In my years of working in the CI field, I’ve found that I was frequently responding to sales teams who needed “critical” help to win competitive sales deals. If you are a CI analyst, I’m sure you are aware of this scenario: you’re working on a research project and you are called off of it to support a sales team. The sales team is up against a competitor and they need to know what to do. So you put your research project aside and you help the account team gather information, and then you go back to your work. The next day it’s a different account team who needs something just a little bit different, so you set your research aside again and help them gather information. It’s a constantly interrupt-driven process.
But I’ve found that you can defray most of these “911 calls” if you make a certain set of information available to your field. Many times the “critical” help they need is just in where to find things. In essence, help them know the most commonly requested sets of information about your competitors, and you’ll get interrupted far fewer times.
The question is, what is the “right” set of information? The world of CI is vast and there are lots of different things to know about a competitor, but here are my suggested “Items to Know” that will empower the sales teams to effectively compete in most situations:
- Know your competitor’s products or services. It sounds basic, but I was often surprised by calls from sales teams who didn’t know the basic description of what the competitor was offering. But it makes sense—many companies spend a lot of time training sales teams on their own products, but relatively very little time on the competitor products. If you can let your field know at least what the competitor’s product or service is, what it looks like, and the high-level description of it, it puts them in a better place to understand what they are up against.
- Know your competitor’s positioning strategy. Again, sales teams are frequently provided guidance on how to position their own product. What they get less of is how the competitor is going to position and attack. Marketing will often tell the sales teams all the wonderful things to say about their own products. But don’t leave your sales teams blindsided by forgetting to tell them the objections your competitor is going to raise, and how to handle those objections. Also make sure your sales teams know how the competitor positions themselves and how to effectively deposition the competition.
- Know the major areas of cost for your competitor. In the early stages of a deal, the sales teams most likely don’t need your competitor’s full price list. What they need to know are the major components of cost: Is service included? What are the major options to the competitor product? What does your own product include that might not be included on the competitors? This will help address the “…but your product costs twice as much as your competitor’s product…” argument. Yes, it costs twice as much, but it includes two times as many features which are all extra-cost options for the competitor.
- Know how to compare the product or services. Sure, you can give your sales teams the competitor data sheets. But then you are requiring them to spend time building their own comparisons rather than spending time on the customer. It will be better if you allow them to see those things side-by-side with your own products, and let them know what areas to highlight. And you can go beyond the data sheets too. Consider the things that your customer is going to make a decision on—it might not be a feature of the product, but instead might be a quality of the company: the service and support mechanisms, locality, experience of employees, etc.
- Know where to get other information. Who are the experts that can be referenced regarding competitors, or where does the sales team find other documentation? This could be a Sharepoint site, an Intranet site, or an e-mail alias. Make sure the account teams know all the resources that exist for them. Sometimes they call you as a CI analyst because your phone number is the only one in their address book.
If you can have this information readily available to your sales teams before they approach the customer, your phone will be ringing far less. Unless you like answering the phone, then by all means leave them searching for information.