This is the first of a multi-part post on competitive intelligence. First we’ll focus on the initial steps in establishing a competitive intelligence practice. Most likely your company is practicing competitive intelligence in some shape or form. Take a look through this list to see if you have all the foundational pieces in place:
1. Establish a Charter
As you will see, the range of competitive intelligence is wide and deep. On-going marketing activities need a charter. A charter will inform people what the competitive intelligence function does, who you do it for, and how does the process work.
2. Define your Audience
There are four targets for competitive intelligence within the organization and each has their own requirements and needs:
- Sales: competitive pre-sales situations need micro, detailed information that includes solution comparisons, gap matrices, product level (feature/function), and capability overview. Sales also needs non-feature information on the competitions’ pricing, sale model, financial (easier if the company is public) and win-loss analysis from head-to-head deals.
- Product management: product management requires competitive intelligence to identify product gaps and steer the product roadmap. This is mostly feature/function oriented.
- Product marketing: auditing the competitors content marketing, social media, website analytics, and SEO cannot be ignored. This provides useful insights into the reach and effectiveness of their inbound marketing strategy. Much of this activity can be generated with digital competitive tools.
- Executives: understanding the risks and opportunities in industry requires the executive team to have a high-level, “big picture” view of the competitive landscape. For example, a “Competitor at a Glance” briefing, a STEP analysis (social, technological, economic, and political), or a SWOT analysis.
As you can see, the span of the knowledge goes beyond feature/function to include sales, pricing, content marketing, website analytics, social media and financial information.
3. Rank the Competition
Sounds simple enough, time is limited and no one can monitor the entire span of the marketplace. This can be as simple as placing your competitors in tiers based on priority. Another way is to have your direct competitors as tier 1, partially direct competitors as tier 2 and niche players as tier 3.
4. Secure your Intelligence
Protecting and securing the competitive intelligence is a double edged sword. Nothing will help the competition more than to get hold of your competitive intelligence, however, sales need to be educated and enabled to handle competitive threats. Not all – if any – competitive intelligence is intended for customer consumption “as is”. In fact, it can be quite harmful to prolong a sales cycle. Some sales representatives, when confronted with competitive threats are all too eager to attach the latest competitive gap matrix and sent it along. The lesson learned is, never answer the unanswered question. You want to enable sales but also protect them from themselves.
5. Establish Processes
Some processes are manual, some can be automated through tools. Here are some things to keep in mind. There is two levels of intelligence:
- Macro – big picture, visuals (quadrants), competitor at a glance, hot news, company overview, quick facts, industry strength, installed base, market share, financials, etc.
- Micro – solution comparison, matrix, product level (feature/function), capability overivew, etc.
Create templates for ease-of-use, standardization and consistency of messaging. It also allows for easier comparison, for example comparing multiple “competitor at a glance” briefings. For intelligence assets that require a comparison, standardize on the list to compare across the board.
Not all competitive intelligence has to be manual. There are many digital competitive intelligence tools out there to automate the analysis of website traffic, search analytics, upstream/downstream reporting, keyword analysis, link popularity, etc.
Do not overlook the customer experience aspect of gathering intelligence. User groups, advisory boards, customer visits are all potential sources for information.
6. Who Owns What?
Data collection may come cross-functionally from different sources, but there can be only one owner. Usually, this is product marketing, product management, or some arrangement where it is shared across the two functions. Having an editorial calendar helps when the ownership spans cross-functionally.
7. Use an Editorial Calendar
Competitive intelligence requires continual updating to maintain its value. Having your competitive intelligence assets (new and updates ) managed in the marketing editorial calendar establishes accountability and builds alignment cross functionally across groups.