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Competitive Intelligence: How to Contact Experts for Interviews

Assuming you did your competitive intelligence homework, you should have a fairly comprehensive list of experts who have written articles or been quoted related to your target area of investigation. Based on that list, you’re nearly ready to begin creating your panel of experts.

Before you contact any candidates on your list, though, be prepared to do the following:

  • Pay leading experts at least their hourly rate. Paying double their hourly rate is good practice to ensure that you get the right people and they feel motivated to provide quality input.

  • Inform the experts of how much time you estimate will be involved in this particular project and the logistics of how the interview(s) will be conducted. Coordinate with their schedules.

  • Sign a mutual confidentiality agreement with each expert stating that you won’t reveal the expert by name as a resource and the expert won’t disclose anything about your organization or the nature of the questionnaire. Most experts won’t open up if they think they’ll be identified publicly as the source of whatever they choose to share.

When you have a list of experts in hand, call each expert on your list to find out whether the person is willing and able to participate. This initial conversation shouldn’t take longer than ten minutes. Be sure to get answers to the following questions:

  • Are you willing to be considered as a member of an expert panel in [your field of expertise]? Explain the target area of research and ask the expert to explain whether he believes he’s qualified to participate in this study.

  • Do you believe that your knowledge enables you to provide insight into both present and future issues in [your field of expertise]?

  • Are you willing to be interviewed over the phone or via Skype as part of this project?

  • Does your schedule permit you to be able to spend the time (always by appointment) to complete this project? (Be prepared to delineate the time commitment you’re expecting.)

  • What’s your hourly rate?

Before hanging up, address a few other necessities, including the following:

  • Request the person’s résumé.

  • Get the person’s e-mail address or other contact information.

  • Explain that you’ll send a questionnaire but that you want to follow up with an interview to find out more about the response to each question.

  • Schedule a time for a follow-up call. Set a date far enough in advance for the person to complete the questionnaire and for you to review the responses along with the person’s résumé and other information you have.

  • Finalize your agreement so you at least have a verbal commitment regarding expectations, payment, and terms.

Immediately after you hang up, e-mail the person a summary of the key points you discussed along with your contact information.

As you contact experts, don’t let them in on the names of the other experts you contacted. You usually want to keep everyone’s identity confidential and speak with one person at a time.

Then again, sometimes you may want to engage with several experts at the same time (a panel, which is similar to a focus group). On Skype, for example, you can conduct a group call with up to 24 other people. Videoconferencing works well, because participants don’t feel threatened by the presence of others.

Videoconferencing can lead to the discovery of some really good stuff as participants try to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise to one another.

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