Jonah Lopin, CEO and Co-Founder of Crayon, made this presentation at the Product Marketing Festival in June 2021. Watch presentations OnDemand now.

My name's Jonah Lopin, Co-Founder and CEO here at Crayon. Before joining Crayon, I studied physics and did an MBA at MIT, here at Boston and Cambridge.

Then I was on the management team of a company called HubSpot from zero to the IPO. HubSpot has a $24 billion market cap now, so many of you are probably familiar with that company.

Crayon is a venture-backed competitive intelligence software company. Crayon is the competitive intelligence backbone for mid-market and enterprise. We just announced our $22 million Series B about a month ago, we've got about 100 folks in the company, a global team, but the epicenter is here in Boston.

Of course, what we're most proud of, is that we do outrank Crayola for the word crayon in Google. We're very proud of that fact (my only attempt at humor, promise).

We've delivered 81 million insights in our platform over the past few years to over 500 mid-market enterprise customers, and we've learned a lot about competitive intelligence in that process.

My goal in this article is to increase your chances of success by sharing a lot of the learnings, insights, and ideas that have come out of serving our customers as we built the company.

I’ll discuss a range of topics, including:

Who likes doing CI manually?

How many of you reading just love a good old-fashioned manual CI process?

How many of you wake up every day raring to go and do a whole bunch of web research on your competitors, or maybe sift through a bunch of Google alerts? Then get real crazy after lunch and maybe manually update a bunch of PDF battle cards?

Competitive intelligence in the last 50 years

For decades, CI has been largely a human-driven process/discipline. Whether you have had a team inside your company that completes the process, or whether you outsource this to a research firm or a consulting firm, it's always been a very manual, human-driven effort.

The problem

The problem there is it's very expensive to generate insights when humans are doing all the work. The even bigger problem is a lot of the insights you do get lag the market, often by weeks or months.

Traditionally, by the time you get competitive insights to your product team, to your sales team, or to your executive team, they're not very timely and often aren't therefore very actionable or impactful.

However, what if competitive intelligence can be programmatic? What if it could be cheap and real-time?

What if we can generate insight with software at a fraction of the cost, and have those insights be real-time such that they are far more actionable, far more impactful inside your business?

There’s a better way to compete using software

The reality is, there's a much better way to compete in 2021, by transitioning from a manual CI process to a software-driven process.

The opportunity we all have in competitive intelligence is to think big and take a hard swing. To go out and try to build a program that is 10x the value, 10x the impact of what's traditionally been possible, what we've traditionally been capable of in CI.

What I'm going to dig into are some of the things to think about, and some of the things to prioritize if you want to go do this.

Build the CI backbone across your business

The first thing you want to think about is building a backbone across your business that serves every department in the business, not just your sales team, not just your customer success team.

We run the largest competitive intelligence industry survey every year at Crayon called the State of Competitive Intelligence. One of the things that have been a consistent finding over the years, is that most businesses put an equal weighting on the importance of serving a range of stakeholder departments.

The first thing you want to think about is building a backbone across your business that serves every department in the business, not just your sales team, not just your customer success team.

There's value to create for your sales team for sure and you can drive your win rates and your other sales dynamics but there's a lot of value to be created in your marketing team to drive differentiation and execute better campaigns.

In your product team, how do you make better roadmap decisions and bring products to market more quickly? Your executive team needs competitive insight. What you want to think about in building your CI backbone is building something that serves the entire company and has a wide impact across departments.

As you set out to do that, you need to solve for and be thoughtful about the differences among those stakeholder groups.

You need more than a hammer

They say when you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We can’t be hammers in competitive intelligence. You can't go put a battle card in front of your CEO.

But of course, that same battle card is very useful for your sales team. Each department, each audience has different intelligence and analysis needs and you're going to reach them with different distribution mechanisms.

Intelligence and analysis

From an intelligence and analysis standpoint, executives tend to look for higher level, more curated intelligence, maybe trying to understand the competitive dynamics related to a couple of big initiatives they're focused on.

Contrasted with sales and customer success who often need much more granular information and are okay with less sophisticated analysis but they value the timeliness. They want to get that information in real-time.

Output and distribution

From an output and distribution standpoint, executives largely need bespoke deliverables that you're going to push out by email.

Whereas for your sales and customer success, it's much more about battle cards and real-time alerts, and win-loss information.

Much more pull versus push, you want to reach sales and customer success inside the CRM, inside the sales enablement platform, inside of chat right at the moment when they need that information to advance a deal. Much more pull versus push.

Then product and marketing, on all these fronts are somewhere in the middle.

The key point is you've got to think this through and you cannot just be a hammer in how you approach this.

CI should move with the heartbeat in your market

No matter which audiences you're serving inside of your business, we've all got to speed this up. As an industry, we need to speed this CI thing up.

There is a heartbeat in every market, there's a heartbeat in every business. If you want to have an impact in CI, you have got to accelerate the pace of what you're doing to match the pace of your business and the pace of your market.

There is a heartbeat in every market, there's a heartbeat in every business. If you want to have an impact in CI, you have got to accelerate the pace of what you're doing to match the pace of your business and the pace of your market.

In practice, what that means is you've got to get to a daily or at least a weekly cadence for engaging your stakeholders.

The impact of the accelerated cadence of engagement

In the State of CI, we found teams who accelerate their cadence of engaging stakeholders from monthly or longer to daily are more than twice as likely to report they're having a revenue impact.

There's 2x of our 10x program impact right there just around the cadence. You're probably thinking, "Okay, Jonah, easier said than done" and I do get that a lot.

To pull that off you need leverage

You're right, if you're going to serve a range of stakeholders across the business, each of which has diverse needs and you're going to tighten up the loop on your CI and make your CI twitch faster, you're going to have to find ways to get leverage in this process.

You cannot just pedal faster to go and achieve that because nobody can pedal that fast.

So, how do you go off and do that?

Leverage and automation in the CI workflow

One of the important ways you can get leverage in your CI process is by using workflow and automation. As intelligence comes across daily, whether it's:

  • Intelligence that's been submitted by folks around the company,
  • Won or lost competitive deals that just closed out in your CRM system, or
  • News or some information from the digital footprint of a competitor.

You want to have an efficient process for handling that.

Two big goals to that daily process

1) Processing intelligence

The first one is we're building our CI database here. We want to discuss the new intelligence as it comes in, we're going to stamp the takeaway, the so what, and the what next, right on the insight.

We're going to add notes and labels and keywords so that we can find and reference that intelligence later. The point is, we're pre-processing intelligence and building this CI database to speed up our ability to handle ad hoc requests which inevitably come in.

2) Kickoff downstream actions

The second goal of this daily process is to kickoff downstream actions and distribution. Some of the intelligence that comes in just needs to be understood and archived for later. That's great because it stays in your CI database and becomes searchable.

However, if something rises to the level of needing to be acted on right away, or just needing to be visible in a battle card or to your product team or on a marketing dashboard that you've built or in Slack, you want to be able to touch that piece of information once and have it automatically published all the places where it should go.

Essentially, you want to serve as this very efficient filter between new intelligence flowing in, and then what gets distributed out and is visible to stakeholders.

This is one of the key things you want to get in place if you're going to do much faster twitch intel processing and get in sync with your stakeholders.

Harness the conversation in Slack & Teams

Two platforms where you feel the heartbeat in your business are Slack and Teams. There are a couple of quick hits to think about here.

Separate and elevate the CI channel

The first best practice is to think about separating out the CI discussion from whatever channel it's currently happening inside of if you don't have a dedicated CI channel yet.

It’s considered best practice to pull the CI conversation out to its own channel to elevate the conversation and streamline the sales channel or whatever channel housed that conversation in the past.

Spark action-oriented discussions

The second thing you want to think about is, now we've got this channel pulled out and elevated, let's jump in and spark a couple of action-oriented discussions every week. "Hey, we found this insight, here's why it matters and what it means" and try to generate some discussion on that intel, especially around the actions that need to get taken.

What you're doing here is trying to teach folks, "Hey, the CI team is here, if you're in a tough selling situation, or you're making a product decision, or need help with competitive intelligence, there's a channel you can go to, and a team you can consult who's ready to engage and help you."

Push insight, not news

The final one on Slack and Teams is that I strongly suggest you consider a no-link dumping rule. It’s very common and natural for folks to drop links to news articles or other things they've found in Slack but not add any insight or conclusion of what that means for the business.

When someone drops a link in Slack, what we've seen work with our customers is start a thread and say, "Very interesting, thank you for sharing, what do you think this means for your role? What do you think this means for the business?".

Try to tease out the insight through a dialogue with whoever shared that. Once you've done that, push the insight, push the takeaway or the actions to the CI database. Then folks can see inside of Slack or Teams that what you push to the database and what you've archived isn't the link to the resource but it's the insight.

You're starting to educate folks that "Look, the CI team, we don't push news, we push insights that you can act on". Let's elevate the CI practice so everybody understands what we do is about insight and action, not about collecting links.

Remember, it’s a two-way conversation

As you engage your stakeholders, in whatever format you engage them, you want to remember this is a two-way conversation. It's not just about you pushing insight out. It's also about the fact that stakeholders are often your number one source of intelligence flowing back into the team.

This year, the State of Competitive Intelligence found that 52% of businesses reported field intelligence as extremely valuable, more than any other source.

It's very important to remember CI is a two-way conversation and you want to make it very easy for folks to submit intelligence to you from a whole bunch of channels so you can pull that into your CI database, and pull that into this backbone you're building across the company.

The human element

I've talked a lot so far about automation and process and workflow. But let's not forget the humans. Let's not forget your stakeholders are people and teams who are trying to do their jobs and get stuff done.

I think the single biggest mistake CI teams make is they just don't deliver quite what people on the other end of their process are looking for.

Validate your thinking

That's why I love this quote attributed to Mark Twain because it's such a great reminder that you should be finding ways to ask your stakeholders what they're looking for and what they want you to do next:

“What gets us in trouble ain’t what we don’t know, it’s what we know what just ain’t so.”

Half the time I think you've got your top five things you think you need to go do for your sales team but if you actually ask your sales team what they want, very often they come back with one or two things that either weren't on your list, or they were a little bit further down your list.

Engage & understand

You want to take the time to go out and engage the folks in product, marketing, and sales. Pop a survey, join their monthly meeting, grab a virtual coffee with folks (or an in-person coffee, if you're at that point). Make sure you're engaging and understanding what these folks are asking you to do so you can go deliver that.

I think all the best CI teams do this and it's very simple but it's also very critical and very impactful.

Removing friction: accessibility is key

Of course, it's not enough just to deliver the goods, you've got to make it super easy for folks to come and access your intelligence. If there's friction for folks to get the goods, they just aren't going to come and get it. You've got to make your CI very easy to access.

Typically what that means is implementing SSO (single sign-on) to reduce friction around the signup and login process and then meet your users in the systems they already use every day.

  • For sales, you want to be in HighSpot, in Salesforce, or whatever sales enablement CRM stack you use.
  • For executives, you want to be in Confluence, in SharePoint, wherever they consume their information.

Don't ask folks to install a new iPhone app. Don't ask folks to install a new Chrome extension. Too much friction - very unlikely folks are going to install those.

If you want to get your intelligence used, make it very easy to access with minimal friction. Minimal behavior change is key here.

Build an intelligence culture


The other thing to consider in terms of the humans on the other end of your CI process is enabling folks to self-serve on this intelligence. When it comes to your solution engineers, your social media team, your product managers, you can and should teach a lot of these folks to fish.

One of the things we've seen the best CI teams do is go out and train individuals and teams on how to self-serve. Recruit those folks to be part of your extended CI network.

Find your evangelists

If you can go find the evangelists, the people who live and breathe why we're winning and losing in our market, or the folks who have a deep need for competitive intelligence and are sufficiently technical, invite those folks in.

Show them how to search for intelligence, show them how to give you feedback, or update a battle card. It doesn't work for every audience, you're not going to likely invite your executive team to be part of the process.

But as you look around at your stakeholders, one of the things you should be thinking about is who can we train? Which individuals and teams can we train to self serve, and recruit to be part of our CI process?

It's a powerful way to get leverage as a CI team.

Battle cards

Now I want to talk about your battle cards.


On the quantity side, how many battle cards should you build? The answer is fewer than you might think.

What’s the magic number?

One pretty fascinating statistic from our customers here at Crayon is that the average number of battle cards per competitor across our enterprise clients is two and a half. Not 25, not 100, two and a half.

That two and a half average is across companies like ZoomInfo, Dropbox, HubSpot - large companies with thousands and thousands of sales reps. The fact is when you've got 20 battle cards, or 10s of pages of wiki content for your sales team, nobody can find what they're looking for.

A lot of times these battle cards or all this competitive content that doesn't get used doesn't get adopted.


What a lot of our best customers are doing is moving toward a much more streamlined and consolidated simple experience for their sales reps as a lever to drive adoption. So they can go to their sales team and say, "Look, this is a more concise, more consolidated, much more effective set of battle cards and you can actually find what you're looking for." Because there are two and not 20.


On the quality side of your battle cards, some of the most trafficked and popular battle card tiles across our customers are:

  • Automated win-loss tiles so that your sales folks can learn and pattern match across competitive deals.
  • Automated leaderboard tiles so reps can find the folks with the best win record versus a particular competitor so they can engage and learn from those folks.
  • Field intelligence tiles because reps are always hungry for the latest learnings from other sales folks.

Of course, every tile has got to be up to date as the market moves so reps trust the material.

The keys to success

To build a great battle card program, we've seen the best practice is a streamlined, consolidated set of very high-impact, high-quality battle cards that can get great adoption and usage across your team.

Put your CI under a microscope

If you're doing competitive intelligence in 2021, you're building a modern CI program, you've got to measure and improve your impact.

In the State of Competitive Intelligence, we found that teams with defined KPIs are three times more likely to report revenue impact. Again, 3x is a good chunk of your 10x when you're trying to 10x your impact here.

Traditional CI has been very hard to measure for a long, long time. But now that this is software-driven, you can measure who is engaging with CI across the company, and how are those engagements translating into better outcomes?

Especially for your sales team, where CI impact is uniquely measurable just because the entire loop is happening inside of the sales enablement platform in the CRM. But across every department in the business, even outside of sales, measurement is a big part of competing with software in 2021.

Final thought

My final thought is: don’t wait, don’t sit on the sideline.

Lots of companies are still figuring out how to do competitive intelligence in a modern way. That means you can be early to the party, you can be the first in your market to build a 10x CI program, and help your company seize a competitive advantage.

So let's go do it and of course, we at Crayon would love to partner with you on that journey and help any way we can.

Thank you.