This article was adapted from Jennifer’s brilliant interview on Into the Fray: The competitive intelligence podcast.
Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to build competitive intelligence (CI) programs from the ground up multiple times, including here at ServiceTitan, where I’m currently the Director of Market Strategy.
Along this journey, I’ve learned so much about how to get key stakeholders bought into the value of CI, how to motivate teams to gather quality intel from the field, and most importantly – how to turn your internal teams into competitive intelligence rockstars.
I’m here to share some of my top techniques and lessons learned for activating competitive intelligence across an organization and turning your teams into CI power users. Let’s dive in.
Building a strong foundation for your CI program
At ServiceTitan, I’m in my third round of setting up a CI function, and I've learned a few things along the way.
In my last two roles, I had the great fortune to have CMOs who were like, “I hired you as the expert – you're the expert,” but usually, everybody has an idea of what CI is and what they want from it. Sales can be super noisy, and product can be super noisy, and each team has very different ideas and needs. I would love to empower every CI professional to make it clear that they’re the experts.
Now, with that expertise comes a level of expectation setting, but you have to gain credibility at the same time. You’re building the plane while you're flying it. As you build credibility, you’ll be able to say with a little bit more confidence, “Look, we don't know everything, but here's what we know, and here's what we're going to do with it.” That’s easier once you gain that credibility and your teams begin to trust you.
A lot of times I've walked into duct-taped CI functions. I don't want to negate how awesome duct tape is, but when the CI function has been added in ad hoc, and it’s basically held together with tape, a lot of the ways of working might be clunky.
To gain credibility, you want to make those processes easier. You remove a little bit of the tape and build a real foundation. To do that, ingest all the data you can early on. That’s going to help you identify the low-hanging fruit so you can quickly start to gain credibility.
As an example, when I came to ServiceTitan, some key pieces of the program were already in place, but the program as a whole was much more reactive. But you have to start building it somewhere, right? You could eat the whole elephant, but you’ve got to do it one bite at a time. For me, building that foundation meant taking a deep dive into threat analysis through our Salesforce records.
That quantitative data is important, but almost equally as important is the qualitative piece. Frequently, when I see a reactive program, it’s because people are not listening. You usually only have executives freaking out about the sky falling when a new competitor comes into play because they don't think we have a handle on the situation.
Now, it might be that we don’t have a handle on the situation, or perhaps we just don't have an infrastructure in place that allows them to feel heard and understand how we're handling the situation.
With this in mind, a very simple thing we did early on to gather some qualitative data was in-depth interviews with our top and bottom sellers. We also did a very open-ended internal survey.
Here's the thing: your Salesforce data can tell you who your biggest competitor is and who's taking the most money, and that's a worthy cause. Don't ignore that. However, if there's a competitor that's not taking up much of the market share, but is giving your sales team the yips, I'd argue that they are just as important of a competitor.
That's why you have to pay attention to the quantitative and the qualitative. You’ve got to listen to what your teams are looking for, then you can deliver that low-hanging fruit through your CI infrastructure and start to build some credibility.
How to tailor your CI program to your stakeholders
I highly recommend focusing on one stakeholder at a time. That way, you can tailor-make what they're looking for. When I say focus on a stakeholder, the idea of sales is even too broad. I chunk it down to sales development representatives (SDRs), account executives (AEs), and customer success managers (CSMs). They all want the same basic information. The difference is in how we enable those audiences and deliver different pieces of what they need.
Your SDR team is making calls every day, and probably getting hung up on quite a lot. When they get a hot minute to actually have a conversation, they just need a few quick-dismiss tidbits of differentiation that set us apart from our competitors.
For AEs, you need to be thinking further down the sales funnel. While they might need a quick dismiss if a competitor gets brought up, what they really need is objection handling. They need landmines to plant. They need more specifics on our positioning that will help them as the prospect evaluates.
My point is that there's a lot of overlap in their needs. It's just a matter of orientation and enabling teams to use the intel you give them.
There’s a big misconception that just creating the battlecards your teams are asking for is enough; I would argue that most of our teams don't even know how to use them properly. They know the battlecards are there for them to study, but are they using them correctly? Maybe not. That’s why solid competitive enablement and training are crucial.
How to motivate your teams to use CI resources
Everyone in a sales position wants to win. That, along with their comp structure, is great motivation to use the CI materials you’re putting out there.
To build on that motivation, when we launch new materials – whether it's battlecards, one-pagers, or even new messaging – we run pilots. We are huge on pilots at ServiceTitan because they’re a great way to convince people that what you’re launching is going to help them win more deals.
Not only that, but who am I to tell you how to sell? I’m not a salesperson. It's better if that comes from their peers, and by piloting, we can create a few champions in their peer groups. That means when we’re rolling out enablement to the broader team, I don’t even have to be involved. Instead, I let one of the pilot people come in and say, “This is how I used these materials, and this is how they helped me.”
Then I come in at the end and show the benefits that the people using these materials saw compared to those who weren’t using them. Maybe the win rate was better. Maybe they brought in more revenue or closed faster. We look at all those facets because we’re big fans of the data-first approach, and it’s also really motivating.
How to train your sales teams to use battlecards
As I mentioned earlier, just handing your team battlecards is not enough; some education is needed. However, a lot of account executives, particularly the more seasoned ones, are like, “Just give me the ingredients and let me cook.” So, you have to ask yourself how in-depth to go when training people on how to best use these tools. I've been experimenting with this for a while, and the answer is multifaceted.
One part of it is that at our kickoff meeting every year, I run a session on how to use CI. It’s important to refresh annually, so each year, I show the teams the available toolkits and battlecards and how to use them. I also walk them through the win-loss program, which is fundamental, in my opinion, to a robust CI program.
Coming back to those seasoned AEs, it’s important to acknowledge that someone who’s been selling into this market for years probably doesn't need a battlecard. If they’re already killing it, why ask them to change? All I ask is that they participate in my pilot so I can study how they sell and hopefully enable others to replicate their success.
Another thing we do is enablement calls. Anytime a new battlecard is made or there's a new competitor of interest, I make sure to get a good 10 minutes with each seller. I spend about the first two-thirds of the call talking about where they can find the new battlecard and how to use it, and the other third on the actual content. I want them to walk away with two or three tidbits that will help them win.
Taking a little time to set salespeople up for success like this is not only going to help them win against whichever competitor the battlecard addresses; it’ll also get them back into the content more generally. Then, before you know it, you’ll have built a high-performing team of competitive intelligence rockstars primed for domination. And that’s a pretty rewarding feeling for any CI leader.
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