Seven Steps for a Competitive Intelligence Best Practice

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:

  1. Macro – big picture, visuals (quadrants), competitor at a glance, hot news, company overview, quick facts, industry strength, installed base, market share, financials, etc.
  2. 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.

How to Create a Quick and Easy Win-Loss Analysis Dashboard

The research for a win/loss analysis comes from various means ranging from customer visits, phone interviews, advisory boards, user groups, and surveys.  Much of the data is qualitative, based on a probing, structured set of questions.  Yet, it is simple to cull some finite information from each win/loss opportunity into a dashboard, regardless if the data is in a spreadsheet or a CRM.  As part of the interview process, get answers to these four questions:

  1. What was the outcome of the sale?
  2. Who was the competition?
  3. What were the business drivers in the wins?
  4. What were the Deal Breakers in the losses?

Each answer is structured as a drop-down list based on a range of values.  From this, these four dashboard charts are generated (Note: this is fictitious data):

Win-Loss Dashboard

One simple dashboard consisting of four charts provides a clear, high-level overview of the how, who and the why for the wins and losses.  This doesn’t render the qualitative information from the win/loss analysis any less important.  The purpose here is to illustrate a simple way to report on some of the analysis in a dashboard for a different audience such as executive management.

Should you be Rethinking Your Position Statement?

Amazon uses an approach called  working backwards stating that, ”work backwards from the customer, rather than starting with an idea for a product and trying to bolt customers onto it.” This approach starts with an internal press release announcing the finished product.  The template for this approach is on the left side of the chart below.  I find this to be a fresh, customer-centric approach, and a viable alternative to a positioning statement.

A positioning statement is a brief description of your target audience and how it solves their business problems (including competitive differentiators).  It needs to be concise and written from the context of the perception you want for the product or brand in the marketplace. The position statement is a core component in a Go-To-Market framework.  When crafting a position statement, there are many articles, blogs and templates out there to choose from.  I use Geoffrey Moore’s positioning template from his Crossing the Chasm book, the outline for which is on the right side of the chart.

Position Statement Chart

The similarities are clear.  Both are straightforward, succinct, and customer-focused.  Each one serves their purpose; to serve as a vehicle for discussion with the executive team, product management, product marketing, and sales.  I like the Amazon template because of its complete transparency in representing the product exactly as the customer will perceive it.  If the press release doesn’t resonate then it is back to the drawing board to rework what you want for the product.  It is a creative way to communicate and reach cross-functional consensus.  I will be looking to use this approach in the future

Creating a Bulletproof Go-To-Market Framework is Simple

Wikipedia defines Go-To-Market strategy as a “set of integrated tactics which a company will use to connect with its customers/business and the organizational processes it develops (such as pricing and contracting) to guide customer interactions from initial contact through fulfillment.”  While I agree with this definition, I do not see Go-To-Market as a strategy rather a framework.  Go-To-Market is a related set of activities and processes that connect the company’s product strategy to the customer experience.

The Go-To-Market framework is cross-functional, spanning product management, product marketing, and sales. It is a strategy and requires operational efficiency.  Thus, the challenge is obvious – to have an effective Go-To-Market framework, an organization needs the visionaries to set the strategy and the tacticians to execute the plan for customer acquisition and retention.  Here is how a Go-To-Market framework looks:

Go-To-Market Framework v1.02

It Starts with Product Strategy

The product strategy defines who the company will target and what the product portfolio shall be.  External analysis of social, technological, economic and political factors (STEP analysis) impacts the product strategy.  For example, consumer trends, R&D activity, economic growth, and government regulations all come into play when setting product strategy.  Product strategy is the jurisdiction of product management in conjunction with product marketing and the executive team.

Go-To-Market Drives the Process

Product strategy feeds the Go-To-Market activities, which is the “how” – how to brand, promote and sell.  Inbound and outbound marketing formulate the two methods for marketing the product portfolio.  Inbound marketing is a term coined by HubSpot’s Brian Halligan.  It “pulls” customers in, drawing their attention and interest to the company’s website. Social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) with compelling content and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are the processes that drive inbound marketing and helps characterize the thought leadership policy.  Outbound marketing is the more traditional “push” method of reaching the customer, also known as interrupt marketing.

Go-To-Market puts the product strategy and marketing activities to work.  The Sales model is about the route or channels to market.  Is the product sold direct or through a channel of resellers, online, etc?  Regardless of the model, sales tools and training enable sales with the means to get customers.  Often times people confuse Go-To-Market with a product launch plan, but the two cannot be more dissimilar. The product launch is a subset of the system.  It is a project plan with a budget and tasks to rollout a new product release.  The lead nurturing and conversion activities form a loop with inbound/outbound marketing to convert leads to customers.

Customer Experience Provides the Feedback

The customer experience is about building communities for input and validation of the product.  The organization maintains a feedback mechanism of interviews, site visits, surveys, social monitoring, advisory boards and user groups.  Product improvement and new features originate from customers and references of satisfied customers aids sales process.   All this feeds back into the product strategy to redefine and track the product direction.

Final Thoughts

The Go-To-Market system is at the intersection of the product strategy and executing on a set of related processes to enhance the customer experience.  The system described here provides a simple framework to successfully win new customers and keep existing one coming back for more.  Keep it simple – address the needs of the market, establish the plan and execute it.

Why are Sales Personas Important for Channel Marketers?

revenue-is-up-1238331Much has been written about personas in marketing – buyer, user, sales, customer –  but how does this help the channel marketer?  Their customer is the partner, reseller, or VAR as opposed to the actual end user or buyer.  This article explores what personas are and how they are used, but more importantly it describes how channel marketing teams need to understand the sales persona of the their partner’s sales teams to enable an effective go-to-market plan with them.

The need to understand who makes the decision to buy your product and who uses your product is a core tenet in any marketing strategy.  This is depicted in the form of personas.  In short, a persona is a profile that describes your ideal customer, bringing to life their challenges, motivations, work style, work environment, business problems and much more.   Knowing your customer, therefore allows marketers to attract and engage customers much more effectively.

There are different types of personas, but the two prevalent ones are a buyer persona and a user persona.  A buyer persons is that person or persons with decision-making authority to purchase your product.  A user persona is the person who uses your product on a day-to-day basis.  To illustrate, let’s use an order fulfillment solution as an example; the data entry technician would be a user persona and the buyer persona would be the COO.

These personas enable marketing to guide their content marketing and inbound marketing strategy.  Product managers apply user personas with user stories so engineers  can understand who their developing the product for.  But, personas have other uses too…

Developing a Sales Persona

If your company sells through the channel, you need to understand the sales model, the corporate strategy, and the strengths and weaknesses of your partners.  In addition, who is the sales person at these partners that are developing business, prospecting, setting up demos and closing business for your product?  What do  you know about him/her?  What is a “day in the life” look like?  How can you enable them to sell your product (and not your competitor)?  This is where a different type of persona comes into play – I’ll call it the sales persona and for the purposes of this article and I’ll focus it for channel marketing.

Consider you are a channel marketing manager and you cross-functional work closely with the channel account manager on a day-to-day basis.  You have been chartered to establish a partnership with a national reseller in your territory to sell your product.  You have initiated the relationship and are now in the process of on-boarding, signing agreements, etc.  Now comes the time to formulate a go-to-market plan in conjunction with the reseller’s product marketing team.  Here is where you need to know your customer, which in this case is the sales person  – AKA the sales persona.  There are plenty of sources on developing personas, most are for buyer personas.  HubSpot provides a good template for creating a buyer persona that can be applied for sales personas too.  There are the four main sections to a persona:

Background:  Start with some key financial facts about the company, how many sales reps, what markets does the partner focus on, etc.  How many sales reps are inside vs. outside? Where are they located geographically?

Demographics:  Start to give your sales persona a personality, what is the age range, education level, income range, gender and more all start to “paint a picture” of the typical sales rep.

Goals:  Since we’re talking sales, this is easy – how is this person measured or compensated?  Knowing how they are motivated to make money is everything in crafting a go-to-market plan that will make them money.

Challenges:  This is where you really begin to shape the sales persona.  What is the day in the life like for this person?  Are they interrupt driven?  Is there day spent in a cube (e.g. an inside sales rep) or outside?  How many customers do the carry for their book of business?  Do they sell other products?  Do they sell your competitor products?

How to Use the Sales Persona in a Go-To-Market Plan?

As a channel marketer, you now know your customer. You know what he is like, what motivates him and the challenges he faces in meeting his goals.  This now shapes the ingredients for a Go-To-Market plan.  Here are three aspects that will be shape based on your knowledge of the sales persona:

  1. Incentives: Structure your incentive plan – promotions, spiffs, rebates – based on how your sales personas are compensated. Making them successful will make you successful.
  2. Process: What can you do to make their life easier? Let’s say your sales persona is interrupt driven and handles many products or lines of business. Make it simple for him/her to do business with your company. Make sure your procedures for deal registration or renewals is not cumbersome.  If technical help is required, a product demonstration for example, have the process to get that technical resource be drop dead easy.
  3. Training: Usually you are competing in a mind share game for the attention of the sales rep – this is what the sales persona will tell you. You have limited amount of time to get your messaging across so they can sell your product.  Structure your training wisely, be concise and targeted.  A cheat sheet or battle card is better than a detailed white paper which they will not read.

While buyer personas for marketing is essential, selling through the channel means you need to look at your customer from a different lens through the development of a sales persona to build-out a successful go-to-market strategy for partners.

How to Make Your Point With the Rule of Three

The Rule of Three simply states that after more than three of anything people start have trouble retaining it in the short term or “active memory”. Three is the smallest number of items to formulate a pattern, and that coupled with the succinctness correlates content that sticks with people.

The Rule of Three for Marketing


The Rule of Three for marketing has applicability for website messaging, bullet points, presentations, sales pitches, sales campaigns and more. Why overwhelm your audience with lots of information that they will not retain anyways? Consider that marketing organizations often feel compelled to bury prospects with details, details and details. Save the details for white papers and data sheets. Content marketing is more about having conversations with customers and you need to make that conversation count – gaining mind share means filtering and distilling the details into a simple, concise message.

Examples of the Rule of Three

There are many examples to illustrate this point from communications, advertising, marketing, management and many more so let’s look at some to drive this point home.

Throughout history, information presented in groups of three has had staying power, here are just a few notable quotes:
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”
“Government of the people, by the people, for the people”
“Duty – Honor – Country.”
“Friends, Romans, Countrymen”
“Blood, sweat and tears”
“Father, Son and Holy Spirit”
“Mind, body, spirit”
“I came, I saw, I conquered”

Many of these quotes use similar words are used to express one idea, but how about the famous real estate mantra, “location, location, location” where the same word is repeated for emphasis. Moreover, Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom said in a speech that the three main priorities for government were, “education, education, education.” This is a spinoff from the general principle of advertising that a product should be mentioned three time to make sure it staying power with the audience.

Steve Jobs consistently utilized the Rule of Three in his product launches and product messaging:

In 2007 Jobs introduced the first iPhone as the “third” of Apple’s revolutionary product categories (the first two were the Macintosh and the iPod). He even said that Apple would be introducing “three” revolutionary products—a new iPod, a phone, and an Internet communications device. Jobs repeated the three products slowly until the audience finally figured out he was talking about one device capable of handling all three tasks.

In 2010 Jobs introduced the first iPad with a slide showing the new tablet as a “third device” between a smartphone and a laptop. The iPad, he told the audience, would also come in “three models”: 16, 32, and 64 GB of flash storage.

In 2011, Jobs introduced the iPad 2 as “thinner, lighter, and faster” than the original. The three adjectives so accurately described the new device, thousands of blog and newspaper headlines included those three words.

The rule of three applies visually for presentations; it is a common principle to focus on three main points. Moreover don’t forget another classic principle for presenting which also comes in a pattern of three:
1. Tell them what you are going to tell them
2. Tell them
3. Tell them what you told them

The three-act structure breaks out any narrative such as a play, movie, story, etc., into three parts, often called the:
1. Setup
2. Confrontation
3. Resolution
Although simple in nature, it has withstood the test of time, being used by Alfred Hitchcock, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shakespeare, and Aristotle.

The Marine Corps, known for their agility and innovation, the Rule of Three is a key principle stating that an organization is most effective when each management level is supported by three components. Marine Corps infantry units follows the Rule of Three, which places three subordinates under a commander, not counting support elements. Supporting units will have their own organization and equipment, but generally also follow the Rule of Three.

Survival skills has their own Rule of Three to:
• You can survive for 3 Minutes without air
• You can survive for 3 Hours without shelter
• You can survive for 3 Days without water
• You can survive for 3 Weeks without food

The TSA has three simple steps to convey its messaging to aid passengers in getting through security:
1. Show ID and boarding pass.
2. Take out liquids (in a baggie) and laptops.
3. Take off shoes and jackets.

Hopefully by now you have become a believer and take the Rule of Three principle to task in your next presentation, campaign or messaging.  Less is more – use the Rule of Three.

Mining the Support Organization for Product Roadmap Data


The product roadmap that is communicated throughout the organization is actually the result of considerable research that includes:

  • Customer feedback
  • Internal factors
  • External factors (using the STEP model – Social, Technological, Economic, and Political trends are all analyzed)
  • Competitive analysis
  • Sales analysis (win-loss)
  • Product analysis (a subjective and objective checkpoint of the product in its current state)

Product Analysis

It is the last item, Product Analysis, where mining your technical support database can lead to some enlightening and useful information to drive the future direction of the product. In the past, I have mined this empirical data as a measurable means to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the product. This comes in three forms:

  1. Customer-requested features by function
  2. Customer-reported bugs by function
  3. Support incidents by function

For each of these three components, I have found it most useful to have this data grouped by functional category. This provides a measure of what areas of the product customers find lacking (feature requests ) or problematic (bugs and support incidents). For one analysis that I did, the same two functional areas of the product bubbled right to the top for having the most feature requests, reported bugs and overall support incidents. Recommendations from a Product Manager are best when the are backed by data – what better “ammo” to have to convince anyone of where the focus needs to be.

Pulling and massaging this data is dependent on the solution that technical support uses, however, it is most likely to be there in some shape or form for the taking. Once you have created a process for assembling the information subsequent updates on a quarterly or annual basis becomes easier and allows for comparison from past analysis – for example do support incidents or bugs routinely come from the same functional component of the product. If so, then a problem still exists and warrants an action plan.

This has an added benefit of building bridges and good relationships with the technical support organization so they feel empowered and part of the team. In other words, as the Product Manager you will be exhibiting a sound cross-functional leadership role.