In 2012 I began working in a telecommunications firm. The firm had two possible products and had recently decided which one to develop based on the results of data from a market research and marketing intelligence report.

The CTO explained that since the major sources of competition had been identified, there was no need for me to conduct a full competitive intelligence (CI) analysis. Therefore, I was asked to concentrate on any new contenders entering the market. Luckily enough, I did not follow instructions.

The importance of CI in product development

My experience as a CI manager had taught me the importance of conducting a wide market analysis to assess each player’s strategic positioning and in doing so, I had uncovered a major competitor not mentioned in the report.

Upon deeper investigation, I understood that the competitor had begun product development two years earlier and were soon to release the product. Due to the competitor’s strong product, position and status - this was a true game changer. Once management were informed, the company decided to switch product focus and in hindsight saved millions by discovering CI insights. I often wonder how things would have been different without the use of CI.

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The CI role today

While all companies do some type of CI, the role of CI analyst today is found mostly in large organizations or specific industries. Mid-size to smaller firms (and especially startups) rarely manage to allocate the budget for a full time CI expert. Yet, since some understanding of the market players is needed, CI today usually falls under the responsibility of the product marketing manager (PMM).

There are vast differences in the approach, analytical tools and communication mode between a CI manager and PM manager. As someone who has worn both hats, I often worry that many of the additional aspects of CI are overlooked as a result. For example, in the above example a PMM with a market research report listing a group of competitors would most likely focus on messaging, positioning or branding of the players already on the list and not search for additional players or products.

The interplay between CI and product marketing

Placing CI under product marketing enables a focused competitive analysis, yet most PMMs do not have the background, training and time frame to research, analyze and communicate a full range of findings to all the relevant parties.

Many CI professionals also include strategic foresight in their tool arsenal offering further insight into market trends and future market changes. A company that does not have access to the full range of information is working with a limited market view and senior management often misses out on the information and insights this information brings.

There is no doubt that market and competitive data are vital to the product marketing role. A comprehensive understanding of the market aids in developing a GTM strategy, developing the messaging and position, content planning and helping the product team develop their roadmap. Yet if the competitive analysis falls solely on the PMM with limited training and experience, there is bound to be information that falls between the cracks.

How can we ensure product marketers receive training to competently carry out the research, gain analysis skills and are equipped with the tools to communicate the information?

Under current economic circumstances, together with the popularity of lean organizations and growing unemployment rates, an opportunity has arisen for PMMs to expand their responsibilities and make the PMM role a more strategic and central one. While this places an additional burden on the PMM and the PM team, it can also be positioned to the PMM’s benefit.

By adding the skillset to the PMM role, the PMM’s position becomes far more central to the entire organization. So, how do they learn the tools of the CI trade - research skills, analysis methodologies and modes of communicating this information to the necessary stakeholders? There are CI groups which offer training and courses such as SCIP and The Institute for Competitive Intelligence.

Research skills involve far more than knowing how to perform a Google search as it is vital to use trustworthy sources which can’t always be found on the web. While many software programs offer data collection, a list of reliable sources are often provided by large CI firms such as Aqute Intelligence who provide a comprehensive list of public data sources which can be used for gathering information.

Another great list of data sources can be retrieved at data journalist websites as journalists also need to gather data for their research. The Knight Center frequently offer MOOCs which provide data sources and approaches to data gathering. In addition, the sales team can be a great source of internal data.

Analysis skills require training and practice, yet a great place to start are classic books such as 'Analysis Without Paralysis' which provide an extensive guide to using the tools. There are various online tools and software, yet they have not yet reached the level, extent and depth that human analysis offers.

Once research and analysis has been carried out, the information needs to be communicated to relevant stakeholders.

The importance of collaboration

While most CI software excel at sending out the information to stakeholders, it can be very helpful to publish CI in a format that enables internal stakeholders to add any insights or information. I’ve seen Slack groups work in smaller startups and larger organizations as an alternative to an internal website.

Over history there have been hundreds of trades and professions that have disappeared as they failed to adapt to the changes and needs of society. Product Marketing is a fairly new role in many companies and by expanding the skillset and strategic role of the PMM, the popularity, demand and compensation for carrying out the responsibilities of the position will be elevated.

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