Using the Rule of 30 System

I. In a face-to-face meeting, secure agreement of all members of the NPD team on:

  • Target market segment
  • Top three value creation features of product concept
  • Opening sentences of elicitation script

Here is the elicitation script template I use

My name is George Castellion from Solid State Chemistry Associates.

Is this a convenient time to call?

I’m a consultant working with clients in the front end of new product and service development.

I’m on assignment now from a client that is working on an innovative productive concept for <Target Market>. In alpha testing they have been able to demonstrate that this new product can <List top 2 features of the concept for creating new value or new satisfaction for its customers>. The innovation comes out of some basic research they have done in <The innovation’s technology area>.

I’d like to ask you some questions based on the understanding I’m beginning to build about the use of <innovation’s application> in the <Target Market>.

My client is a multinational company. They have a good basic research knowledge about the technology used to produce the <innovation> but have relatively little knowledge about its application in <the target market>.


All prospects will hear the frame above. As the elicitation progresses, I probe for their responses to the following features of the product concept:

  • Value creation features #3-7 identified by NPD team
  •  Other value creation features desired by prospects will be added to this list.

Following this script places the prospect in the role of the “Professor.” The elicitor assumes the role of an “Intelligent Pupil.”

It’s the 5 to 15 seconds you have after the prospect picks up the phone, to set these roles in the mind of the Professor. Then all you have to do for the next 15 to 30 minutes is remain in the role of the Intelligent Pupil and use expert elicitation skills to uncover previously unknown data, information, and insights.

Every word has been tested for its power to set the stage for effective elicitation.

First sentence “My name is … “ Immediately it gives the respondent your name and your firm’ name. “Associates” positions you as a service provider.

Second sentence “Is this a convenient time to talk?” This is a “magic” sentence for securing an elicitation conversation, then or later, with knowledgeable individuals. This sentence has been successful in thousands of cold-calls. It works whether the individual’s title is Sr. VP or Plant Operator.

Third sentence “I’m a consultant working with clients … “ Identifying yourself as a consultant reinforces the “service provider” phrase in the 1st sentence. “Working with clients” signals you are not going to pitch the respondent to hire you.

II. Build a random list of 60-120 knowledgeable individuals in the target market.

Include individuals with potential to make real decisions about adopting a new product, e.g. a. Potential customers, b. Their customers, c. End-users in the target market value chain, d. Technologists or operations personnel in customers’ firms. (Very important, as this last group of decision-makers often have final say on adoption of a new product.)

Check for your hidden biases after assembling the list. (A common bias is to include a list of individuals that Sales believes would make good customers. This list is not not a random sample. Using the central limit theorem requires a random sample to forecast a statistically significant rate of adoption of the new product.)

  1. Each contact’s record must include data fields for knowledgeable individuals’: First name, Last Name, Title, Firm, Time Zone, Phone Number, People they recommend you call as extra knowledgeable individuals, Date of elicitation.

I use Filemaker ™ to manage contact data. Also, the insights and intelligence I’ve collected from a “Professor”.

  • Contact data can be found on the websites of trade associations and professional associations where potential contacts in the target customer segment are listed.
    • Often you can join an association and gain access to members mobile phone numbers.
    • LinkedIn can be useful for finding professional associates of a potential contact. Add them to the calling list if they are also in NPD.

III. Begin calling

Important Make sure the information that comes up on the recipient’s Caller ID screen consists only of: Your first and last names and your mobile phone number. And, because this is a Blind Study, use a “doing-business-as” company name.

In the State where I live it is easy to register doing-business-as names. Create a unique name that ends in Associates which positions you as a consultant. Buy, to use only for customer research, a mobile phone and service. Remember to use your name and the doing-business-as company name when you receive call backs.

Using the app developer features of Filemaker™, I build a report that lists the phone number, first name, last name, and firm. Randomize the list based on the first letter of the last name. Randomize the list each time you add new individuals to it. Print out the list.

Pick up the phone, start at top of list and start calling. going down the list from top to bottom in order. When a prospect goes into the Professor mode take notes on a writing pad using your preferred shorthand method. Do not type notes into a computer during an elicitation. Why?: 1. By multitasking you will miss nuances in the Professor’s replies. 2. Professors know you are typing and will pull away from the conversational mode essential to elicitation. Maintain the Intelligent Pupil role throughout questioning of the Professor.

After I finish a Professor call, I immediately type my notes into a large text field in the Filemaker™ contact record. I add any new names volunteered to me by the Professor and again randomize the calling list.

A valuable feature of Rule of 30 system By using a consistent opening script and calling in a random manner, you can invoke the central limit theorem to analyze rate of adoption scores.

IV. Mid-point check with NPD team

  • Do a quick analysis of the patterns you see forming in the data collected in the first 15 Professor elicitations.
  • In a brief phone conference with the NPD team describe the educated guesses about what the patterns are showing.
  • Ask the NPD team if they want you to probe and flesh out an emerging feature the Professors desire. Also, describe changes discovered in market dynamics.

V Resume calling until you’ve collected a 30 Professor Elicitations

VI Analyze collected data and insights. Write report summarizing the results. As you write use non-random elicitations with Professors to verify conclusions.

Report Structure:

Five Sentence Executive Summary of judgments, conclusions and projections

Two Page Briefing of information gathered, judgments, conclusions and forecasts.

Twenty-Seven Page Body including: What customers really want and why; Desired value-creation features; Forecast of the new product’s rate of adoption by the average prospective customer in the target market; Quotes from key Professors; Highlight where Professors’ opinions differ; Options for a compelling value proposition; Options for collaboration with Early Adopters; Latent needs discovered.

List of All Professors’ contact information

Appendices including long-form descriptions of the web of relationships in the target market and the calculation of the rate of adoption forecast

VII. Face-to-face presentation of report to NPD Team

Usually runs 4-5 hours

Interaction with team members during the presentation enhances the value of the report. Often on hearing a judgment and questioning the reporter, a team member will recall a half-forgotten incident. Putting the pieces together strengthens the judgment and options for actions.