The biggest misconception about competitive intelligence is that it is all about information about the competitors. Every business planning should feature competitive analysis, but just reading blurbs on the competition won’t provide much efficacy. Effective CI process will increase your win rates, improve your product planning process, lower your sales cost, and improve your market positioning.
Counting on the information that the sales managers are gathering, their web searching skills, or even analysts’ opinions simply means that you don’t take competitive strategy seriously and don’t fulfill the potential from actual CI.
Creating a CI function in the organization, enabling all teams to access the intel they need, is crucial. However, in many cases, allocating a full-time position is not an option for different reasons. That does not mean you should not create such a function and simply use one of your resilient employees to handle it.
This is the 1st part of an article that aims to guide you through the process of executing a plan of that sort. More importantly, it shows how you can integrate this model effectively to strengthen existing structures and create a competitive advantage.
These are the first 4 steps (out of 8) that we will discuss in this part:
Step 1. Locating The Function.
When evaluating the structure of a CI process within a company, choosing where the function sits is vital to the organization’s success. The effectiveness of CI depends first and foremost on how and where it is used. Even the most well-established businesses produce incomplete or insufficient research, which significantly impacts the intelligence function. The competitive intelligence reporting structure affects the kind of competitive content that a company builds and the value the CI program can add to the business.
If you choose to assign one of your managers/directors from the product management team, then usually the focus will be more strategic, monitoring issues like technology development and probably solutions' pricing structure. For that reason, you should make sure not to neglect tactical focus like sales-related content and put that in your priority.
Competitive intelligence that will be handled by Sales or Marketing means your battle cards will probably be updated, filled with sales tactics and activities, positioning strategies, and go-to-market strategy of your competitors. this aims to effectively help salespeople outdo the competition. Tying the performance of your sales team into the CI performance review is imperative. But it is also essential that if the CI function is reporting to sales still maintain communication with Product when researching, for two reasons: first, they have more opportunities to communicate with the executive level and need to be equipped with any competitors' product developments, and second, you'll be surprised from the knowledge they are gaining on their own about the technology they compete against.
Finally, whether the manager/director who will be responsible for CI will be from Product or from Sales/Marketing, it is absolutely important that this team member will get a seat at the executive table monthly, so it will be possible to include CI in strategic discussions, which would benefit how the executives respond to market movements.
Step 2. Internal Consumers of CI.
Everyone in your organization needs competitive intelligence. Regardless of where the manager/director who will be responsible for CI is located, he/she holds a responsibility to deliver CI to all other company departments and levels.
These usually include the following, when each requires a different type of CI feed:
Senior Management. Monthly updates on competitor actions and ad-hoc reports responding to decision-making processes, planned or unexpected.
Product Management. Quick-thinking when new competitor products are released. Regular analysis of how these products might shift the market, and an assessment of us vs. them. Revealing the real features and functionalities of their solutions, and their product roadmap.
Sales and Account Management. Battle-cards on competitors to enhance sales success. These should be concise, informative, and tie into the broader company/product approach. Tactical support in RFP processes for potential clients. Strategic support in revealing the current status of each competitor's activities in key accounts.
Marketing and Product Marketing. Competitive insights to hone in on how other competitors market, evaluating their tactics and positioning strategies.
No matter what size the company is, a disconnected CI function will damage the success of any business. In smaller organizations, it’s critical to prioritize CI to increase win rates, shorten deal cycles and minimize discounting. Focusing on empowering a sales team with competitive content can be revolutionary for smaller companies.
Step 3. Identification of Competitors.
Finding the under-the-radar information is the basis for an operational CI process, but segmenting this information into levels of importance and threat is where several companies fall short. Try to innovate, not imitate.
First, assess which competitors should be on the company’s radar and the main KPIs to be monitored. Do that by measuring and comparing win rates and analyzing the sales funnel analysis. These will help you in creating a Competitive Barometer.
Now that you've gained the intelligence about the vendors, how can you add more value?
Rank the information in terms of importance. Start with your competitor’s most significant threat, so the company knows it’s a priority, then divide data into logical sections. Organizing materials would avoid any hiccups.
Exploit the gaps you've identified. These may be in their product range or service, marketing or distribution, even the way they recruit and retain employees. Customer service reputation can often differentiate businesses that operate in a competitive market. Renew your efforts in these areas to exploit the deficiencies you've discovered in your competitors. Analyze commonalities between you and them, and even if you’re one step ahead, make sure to plan for improvement.
Step 4. Usage of Battle Cards.
Battle Cards that are updated consistently are fundamental for a Sales team, as concise and updated cards can drive improved sales results.
Content is king; cards should contain the minimum amount of content needed to enable the team to take an idea and run with it. Cards should refer to essential product information, details about competitors, and strategies that anticipate customer needs. These indicators would allow sales professionals to maintain a comprehensive approach during pitches, calls, and presentations.
Battle cards should pave the way for a better understanding of a company’s target audience, such as consumers' purchasing patterns and what product information is most important to them. Battle cards can help align a brand's messaging between its marketing and sales departments. With messaging at the ready, sales professionals can guarantee they are providing accurate information when speaking to prospective customers.