Staying ahead of the competition is crucial, but it can feel like an impossible task in fast-moving industries like eCommerce SaaS. How do you track your competitors when new features and updates are released almost daily?
This article will walk you through an expert-approved competitive intelligence process tailored to the eCommerce SaaS industry. You'll learn:
- Where to find the most valuable competitive data.
- How to analyze it effectively.
- How to report your findings to stakeholders.
We'll draw on insights from Mindy Regnell, an eCommerce expert with over 15 years of experience. As the Principal Market & Competitive Intelligence Manager at Postscript, an SMS marketing platform, Mindy has honed her approach to ensure she always has her finger on the pulse.
Ready to get a leg up on the competition? Let's get started!
The most valuable sources of competitive data in SaaS
In fast-moving industries like eCommerce SaaS, you can't rely solely on official marketing materials to understand your competitors. The most valuable intel often comes from other sources.
1) Changelogs and help documentation
"If I only had one resource at my disposal, I would almost always take support documentation.”~Mindy Regnell, Principal Market & Competitive Intelligence Manager, PostScript
Help center articles, user manuals, and changelog notes are written for customers, not investors – that means you get the unvarnished truth about competitors’ capabilities and limitations.
For Mindy, changelogs represent the crème de la crème of support and help documentation. They’re particularly useful once you've learned the basics of a competitor's platform, as they let you quickly see what's new.
2) Marketing collateral
In the absence of up-to-date, accurate support documentation, marketing collateral can help you stay abreast of updates to your competitors’ platforms.
However, mentally translating all the marketing speak into hard-and-fast facts can be draining, to say the least.
3) Google alerts
Google Alerts are another valuable source of competitor and market intel. However, a word of advice: Rather than drinking from the firehose of alerts, start with just one or two keywords. Then, build up your list of alerts over time as you learn to filter out the noise.
4) iOS updates
It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on iOS updates, which are, as Mindy puts it, “a really big deal for SMS marketing.” Articles can then fill in the gaps, specifically those on SMS marketing and SMS sales, different eCommerce platforms, and other competitors.
5) Field intelligence
And what about field intelligence from colleagues, customers, and partners?
Field intel can provide unique insights, but be sure to take it with a grain of salt and validate anything that seems questionable.
"I generally assume if I hear something from a sales rep, from a customer, or from a partner at an agency, they might be wrong.”~Mindy Regnell, Principal Market & Competitive Intelligence Manager, PostScript
It’s not that people are inherently untrustworthy; the problem is that with updates being constantly released, it’s easy for people to get their wires crossed or miss some key piece of information.
6) Win/loss interviews
Finally, who could forget the power of win/loss interviews for gathering competitive insights? If your budget allows, consider having a third party conduct them – that way, interviewees are far more likely to share what they really think, without worrying about hurting any feelings.
As with other forms of field intelligence, though, be sure to look at win/loss insights with a critical eye. Actions speak louder than words, and customers’ behavior doesn’t always reflect what they say.
For instance, as Mindy notes, customers may tell you security is crucial to them, but their actions might tell you it’s actually not that far up their list of priorities. At least not when making a purchasing decision.
Streamlining data collection and organization
While competitive intelligence requires some manual effort, you can optimize parts of the process.
Tools like Google Alerts automate data collection, but sifting through alerts is still manual work. The good news? You get faster at scanning and filtering over time, ignoring stock updates and honing in on what matters.
And if you come across any interesting tidbits that you don’t have time to investigate right away, why not save them to your Google Drive or project management platform for later?
Organizing the data
When it comes to organizing all the data pouring in, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
"I have several key resources, including ‘Start Here’-style documents, that I point people to."
These resources live in Guru, the AI-powered information aggregating tool that helps teams answer questions using all the available information from the multitude of CI tools and software you use.
By using such platforms to connect siloed data and streamline your processes, you’ll free up time to focus on the important stuff – analysis. As the old saying goes, work smarter, not harder!
How to analyze and validate the data
With competitive data pouring in from various sources, it's crucial to have a process for digesting it all. But there's no one "right" way – the best approach is what works for you.
"At the end of the day, data analysis is a mental exercise. It's up to you to spot the patterns and tease out the possible answers, so find an analysis process that gets your own creative and problem-solving juices flowing."
Refining your thinking
For instance, you may want to start by jotting down long-form, stream-of-consciousness ideas about a competitor or trend. This helps get thoughts flowing. Later, you can boil it all down into more consumable tidbits.
Talking through competitive scenarios can also help refine your thinking. Bounce ideas off colleagues in other departments, or chat virtually with your distributed team. The discussion will help you sharpen your narratives and positioning.
A note on analysis frameworks
Validate claims first
That said, it helps to have a process for validating claims before you incorporate them into your analysis:
- First, consider the believability of the source. How experienced are they? Who did they hear this from?
- Next, relate the claim back to your understanding of market trends. Does it track or seem totally incongruous? The more outlandish the statement your rep or customer makes, the firmer the evidence that backs it up should be.
- If you’re still not sure if the insight you’ve received is accurate, look to validated third-party reviews and analysis on sites like Trust Radius, G2, or even X (formerly Twitter).
The key is to start your analysis from a place of healthy skepticism. Then, use all the tools at your disposal to connect the dots.
How to report your findings in a SaaS business
Once you’ve gathered and analyzed your competitive insights, it’s time to share them. The most appropriate formats for this depend on factors like company culture, team dynamics, and stakeholder needs.
Orient yourself first!
But first, it's crucial to orient yourself and figure out where your priorities lie. That means you need to establish a) which stakeholders to serve first and b) which of your competitors to zoom in on.
It’s a great idea to get feedback from sales leadership on which competitors are giving them the most grief. That way, you can focus your effort where it matters most, rather than trying to boil the ocean.
“Figure out the top one to two, maybe three [competitors]. I wouldn’t go more than three when you’re getting your solid foundation.”
Identify your best deliverables
With your priority competitors established, consider what deliverable formats work best for your company. Here are a few you might want to try:
- "Five reasons why" reports: These briefs, containing five reasons why you win against a competitor can easily be scanned and digested by sales reps even while on a call. A value prop on its own rarely makes sense, but these reports provide differentiation and context. What’s more, they’re a great alternative to battlecards if you struggle to make those work for your organization.
- Short and long video explainers: For distributed teams, recorded video demos can quickly get everyone up to speed on competitive developments and your unique differentiators. Make a TL;DR version and a deeper dive.
- Slack channel: Give real-time updates to leadership in a dedicated competitive Slack channel. This is a great way to quickly share news and analysis.
Tailor the findings to the audience
Regardless of the format you choose, be sure to tailor your content to your audience. Sales reps typically want concise bulleted info to reference during calls. Meanwhile, enablement teams need deeper dives.
Reporting competitive intelligence in SaaS is an evolving, collaborative process. Be ready to tweak both what you deliver and how you deliver it based on stakeholder feedback. Their engagement will show you what's working and what’s not.
Validating your materials with stakeholders
Creating assets in a silo rarely leads to competitive intelligence others can easily understand and act on. You need to test your work. As Mindy explains, you should refine your CI materials by working with stakeholders.
You've more than just the sales team
It’s crucial to resist the temptation to rely solely on your top sales reps to provide feedback – loop in some brand-spanking-new BDRs too.
Getting feedback from both groups helps you ensure you've boiled down the analysis into simple, digestible logic anyone can follow. It also ensures you haven't oversimplified and left out crucial details.
Test your deliverables
Testing your CI goes beyond sharing deliverables and asking for feedback. It’s also wise to observe stakeholders interacting with your materials. Watch sales reps reference a competitive battlecard on a call. See if leadership asks follow-up questions after a report.
This will help you understand if the format and content of your deliverables work, or if certain areas consistently cause confusion. It also clues you into knowledge gaps to address in the next iteration of your materials.
The validation process never really ends. Be prepared to regularly test new CI assets with stakeholders, and use their feedback to continuously improve your SaaS competitive intelligence function.
With the right competitive intelligence processes in place, you can stay agile amidst constant change and give your company an edge. With that in mind, here are our top takeaways for conducting competitive intelligence in fast-paced SaaS environments:
📚 Support documentation and changelogs provide unfiltered competitor insights, so make friends with them.
🔎 Validate any intel you receive via word-of-mouth before acting on it, vetting sources and tying claims back to your understanding of the market.
🤖 Streamline repetitive tasks so you can focus on connecting the dots and spotting trends. Work smarter, not harder.
🧠 Choose an analysis process that fits your thinking style, whether that's writing long-form insights then condensing them or talking through scenarios.
🧭 Orient yourself first to understand stakeholder needs and prioritize your biggest competitors.
💌 Tailor your reporting formats and cadence to your audience.
🤝 Be ready to tweak your process over time based on stakeholder feedback.
✅ Validate analysis and deliverables with stakeholders. Watch them interact with your materials and solicit ongoing feedback.