Your first day at a new job can be a nerve-wracking experience, all the more so if you’re there to build a brand-new CI function for a company that has never had one before. How can you start building credibility right away and garner a set of allies who know that they can rely on you?

That’s what Erik Mansur, VP of Product Marketing at Crayon is here to quiz Holly Jackson about in this episode of Into the Fray: The Competitive Intelligence Podcast. Holly runs Competitive Intelligence and Competitive Strategy at Talkdesk, and she's an expert in the space. She’s spent almost her entire career in this discipline, and she’s spun up CI programs at not one, but two different companies.

Read on to find out how Holly handles those all-important first 90 days on the job, so you can walk into your next role with confidence.

Key talking points include

Building credibility from day zero

Q: When you join a new organization, even with your wealth of experience, it's gotta be daunting at first. And I imagine it’s all the more daunting if you’re the first CI hire. How do you begin to build your personal credibility? Do you have to start doing it on day one?

I think it starts before day one, in the interview process. You're always given the advice to interview the company that's interviewing you, and I truly believe in that. It's especially important in a competitive intelligence role or any role where you're coming in to build a function.

It's vital to understand your new company’s perspective, culture, and processes, and then use that to form your vision. You can start to set up your vision for the competitive intelligence program in the interview. Then yes, it starts properly on day one.

The biggest thing that I've learned is to have an opinion on things. A lot of times in CI, we're getting information from a ton of different sources, and I think that a mistake that some junior CI people make is taking that information and just re-sharing it without adding any perspective or opinion.

You’ll be getting a lot of information from the new company you’re joining, and it’s really important to balance that with your own experiences and the research you’ve done so you can bring in your own fresh perspective.

‎Into the Fray - The Competitive Intelligence Podcast: Building credibility as the owner of a CI program | Holly Jackson, Head of Competitive Intelligence at Talkdesk on Apple Podcasts
‎Show Into the Fray - The Competitive Intelligence Podcast, Ep Building credibility as the owner of a CI program | Holly Jackson, Head of Competitive Intelligence at Talkdesk - 4 Apr 2022

Q: I love that day zero approach. You're laying the groundwork before you even walk in the front door. And ostensibly, the people you’re talking to in your interview will eventually be your superiors or your colleagues, so you're laying out your very loose framework for how to be successful before you even sign an offer letter. That's fascinating.

A: Absolutely. That's how we did it here. I'm pretty fortunate that my manager had read some blogs from the Product Marketing Alliance and Crayon before he even opened the role, so he realized that there was a gap in his skill set and he needed to bring on a specialist. And I knew from our initial conversations that he had an appetite and a respect for CI and could see the value that it could bring.

There could have been a situation where our vision of a CI program wasn’t aligned, and that wouldn’t have been a problem – some companies just have a different vision. But maybe that wouldn’t be the right fit for how I want to run a program. I realized very early on with Talkdesk that we were very much aligned on our vision for the program before I ever received an offer.

We had multiple interviews and we talked about everything from the ethics of competitive intelligence – that's highly important to both the company and to me – to what kind of program we envisioned, who our initial stakeholders should be, and our long-term vision. Before I ever came on board, we had an alignment of what the CI program overall would look like, and that’s helped us a lot.

Q: So now you're there; you've arrived at the company. It’s day one, and you're meeting everybody. How do you start introducing yourself to new stakeholders? Do you have to come preloaded with an explanation of your role?

A: My manager had a vision for the function already, so he’d already done a lot of groundwork, building a reputation for CI. He just needed someone to come in and own it full-time.

He did a great job of setting up introductions with various sales leaders and functional leaders, and then I’d take over that and say, “Hey, I’m Holly Jackson. I'm here to do CI. What’s your perspective on things? How can we work together?”

As I mentioned earlier, part of how you build your credibility from the ground up is by having a perspective – I brought that to conversations as well. I came into each conversation, wanting to learn from them, but also being willing to share a little bit of my perspective, just to start laying that credibility and that groundwork and show that I'm here to help.

Finding success with sales

Q: You’ve gotten past the day one conversations – everyone’s super nice. As you start to approach days 30, 60, or 90, what are some quick wins you can get under your belt to show that the function you’re building is paying dividends?

During those initial conversations, or perhaps those that come later, are you finding the areas by which you can score a victory that's going to help you take your new girl swag and momentum forward?

A: Yeah, definitely. For us, that was the sales organization. It's the easiest, most digestible, and most actionable application of CI. There's a huge appetite among sellers and SEs to have CI, so that was a way for us to get some quick wins.

We use Slack internally. There are a ton of different channels, including a competitive intelligence channel, which is very active. I was able to jump on there very quickly and add some insights.

But more often than not, those wins came through conversations with sellers. I’d say, “Hey, I saw that you're working on a deal and that you're competing against whoever. Have you considered positioning our strengths as this?” That helped us get some quick wins and credibility with sellers.

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Q: How do you make those inroads with the individual sellers? Are there different philosophies in the different companies you've done this in? Does it have to be top-down from management, or can it be built as a groundswell from a couple of interested sellers?

A: The way that I've had the most success is ground-up. I think that every CI practitioner's dream is to influence the highest level, but my personal objective is to have an organization-wide CI practice, where it's not just our team contributing and using CI, but decision-makers and money makers at all levels of the company are armed with intel.

So I start with the sellers. I arm them with the information they need, and the ones that get it get it. They're the ones that become CI’s biggest advocates. We've also had a lot of success gamifying our CI program with our sellers.

To your earlier question about how we identify sellers to work with, I look for the top performers, the ones that had really strong success rates against that particular competitor, the ones that are constantly asking questions or providing answers in the Slack channel.

To me, those are the CI champions. I want to align with them and show them that I’m here to help. I see that they’ve already got the appetite for CI and we can work together to nurture their skills.

Q: There's a level of obsession with some of the higher-performing sellers; they'll take every single advantage that you give to them and run with it. A cool point is that you don't go for the middle of the road, or the underperformers, hoping to make them better. The rising tide raises all boats, starting with the yachts, right?

A: Absolutely. There's no harm in starting with the middle of the road or the poor performers. But who are the ones that aren't as successful going to look to in order to learn how they can do better? The rock star sellers. That's who we're going to align with.

I think that part of building credibility with CI is showing that there are other people who do it well in the organization. Knowing who those people are and bringing them in at the right time is one of the core things that CI does well. It’s like a knowledge base of internal stakeholders.

Finding champions in other departments

Q: Have you found influencers in other departments? And is there a different way of going about doing it when it's a product manager, a customer success manager, or somebody in the business development team?

A: We have relationships with so many stakeholders in different functions across the organization. One thing that we've found successful is surveying people when they come about their industry experience. Without breaking any NDAs, we want to know if they’ve worked for a competitor and hear their perspective on the market.

We have product relationships, we have partner relationships, and we have customer marketing relationships. It’s about finding people who understand the value of CI, even if they don't realize it, and leveraging their perspective and their insights to make that an organization-wide effort.

Q: Would you say that tapping into people’s industry knowledge as soon as they arrive helps build that level of credibility with brand new starters?

A: That's exactly right. Of course, we ask them if they mind participating, keeping the NDA in mind because we're in a very competitive and concentrated market, and then we interview them.

Some of the things we like to know are, what was the perception of Talkdesk among that competitor? What was the perception among their customers? What are some quick wins that we could probably score? What are some greenfield opportunities that we haven't even thought about? So yeah, we're constantly talking to new hires from the industry and elsewhere.

Building credibility in a remote working environment

Q: You work for a company that's almost entirely remote, but previously in your career, you probably could walk up to somebody's cubicle and share intel.

In the era of Zoom and Slack, have you found it easier to corral people into those conversations? Or is it more challenging because everybody is all over the planet and not able to come together physically in a room?

A: There are challenges. You miss out on those opportunities to have organic conversations that bubble up naturally. We are mindful about setting up regular calls with sellers to congratulate them on wins and do debriefs. We even join the sales leaders' team calls just to hear what's going on.

Slack is also a great resource. Even if I'm not actively monitoring channels, (the number of channels at our disposal can get overwhelming) if I want to know the latest on X competitor, I'll just do a search for it. I can read everybody's responses on that particular competitor, then I can say, “Hey, Joe is talking a lot about them. He must be hearing something a lot in the industry,” and I can take that as an opportunity to have a real conversation with him.

Q: You go directly to Joe and say, “Alright, you're letting out things in dribs and drabs. Let's have a deeper conversation. Who's your source? How do you know about this?” You're almost a journalist in a lot of ways.

A: Yeah. It's funny because a lot of people, when they hear I do competitive intelligence, they're like, “Oh, you're a spy?” I much prefer the journalist perspective because we're gathering information with an unbiased point of view, and we're disseminating that back out to the decision-makers. I think that the journalist analogy is perfect.

Winning over the C-suite

Q: Okay, you’re past your day one, past your day 30, past your day 60, past your day 90. You’re growing the program and building credibility.

It's a process; it's taking time, but at some point, you have a conversation with a stakeholder, and suddenly you see it – click, boom, I get this. I understand the value of what CI can bring to me and my department.

What does that look like for you? Could you describe a moment where you saw someone’s mind being blown?

A: I noticed from day one that Talkdesk has a culture of trusting the people that they hire to be experts for whatever functional area that they cover, so I knew that they were mostly getting it already.

The moment I was like, “We've really got it,” was when we were invited to start presenting to the executive leadership team every quarter. That was when I knew that they see the value in CI.

It's incredibly validating. I've done this for 10 years now, and this is the first opportunity where the executive level has really gotten it. As validating as that is, it's even more validating to see it played out over and over again when you see a culture of CI being built over time.

Q: The C suite is either the easiest to win over with competitive intelligence or the most challenging because a lot of companies were born in the crucible of competition. Should getting the executives to buy-in be the ultimate goal for a competitive intelligence practitioner?

I think that for every CI practitioner, the dream is to know that your C-suite is consuming and acting on the information that you’re providing, but I don't know that that should be your goal. Especially within your first three months, that's probably unrealistic because if you're coming into a fresh organization with no CI function, you're not going to have that credibility yet.

Even after 90 days, no matter how strong of a CI person you are, you have to build credibility. Our executives are very plugged into the competitive landscape, so they already had that level of awareness. The value that we're bringing is just on top of what they already know about the landscape.

Q: Even just getting a little bit of access to the leadership is a good thing, and it should prove that this is a stakeholder group to pay attention to, right?

A: Absolutely. Don't ignore them. In organizations where you don't have access to the C-suite yet, you should look for the layers below that and how you can influence them, inform them, or align with them, because those people influence the C-suite.

Finding your champions at every level, especially at the level that can talk to the C-suite for you and give you a seat at the table, is one way that you can start building your credibility at the highest level.

What's next?

Like hearing from the pros?

Of course you do.

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