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.


Why Comparison Makes All The Difference

You might have already read our blog post on Dynamic Comparison and learned how much time and money you can save by allowing our software to do the tedious work of comparing what you already know about your industry and competition.

Well, there are even more benefits to be had by allowing Compelligence to handle this heavy lifting.

The people in your marketing and product teams are likely well versed in framing your products and know exactly what features your customers should be interested in. They’re probably even actively aware of the close competition in your industry, and provide salespeople with that information as well.

But the problem is that your customers aren’t thinking about your industry or which products your marketing team considers comparable products. What the customer knows is their own needs, and odds are that they aren’t just trying to choose one of your products to buy or trying to decide between you and your two primary competitors, they’re looking at every available product that meets their need.

For example, I was recently shopping for a new laptop. So I, like many of my peers, hopped online to go compare some products. I know how much I want to spend, and I know what I need the computer to do. The websites that sell computers, however, don’t always realize what it is that I need. Once I had sorted for my price range, I found myself presented a wide selection of products largely designed around the new Windows 8 touch interface.

Page after page I was being bombarded with how many points of contact the screen tracks or how ‘conveniently’ the laptop origami-folds into a tablet. And while that’s all well and good, they were wasting words on me. All of those marketing teams forgot that they’re also competing with traditional laptops, and phones and desktop computers, for that matter.

It’s really easy to lose sight of what it is to be a customer while you’re immersed in a sales job. We all get caught up in our brand messages and standard channels.

This is why you need a sales battle system.

A responsive system will always be better than any deck of battle cards: the system is unbiased and offers comparisons based on any parameters you like. This allows you to set your sales team up for success by letting them have not only ALL of the relevant information they could want, but this data is all automatically and dynamically compared and crafted into guidance unique to each particular sale.

Corporate Maturity and Quality Pizza

For lunch yesterday, I had a slice of Domino’s pizza. I haven’t had Domino’s in a while so I was pleasantly surprised to be reminded of how much better their pizza is than it was a few years ago. That little reminder got me thinking about marketing routines. I know what you’re probably thinking; what does pizza have to do with marketing?

We’ll get back to that in a minute.

I know that your company spends a lot of time organizing information and creating sales content (sales guides, battle cards, silver bullet lists). Ultimately it’s just variations of the same information in different formats.

I know this because just about every company works this way. If you are in marketing, you probably create this type of content because when you started your job, someone else was creating it and told you “this is the template we use for sales material.” And before they were doing it, someone else had created it and showed them how to do it. It’s like a traditional art form that is handed down to every new generation of marketing person.

But it’s never quite “just right.” Every day someone is either putting together a new sales deck or a slideshow about some product or competitor, because the “template” material you created was made to apply to several sales deals, not just one. And truth be told, there’s really no way around having to custom tailor information before it can be used efficiently.

Once you’re done organizing and framing what you know, some poor salesman is going to have to shuffle through those battle cards or skip around a Powerpoint slideshow to re-customize it for his or her particular deal. All things told, there’s a lot of time and money wasted by everyone involved in this process that you’re only doing “because it’s way things have always been done.”

Unfortunately, being the best at building slide decks, silver bullets, and battle cards doesn’t mean you’re doing the best at helping your sales teams win more deals. What you might not realize is that all of this time spent creating and reading through marketing and sales materials is a huge, unnecessary waste of resources.

You see, there is a better way.

What if you had a system that could automatically create customized sales guidance for you? Instead of spending time creating yet another slide deck every time there’s a new potential customer, you could be utilizing a system to unify all of your resources and to free yourself from creating or modifying new sales decks, battle cards, and slide decks forever.

At Compelligence, we believe that a mature company doesn’t rely on manually reapplying information, but rather they enter information into a database once, and then automate the time and resource intensive processes. This allows for streamlined communication between content creators and the people actually using the content.

We understand why you might be resistant to this kind of significant change: “But Powerpoint slides are a big part of our sales process.” We’ve heard it all before. But the reality is that growth works through change.

For a company to mature, they must find better solutions to all their needs. This is an opportunity to build real efficiency and effective best practices into your company. Doing something “just because that’s the way it’s always been done” is the best way to get into a rut.

Now back to Domino’s Pizza.

You might remember that Domino’s Pizza used to offer a deal that if you didn’t receive your pizza within 30 minutes, your pizza would be free. For a long time, this was just “how it was done” at Domino’s, because it was a core piece of their brand image. As they continued to invest in that brand, though, they didn’t see a correlation in growing sales.

After their stock hit an all-time low in 2008, Domino’s finally came to terms with the reality that their continued focus on quick delivery had blinded them to the fact that their pizza was about as tasty as the box it came in.

They could very well have poured more advertising money into their existing advertising and brand image, but instead, they decided to try to do something new, different, and better. They even did something pretty radical: they admitted publicly that their pizza was no good and that they were going to fix it.

They abandoned the focus on hurrying pizzas out the door as fast as possible.

Their bold move paid off and Domino’s is still going strong. Within only two years after their stock prices hit that all-time low of $4.00, they had bounced back up to $32.50 per share.

So perhaps it’s time for you to take some bold new steps toward corporate maturity as well.

Maybe your focus on delivering all those silver bullet lists, sales guides, and slide decks is a lot like delivering bad pizza as efficiently as possible.

Maybe there’s a better way to deliver sales guidance and to win more deals.

Compelligence can show you how.

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.

Win deals faster with Dynamic Comparison

Wouldn’t it be great if …

…sales teams never had to wait for analysis and guidance when a competitor launches a new product?

…marketing, sales, and competitive teams could always identify silver bullets to use against the competitor?

…your marketing and CI teams could instill confidence in everyone that they know where your company stands against every competitor and their products at all times?

Now you can, with Dynamic Comparison by Compelligence.

Consider this example:  Your competitor comes out with a new product or service, and what happens at your company?  If you are like most companies, the story probably goes something like this:

A salesperson sends a frantic e-mail to an internal distribution list that says “Help! My customer is considering the new Widget3000XR-10 from our competition. Does anyone know about this thing???”  That e-mail eventually makes its way up through sales management and over to the product and marketing teams, where it gets assigned as a critical project.  Multiple people scramble to get data sheets and information on the new product and try to figure out a way to position against it.  It can take days at best, perhaps weeks in some cases to create and distribute collateral to your sales teams to tell them how to sell against this new threat.  In the meantime, the salesperson is stuck trying to find a way to respond to the customer, while the competitor is in the customer’s office showing off their shiny new gadget.

Sound familiar?   I’ll admit, it is challenging to contextualize a new competitive offering:  how does it compare to your existing products or services? What are its strengths or weaknesses?  Where does it fit in the industry? How do you create new collateral to educate your sales teams on this product?

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Now you can quickly analyze new competitor products and win deals faster.

At Compelligence, we just released a powerful new feature called Dynamic Comparison that eases this process.   It allows CI teams or marketing teams to simply enter the capabilities of a new competitor offering, and Compelligence in return will analyze that new product. It will highlight its strengths and weaknesses, and make that information available to sales teams immediately.  It can help product marketing teams identify better strategies for positioning against the new threat.  It can tell you how that new product stacks up not only against your offering, but also how it compares to the rest of the industry.  And it can reduce the scramble to create new content.  Rather than creating hundreds of panicked e-mail threads and confusion, Compelligence enables you to maintain focus in a changing competitive environment.

So change the story at your company.  Don’t leave your sales teams waiting for guidance on new products while your competitor is closing the deal.   Ask us for a demo of how Dynamic Comparison can help your sales teams win deals faster, and how Compelligence can keep your company in front of your competitors.

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.