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How To Master a Conversation Aimed to Extract Competitive Intelligence

As an analyst or a marketer, there are times when you meet an executive who might be a great source of intelligence about your competitors or customers. Whether it’s at an industry event, during a job interview, or in a survey - with an ex-employee of a competitor, or a customer - or any other encounter, these conversations may be an opportunity to extract valuable information that can complete the picture for you.

In these situations, it is important to approach the subject with care and use effective interviewing techniques to encourage the executive to open up and share their knowledge.

Here are several essential rules you need to follow to seize the opportunity.

Prepare Your Objectives

It is important to prepare for an interview if you want to extract intelligence from the interviewee for three reasons: being well-prepared can help you establish trust and communion with the subject, ask the right questions to elicit the information you need and maintain control of the conversation.

By having a plan and a list of questions, you can stay focused and avoid getting sidetracked or losing the subject's attention. The right structure of the list should be by transferring the simple list into an Interview Protocol, with above-the-line questions (e.g. market dynamics), that lead to below-the-line questions (e.g. pricing model of a specific vendor). This will help you in maintaining control of the conversation.

Create The Right Environment

One of the most effective ways to get someone to divulge detailed information is to create a comfortable and safe environment for them to speak in. This can be done by establishing trust and rapport with the subject through active listening and empathy. Eventually, you want to create a dynamics of an expert/teacher from one side, and a listener/student on the other side. Executive talk because they want to be perceived as smart and knowledgeable. Therefore, show that you are listening to what they are saying and try to understand their perspective. This will make them more willing to open up and share the unknown with you.

Ask Open-ended Questions

There are three main methods to get better control of the conversation. By using these techniques, you can effectively guide the conversation and extract the information you need from the interviewee.

The first method to use in order to get executives to provide intelligence includes asking open-ended questions that require them to provide more detailed and in-depth answers. For example, instead of asking "Did you witness many clients' complaints about this module?" you could ask "What did you hear from clients about the efficiency and accuracy of this module?". This allows the executive to potentially reveal more truthful facts.


Another smart dialog tool controlling the call is to be provoking. This is aimed to stimulate thought and elicit more in-depth responses from the interviewee. There are two technics to use this: provoking questions and provoking responses. With both, you must handle them carefully. Provoking questions are designed to challenge the executives and encourage them to think deeply about a topic. To use provoking questions/responses effectively, you should first determine the specific information you are trying to obtain from the interviewee, and mark them in the interview protocol. When asking a provoking question, it's important to avoid making the interviewee feel defensive or uncomfortable. Instead, phrase your question in a way that encourages the interviewee to think critically and offer their own insights and opinions. For example, instead of saying "Why do you think this vendor is winning so many deals in the US?", you could ask "I understand this vendor is using manipulative techniques to sell in the US. Why is that?". This will stimulate the interviewee to reject your argument and offer a more detailed and thoughtful response, proving you’re wrong and putting him in a knowledgeable position.

Use Leading Questions

This is probably the most important technique in this exercise. Leading questions are questions that are designed to extract a specific response from the person being interviewed. They are commonly used with the aim of guiding the conversation and obtaining information from the interviewee. Here too, to use leading questions effectively, you should first determine the specific information you are trying to obtain from the interviewee. This will help you craft your questions in a way that will guide the conversation toward the desired response. When asking a leading question, it's important to avoid making it too obvious that you are trying to lead the interviewee in a certain direction. Instead, phrase your question in a way that encourages the interviewee to provide the information you are seeking. For example, instead of saying "Is this solution include analytics charts?", you could ask "I understand that many solutions in the market include analytics charts, and that is now almost a standard. What can you tell me about the capabilities of this vendor’s analytics charts?", determining that the answer is positive. This allows the interviewee to provide the information without feeling like they are revealing information. Overall, using leading questions effectively in an interview requires a combination of careful planning, subtlety, and active listening.

Be Patient and Persistent

It is also important to be patient and persistent when trying to extract sensitive information from someone. If the subject is hesitant to share, do not push them too hard or they may become defensive and shut down. Instead, try to find ways to build trust and rapport over time, and gradually encourage them to open up and share their secrets. However, it is important to find the balance between being both patient and persistent. One way to do that is by listening carefully and responding correctly. That builds trust. Asking relevant questions may be easier if you take notes and paraphrase what the executive is saying in order to confirm understanding and show that you are engaged in the conversation. It's also important to listen carefully to the interviewee's response and follow up with additional questions as needed. If you doubt what they say, repeat inaccurately what they say on purpose, that can help you gather additional information and clarify any unclear points.


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