This article has been adapted from Tamara’s insightful interview on the Product Marketing Life podcast. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Ever felt overwhelmed by the competitive landscape and unsure how to equip your team with the right insights? Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. (I'm Tamara Schebel, VP of Product at Klue, a competitive enablement (CE) platform, by the way 👋). 

The world of competitive enablement can be a maze, but I'm here to guide you through it. In this article, we'll explore:

  • The right time to kickstart your competitive program
  • Tactical steps to get your program off the ground
  • How to empower sales teams with top-notch competitive intelligence
  • Deciding who should own competitive enablement
  • The essential skills for the job
  • Strategies to scale your competitive enablement program
  • And some final thoughts to wrap it all up.

Let’s dive in.

When to start building your competitive intelligence program

Is there an ideal time for an organization to implement a competitive intelligence (CI) program? Is it ever too early or too late? 

I’d say it's never too late to do anything. However, it can be too early to formalize or operationalize a program. For example, when I joined Klue, we were a team of 18 with only two salespeople. At such an early stage, having formal battlecards, an extensive competitive program, and a full-time dedicated CI person would have been overkill.

That said, it's never too soon to start thinking about competition. In fact, the sooner an organization begins fostering a competitive culture, the better positioned it'll be when the time comes to formalize it into a program. The key is not to over-optimize prematurely. But once the idea of launching a competitive program becomes part of your discussions, that's a clear sign that you should start crafting a plan.

In the initial phases, the focus might not even be on launching a formal competitive program. Instead, it could be about addressing immediate concerns or answering pressing questions to clear your plate for other tasks. 

However, as you find yourself continually engaged in informal CI tasks, it will become clear that there's a need to evolve this into something more robust. This doesn't necessarily mean devising a grand strategic plan right away, but it does highlight the importance of sitting down and outlining your approach.

The major advantages of this planning are that it amplifies the visibility of your efforts and formalizes the tasks you've been juggling. This proactive approach prevents you from being overwhelmed by increasing demands over time. 

A crucial aspect of this planning, often overlooked in the early stages as people unintentionally slide into CI, is defining what success looks like. Success in CI can manifest in various ways, and it's essential to determine how you'll measure your impact

Without this foresight, two years down the line, you might find yourself struggling to articulate the value you've added to the organization as your boss asks, “What is it exactly that you’ve done?”

Tactical steps to jumpstart your competitive enablement program

When I chat with newer CI folks or product marketers just dipping their toes into CI, I'm often surprised by the basics they miss. Maybe it's because I've spent a good three years deep in CI chats, and some things just seem second nature to me. But honestly, there are straightforward steps that can set anyone up for success down the road.

Step one: Tap into your CRM data

First up, there's likely a goldmine of info just sitting in your CRM (customer relationship management) platform, and most folks don’t even realize it. So, when someone hands you the CI reins, your first move? Dive into that CRM and find out your current competitive win rate

Don’t wait for someone to hand you a laundry list of battlecards they want you to whip up. They might hand over a list of 25 or 30 names, but let's be real: Your sales team probably isn't facing off against that many competitors daily. 

By digging into your CRM data, you can pinpoint which competitors your sales team is actually bumping into in the majority of deals and see how they're faring against each one. This gives you a clear snapshot of the real threats to your pipeline

Think about it: Nudging your win rate up by just a few percentage points against a competitor you see in 90% of your deals is going to make a huge impact on your year-end revenue. But creating battlecards on competitors that pop up just a handful of times a year? Not the best use of your time.

If you haven't been gathering competitive info in your CRM, now’s the time to start. 

And I get it, sales teams might not always be on top of filling out that information – probably because they haven't seen the payoff. But showing them the insights from a simple threats-to-pipeline analysis could be the nudge they need to start caring and chipping in. It's a solid place to start, and trust me, it's worth the work.

Step two: Get the sales team involved

Here's something I hear all the time from our customers: “How do I get my sales team to share intel on our competitors?” Sales teams are right there on the frontline. They're the ones duking it out with competitors and getting the lowdown on what they’re up to. But here's the catch: Each salesperson only sees a piece of the complete picture.

So, how can you help? By being the one to piece together that puzzle. If you can get them to share intel, you can start to paint a clearer picture of the competitive landscape. But let's be real, they're not just gonna waltz in and start dishing out info. They're swamped, just like the rest of us. So, it's on you to show them the value you can provide if they share the data you need.

You want to squeeze all the value you can out of the intel your sales folks share. One of the biggest missteps you can make as you launch your CI program is whipping up a bunch of battlecards based on what you think is accurate and then just tossing them to your sales team. 

Even if you're spot on, this approach won't earn you any brownie points or credibility. As you grow and establish trust, the info you find and distill will carry more weight with the sales team. But to kick things off, it's crucial to start with what they know and build from there.

Step three: Create a CI collaboration channel

Next up, if you haven't set up a dedicated CI channel on Slack, Teams, or whichever collaboration tool you use, now's the time. Share your CRM findings and get the ball rolling. Encourage your team to chime in with what they're hearing out in the field, and get that conversation flowing.

Remember, as you're building out your CI program, your sales are your MVPs (most valuable players). The sooner you can connect with them, build that trust, and foster a real culture of collaboration and competitive intelligence, the stronger and more valuable your program's going to be.

Step four: Benchmark sales confidence

I touched on measuring success earlier. Here's a straightforward way to start: Benchmarking surveys. When you're just getting your feet wet with a CI program, shoot a quick survey to your sales team. Ask them how confident they feel about positioning against competitor X, Y, or Z. Get a baseline. 

Then, circle back in six months or a year and see how things have shifted. This approach gives you tangible results to showcase. You can proudly tell your boss, “Look, confidence levels rose by 20% thanks to the resources I put together.”

Sure, it's a more qualitative metric. In an ideal world, we'd all love to link our efforts directly to win rates or revenue. But Rome wasn't built in a day. Start simple, and as you progress, you can dive deeper into those hard-hitting stats.

State of Competitive Enablement report 2022
Discover pivotal insights into how product marketers implement and handle their competitive enablement (CE) approach, especially when enabling revenue teams.

Top tips for empowering sales teams with competitive intelligence

  1. Work hand-in-hand with sales: Don't just throw intel at them. Instead, build a strong partnership. The tighter the bond, the better the results.
  2. Share intel in familiar spaces: Keep your intel where the sales team already lives. Don’t create a brand-new, hidden repository or bring in another tool they have to remember to use. Make it super easy for them to access the insights you've gathered. This also works to reduce data silos.
  3. Avoid information overload: More isn't always better. While deep analysis is valuable, resist the urge to share every detail. Do the research, but then distill it down to the essentials. Your sales team needs info that helps them in the heat of the moment. While the backstory and history are crucial for you, they need current, actionable insights that'll give them an edge.
  4. Make it actionable: Everything you share should have a clear purpose. Think about how your intel can be used in the throes of a deal. What's going to make a difference for them? Always approach content creation with the question, "How does this help my sales team?"

By following these guidelines, you'll ensure that your competitive intelligence assets are not only valuable but also easily accessible and actionable for your sales team.

Who should own competitive enablement: Product marketing or sales enablement?

When it comes to the big question of who should own CE and intelligence – product marketing or sales enablement – there's no one-size-fits-all answer. And if you're wondering whether to hire a dedicated CE person, well, that's another layer to consider.

I've seen CE be a part of the product marketing role. Sometimes it's nestled in the product department, other times it's rolled into marketing or sales. Each setup has its pros and cons because you bring a unique perspective depending on where you're seated.

Where competitive intelligence or enablement sits in an organization isn't the main concern; it's more about the skill set of the people doing the job. That said, finding people with the right skills is like hunting for a unicorn. You're looking for someone who's a triple threat. Here’s what they need to succeed in their role:

Data analysis skills 

Many of the competitive intelligence analysts we work with are deep researchers. They whip up detailed matrices and intricate Harvey ball charts. It's a level of analysis that's essential for a robust competitive program.

Product marketing skills

This is where the magic of interpretation happens. It's about taking that in-depth analysis, distilling the message, and figuring out how to position against competitors. The goal? Crafting a message that resonates with the sales team.

Sales enablement skills

This one's a game-changer. You might be great at positioning and analysis, but if you can't connect with the sales team, you're not ultimately going to be successful. For many, this is the toughest part. If you're not naturally inclined towards an enablement mindset, it's easy to overlook.

The pitfall many CI folks fall into is creating materials and just passing them along. But that approach hasn't been super effective in my experience. A deeper relationship is needed.

So, should CE live in sales enablement? Not necessarily. While it's essential, you can't ignore the other two vital skill sets. The key is either collaborating closely with sales enablement or doubling down on that aspect of the role. Whatever you choose, make sure it's a holistic approach.

As for the question of whether to have a dedicated resource for competitive enablement or to fold it into the product marketing role, the size of your organization plays a big part in that decision.

For our larger clients, competitive enablement is a massive operation. We're talking teams of 50 to 60 people dedicated to the task. But on the flip side, with our smaller clients, it's often just a slice of someone's job – and trust me they're often begging for help to manage CE more efficiently. So, the decision really hinges on your company's scale.

If you're looking at implementing a competitive enablement strategy (and I think you should), keep in mind that it quickly becomes a full-time gig. Whether you have a solo practitioner or a whole team, you need someone to steer the ship and ensure everything runs smoothly.

When and how to scale your competitive enablement program

Scaling your competitive enablement program is all about creating a snowball effect of insights and enablement. But when's the right time to think about investing in a competitive intelligence platform or partnering with a CI tool provider?

I’m missing out on a golden opportunity for a shameless plug here, but there's genuinely a phase where it’s too early to invest in a tool. You've got to prove the value of CI within your organization first. 

Implementing a software platform across the board is no small feat. If you're already struggling to balance CI with all your other responsibilities, adding a whole new project might be too much.

So, what should be in place before you even consider tooling?

  1. A culture of competition: You want to have a steady stream of content being shared internally, people looking to you as the go-to CI expert, and a general buzz about competition.
  2. Overwhelming demand: If your PMM team is being bombarded with questions about the competition, and you're constantly thinking, “Another question? I can't keep up!”, that's a sign. It’s time to think about streamlining and operationalizing CI.

If these elements aren't in play, it’s too early to start using a CI tool. Without demand, no one's going to care about the insights you've gathered.

But even without a dedicated platform, there are steps to start structuring your CI efforts:

  • Consistent communications: Think about starting a weekly competitive digest email or post to keep your team in the loop about competitor moves.
  • Focused battlecards: Start with cards for those key competitors, the real threats. Soon, you'll face the challenge of keeping them updated, and that's where a tool can come in handy.
  • Efficient data collection: Start consolidating your data sources. Instead of doing a new Google search for every question, create a go-to repository of the answers.

In essence, it's about building demand, creating a culture, and then looking at tools to make the process smoother.

It's essential to recognize that, while many tools promise to be a game-changer, there's no magic button that does it all. No tool will hand you the perfect strategy to outdo a competitor. 

What a CI tool can offer is efficiency. It can centralize information and make enablement content accessible wherever your team operates. There are undeniable benefits, but if you're not ready for a comprehensive program, diving into a tool might feel like more work than it's worth. It's all about finding that balance.

Competitive strategies for each stage of the company lifecycle
If you’re looking for the right competitive strategy for where your business is at, you’re probably in either the startup, growth, or maturity phase. This article takes a look at which types of competitive strategies you should adopt at each stage of the cycle.

Final thoughts

As we wrap things up, I’d like to leave you with one final piece of advice on how to start building your competitive intelligence program. 

Take a moment to reflect on everything you’ve done over the last few quarters that was related to competitive intelligence or enablement. Chances are, you've already kickstarted your competitive enablement journey without even realizing it. It's happening, whether you've planned for it or not. 

Now's the perfect time to sit down and think about how you can set yourself up for success down the line. Recognize that the need for competitive content will only grow, especially if you're in a growing organization. Think about how much of your current role involves CI and how that might evolve. 

And as you move forward, keep an eye on those success metrics. Whether you're thinking of implementing a tool, expanding your program, or just starting out, set benchmarks. Maybe you’ll start with a sales confidence survey or by tracking win rates against competitors. Whatever success looks like for you, establish those benchmarks now.

In the end, it's all about being proactive. Don't find yourself looking back a year from now with regret. Instead, lay the groundwork today to measure the impact of your efforts tomorrow. That proactive approach is the real key to success in the world of competitive intelligence.