Ok, so you work for a smaller company, and the number of folks attending that next big trade show exceeds the number of people working in your competitive intelligence department. Maybe that’s because the number of folks in CI is one, because it’s you ;-) Anyway, it’s far more people than you can effectively manage while trying to get you’re own stuff done at the show. Still, it would be nice to have all those people working for you, at least a little.
At a recent large trade show I tried something new – scavenger cards. I took laser-printer business card stock and printed one question per card. I gave just enough background so that someone who wasn’t familiar with the competitor or product would have a way to get started. The only other piece of info on the card was a tracking number, to help me file the info when received. Because the questions were very detail-level, there wasn’t much risk to our plans if a competitor came across one, or even a pile of the cards. At the show I handed them out and offered a prize for the person turning in the most cards. You have be a bit careful here, as too large a prize can make people a bit too creative.
I think this method will work best for the back-fill type questions that are always floating out there. Bio stuff on key people. Minor technical details or features of products. The kind of stuff that ends up on comparison charts and there are currently holes in those charts. Information like that is rarely the key issue but helps build the bigger picture. In our business, we have lots of comparisons of features – dozens of them, most of which aren’t that important, but if you put 3 or 4 of them together, they add up to quite a bit more. So this first time I had focused on questions like “Does Amalgamated’s moto-gonkulator have reverse feedback control?” You get the idea.
It worked pretty well – the response rate was about 20%, but given that we had, total, about 60 people at the show that was like having almost a dozen folks working for me! The quality of info received was pretty good, although there were more than a few cases of “I got this from a guy who said that he heard it from a guy…”
In the end, like a lot of these efforts the trick is in managing it properly. Beware of cultural & language barriers – don’t give someone a card for a product that isn’t sold in their territory. Don’t give someone a card for a product that belongs to a market they aren’t familiar with. I did it, and ended up trading cards a bit. On the other hand, some of the more adventurous folks took advantage of their lack of familiarity and the opportunity to learn about someone/something new. I believe this will work best if you keep it fairly casual – another reason for a reasonable prize.
The next time you are heading into a trade show with a long list of “piddly” questions, give scavenger cards a try. For the price of a few packs of business card stock, you may be very pleasantly surprised!