Let’s kick things off with a key question: are you communicating internally with your PMM team? 🙋♂️
Yes? That’s awesome. But what we wanna know is: are you looking further afield and keeping a beady eye on how rival companies are occupying their time? If not, then you oughta take a long, hard look at yourself and begin giving competitive intelligence the credence it deserves.
Why? Because it ranks alongside product messaging, market positioning, buyer personas, etc., as one of the most important duties of a product marketer.
So, with that in mind, let's take a moment to refresh our memory and remind ourselves of the basics.
In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at:
- What is competitive intelligence?
- Research methods for competitive intelligence.
- How to share competitive intelligence results.
- Competitive intelligence tips.
- Competitive intelligence tools.
What is competitive intelligence?
It's a process in which companies gather information on their competitors, customers, and the overall market, before using their findings to introduce appropriate strategies, as they strive to gain an upper hand in their respective market.
It’s like spying - PMM style. 🕵️♀️
When it comes to gathering research, there are two forms of research methods to consider: internal research and external research.
But how do they differ, and which do PMMs prefer?
Research methods for competitive intelligence
What is external research?
As the name suggests, external research involves gathering information from sources outside of your company: for example, newspapers, websites, social media, etc.
When we completed the Competitive Intelligence Trends Report 2021, we decided to explore exactly how product marketers were collecting their CI insights, and we found many were turning to external sources as their main source of information.
After taking a closer look at some of the methods being used by product marketers, we found a number of diverse methods were being used during the competitive intelligence process.
81.2% of PMMs said they check out press releases and media mentions to understand the current activities of those within their market - an increase from 2020 at 76.5%. Plus, an increase from 2020 (74.3%) showed that 76.5% of participants took the relatively old-fashioned approach and headed straight to the source itself, checking out websites and marketing activities.
What is internal research?
With no end of external methods available to those planning competitive intelligence, this doesn’t mean internal methods can’t be used instead. And, as we’re sure you’ve guessed, internal research involves turning to research methods from within the company.
Internal communication is a fundamental part of product marketing in any circumstance, but it can also be the difference between getting mediocre material for your competitive intel or comprehensive insights from people in your organization. The good news? There are several avenues for PMMs to explore in their bid to gain a competitive advantage. 👇
When we surveyed our sample, we found product marketers were making the most of resources under their noses to learn more about their competitors, with simple means of communication such as emails (65.9%) and conversations among peers (47.1%) emerging as the most popular form of internal competitive intelligence research.
In terms of which specific teams PMMs were liaising with most when conducting competitive intelligence, our research indicated the sales teams were identified as the port of call for many PMMs, with a whopping 92.9% saying they turn to them for CI support.
In some corners of the product marketing world, it’s suggested that leadership figures and executives either, a) don’t support the PMM function, b) don’t understand the role of a PMM or c) ignore the role altogether.
So, we’re sure you’ll share our enthusiasm in hearing 77.6% of product marketers we spoke to about competitive intelligence said they’re able to gain competitive intelligence insights from members of the executive/leadership team; a marked improvement on some of the PMM perceptions we discovered among some members of the C-Suite, as we outlined in our C-Suite perceptions report.
How to share competitive intelligence results
If you were a sports coach and knew exactly what the Achilles heel of the opposition was, would you keep your mouth shut and watch your team struggle?
Of course, you wouldn’t. And the same principle needs to be applied when you’re conducting competitive intelligence.
We asked what skills make a rockstar product marketer, and unsurprisingly, collaboration came out on top, with 78% of PMMs saying they value collaboration with coworkers above any other attribute.
Collaboration and effective communication go hand in glove with competitive intelligence. You need to work as a team to share insights and make the most of the important information at your disposal, otherwise, you can miss key insights that could be applied to your strategy.
In an ideal scenario, product marketing professionals the world over would apply this rationale, but to what extent are PMMs actually doing it?
We asked PMMs to rank how open internal teams are when it comes to knowledge-sharing around competitive intelligence on a scale of 1-10, and this generated an average rating of 6.9; only 28.2% of product marketers deemed their in-house knowledge sharing to be worthy of a perfect ‘10’.
Sure, you can collect thorough competitive intelligence results, but what good are they if you’re not spreading the word among your peers and putting your knowledge to good use?
With that sentiment in mind, we burrowed even deeper into the CI habits of a product marketer, checking out preferred methods for sharing intel, once they establish what their rivals have up their sleeve, and here’s what we found… 👀
The very best product marketers need no encouragement when it comes to sharing their competitive intelligence findings with their teams - and this stretches far beyond the product marketing team.
When we completed our research survey as part of our report on competitive intelligence, we found that there were as many as five departments product marketers mainly turn to when sharing results. Ahead of product marketing itself, with sales (82.4%), product (52.9%), customer success (51.8%), executives and leadership (45.9), and marketing (30.6) identified as the key quintet as far as information sharing is concerned, before product marketing even entered the fray.
As for the most common methods for spreading the good CI word? In-person/team-by-team feedback and email segmentation were both earmarked as being the two most popular methods for feeding back to product marketing teams.
Over half (52.9%) expressed a preference for doing this in-person, on a team-by-team basis.
Email was also identified as a popular option, with 34.1% sending segmented emails, while 31.8% typically send a blanket email to all relevant teams.
Some of the PMMs we spoke with (23.5%) also said they share information in person with relevant teams at the same time.
We reached out to some members of the PMM community to see what kind of things they use to help share their CI insights. Here’s what they had to say:
“Our methods depend on the audience; sometimes we share information on presentations, sales enablement training material, while other times, findings are used on battle cards.”
Silvia Kiely Frucci, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Castor
“We add them to the knowledge base of our competitive intelligence.”
Brittany Gaither, Product Marketing Manager at Benchling
“Competitive intelligence is shared in a dedicated Slack channel.”
Andrew McCotter Bicknell, Head of Competitive Intelligence at ClickUp
“We have an ongoing document that’s updated periodically with relevant competitor information.”
Jada Gale, Former Product Marketing Manager at FreeWill
“We use Highspot to publish our findings so that everyone across the company can access it.”
Renu Jinturkar, Senior Product Marketing Manager at LiveIntent
“We use Slack channels and a Salesforce integration.”
Shane Robbins, Director of Product Marketing at Cloudbeds
Competitive intelligence tips
We’re not going to beat around the bush: collecting and sharing competitive intelligence can be time-consuming, but there’s no doubting the benefits it can bring to the fore. A heightened understanding of others vying for your precious customers will equip you with an opportunity to improve your product offering as you bid to stave off competition.
We popped together a list of 30 competitive intelligence tips from product marketers who’ve been there, done it, and continue to flaunt their CI shirt.
Here’s a sneak peek into what you can expect from our list, with the following snippets of advice sure to alleviate the strain and help you navigate the path to CI perfection.
"Competitive intelligence is an incredibly important activity for every product marketing team. Every customer-facing team within your organization will likely hear bits of information about competitors, and collecting that in one place is crucial.
"From my experience, a shared Slack channel for competitive intel where people can post updates they are hearing is useful. PMMs can vet those, and update battle cards or different assets as needed.
"If there are a small number of competitors you compete fiercely with, it can also be worth establishing a group like a tiger team to discuss things like objection handling, differentiators, and real-time advice on how to win. All of the information within this team is naturally fed back into core competitive assets as well."
Jeffrey Vocell, Director of Product Marketing at Iterable
“Don’t be afraid to get help from other parts of your organization. Being able to get help from a sales engineer or a developer while you’re reading technical documentation can save a ton of time and help you better understand different personas.”
Mindy Regnell, Senior Marketing Intelligence Manager at Postscript
“Job postings can detail info about their tech stack. For example, if they say ‘looking for an IT manager with experience in Oracle, Kronos’, then you know the company uses these tools.”
Laura Massingham, Director of Product Marketing at Tackle.io
“Make sure to leverage your entire company and look for a way to integrate information-sharing into your teams' daily tools (be it Slack, or a Sales Enablement tool, etc).“Whenever someone new starts at Showpad, we hold a session dedicated to Competitive Intel and how each Showpadder plays a part in gathering and sharing that information. Our Product Marketing team is not big enough to do all the research ourselves so we've set up a system to source info gathered by BDRs, AEs, CSMs, etc.”
Lara Verlinden, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Showpad
“Spend time getting to know the competitor from all angles: explore their website and gated assets as if you were a prospect, but also understand from their existing customers if the true product experience matches the initial marketing.”
Megan Magee, Senior Product Marketing Manager at ServiceNow
“Start with your value proposition not mentioned by you, but by your customer. From there understand why you don’t live up to that value prop and where you can improve. Know your segment, know your buyer and persona.”
Hien Phan, Director of Enterprise Product Marketing at Amplitude
“Social media is a goldmine of information.”
Avi Goldstein, Former Manager of Vendor Relations and Product Marketing at Hertz Furniture
“Job postings reveal a lot about your competitor's product/growth strategy. They will often disclose which areas they're trying to invest in from a technology perspective or which segments they're trying to grow the business in the most.”
Julian Clarke, Senior Product Marketing Manager | Team Lead at Lattice
“In a non-transparent market, get creative. Current clients can be great sources of information. Also, think about other players in the ecosystem that can share stories and data.”
Jill Dornan, Senior Director of Product Marketing at HealtSparq
“Don't ignore customer reviews and prospect calls.”
Ruchita Shah, Product Marketing Manager at Mavenlink
Competitive intelligence tools
Thought our insights into competitive intelligence were finished, finito, finite?
Well, you’re mistaken, because as a parting gift, we’re steering you towards our PMM Tech Stack, where you’ll find a collection of competitive intelligence tools designed to help you improve the effectiveness of your research.
Plus, we’ve also got an incredibly in-depth guide called Head-to-Head: The Competitive Intelligence Playbook, which is filled to the brim with actionable advice designed to equip you with the knowledge you need to build and refine your competitive intelligence (CI) strategy and ultimately win your market.
And that’s not all! Into the Fray: The Competitive Intelligence Podcast is hosted by Erik Mansur, VP of Product Marketing at Crayon, where he discusses the intricacies of CI with leading experts from the likes of TalkDesk, Imperva, and jane.app who have refined their own approaches.
What are you waiting for? Start as you mean to go on, and set new habits.
Have a nosy.
Don't want the CI learning to stop? We've got a course for that.
With the help of Alex McDonnell, Market Intelligence Lead at Airtable, we have created a Competitive Intelligence Certified: Masters course, designed to go even deeper into equipping you with the essential CI skills.
By the end of the course, you’ll be able to:
- Build a tech tack for CI.
- Conduct win/loss and primary research.
- Visualize your competitive position with a market map.
- Enable sales and customer success to deliver crisp competitive positioning.
- Bring CI to the table in strategy and product decisions.
Face competition with confidence. Cut through the noise.Get Competitive Intelligence Certified