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Basics of Competitive Intelligence Polls and Interviews

Sometimes existing information isn’t enough to provide valuable competitive intelligence or evaluate customer needs and expectations or answer the question of why a competitor has changed course. When neither internal analytics nor external information provides the depth of information you need, it’s time to go directly to the source and start asking questions through polls or interviews.

Here are the three levels of polls or interviews you may want to conduct:

  • Polling or opinion research: When you’re pretty sure that the people you’re asking will give honest answers, a simple poll can provide valuable information.

  • Face-to-face interviews: Face-to-face interviews enable you to pick up on nonverbal messages, which give you a better indication of whether a person is being open and honest. Interviews also give you a chance to ask follow-up questions.

  • Interviews involving projective techniques: Projective techniques are ways of asking questions that neutralize a person’s rational thinking to elicit more honest answers. Instead of asking what a person thinks, the interviewer encourages the person to imagine scenarios or express how he feels about something so he doesn’t feel a need to defend his answers.

Consider hiring an individual or a firm that specializes in analyzing human behavior and opinions to conduct polls or interviews. Why outsource this important task? Three reasons:

  • You probably don’t have the expertise internally.

  • You won’t get honest answers if people being polled know the identity of the consumer of the information.

  • You probably don’t have the resources to perform a poll or conduct interviews in a timely manner.

Polling services

Polling or opinion research often provides valuable insight into understanding unmet customer needs and predicting when changes are likely to become industry standard.

Use polls and opinion research for sampling a large group of people when you’re fairly certain they’ll answer honestly; for example, when you’re asking people about their opinions related to industry trends, consumer preferences, technological concepts, and so on.

Don’t use polling or opinion research for gathering opinions on highly sensitive issues, such as lifestyle choices and political leanings, because people may bend the truth. Instead, use paid interviewers.

Numerous companies provide polling and opinion research services regionally, nationally, and internationally. Here are a few service providers to get you started:

University marketing professors are often good candidates for the job as well.

Professional interviewers

A number of the research firms employ professionals who are qualified to do in-depth interviews. They have special skills and training to look beneath the obvious and interpret nonverbal messages. They see much more than the average person does, because they go beyond what the interviewee is saying to detect what the person truly feels.

A good example of someone who does this well is a law-enforcement professional. Detectives are quick to recognize false statements, disinterest, and anxiety.

Finding the right person can often be difficult. Here are three sources and tips on how you might use each of them to find the right intelligence professional for your project:

  • Langley Intelligence Group Network: This membership-based site produces global intelligence reports for subscribers. The group doesn’t provide you with referrals to members who may have an appropriate intelligence background, but a scan of the board of directors listing may provide the names of some firms with which they’re associated.

  • Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals: SCIP is an organization that has a varied membership. Members have access to numerous resources, and you can generally find the type of intelligence professional you’re looking for among members.

  • Association of Former Intelligence Officers: AFIO produces some very nice intelligence analysis for its members. Membership is fairly restrictive, but the organization does have an employment service where intelligence projects or positions may be listed. The organization has more than 5,000 ex-intelligence professionals (as well as current).

    As with most of these types of organizations, finding resources may involve a lot of digging. The organization does show its board of directors on its website, and you can sometimes find the names of associated intelligence organizations there that provide services to corporate clients.

Retired intelligence professionals (such as ex-CIA analysts) are excellent candidates for conducting interviews. Most of them have decades of experience and numerous global contacts that can help them dig up information. Langley Intelligence group is probably the best place to start your search for former CIA analysts.

Specialists in projective techniques

An obvious way to find out what someone knows or thinks is to ask the person. The problem, though, is that the person you’re asking may not give open and honest answers. One way around that problem is to hire specialists to conduct the interviews for you by using projective techniques.

Projective techniques are designed to elicit subjective responses that reveal both thoughts and feelings. They’re less structured than multiple-choice and true/false questions, giving the interviewee much more freedom in answering questions. In psychology, the best-known projective technique is the Rorschach test.

In CI circles, projective techniques may involve asking the interviewee to complete a sentence or associate feelings with certain brand names. Qualified interrogators know how to phrase questions to elicit more honest answers.

When you’re in the market for someone to conduct interviews at this level, you’re usually looking for a psychotherapist who specializes in human behavior and communication. You may find psychotherapists who advertise these services. In addition, market research and consumer-research companies often employ people who have special training in projective techniques.

If your research involves sensitive issues pertaining to politics, morals, racial attitudes, and so on, the chances of getting politically correct (and inaccurate) answers are very high. Projective techniques improve the accuracy of the information contained in the responses.

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