feature. Therefore, we have three audio copies of the actual interview. We are somewhat paranoid about losing any recording since it’s so hard to actually get people on the phone.
We use custom programming to create our patented graphics. And, of course, we use Google, competitor websites, Gartner, and other market reports to study the market and provide context.
AV: Give me examples of hard and soft skills required for your job?
RC: The primary hard skill is context. In my case, that’s 40+ years working in high-tech.
The soft skills, or really the art in this, is being a very good listener, which is hard to do well. Also, to proactively respond to what’s being said and, if need be, probe deeper. Finally, you need to be able to clearly articulate, in the written and spoken word, your findings in language normal mortals, such as executives, can understand.
AV: What type of CI ethics do you adhere to?
RC: My company adheres to the SCIP Code of Ethics.
Richard Case – Principal of PSP Enterprises.
Richard Case is “Mr. Win/Loss”. He and his partners have conducted Win/Loss for many companies such as IBM, Oracle, EMC, VMware, NetApp, CyberArk, McAfee, TIBCO, CA, and many others. Richard is an expert in win/loss and brings more than 40 years of IT industry experience to his craft.
Alok Vasudeva – Principal and Founder at The Marketer’s Continuum
As principal and founder of marketing consultancy, The Marketer’s Continuum, Alok blends big company processes with the agility and frugality of a startup.
A Silicon Valley native with an extensive history as a B2B marketing professional, Alok has held roles and responsibilities focused on product, content, and corporate marketing. His titles include director of marketing, product marketing manager, product manager, marketing programs manager, marketing manager, and industry analyst.