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Do you ever feel like you’re forever having to prove your worth as a PMM? Well, formulating a killer competitive program is a great way to do just that.

Competitive programs are easily linked to metrics and quantitative data and in this article, I’ll run through three KPIs you can introduce to your organization. Get it right and your competitive program will drive real business value across every function in your company, so let’s get stuck in.

In this article I’m going to discuss how to craft KPIs for a killer competitive program - I know it sounds a little daunting or particularly niche, but I guarantee it'll be substantive content I'll share with you that will hopefully change the way you think about your competitive program or going forward creating a competitive program.

Before we begin

I'm Nikhil Dhingra, I've worked at a couple of companies, some startups back in Palo Alto, and I was in the Bay Area for a while, I worked at Salesforce here at HQ for a couple of years and now I'm in LA at ServiceTitan, which is a home services software for contractors - I call it Salesforce for plumbers.

Just a disclaimer, everything I go through today is actually a function of just my personal thoughts and opinions not reflecting those specifically of ServiceTitan or any other company I've worked for, although historically I have seen a lot of these strategies and concepts work at various companies.

For anyone reading who actually has a formal competitive program or function at their company, whether that's a vendor you use, or someone doing competitive research or actually a group dedicated to it, this will be super relevant for you. And for those who don't, it'll help you think about how we can add additional value as product marketers by incorporating competitive into our product marketing framework.

Why a competitive program is important

Does anybody think the product marketing role is kind of a scam? No, of course not, but a competitive program is something to show how we add value because oftentimes it's somewhat of an echo chamber that we have to prove our value.

One of the most quantifiable ways to do that, in my opinion, is have a competitive program because it easily maps to quantitative metrics that you can think about and in this article, I'm going to talk about some of those KPIs. But before I do that I want to highlight some of the pitfalls of a competitive program.

Pitfalls of a competitive program

It can be misconstrued oftentimes, as something that is a cost center, because it's undirected research, you can't really measure the effectiveness. One of the characteristics of a competitive program that's a cost center is that there's just unguided research - you're just Googling different competitors looking at their websites, putting it on a Google Doc, without actually mapping it to actions.

There's oftentimes no data inputs, or even worse there's bad data being inputted into your CRM, i.e. Salesforce. There are unclear actions coming out of it. You don't have really buy-in or relationships with the key stakeholders. And there's no real continuous content creation or maintenance - battle cards get stale pretty quickly.

So you've got to think about how you're maintaining this. If you don't you lose credibility pretty fast. Lastly, there's no defined metrics or KPIs and that's what I'm gonna focus on today for the bulk of the article. So how do you turn that cost center mentality into more of a profit center, and really make competitive currency throughout your company?

Strong pillars can make it a powerful program

Well, a couple of things you can do are:

  • Think about it in a way that it's sort of the center of the org and that it touches every org in a certain way.
  • Make sure there's a strong interlock between the business functions and IT. A very, very close interlock with sales, particularly if you're a sales-driven company, which a lot of companies I've worked for are, that's a good thing.
  • Make sure there's a clear funnel into product as well.
  • Define those metrics and KPIs.

Touches every part of org

This is a chart that I created because it's how I look at the competitive world.

It's this multi-dimensional cube, comprised of market intelligence, customer intelligence and product intelligence and each one of those dimensions touches a certain part of the org in a different way. The blobs or circles map to the influence you have on that function.

  • Sales - in my experience, is the number one business function you're aligning to and you want to increase their win rates at the end of the day.
  • Product management - you want to make sure you're delivering that competitive insight into the product roadmap into the product org.
  • Marketing - a lot of this competitive intel can inform your marketing activities, the campaigns you're running.

Some of the secondary ones in my experience are:

  • Strategy and corp dev - you want to look at m&a activity, things that might inform how you're developing as a corporation.
  • Customer success - this might be larger or smaller depending on where you are but you obviously want to reduce that churn rate by enabling your CSMs just as much as you would your sales reps, because at the end of the day, customers want to be validated, they're choosing the right product, probably on a day to day basis. So CSMs should be just as enabled as your sales reps.

Crafting KPIs for competitive program

How do you craft KPIs for a successful competitive program? I'll talk about three KPIs in this article.

KPI 1: win rates

The first one is, as you might expect, increasing win rates against your top competitors. The first thing involved is defining who your top competitors are, and thinking about how you actually look at competitive deals and competitive opportunities.

Decouple ‘head-to-head’ opportunities and ‘replacement’ opportunities

There are two types of opportunities in my experience. One is those head-to-head opportunities where you or your company is going up against a competitor directly and a prospects choosing between you and competitor X. The other type is where a sales rep is in a deal where they're trying to convince a prospect to leave their incumbent software, and come on to your software - that's what I call a replacement opportunity.

They are not mutually exclusive. They can be both, as you can see by the Venn diagram that I drew below, and when they're both that's where you're trying to displace an incumbent software, as well as convince that prospect to choose your software over another one they're considering in that deal.

They're very different selling motions, and there's different messaging positioning you might use in those two situations.

For replacement opportunities, oftentimes, it's a legacy software that the prospects been on for a while, they could have been on it for years and the selling motion is to get them out of this entrenched thinking of, "I like my legacy software. I don't know what the cloud is", there's an education part of that talk track.

Head-to-head situations are sometimes just value-based conversations or feature differentiators you're talking about.

Identify top competitors by opportunity count and value

The other thing is you've got to identify who your top competitors are so you can then analyze that data. Here's a tableau report we use in our company, that I hope will give you some insight into how we look at this.

We look at the data - who are your top competitors? Look at all the opportunities. We can filter by those head-to-head opportunities, which we call beats, and those replacement opportunities which he calls steals.

Then you look at the opportunities that are open and the top opportunities is how you measure the top competitors. We also look at it from a CMR perspective, or the dollar value, or the slice of the pie that competitor is making up. So you could have two very, very large deals from a legacy player and enterprise deal and that might be a big slice of the pie, but it's only two opportunities out of 10. But that's super important to look at because it's at the end of the day about your bottom line.

Get granular by looking at AE-level performance

Another thing to do is not just look at it at the opportunity level, but look at it at the AE level, get granular, look at every AE's performance when it comes to those competitive players.

You can create a simple scorecard looking at each AE's performance and that actually is super valuable because then you can identify patterns and who might be weak in a particular area, who might be good in a particular area and they can train other sales reps and you can leverage them for information of how they're succeeding in those deals. Then you can partner with your enablement function to create a certification program, particularly for competitive so you're really honing in on that skill.

Segment analysis by channel for deeper insights

Another strategy for increasing win rates is when you're analyzing the data and the opportunities and the wins, don't just look at all the channels consolidated, look at each channel specifically - cold outbound, warm outbound, events, marketing - whatever you might call it at your company.

We had a situation recently where we saw one month our cold outbound channel was performing, as you can see by the first arrow above, pretty well in the loss category, it wasn't making up a big chunk of that and then the next month it was making up three times that. So you would think cold outbound is probably the weakest channel because it's hard to work cold leads, this was a particularly weird anomaly so we investigated that and found the cold outbound channel was weak in a particular competitive area.

The action we took coming out of that was talking to those SDRs or XDRs, whatever you call them at your company, and making sure they're trained appropriately on that particular competitor to have those introductory conversations.

KPI 2: churn rates

Just like you want to increase win rates you want to decrease churn rates against your top competitors.

Go deep into the WHY behind losses and churns

A good way to do this is again, go back to the data, and go back to the instrumentation of whatever CRM you use. This is all based on the assumption that you do have that relationship with your IT function, that you do have those inputs, those fields in your CRM - if you don't, it's time to start that relationship and prioritize that.

Above are some example disposition codes we have - and disposition codes are just basically reasons why we lose or reasons why we churn:

  • Product gap - did you lose that deal or did that customer churn because of a particular product gap? You don't have a mobile app, for example. All those fields are in Salesforce and the sales rep has to choose it, it's a required field. That's pretty critical, as you know, sales reps are really great at inputting information...
  • Pricing budget - was it too expensive at the time for them? Did they not have the budget? Was it the wrong time of year?
  • Onboarding issue - were they a customer that signed up, went to onboarding, and said your onboarding is not very good? "There's a lot of friction I actually don't even want to go live", and they churned before they even turn it on.
  • No decision-maker - they were talking to the wrong person, the wrong persona.
  • Didn't see value - maybe they said, "You're just like this other competitor I'm talking to and they're half the price".
  • Bad timing - maybe it was the busy season, we work in a very cyclical industry, the busy season is summer months, where it's really hard to talk to business owners when they're fixing all of our air conditioning.

When you have those disposition codes, what you can do is analyze that data, work with your sales ops team and you can hopefully find clusters or patterns in the data where you can actually take action. It's not just an insight you're not going to action or do anything with, you're going to look at it and you can say:

  • There were 30% where it was too expensive.
  • There were 40% where they said we can't move forward if you don't have this particular integration.

Guess what? There's really clear actions that can come out of that.

Clear loss analysis is invaluable for actionable insights

With a feature gap, you can go talk to product and say, "Hey, we really need to put this on the roadmap". Or maybe it's on the roadmap and you're going to launch in two months, well then when you launch it, you've got a lead list that you can nurture, and do a win-back campaign or something such.

KPI 3: product intelligence

Deliver that product intelligence to product management and do it on a continuous basis. A lot of times product management builds product based on their own principles or on a framework. It could be anything from they don't talk to us so they don't know what customers want, to they don't have a roadmap, or maybe they are doing their own research, but at the end of the day, we have a lot of that value, and we've got to funnel it back to product and we've got to construct a real framework that helps us do that.

Competitive intel is an input into the roadmap

I'm going back to the data again, those disposition codes, when you hone in on those product gaps, if you're seeing patterns, you can go back to product and say, "Guys, we really need this on the roadmap", you've got a business case at your fingertips, all you have to do is point to the data and capture it.

A lot of times features sound the same and if you stack up your features against your competitor, they'll look very much the same. But what's very different about products is that features do different things, and they solve different business problems and there's nuances that us as product marketers can dig into and really understand how we're different, how our workflow’s different. How are we achieving their business solutions in a unique way that actually moves the needle?

Competitors new releases - release notes are a really powerful tool you can look at, they're usually public for your competitors. You can go in there, look at it, capture that information and funnel that back to product and highlight what's different, highlight what's unique, help them inform their roadmap.

Tear down analysis - this is one of those where it can be done by product, it can be done by product marketing, but I imagine a product teardown conducted by product marketing is much different than it would be by a product person. We're able to look at that product demo and we're able to say, "Oh, this is why it's different from a messaging perspective, from a usability perspective, from a customer experience perspective", so really get into those product demos, and look at the product, deconstruct it and you've got to do it on a continuous basis.

The other thing is when you're doing battle cards, have a very clear product portion of it, where it's talking about, what are those workflows that we do better? What are those nuances? What are those deal-breaking features that we have that the competitor doesn't? And because they don't, the customer cannot actually do business as they would expect and it will hurt their bottom line.

To summarize

The top three things:

Increase win rates

  • Decouple those opportunity types,
  • Segment those opportunities,
  • Identify your top competitors, and
  • Monitor AE level performance and get granular.

Decrease churn rates

  • Define disposition codes,
  • Enable your CS organization as you would your sales organization, and
  • Execute win back campaigns on the data (that's a really quick win you can do).

Deliver competitive intel to product

  • Stock rank those product dispositions,
  • Conduct product tear downs,
  • Capture that information and relay that to product.

The big assumption here are that you do have that interlock with IT, you do have that data in Salesforce, you do have sales reps inputting the information, all of that is not trivial it requires training, socialization, continuous updates and making sure they're staying on top of it.

A final pro tip

Create a bi-weekly or monthly competitive report for internal socialization. If you're doing all this work, socialize it, create an executive summary for leadership and make it actionable for every data point you have or every statement you're making, you can create an action item and say, "It's not necessarily product marketing doing this, but we recommend that CS alter training" or something like that.

A lot of times there's clear actions like creating a win story, if you see a deal where if we go back to that ven diagram, it was a replacement opportunity and a head-to-head opportunity, that's a great one-two punch because you've got a deal where an incumbent software was displaced and you also beat out a modern competitive software. So you've got two competitive stories right there. You can create quick stories and deliver those to sales as well as CS.

That's it from me, thanks for your time.

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