This article is based on Bill’s talk at the Product Marketing Summit in Denver, 2023. PMA members can watch the talk in its full glory here!

As product marketers, we're all about collaboration – with sales, product teams, and even other marketing organizations. One of the superpowers of competitive intelligence is how it ramps up the quality of this collaboration, equipping you with insights that earn you a seat at the table.

Instead of having your organization rely solely on your product team to get up to speed on the product, you can use CI to contribute a fresh market perspective. In this way, it's a highly valuable addition to the product-focused mindset of your colleagues.

Your sales team is likely asking for resources like battlecards. With competitive intelligence, you're not just delivering these materials, but also providing consultative insight that helps sales leadership pinpoint where to focus their efforts. The more competitive intelligence and win-loss insights you have, the more effective you are at steering these discussions and raising your strategic standing within the group.


Why competitive insight is so important for messaging

In recent years, competitive intelligence has become more critical than ever, and I suspect the dramatic trends we've seen will only accelerate from here.

Crayon’s State of Competitive Intelligence Report shows that, whether considered “absolutely critical” or just “important”, the perception of CI’s importance among its stakeholders has noticeably increased since 2021.

As many enterprise organizations find top-of-funnel pipelines harder to come by, the focus shifts to mid and bottom-funnel lead management. It's all about maximizing that pipeline and converting as much of it as possible. In this landscape, competitive intelligence is absolutely vital.

Competitive intelligence allows us to do a few things much better:

  • Top of funnel: CI helps us generate leads by crafting messages with built-in differentiation. We can't achieve that differentiation unless we have insight into where we stand in the market relative to others. This makes our top-of-funnel assets sharper and better at standing out. It's not just about showing that your product is better – you have to show that it's different.
  • Mid-funnel: You can use CI to generate content for prospects and customers in the funnel. This content should center around the selection criteria for the type of solution you offer. Putting these assets in front of your customers and shaping those criteria can be extremely valuable. It lets them better champion your cause when they’re evaluating vendors.
  • Bottom of funnel: Here, the role of CI pivots towards building trust. Once they’re at the bottom of the funnel, deals often have to be approved by directors of operations and sometimes even VPs of Infrastructure or CIOs.

At this level, trust in the company they're about to do business with is just as crucial as the features and functions they're buying. They're counting on their technical teams to have done their homework, so our job is to highlight unique aspects of both our offering and our company to build that trust. This also creates an environment where we can reduce discounting.

  • Customer growth and retention: Churn is something you want to avoid at all costs. How do you do this? You leverage loyalty and great customer references. You interview customers to understand why they chose your software over others. They're always scanning the market, and their feedback on what's hot (and what's not) is invaluable for gaining competitive insight.

Ultimately, all this is going to generate larger pipelines and higher conversion rates. By creating more differentiation and targeting your message, you can also increase the ROI of marketing both in terms of pipeline and bookings.

Key types of differentiation

Competitive intelligence isn't just about finding differentiation – it's about understanding the types of differentiation out there.

Force Management’s Command of the Message framework breaks down differentiators into three flavors. Let’s take a look.

First up is the unique differentiator. If you've got one of these, you're likely a category creator or leader in your particular market. You're delivering something of value that others simply don't have. These types of differentiators are fantastic if you've got them, but they're often short-lived.

While unique differentiators are great for the top of the funnel, if they don't come to you naturally, don't sweat it because the second type of differentiator is really the most important, and that's the comparative differentiator. These are features of your product or service that are better or somehow different from your competition.

You can use these to build 'traps' for sales to leverage. They can help you find new angles in your messaging, or create variations of top-line ad copy for social media or SEO. They can also help you build specific questions for your BDRs to ask.

In LogicMonitor’s case, most of what we have falls into the comparative category. We acknowledge that depending on who's in the deal, there might be one or two vendors at parity or even better than us on that specific differentiator, but that's alright. The aim is to build a range of differentiators so you can rotate or use them in combination, depending on the delivery and form factor of your message.

The last type of differentiator is the holistic differentiator. These are becoming increasingly important as we focus on maximizing conversion in the pipeline. Holistic differentiators aren't just about the product – they're about creating trust in you as a company.

Factors like financial stability, growth, commitment to causes that resonate with the customer, or even something about your company's background can all play a part here. These traits give the customer a reason to see you as a partner, rather than just another vendor.

It's important to remember that differentiators, particularly holistic ones, come into play during the late stages of a sales cycle, often when deals get escalated to those with purchasing authority within the company you're selling to. From the vendor end, this is when you're likely also bringing in your high-ranking staff to help close these deals.

Over time, you'll see that positive attributes like excellent customer support, attentive service, listening to the customer, and overall stability drive customer loyalty and encourage clients to grow with you.

How to bootstrap competitive intelligence for your product marketing org

So, how do you discover these differentiators? You need a competitive intelligence program consisting of both project-based elements and more programmatic aspects that you'll need to manage on an ongoing basis. Let’s take a look at a handful of tasks that are going to give you the most bang for your buck.

Step one: Build base-level situational awareness

The first thing I suggest, not just with competitive intelligence, but in any undertaking, is to establish situational awareness of where you stand.

It's fascinating to see how, depending on whom you talk to in your organization, the answer to the question "Who do we compete with most aggressively or effectively?" can vary greatly.

We used Gong to listen in on sales conversations and find out who our prospects and customers saw as our biggest competitors. We also asked our BDRs and AEs about their top-of-mind competitors. If you were to create pie charts of their answers, they’d all be drastically different. So, building situational awareness that doesn't rely on a single data source is crucial.

Gathering competitive insights from your teams also has to be a priority. One source you can exploit is your CRM system. You can easily extend an opportunity field so that when the opportunity concludes, you can identify which competitor or competitors you were up against.

There are a few design considerations you’ll need to take into account as you’re building this out. Firstly, from a technological standpoint, it's essential to ensure that you're able to identify both the lead competitor and all the other mentioned competitors. Having a single field that records just one vendor doesn't provide enough situational awareness.

The other consideration is cultural. We've found that when people close an opportunity, they're usually focused on their book of business and eager to move on to the next task as quickly as possible, or in the case of a won deal, ensuring that the customer has a positive first experience with the company. This often results in incomplete competitor information in your CRM.

Based on our research at LogicMonitor, including surveys and other data, we believe that we're competing against one specific vendor over 60% of the time. However, when we examine our Salesforce data, less than 10% of these deals have a named competitor.

This discrepancy is something I've seen at every company I've worked with over my nearly 30-year career. So, I strongly encourage organizations to consider how they can cultivate a culture that prioritizes data hygiene and completeness.

Step two: Drive better win/loss mechanisms

The next step is to examine how you can supplement the resources you can readily access with win/loss analysis. Here are a few things you should do:

  1. Leverage your existing systems: It's always worth engaging sales in this process. For instance, Gong is primarily treated as a coaching tool for reviewing and providing feedback on conversations after the fact. As a product marketer, it’s well worth getting access to this platform too.
  2. Survey your customers: This could be as simple as a Google Forms survey, but there are other methods you could consider as well.

For example, at LogicMonitor, we use TechValidate to find out about the core problems the customers are looking to solve, the benefits they’re aiming for, the benefits they achieve, and their experiences with deployment. Their responses can be anonymized, summarized, and used as data points for website content, white papers, and more.

This is essentially a form of win-loss analysis conducted with the customer base.

  1. Listen to customer advisory boards and focus groups: Your existing customers are always actively exploring the market, even if they love your product or service. So, engaging your customer advisory board is incredibly valuable for understanding the competitive landscape.
  2. Leverage resellers and channel partners: They can tell you what's slowing down opportunities, which may or may not be competition-related. And when it comes to competition, they’re a great source of insight, helping you understand where your product struggles in the opportunities they're driving on your company's behalf.

When you have all this information, use it to drive sales enablement. Battlecards are a good start, but it's also vital to go above and beyond in educating your sellers on who your competitors are and how they're likely to compete. Guide them on what to look for, how to set traps, and how to overcome objections your competitors might have laid out.

Step three: Dive deep on your toughest competitors

At companies like Splunk, BMC, and LogicMonitor, where I've had the privilege of working, we faced the challenge of multiple products being sold to different buyer personas and segments.

If this sounds familiar, one strategy I strongly recommend for understanding your competition in each major segment is commissioned research. This is particularly beneficial when you're facing a tough competitor but don’t have much insight into why you're winning or losing.

There are agencies specialized in this kind of research, and I recommend choosing those who are part of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP), as they’ll be sure to conduct this research ethically.

These organizations are also excellent at interviewing existing and former sales reps, as well as existing and former channel partners. They even can get insights from customers on pricing and discounts – things that you’ll never find on a competitor's website.

By the way, a quick hack for pricing information is to not just visit the pricing page of your competitor's website but to conduct a Google search. This is thanks to a trend toward taxpayer transparency in the public sector in the US; to do business with the public sector, companies now have to make their price list available online, and that often looks different from the pricing shown on their official pricing page.

It's crucial to provide detailed enablement for your teams on reference competitors. With all the information you've gathered, you can better prepare them to go up against your toughest competition.

Finally, it's vital to keep your executive stakeholders informed through regular updates. This will help demonstrate the value of your CI program.

Key takeaways

To wrap up, I’ll leave you with a few key points:

  1. If you don’t know your competition, you don’t know your differentiation.
  2. Once you've pinpointed your differentiation, it's crucial to weave it into every facet of your customer journey.
  3. Build CI and win-loss programs to fit your specific needs and budget. No one-size-fits-all CI program exists; it should be tailored to your market, your understanding of that market, and how you compete within it.
  4. Invest time and effort to showcase the insights derived from your CI and win-loss analysis to your product organization, executives, sales team, and marketing colleagues. This will demonstrate the unique value that you can bring to the table.