Elicitation vs. Interviewing

Authored bycascade

This is a transcript of the CI Life Podcast, Episode 31. If you’d rather listen to the podcast, click here.

Sean Campbell:  Welcome to another episode of CI Life. In this episode we’re going to drill down into a subject area that I think has caused a lot of confusion for folks over the years, and it’s one of the significant differences between competitive intelligence and market research. The topic at hand today is what in the world is the real difference between “elicitation” and “interviewing”? Why does it even matter, and how can you spot the difference?

We’re going to spend a little time on this today because it’s a classic thing we hear come up and it’s something that we sometimes see folks get mixed up. Wouldn’t you agree, Scott?

Scott Swigart:  Yeah, definitely. I think there are some subtle differences from the perspective of the person you’re talking to.

Sean:  Fundamentally, if you think about this from a classic standpoint, let’s take the easier one first. What is interviewing? Well, we’re not talking about interviewing for a job, so let’s just leave that to the side. We’re talking about when the classic market researcher decides to set up 20 interviews with someone as part of a qualitative research project. Or as part of discussions during a focus group. Usually the very first tool that they need to develop in that case is the discussion guide. The discussion guide is full of…

Scott:  Questions.

Sean:  Exactly. Meanwhile, an elicitor, if we take it from that standpoint, someone who’s about to embark on an elicitation project, they also have questions. They have key intelligence questions. They have questions that they may even insert as questions in the discussion. But fundamentally the difference is they’re focused a lot more on statements and having a conversation than they are around questions. We’ve even shared discussion guides, our version of them, sometimes, for competitive intelligence projects, and we see someone from a market research team say now wait a minute, there’s not enough questions in there.

Scott:  Right, right. It’s not, word-for-word, what are you going to ask? It’s what are you going to find out.

Sean:  It’s not like you’re avoiding questions altogether, but your questions might be more in the beginning and the end as you’re dealing with broader topics, as opposed to having them sandwiched right in the middle. I think that’s a big difference. Your typical market researcher might be taught to some degree, even, to keep questioning until you take the coal and turn it into a diamond, no matter what the interviewee tends to think about that process.

Scott:  I think maybe it’s worth talking about an example. A clear place where you can see the difference between interviewing and elicitation would be something like trade show intelligence. Trade show intelligence, you might just mosey up to the competitor’s booth, look at the products that they have sitting there, and say something like, “That looks expensive.”

Sean:  Right, exactly. Then there’s all these kind of…and this is what’s fascinating about it. If you were to say that to someone, what you’re banking on as an elicitor is that, essentially, people have all these natural, wet‑wired desires in their brain, to basically say, “Well I’ll explain for you why that makes sense!”, or, “How dare you think our product doesn’t make sense in this market?”, or all those things that we tend to do, just naturally, because you’re having a conversation about it and you’re not trying to go from question 3A to 3B.

Scott:  Right. The other thing is, that that implies is, if you walk up to somebody’s booth and you did what I said, an elicitation, they don’t know that they are participating in research. When you’re doing interviewing, you have contacted somebody, you’ve reached out to them/ You may be doing blind research, you may not have disclosed who your client is, but they know that they are going to be asked a series of questions. They know they are participating in some kind of research activity. In elicitation, you walk up to the booth, you look at their product, and you say, “Wow, that looks expensive.” They’re just wet‑wired to start filling things in. But they don’t know they’re participating in any structured activity.

Sean:  That’s another decoupling that happens. Market research is about asking the same question the same way, almost, sometimes, to the point where an interview looks very much like a quantitative survey. Fundamentally, that’s a trap that sometimes qualitative researchers will fall into. It almost feels like the interviewee is just being surveyed. They kind of recognize it and get bored.

Scott:   With elicitation there are all kinds of neuro-linguistic things that people do. If you make a statement, they will respond to it as if it’s a question. If you make an incorrect statement on purpose, they will correct you. They will take the time to really explain it to you in a lot more detail.

Sean:  Right. Another classic technique to make someone feel comfortable is word repetition. You use the words they use. To have a little fun with it, amongst Republicans, keep saying “socialist”. Amongst Democrats, keep saying “equal”. In other words, keep saying words that the other person’s using. To some degree the other person starts to feel like you’re more in‑tune with them – that you’re one of them. The same thing with paralanguage and body language and the whole discussion of things from neuro-linguistic programming.

There’s also this issue about alerting, which gets into a squishy gray area, because you’re obviously supposed to identify your own affiliation in competitive intelligence. But it’s a little different about how far you disclose what you’re actually learn in your research.

Scott:  Getting back to the trade show, if you are one of however many people walked up to that tradeshow booth during the day, with elicitation your goal may be to get a lot of information, and not even really have them remember they talked to you. In their mind, you were not the most interesting person who came up. But from your perspective, they told you all kinds of stuff that you didn’t know.

Sean:  Right, right, exactly. With that, I think we’ve done a good job just dealing with two words here in the last near 10 minutes or so. We’re going to wrap this up and let folks get back to their day.

By Sean Campbell
By Scott Swigart

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