Let Sales Teams be the Red Bull to your Competitive Intelligence Teams

You’ve likely heard the slogan “Red Bull gives you wings.” The suggestion is that when a person drinks Red Bull, they are instantly energized to do things they could not do in a non-Red-Bull induced state. Well, the same concept is true with competitive intelligence (CI) teams and sales teams in a company. It’s easy to see how salespeople can benefit from having useful competitive intelligence. What is not commonly recognized, though, is that CI teams are also more effective when they are closely allied with their sales teams. For instance, salespeople can collect intelligence about the competition’s positioning, selling strategies, product specifics, and selling strategies.  They also are well aware of how effective the competitor’s sales tactics are relative to their own strategies. This information is extremely valuable to a well-tuned CI organization and can help that CI organization provide analysis and insight on how to improve a company’s revenues.

Sales Teams are Key to Competitive Intelligence Collection

Successful organizations make information gathering as much a part of their sales process as they do the actual sales activities. During our webinar on April 22, Ellen Naylor noted that salespeople come into contact with a wealth of information such as new products to be introduced and new competitors coming into the market. Last year Joël Le Bon wrote that “The sales force has abundant information about the initiatives and products that your competitors are planning and, therefore, the kinds of choices that your customers will be facing in the near future.” This makes sense. Sales professionals are on the front lines, so to speak, when they meet with customers, visit suppliers and manufacturers, attend conferences, and work at trade shows booths. In each case, valuable information can be gleaned about a competitor’s sales tactics, product lines, model specifications, and market trends. Salespeople are sometimes the first to hear about new technologies that competing companies are developing or are about to offer, and sales representatives can learn about service contracts their competitors are providing

Collection Sources and Methods

So, what can salespeople do to collect competitor information? The easy answer is to keep their eyes and ears open. When meeting with customers, sales representatives should listen intently about what other companies are pitching; ask the customers about the products and service plans they’ve been offered by the competition, and learn as much as possible about the customer’s needs. At trade shows, sales representatives should visit competitors’ booths and pick-up literature. They can also participate in conversations about the industry and listen to what is being said about companies, products, and new trends. When manning their own booths, reps can elicit information from visitors about competitor’s products. And when they talk with suppliers, vendors and other intermediaries, sales reps can ask about a competitor’s future rollouts, product specifications, models prices, services options, and customer demand for competitor’s products.

Getting Intelligence Back to the CI team is Critical

When reps return to their companies, they need to have an easy way to convey what they learned to the people who can analyze, assimilate, and distribute it. One way to do this is to have a designated point of contact within the CI to communicate their findings. Some companies may develop a specific type of debrief or report format that helps sales reps distribute raw information, and helps the CI department and other organizations within the company use it. An even better way to do this is to use a collection system that can keep track of those designated analysts and which can automatically route intelligence to them.

CI educates the sales teams on intelligence requirements and value

Although sales professionals are indeed those people who make the first contact with sources of information that can be useful for strategic purposes, they may not be aware of the importance of that information. When this happens, they may neglect to collect it. Ellen Naylor noted that sales professionals are high-impact people that have strong customer orientation and who are always questioning the benefit of activities they participate in. A CI department that proactively educates sales personnel on the importance of collecting and reporting information will be much more successful. CI professionals can educate the sales field about the types of competitive intelligence that they are likely to encounter and instill a resolve to collect it. It is also important to provide the sales force with feedback on how specific information was used, what decisions were made from it, and what strategies resulted from the collection effort. This feedback helps the sales force better understand their role and contribution to the overall strategic health of the company, and it will motivate sales reps to collect and report more. As I noted earlier, a process that makes it easy for sales teams to report intelligence after customer visits will help elicit information from sales.

CI-Sales Give and Take

It is this give-and-take relationship between CI and sales that allows a company to increase their competitive effectiveness: CI teams provide competitive guidance to sales, sales teams can collect new information and report it back to CI teams, and the CI teams, in turn, analyze, process, and update the material they provide back to sales. It is critical that the CI team demonstrates that obligation to the sales teams, and that the sales teams reciprocate by providing feedback.   And it also helps if your CI teams are well-stocked with Red Bull.

Webinar Playback and Content

On April 22nd, 2014 we presented a  webinar with Ellen Naylor from The Business Intelligence Source and Dean Davison from Forrester Research.  The topics covered included techniques for collecting competitive intelligence from sales teams, methods for communicating competitive guidance to sales, and ideas on how sales teams can better sell to customers.

Webinar: From Competitive Intelligence to Intelligent Sales Enablement

Do you know the route from Collecting Competitive Data to Winning Deals?

Getting from “collecting competitive intelligence” to “an effective competitive sales process” can be a bumpy road with many potholes and hazards along the way if you don’t have a good roadmap.  Fortunately, there is help for you!

Please join us on Wednesday, April 22nd at 9:00 am PDT for a free informative 45-minute webinar on how to turn your competitive intelligence into intelligent sales tools!   The panelist of speakers includes Ellen Naylor from The Business Intelligence Source, Mitch Emerson from Compelligence, and Dean Davison from Forrester Research.  They will take you down a path that starts with showing you how you can be more effective at collecting competitive intelligence that will help your sales teams win more deals.   The next stop on the journey will teach you how to transform that data into competitive sales guidance that your sales teams can customize for each of their unique deals.  You’ll finish the trip with ideas on how to reframe your data into customer terms that will add impact your sales discussions.


Four Ways to Improve Competitive Sales

Every sales deal today is really a competitive sales engagement.  It is tempting to think that a customer is only considering your product or service. But with the ease of finding out information on the Internet,  every customer is researching not just your company, but also your competitors.  The fact is that salespeople have to face competition, one way or another, in every single deal they encounter.  So why do many companies make this a difficult process?  Salespeople frequently do not have the right competitive sales tools or easy access to competitive sales guidance.  Most of the time they have to hunt this information down on their own or build it from scratch.

If this sounds familiar in your company, here are four ways you can alleviate the stress of competitive sales.


One major challenge that sales and marketing people face is that they don’t know where to go to for the competitive information they need.  Many companies have islands of competitive data—each business unit might have it’s own internal website or Sharepoint site; data might be stored in different people’s e-mail boxes, etc.  If people don’t know where to –find- competitive information, they also don’t know where to –report-  new intelligence that they discover, and critical information can be quickly lost.  By providing a centralized database of intelligence, you can make it easier to track, find, and process information about competitors and competitive market events.


Salesperson Jim goes to the centralized CI website and downloads a competitive sales guide for his Widget product.  He finds that it has information about the competitors’ pricing and features.  The next day, Jim needs to know features of a competitor’s Button product, so he downloads a competitive sales guide for his Button product. However, instead of finding pricing and features, the Button “competitive sales guide” has an overview of the competitor’s financials and their marketing messages.   Now Jim does not know what to expect the next time he downloads a competitive sales guide, and his job has become more frustrating and time-consuming.  Make it easy for your salespeople to know what to expect by using standard templates and definitions for your competitive sales content.  If a salesperson knows what kinds of documents are available and exactly what to expect from the content, it will be much easier to prepare for a competitive sales deal.


Every salesperson has experienced this problem:  she needs to make a presentation to a customer tomorrow. What does she do? She clicks to the marketing team’s website and gets the latest product presentation.   But once she has it, she finds she has to modify it to be tailored to her specific deal.  Different competitors in a deal and different customer needs will change how a product or service has to be positioned in a sale.  Using Powerpoint, Excel, and other tools are good for communicating information, but they do not easily adjust to different selling scenarios.  Make sure your sales teams have a way to get information that can be easily modified to fit different scenarios.  Compelligence is an example of a system that allows salespeople to get information tailored to their specific deal without having to request help from the content owners.


Salespeople can be a great source of competitive intelligence:  they hear first-hand what customers are saying; they know why customers are or are not buying products; they know what product marketing messages do or do not work; they hear rumors about the competitor’s products and companies, etc.  The problem in many companies, however,  is that there is not an effective way for salespeople to report this information back to someone who can actually do something with it.  Sure, they can use e-mail—if they know the proper person to contact. In many large companies, it may not be readily known who that proper person is.  Make sure your salespeople have the right tools and access to report competitive intelligence not only to their immediate sales groups, but also to the people who can make the necessary changes to products, marketing material, and strategy.  In turn, once that information is processed, make sure it gets back to sales teams so they can update their sales strategies.

“It Won’t Happen To Me”: Optimism Bias and Competitive Intelligence

I remember when my 16-year-old daughter got her driver’s license.  She took her lessons, practiced on the road, and passed the test.  Thrilled at her success and potential for independence, her demeanor about driving quickly changed.  The cautious girl behind the wheel that I gave lessons to only a few short weeks prior, suddenly, apparently, was granted knowledge of everything there is to know about safe driving.  “I don’t need to buy insurance because I won’t get in an accident!”  “I’m very careful so there’s nothing to worry about.”  Those of you with teenagers are probably familiar with this scenario.  All the warnings in the world about safe driving techniques and accidents couldn’t deter her. She had the “It won’t happen to me syndrome.”  Of course, several weeks later she got in her first fender-bender and was dumb-found on how it could have happened.

I was reminded of this story recently as I was having lunch with an old colleague.  He is a Senior Director of Competitive Intelligence at a large, publicly traded company.  He has done quite well there, building a reputation of really knowing about the competitors, and has earned a seat at the executive staff meetings.  For several months, my friend’s team had collected intelligence and built reports showing that a competitor was developing a new product and marketing strategy that would drastically alter the competitive playing field. The competitor developments essentially would nullify the current plans that my colleague’s company was working on. He presented the intelligence at meetings in the form of scenario analysis, competitor updates, and via other methods.  He had evidence to show the progress of the competitor’s events.  He had effective data showing the likely outcomes of the threat.

So what did his company do?  As anyone in the competitive intelligence field likely knows, the company did absolutely nothing.

Why?  Because the executive team took the “it won’t happen to me” approach.  This is simply basic human psychology.  When presented with a likely threat, it is much easier to say “I’m smart enough to prevent it from happening,” or “I’ll be able to avoid that situation.”  We do it every day, in and out of business.  It frequently is our default response to a threat.  There’s even a term associated with it: “Optimism Bias.

I hear the statement over and over again in the competitive intelligence field “My executives don’t listen to me!”  But that’s not quite right.  Your executives do listen to you.  They just choose to not act.  This is the comic flaw in the competitive industry: strategic competitive analysts spend their cycles doing research, producing reports, presenting evidence, and getting few results.

Don’t get me wrong—this doesn’t mean competitive efforts for strategic purposes is wasted.  There are countless examples of where competitive intelligence reports are very successful and executives do pay attention. It just means that it frequently is an uphill battle, and the competitive analyst should expect and plan for the optimism bias response.

So what –can- the competitive practitioner do? My suggestion is to ensure that your company has adequate competitive resources addressing sales. If not, then perhaps it would be an area better served with competitive efforts.  Sales tends to be a very willing consumer of competitive intelligence.  If it is done correctly, the competitive activities actually can help increase deal win rates and drive revenue for the company. In addition, it is an excellent area for competitive intelligence resources to get a real-world view of the competitive forces at work in their industries.  This real-world perspective adds to the analysis capabilities of the resource and builds more credibility for when the time comes to present strategic competitive reports to the executives.   With that little bit of extra backing, perhaps the executives can be encouraged to overcome their optimism bias.

Oh, and as for my daughter—after her third fender-bender, she now sees the value in having insurance.  Especially since she is now paying the bill for it.

Like Selling Ice to an Eskimo: The Trouble With Information

You know the old saying about trying to sell ice to Eskimos. Common sense notwithstanding, it still happens all the time. What’s worse is that you’ve probably been on the receiving end of it.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that you need better information to make sure that sales happen as efficiently as possible in your company. But choosing the perfect schema for your company’s competitive intelligence needs can be daunting.

There are many services that compile, sort, or assess massive amounts of information from across the Internet. These service providers will tell you that you don’t know enough about the market or the competition, or that you cannot adequately use information without some kind of automated searching tool. They say you need more information in order to be more informed. They want to sell you ice.

We have a revolutionary idea here at Compelligence: you don’t need more information; you just need better access to the information you already have.

The fact of the matter is that no amount of automated Googling and searching is going to provide the quality of information that is already possessed collectively by your employees: the salespeople who already know the customers and the market, the marketing professionals who write your silver bullets and tailor the same information to suit a hundred different positioning needs day in and day out, even those employees who used to work for your competitors.

You already have the information you need, you just need to take what you know and make it unified, accessible, and actionable.

This means your focus should not be on trying to collect more information, but rather, on finding a strong method for compiling resources, streamlining communication, and sharing information. When every member of your team has quick and easy access to all of the information they need, their collective knowledge synthesizes itself into well-founded, industry-aware positioning and strong, unified sales messages.

We call this specific and organized kind of information “guidance.” Guidance is useful, processed, evaluated knowledge rather than un-assessed, un-edited, un-directed information.

For example, imagine that you are trying to drive to a new restaurant in an unfamiliar part of town. You can use a map to get you there, but it will take attention, careful assessment, and continued effort on your part throughout the drive. Alternatively, instead of just bringing a map (the information) along with you, you could get proper directions (guidance) before you leave the house and then simply follow the steps, only ever having to make the most immediately relevant decisions at any given time. Guidance tells you exactly what you need to do, whereas information needs interpreting.

Others may tell you that they will help you to know your industry better. Approach this type of pitch with suspicion: the fact of the matter is that you already know your industry better than any competitive intelligence company can—but you likely just can’t access all of your own information. Compelligence is unique in that we won’t try to sell you more information to get bogged down in; we will give you the tools, methodologies, and best practices to turn the knowledge you already have into the kind of guidance that speeds sales and builds corporate maturity.

We’re not going to sell you ice. We’ll teach you to build an igloo instead.

Compelligence allows every member of your team to access exactly what they need and to provide feedback directly to the content creators. This means that instead of wasting time tailoring information by hand time and time again, your marketing team can see at once what your whole sales team needs to know and they can make all of the relevant information available once and let our program pare down and direct what each individual salesperson sees on their screen while they’re on call with potential customers.

One person does the work once and everyone reaps the benefits.

We even train you to make sure not only that your team understands how to utilize our tools, but also to teach new methods of comparison, communication, and identifying industries to optimize the way your company approaches intelligence building.

We’re not providing competitive data, we’re providing a framework for competitive guidance. You can save the ice for the party; there’ll be plenty of sales to celebrate.

What is an industry?

You might be familiar with the traditional, financial definition of an ‘industry’ as something like, “a specific branch of manufacture and trade.” For many applications, this perspective is perfectly adequate. However, we have good reason to believe that for the purposes of competitive intelligence, this approach is non-effective and limiting.

When a customer sets out to make a purchase, they do so to meet a specific need in their life. Their search will be framed in terms of how well any product fills this hole and, moreover, they are more than likely taking into account variety of ways to meet that need.

Let me say it this way: customers are considering solutions from everyone, not just you or your traditional competitors.

Looking at just your own ‘industry’ keeps you from seeing all the competitors.

First, it is important to remember that every one of your products is a solution to some customer’s problem, and second, keep in mind that other companies might solve that same problem in a very different way.

For example, a company that sells car-mounted GPS units might be well prepared to market their product against other car-mounted GPS units. However, when forced to compare their products against a GPS application for a smartphone, the company may be at a loss because it has only ever considered ‘dedicated GPS units’ as their industry and completely ignored a wide range of indirect competition.

Companies that have defined themselves and their industry in these standard terms will miss opportunities and limit their reach by putting themselves in a box.

We propose instead that an ‘industry’ should be defined as a set of potential solutions to a customer’s problem.

For example, someone may want a good tool for mobile computing. Many would be inclined to say that this is an opportunity for a laptop company to make a sale. However, this perspective fails to take into account the many ways that this particular need can be met. A tablet or smartphone might be even better suited to the specific needs of a customer and if a salesperson is asked how their laptop compares against industry-leading smartphones, they may be caught woefully ill-equipped.

Stepping back to look at multiple solutions to a customer problem allows a company to take advantage of every possible market and sale. Moreover, a firm customer-centric understanding of how products and services meet needs helps maintain focus when positioning or developing new efforts.

Based on this principle, the Compelligence system guides users to assess and re-frame their competitive industries. This enables better sales guidance and marketing strategy and allows companies to win more competitive deals, faster.

Our tools and best practices will transform your competitive intelligence efforts into a highly directed, interactive, and efficient system that lets you assess information once and then share and update it efficiently and collaboratively. More importantly, it will allow you to truly focus not only on what your product does, but also on how it compares to your competition from your customer’s point of view. And that is what will allow you to win their business.

Competitive Sales Guidance: Don’t send your sales teams on a scavenger hunt

If you are part of a competitive intelligence team or a sales team, I’m sure you are familiar with this scenario: your company has a critical account or a need-to-win customer that your competition is also pitching to. A salesperson on the account team asks the CI analyst for competitive sales help, and the CI analyst says, “Please look at our internal website or Sharepoint site—we have lots of documents that address our competition.”

Great. So now the salesperson has to hunt through many pieces of content that may or may not pertain directly to the customer deal at hand. This does not help win the deal in an efficient fashion. It’s a mistake that I’ve seen made in multiple companies: salespeople want help with how to sell against the competition, but what they get is competitive data when what they really need is competitive guidance.

There’s an important distinction here that gets missed between competitive intelligence and competitive guidance: the output from a CI team should not make more work for the consumer of the information. What many sales-supporting CI teams fail to do is to provide the distinct and customized “how-to” that tells sales what they need to say or do in order to win a deal. Sure, you’ve made sales guides and silver bullet sheets and cheat sheets and playbooks and competitor profiles, but the problem with all of that is that no matter how much information is put into them, it’s never just right for each individual deal.

I hear your objection already: “But it’s futile to try to make content that is particular to every deal. There are just too many deals!” And, you’re right. But that’s where the flaw exists in most sales-facing CI programs. CI teams, especially the ones that support sales teams, focus on building content that provides information, when instead they should be focusing on how to provide guidance that can be tailored to each deal.

When it comes down to it, the main job of a salesperson is to do one thing: to close a deal in order to bring revenue to the company. Yes, there are several other things as well, but the less time that a salesperson is closing deals, the less profitable your company becomes. If you are making your sales teams dig through hundreds of slides in a playbook, or if you are making them modify silver bullets that aren’t just quite right, you are taking away from the time they could be spending closing a deal and moving on to the next one.

So now you’re asking “Ok, so what is this guidance that they need?” I’m glad you finally asked. Your sales teams most commonly need a few specific tips in a competitive sales environment:

1. What is the competitor product?
2. How do I position my product against the specific competitor product?
3. What landmines might the competitor have set for me, and how do I avoid or diffuse them?
4. How is the competitor positioning their product relative to mine, and how can I deposition it?
5. How do all the features compare between my product and the competitor’s product, and which are the strengths and weaknesses?
6. What are the main benefits for each of the key features of my product?

If your salesperson knows all of these things, then he or she is probably pretty well equipped to convince the customer why your product or service is better than the competitive offering.

So make it easy for your sales teams. Don’t send them on a scavenger hunt when they need guidance on how to win a deal.

The military transformed from film-based photography to digital because of speed. Are you still using film for your competitive intelligence?

You wake up.  Pour a cup of coffee.  Receive an urgent text message.  Your start your email …it’s blowing up.  You pull up your internet news or fire up your Competitive Intelligence system or your environmental-scanning system and see the announcement…. So much for the coffee.

How many competitive intelligence professionals have faced that very situation?  I think we all have.

Your circumstances may be different, but the risk is the same.  The risk is to you, the Competitive Intelligence professional and your personal brand as the “Competitive expert.”  Isn’t that really what your brand is: “The Competitive Expert” in the company? I’ve found it rare for leaders in today’s corporations to differentiate between competitive professionals that support sales teams vs. those that support corporate strategy teams vs. those that do anything or everything else.  In fact, I’ve found that if you have “Competitive” in your job title, your peers will pretty much turn to you in any situation that has anything to do with a competitor.  They expect you to be the Swiss-Army Knife Competitive Professional.  And if you don’t have an answer for their competitive emergency then ‘that’ look comes over their face: disappointment.  Face it.  Your brand is at risk.

The situation can be anything:  a press release by a competitor, a competitive product launch, a marketing or advertising program, or a competitor acquiring another company.  The list goes on.

So, what do you do after you clean up the coffee?

Most companies launch ‘tiger teams’, hold group meetings, conduct hasty analysis, formulate competitive assessments and impact analysis, and communicate them to stakeholders.  The process is often filled with anxiety.  Are we working fast enough?  Are we considering enough data?  Is our analysis consistent?  No matter how much value you have added in the past, your time to shine is now.

Let’s use a competitor’s product launch as an example, and ask two game-changing questions:  (1) What if you didn’t have to do any analysis and still had the correct answers?  and (2) What if you had a system that allowed you to simply enter key elements of information and it did the analysis for you?

Today’s competitive environment is getting faster and bigger.  In certain industries, there are hundreds of products with new entrants being introduced rapidly.  Competitive intelligence teams are utilizing Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, and in some instances IT systems or databases to conduct analysis in order to determine the competitive impact of a new product.  Some best practices include 1) Centralizing data in one place, such as a team site like Microsoft SharePoint 2) Collaborating on the analysis, with participation from experts across the company   3) Distributing the final analysis via email, or a collaboration system such as Jive or the corporate intranet.

Through excellence in execution of the above process, a competitive intelligence professional can attain a level of success that may keep your company competitive and protect your brand.

This process reminds me a bit of the days when militaries would send aircraft out to recon enemy territory with photography equipment.  The plane would make the long trip.  The film would be processed.  Then armies of analysts would look over photos inch-by-inch to search for important information.  In today’s environment, this process is slow an antiquated.  The military now uses digital systems that have embedded intelligence to assist analysts.  Do you have systems like these in your organization–systems that help automate and ease the analysis process?

Is that where we are today?

Compelligence aims to change that process.

In the coming weeks, Compelligence will transform that product response process via system automation, consistent analysis, and dynamic comparison that will enable sales teams and leadership to quickly analyze competitor events at a level of detail previously not available.

But this blog is getting long… I’ve got to set the timer on coffee for tomorrow morning.

Build sales battle systems, not battle cards.

“What should we put on our battle cards?”

That’s a question I commonly hear from CI professionals. My advice: forget the battle cards.

Sure, battle cards are a great thing to have if you want to help a few of your salespeople in some deals. If you work at a large company with multiple competitors, they are also a great thing to make if you get paid by the hour since you likely will spend a lot of time customizing them for each salesperson that undoubtedly will complain that the battle card isn’t “just right” for his or her situation.

In most circumstances, battle cards don’t provide a good return for the effort that goes into creating them. Here are the problems I see with creating battle cards:

  1. Battle cards cannot be created to suit each particular deal. They end up being either too specific in scope or too general. A specific battle card is great for one or two deals, but you will always be customizing it for each sales person’s needs. A generic one will be useless to your sales teams or will put them at a disadvantage in a competitive situation.
  2. Version control is challenging. Like any document, once you create a battle card and publish it on a website or on a Sharepoint site, your sales teams typically will download it and store it on their personal device. They may not frequently check for updates, or they will modify it for their own uses and the rest of your salespeople will miss out on shared intelligence.
  3. Battle cards do not scale well, particularly in highly competitive industries. If your company has as few as 10 competitors, each with as few as 3 products that can compete in multiple industries, you are creating a lot of battle cards. Now go and manage and maintain them.
  4. There is no built-in feedback mechanism on battle cards. A salesperson cannot easily attach feedback or new information to a battle card. Sure, they can e-mail the person who created the card, but that e-mail is difficult to track to ensure that the battle card is updated and shared with the rest of the sale field.

What you need instead is a battle system.

A battle system is something that allows sales teams to get customized information based on the particular competitors or products that they are facing in each different deal they are handling. It allows them to see what information has been useful to other salespeople and to have attached discussions, feedback, and expansion points on the data. It allows them to be sure that they are getting the latest information, from a single easy-to-find location. Perhaps it even delivers all their competitive information right inside Salesforce.com. It also allows the content creators to track usage of their content and to know which pieces of it are working and which are not. A battle system replaces a battle card which typically is limited to the information that fits on a single slide, and provides a set of complete competitive data that can be viewed on a single screen—competitive profiles, product and service overviews, sales strategy, pricing, and dynamic product comparisons–all linked to other resources and ways to get help.

This is one of the reasons why we developed the Compelligence System. In our experience working with sales teams and competitive teams, we saw lots of hours spent on customizing battle cards, competitive playbooks, product comparisons, and other content. It’s an inefficient way to work, so we built something better: a battle system that enables companies to compete more effectively and to win deals faster.

So next time you are making or reading a battle card, a how-to-sell document, a product comparison, or something like that—ask your self if there’s a better way to do your job, a more effective way to make it work, or a smoother way to scale your solution. Then feel free to contact us and let us show you a better way!