Building out your first competitive intelligence program can be a difficult process. 😮💨
Who should be involved? Where do you start? With so many questions, so much data and so many competitors to get a handle on, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
But here’s some good news for you:
With competitive intelligence, you’re never starting from scratch.
In any organization, including yours, people want to win. That means, from sales to customer success, pockets of CI data already exist throughout the business for you to discover and turn to your advantage.
Because whether competitive intelligence takes up 10% of your time or 100%, you’ve got an exciting opportunity to boost your win rate and impact your organization’s bottom line in a big way.
If you get it right from the start.
We’re here to tell you how to do that. 👏
In this article, we’ll be covering:
- How to start your own competitive intelligence program from scratch.
- The first thing you should do when building out a competitive intelligence program.
- The best next steps once you’ve gotten started.
- A framework for working with stakeholders.
- Common mistakes when starting a CI program.
- And a whole load more…
What is competitive intelligence?
Competitive intelligence is a cyclical process that involves gathering, analyzing and acting on information about your competitors.
CI is cyclical. Once you’ve actioned your analysis, you need to review the impact your sales enablement assets, or other deliverables, have had. Then, improve them where possible in light of what you’ve learned. Along the way, you’ll gather new information and update your deliverables accordingly.
Starting your competitive intelligence program
Before you start gathering competitor intelligence or looking for actionable insights from around the organization, there’s one thing you must do:
Tier out your competition.
Everyone has a ton of competitors, but you have limited time and limited resources. You need to prioritize.
I like to categorize competitors into three tiers.
Tier one competitors
These are the competitors most important to your organization.
Usually, about 5 key players make up 80% of your competition. Focus on these for the most business value.
When you talk to your sales team, you should notice these names coming up a lot. Their products are serving similar needs to your own and there’s something about their messaging that makes customers consider them whenever they’re considering you.
Carving out a competitive advantage and helping to win more of these deals means a bigger slice of the market share pie for you, growing revenue for the business, and making you look amazing in the process. As a solo practitioner, all of your attention should go to this handful of key competitive players.
Tier two competitors
These are the squeaky wheels. They’re the loud, annoying competitors who you hear from a lot but, when it comes down to it, you don’t lose out to them often enough for them to be worth your time.
Again, since you’re doing this alone, you have to prioritize. It’s easy to get distracted by the competitor that shouts the loudest, but if that’s not where the business value is, forget them. Focus on your tier-one competitors instead.
Tier three competitors
These are niche players. You don’t hear about them too much and you know they aren’t that important. Don’t get lost in the weeds here. If they’re not a tier-one competitor, categorize them, grab a little intel, and move on.
Centralizing your market intelligence
What’s exciting about competitive intelligence is how far-reaching it is in your organization. Whether people know it or not, they’re probably gathering, analyzing, and acting on CI data every day.
The issue? All this data is disparate. Some of it’s sitting in a sales rep’s drawer. Some more is floating around in a customer success rep’s head.
So now that you’ve sorted out your priorities by identifying your tier-one competitors, your next step is to find and tap into these wells of existing knowledge in the business. This is the first step to getting everyone in sync.
Here are some of the best places to start:
- Customer success.
Your sales team sits right on the edge of revenue with a short feedback loop. When you need to test things out and get to what works the fastest while impacting the bottom line the quickest, it’s the sales team you should target.
Many sales teams naturally find themselves performing some kind of a win/loss analysis, even if they’ve never heard the term. And since they’re handling objections and getting asked how your products stack up against those of your competitors, they have a vested interest in gathering business intelligence on those competitors.
Your sales team will be a great ongoing resource for you.
Product teams are responsible for building and designing the future of your product or service. They need some understanding of the competitive landscape for confidence in their product roadmap.
As you gain experience, you’ll be a great source of value for product teams as the go-to person for learning more about the competitive landscape and the best places to innovate and differentiate.
But early on, it’s likely to be the product team with the greatest understanding of that competitive landscape. This makes them your source for the 10,000-foot view of your market trends.
Why customer success?
Customer success reps know all about two key groups: your best and worst customers.
You can learn a lot from the insights and questions these customers have. And by opening a line of communication with customer success, you’ll hear about these things when it counts.
You might hear that a customer recently switched from a competitor and loves a feature you never considered a key differentiator. Or you might learn that you’d benefit from pricing yourselves higher.
Reach out to each of these teams and take note of the responsive individuals regularly performing data collection. Nurture them.
Create a single home for your intel
With all this great data coming in, your goal is to create a single place everyone can go to access that intelligence. It might not be the best intel (yet), but it exists in a single place everyone knows about. That’s the goal.
Here are some ideas on where to store your CI data:
- An intelligence platform.
- A repository.
- A PDF.
- A file on a cloud storage platform.
Where you store it isn’t as important as doing it. If you’re a solo practitioner with limited resources and a limited budget, just get things moving and get the job done. That puts you one step closer to seeing an impact.
Standardizing your market intelligence
Of course, dumping all your market research into one location isn’t enough. You’ll have different versions of the same information.
You need to de-duplicate and standardize all of that data, then distill each piece into a single, best message or asset, like a battle card or a presentation.
Once you’ve done this, there will be a single message around CI, so everyone’s at least taking part in the same conversation and following the same competitive strategy.
Crowdsourcing to gather information
Once the housekeeping is done and all existing data from internal sources have been collected, centralized, and standardized into a single best message, it’s time to gather new intel.
The best practice I can recommend here if you’re a solo practitioner is to ‘crowdsource’ CI. As an individual, you don’t have the bandwidth to build everything. The good news is that, as you’ll now know from centralizing intel, almost every department has a stake in CI. Each will have someone you can go to for new insights.
And when you make colleagues feel like they’re a part of your competitive intelligence program and plan, you nurture their vested interest in its success. When you build it together, you can share the wins together, which is motivating for everyone.
As you get new intel make sure to feed it into your central, standardized hub and use it to refresh your existing messaging.
Tips for working with your stakeholders
Create a competitive Slack channel
A competitive Slack channel is one of the easiest ways to involve multiple areas of the organization in competitive intelligence.
As simple as it sounds, this puts CI right where people are already spending a good portion of their day, helping to keep it top-of-mind. It’s asynchronous, it’s always open and it offers your colleagues a place they can go to share ideas, voice concerns or raise questions.
Build a competitive ‘team’
Early on, it’s important to consciously and actively involve enthusiastic individuals from other areas of the business.
Get them involved from the start and make it clear that the work you do together will help them to shine in the organization. The sooner you show impact together, the easier it will be to get buy-in from others.
That doesn’t mean anyone has to take on more work, though. Wherever you can, create a new process, or streamline an existing one, to help these individuals log their competitive intel.
External sources of business intelligence
Until now, we’ve only discussed internal sources of intelligence.
When you’re low on time and resources, making the most of these is crucial. But it would be a mistake to ignore external sources.
Social media platforms, especially LinkedIn, can act as an early indicator of shifts in your competitive environment. You’ll hear about everything from one competitor’s new product launch to another’s changes in hiring strategy.
Business review sites, too, like G2, or even Glassdoor, can give you insight into changes in hiring patterns that might suggest a change in a competitor’s business strategy.
Competitors’ websites are another ethical source of publicly available information just sitting there for you to claim.
Common pitfalls when building out a CI program
1) It’s a marathon, not a sprint
In fact, it’s more of a triathlon. Right after you’ve finished with one aspect of CI, you’re onto the next part of the cycle.
Once you’ve gathered new intel, it’s analyzing that data and boiling it down to the actionable insights that really affect the landscape for your customers and for your organization.
These are processes that you’ll build out and refine over time. Get started, get some results, keep improving and people will start to take notice. Guaranteed.
2) Don’t boil the ocean
I’ll say it again: prioritizing is key.
There are so many competitors out there and new ones pop up all the time. Don’t get overwhelmed and don’t get distracted by the latest noisy newcomer. Just keep going back to your tier-one competitors. Your program will grow the fastest and see the most success when you focus on the value, and that’s with your tier-one competitors.
Plus, there are always more competitive requests coming in across the board. If you take on everything as a solo CI practitioner, you’ll burn out. Accept that you don’t have to be the number one expert on every competitor, or have battle cards for everything and anything. There’s always an opportunity cost, so make sure you’re maximizing your effectiveness.
3) Great data is the only data that matters
Be very careful about the quality of the data you’re gathering. If you have great data, competitive analysis is easy; great data leads to great analysis. But bad data means bad analysis. Every time. So make sure you have solid data.
4) Work on making an impact early
Don’t get misled by imposter syndrome. Don’t be fooled into thinking that success is for “everyone else”.
There’s no reason you shouldn’t be striving to make an impact early.
This will get you noticed and get budget flowing to start scaling up your CI program.
Again, this comes down to prioritization, but that gets easier as you make an impact. When leadership sees what you’re doing is working, they’re going to take more of an interest in what you’re doing and why. As those requests start to flow in, those executives can help you hold your ground when it comes to focusing on where the value is.
Next steps for your successful CI program
Once you’ve centralized and standardized, opened up lines of communication, have a steady stream of fresh intel, and are providing value, you’ll find yourself becoming a subject matter expert for the organization.
At this point, you’ll have a steady stream of requests for support in closing deals, retaining customers, product messaging, and more.
That’s when you and those around (and above!) you will know the impact your competitive intelligence program has had.
This is the perfect time to ask for budget to grow your CI team.
When it comes to hiring, I’d urge you to have a firm grasp of your own strengths and weaknesses and then hire to cover those weaknesses. Use what you’ve learned through implementing and owning your CI process to shine a light on where you could have done better. Is that down to an issue with your process? Or is this something that could benefit from a fresh perspective?
Also, what parts did you not enjoy so much? If there’s some part of the process you don’t love, you’ll never be as great at it as someone who lives for it. Hire that person and the strength of your CI team is sure to grow with each new hire.
Get competitive intelligence certified
Hungry for more? Sign up to get competitive intelligence certified and get the skills to:
✅ Build a tech stack for competitive intel.
✅ Conduct win/loss and primary research.
✅ Visualize your competitive position with a market map.
✅ Enable sales and customer success to deliver crisp competitive positioning.
✅ Bring CI to the table in strategy and product decisions.