Effective Elicitation By Telephone

Before Calling

A.     Reach agreement on which innovative features of the new product idea the elicitor will disclose to respondents.

  • Usually involves consensus among the members of the team of marketing, technology, and business functions commercializing the innovative idea

B.     Reach agreement on what the team expects as a result of the telephone elicitation project

  1. Discover potential customers? How many?
  2. Discover straightforward needs and latent unmet needs?
  3. Discover customers’ view of the inherent value of the idea?
  4. Increase revenue? By how much? When?
  5. Will commercial development of the idea help us reach parity or surpass competitors?

C.     Reach agreement on the script the elicitor will use for the first 40 seconds of every interviewer

1. First sentence: Elicitor states their name and the name of their firm.

My first sentence always is “My name is George Castellion from Solid-State Chemistry Associates.”

(I used this sentence for many years without understanding why it works so well. I mentioned my puzzlement to an MBA class I was teaching. “Most of my projects don’t involve chemistry. Why does this sentence work even when I’m talking with chicken farmers.” One student provided the explanation. “Because it positions you as someone with technology experience and not just another dumb marketer.”)

2. Second sentence: “Is this a convenient time to talk?”

This essential sentence gives control of the conversation, at this point, to the respondent.

3. Third sentence: elicitor describes the elicitor’s role and provides a brief description of the company who owns the innovative idea.

(For example: “European-based multinational”)

4. Fourth sentence: elicitor asks for help in understanding how the innovative idea might help solve the respondent’s problem.

5. This sequence of sentences will place potential Professor respondents into that role.

a. The Professor is dormant inside all of us. It’s that part of us that likes to talk about a subject we know a lot about when tapped by a seriously interested elicitor.

b. If the respondent is not the subject-matter expert you believed them to be, they will tell you so. Often they suggest names and telephone numbers of subject-matter experts in their company.

D.     Once the respondent goes into the Professor role, the elicitor asks open-ended questions about the problem and how the innovative idea might solve them.

  • A conversation with a Professor must last at least 12 minutes to be considered as one of the at least 40 Professor conversations needed for discovering and confirming latent unmet needs and growth opportunities.

My experience is that Professors’ latent unmet needs and values emerge only after 7 minutes into a conversation. However, I capture information from shorter conversations and include it in the project’s analysis.

E.     Build a calling list of at least fifty subject-matter experts before making your first call.

  1. Beginning elicitors lose confidence when they do not talk with a Professor in the first few calls. They stop calling through the list of fifty subject matter experts or try calling the same people again and again. Skilled elicitors continue to call through the list and leave a voice mail message when they do not reach an individual after the second call. Skilled elicitors are confident that at the end of the project they will average one Professor conversation for every 6 telephone calls they make.
  2. Add new experts to the list as you get referrals from respondents and as you continue to identify other subject-matter experts.

The calling list grows and contains more than 200 potential subject-matter experts at the end of a 40 conversations-long project.

During Elicitation 

A.     Effective elicitors stay in the role of the Intelligent Pupil. They listen intently to the Professor and respond suitably.

  • Remaining in the role of the Intelligent Pupil needs self-discipline.

After the first few conversations, some elicitors may feel they know more about the subject than the respondent. Overconfidence on the part of such elicitors leads them to fall out of the Intelligent Pupil role and make inappropriate observations.  Then the respondent distrusts this elicitor and no longer assumes the Professor role.

B.     Do not tape the conversation.

  • I make simple shorthand notes of the respondents’ remarks and use the notes in analysis of the conversations.

C.     As the number of conversations grows, a quick analysis builds unique knowledge of issues such as the following:

  1. Straightforward needs and latent unmet needs.
  2. Emerging growth opportunities
  3. Values that respondents see in the innovative idea.
  4. Discovery of lead users, early adopters and decision makers at desirable customers.
  5. Understanding why the innovative idea is important to desirable customers?
  6. How many desirable customers are there? When will they buy? How much will they pay?

D.   Make notes on how these insights might help frame an analysis of the conversations.

  • Keep this frame loose during elicitation so it can hold insights emerging from later conversations.

After 40 conversations

A.     Review shorthand notes from each Professor’s conversation and your notes on insights and a possible analysis framing.

  • When you detect missing information in the final framework, have another conversation with respondents or find more subject-matter experts and have a conversation with them.

B.     Write a concise and articulate analysis

  1. Use the appendices to this report for lengthy details on key issues.
  2. Put the name, title, organization, and phone number of all subject-matter experts you spoke with into the first appendix.
  3. Put a two page executive summary at the beginning of the report.

These insights and practices were abstracted from “Telephoning Your Way to Compelling Value Propositions” by George Castellion The PDMA Toolbook for New Product Development Chapter 3, p 63-86 (2002) (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)