6 Key Elements of a Successful Competitive Intelligence Program

The content for this article comes from a webinar with Steve Piper, co-founder and CEO of CyberEdge Group, that delves into the art and science of establishing a competitive analysis program.

During the webinar, Steve:

  1. Discusses how to identify the key elements of a successful competitive analysis program
  2. Offer tips for optimizing your CRM, your customer relationship management platform
  3. Explains how to minimize the garbage so that you have accurate win-loss stats
  4. Explores why you need competitive intelligence as an ongoing record of truth for multiple reasons

Watch the Full Webinar

The Risks of Underinvesting in Competitive Intelligence

Competitive analysis programs are typically shacks. In other words, your program is under funded, it’s underappreciated, it’s undervalued. But, this area of the business should be a palace.

Competitive intelligence is where companies should be investing more because the risks of under investing are:

  • You may have an inferior product
  • There may be product-related concerns or opportunities you aren’t discovering in win/loss interviews or from the sales team
  • There may be a competitor who will consistently outperform your company
  • You may lose revenue

Many competitive analysis programs they’ll track win/loss, but they don’t track sales cycles.If your sales cycle varies by competitor, you might have a problem with one of your competitors. Which means you want to do some additional training to help reduce that sales cycle.

But most of all, and this is the biggest problem with under-investing in competitive analysis: You’re. Flying. Blind.

A mantra that I’ve just taken away from my Pragmatic training from years ago is, “Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant.”

We want to maintain a living record of truth for both product planning and sales enablement.

On the product management side of the house, we need to know where to make product investments.

Where do we have a gap in comparison to other platforms? It might be a feature gap, a product usability gap or pricing gap.

On the sales enablement side, you want to equip your sales team and channel partners with accurate information. The worst thing you can ever do is provide bad Intel to your sales team. They’re going to look bad. You’re going to look bad. We need accurate information so we can increase our win rates and also shorten our sales cycles.

Those are the overall goals of a competitive analysis program.

#1: Configure your customer relationship management platform to capture accurate win-loss stats.

For CRM’s, it’s garbage-in, garbage-out, and there are ways that you can configure your CRM so that you can have 98-99% accurate competitive intelligence.

In terms of win-loss statistics, the first thing I want you to do is to create a pick list of competitors in your CRM (not free-form fields). You may compete against multiple competitors in a deal, so you want to list all known major and minor competitors.

For that rare instance where you’re not going up against a competitor, you may want to have an “unknown category.” Maybe it’s a competitor that’s brand new, that’s not on the list.

Now here’s the important part; require the sales team to select at least one option when an opportunity is forecasted at a specific percentage based on what makes sense for your organization.

In other words, once the opportunity is forecasted it might start at 10 percent, and then when it hits 30 percent it is fully qualified.

To qualify for the opportunity, you should also ask about what other vendors they’re considering.

What I mean by technical enforcement, is let’s say hypothetically 30 percent is your qualification criteria. The salesperson tries to save the opportunity at 30 percent or higher. It won’t let you, it’ll have a pop-up message requiring you to enter this mandatory field.

In other words, this pick list, checking at least one box on this picklist is technical enforcement. It’s a mandatory field. The salesperson can’t save the opportunity until they’ve selected one or more competitors.

This is a big step toward reducing the garbage that you get in your CRM. So make sure you have technical enforcement and a pick list, no free form fields.

The next tip here, make sure if a competitor is no longer active, mark them as closed, basically a cold case, you’re not worrying about them anymore.

You also need a picklist for reasons why you win and lose, do not make this a free form field.

Your picklists are going to vary by your organization and your products, but here are some things that you might want to consider:

  • Product functionality or maybe superior product performance or usability
  • Integrations with the third party
  • Pricing concerns
  • Personal connections (the salesperson is a friend or old colleague of the prospect)
  • Contact has stopped responding
  • Prospect is out of business

We want to generate win-loss reports, but we also want to audit those reports.

#2 Generate quarterly and annual win-loss reports that are accurate.

We want to export quarterly closed opportunities. Then, look at the descriptions for the wins and the losses.

There are two ways you can track wins and losses: dollars or deals (many organizations mistakenly look at deals).

I like to track win-loss stats by both. But if you just want to pick one, go dollars, your win-loss by dollars is in my view more important than your win-loss by deals..

Don’t just do it globally, you definitely want global stats, but you also want regional stats. So look at your win-loss stats by your different teams because it can help from a training perspective and then from a product planning perspective.

#3 Aggregate Competitive Intelligence.

Have a living record of truth, and update it often.

What we do at CyberEdge is we create a spreadsheet called a feature comparison matrix (FCM).It’s where we track things that matter to us. We could track software, components, competitor components, key features, performance stats and anything else we think might be appropriate.

The spreadsheet is for internal use for the product management, product marketing and engineers. It’s appropriate to update this spreadsheet when you or your competitors have a product change. It’s also appropriate to log both public and non-public intelligence.

#4 Conduct periodic customer win-loss calls.

Don’t just talk to the losses, talk to the wins too. There are things you can learn on both sides. I know this is something that pragmatism emphasizes, and this is mission-critical.

You’re going to have a lot of data, but we want qualitative data too. So, interview the customers that chose you over your major competitors and chose your major competitors over you.

Interview a minimum of five wins and losses at the minimum. It’s anecdotal data, so preferably 10 wins and 10 losses per competitor.

Repeat this quarterly, but at the very least annually. You can also choose an outside vendor, but if you do, make sure they have technical expertise.

#5 Create impactful competitor battle cards

Here are some of the things that you might want to include in a typical battle card.

You want to have some key themes or key takeaways. I recommend three because people seem to remember things in threes.

Challenge the sales team to memorize these three things, so that they’ll have the info right when they need it. You might want to have key capabilities and a comparison table.

If your solution or your competitor solution has many different components then consider a components table. A list of your major advantages and also your competitor’s advantages.

We want to equip your sales team and channel partners with information related to your competitor’s advantages. But don’t just state the advantages, give them some responses.

You might want to say that’s on our product roadmap and it’ll be coming out next quarter or if your competitors can integrate with a specific platform, show them ways that you can also.

If your salesperson is the first one into an account, help them set traps in their questions. Questions that your salesperson can ask your prospect that inform them of shortfalls of their opponent, such as they don’t have this feature, capability, etc.

This is all strictly for your salespeople, you don’t want to inform customers about your disadvantages and shortcomings.

Reinforce key themes and key takeaways, challenge your salespeople to commit them to memory. Then update your battle cards when your competitors update their stuff and remember that intelligence from the battle card is pulled from that spreadsheet. What we call a feature comparison matrix.

Don’t just focus on your advantages, address your competitors’ advantages.

#6 Conduct regular sales training sessions

Provide training against each major competitor to every internal salesperson and channel salesperson once per quarter.

You can’t train them enough. If you’re doing it through a webinar platform, record it and make sure it’s available to them, but provide that training. Teach your audience how to plant those landmines that I just talked about.

Steve Piper is a Pragmatic Institute alum. He has more than 20 years of product marketing, product management experience.

He is the co-founder and CEO of CyberEdge, a high-tech marketing agency. CyberEdge works with companies to do competitive analysis, content development, market research reports, custom books and eBooks and we work on a project basis or retainer.

“I also have an undergrad degree, master’s degree and over a dozen technical certifications, but I can tell you there’s no course that I’ve ever taken that has been more impactful to my career than what I learned at Pragmatic Institute.”

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  • Steve Piper is co-founder and CEO of CyberEdge Group, an award-winning marketing and research consulting firm serving 100+ high-tech vendors. Steve has over 20 years of high-tech marketing and product management experience with companies like Citrix, NetIQ and Sourcefire. Steve has helped dozens of high-tech vendors refine their product messaging and positioning. Contact him at steve.piper@cyber-edge.com.

Steve Piper

Steve Piper

Steve Piper is co-founder and CEO of CyberEdge Group, an award-winning marketing and research consulting firm serving 100+ high-tech vendors. Steve has over 20 years of high-tech marketing and product management experience with companies like Citrix, NetIQ and Sourcefire. Steve has helped dozens of high-tech vendors refine their product messaging and positioning. Contact him at steve.piper@cyber-edge.com.

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