This article was adapted from Sonduren’s presentation at the Product Marketing Summit in Vancouver.
Hi, my name is Sonduren, and today I'm going to talk about competitive intelligence. I'm a very competitive guy, so this is a really exciting topic for me. More than that, it’s very important to your product positioning.
I'm going to be using examples from Airbase of how we differentiate and help our sales team compete in an ever-evolving competitive landscape. I also want to share how you can make product marketing into an even more strategic function and guarantee it a spot at the table.
Particularly, I'll hone in on the following areas of discussion:
- How to make your brand stand out in a crowded market
- Using competitive differentiation to hone in on your market
- How to support product, sales, customer success, and marketing through competitive intelligence
- Earning validation through reviews
- Tracking the outcomes of your competitive intelligence program
How to make your brand stand out in a crowded market
In case you’re not familiar with Airbase, we’re a spend management platform, which means we operate in a very competitive space.
You've probably heard of Expensify. Perhaps your accounting and finance teams use a solution like Bill.com to pay invoices. Many companies also have corporate credit cards – or AmEx – for their executives. We’re up against some stiff competition.
With around 100 competitors all talking about managing expenses for the office of the CFO, the Comptroller, and the Assistant Accounting Manager, Airbase needed to find a unique and differentiated story that would resonate with our target audience. Just saying “We help do your expenses” wouldn't cut it in such a competitive market.
To stand out, it's essential to deeply examine both direct and indirect competitors and understand the customer segments they target.
If you want to succeed, you have to enable your sales team and your organization as a whole to focus on winning strategies instead of just throwing darts at the board. One way to do this is by leveraging competitive intelligence to become a strategic powerhouse in the business.
In any market, you’re going to encounter direct and indirect competitors, and it’s essential to understand both.
For instance, there are various solutions to manage business expenses, and as an accountant, you might need to conduct customer and market research and buy individual components.
I’m going to call the providers of those individual components our indirect competitors as Airbase aims to provide a broader platform that solves multiple problems in one solution.
Using competitive differentiation to hone in on your market
To understand the competitive landscape, you need to examine the products your competitors sell, their positioning, pricing, sales process, channels, marketing materials, events, and more. This requires a lot of research and may require some specialized intel-gathering tools.
It can be a lot of work. You might spend hours each week collecting insights from sources like Google Alerts and competitors' help centres and then sharing them with your sales teams via Slack channels.
You need to prioritize your efforts by focusing on the competitors you encounter most often in the sales cycle. From there, you can identify gaps in the market, develop new products and services to gain more market share and discover emerging trends.
So what does this look like? Well, let me give you an example. When I joined Airbase, I had experience as a corporate accountant, but I still needed to understand the rapidly evolving landscape. Our sales team was facing serious competition in every single deal.
To address this, we created an Excel document to compare the capabilities of our main direct and indirect competitors. It wasn't an elegant solution, but it helped us understand our technical differentiators and value propositions compared to the competition.
This information was crucial in identifying how we could differentiate ourselves from the sea of competitors that we wanted to beat. It was challenging at first, but eventually, we gained an understanding of how to differentiate ourselves.
Now, at Airbase, we target accounting and finance teams from mid-market organizations that need to consolidate their non-payroll spending in one solution.
For accounting teams, this means addressing pain points, such as wasting time on tasks that Airbase now automates, like ledger entries and manual month-end processes – the very tasks that made me quit accounting and get into marketing! Saving time and money and reducing risk are critical factors here.
Our CRO is always emphasizing the importance of focus in making companies successful. For instance, some competitors focus on corporate card solutions, while others target the mid-market space or the office of the CFO.
There're also companies solving expense management problems at the enterprise level, such as Coupa, which deals in big implementations involving lengthy change management processes.