When you’re doing competitive intelligence day in, day out, it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees.
We’re here to show you the forest again. 🌲
This article will help you realign with the key goals of competitive intelligence. Once you do, it’ll be crystal clear which priorities you’re neglecting, and which avenues to success you’re avoiding.
We take you through the six key goals of competitive intelligence, including:
- Enabling your sales team to win more deals.
- Informing the direction of product development.
- Creating a sustainable competitive advantage.
- Contributing to core business and marketing strategies.
1 – Enable sales to win more deals
“Competitive enablement,” as it's known, is perhaps the single biggest goal for competitive intelligence.
Why, you ask? 🤔
Because the return on investment is huge. And since so many competitive intelligence teams are small (typically just one or two people), it makes sense to prioritize the business activity with the biggest impact on revenue: sales.
What might surprise you, though, is that enabling sales is actually a secondary effect of CI.
The best CI programs are customer-driven. They’re obsessed with finding out what makes customers buy (or not), and with driving product positioning and development into a state that gets more buyers saying ‘yes’.
The ability to create effective competitive battle cards is secondary to knowing what buyers want to hear. What turns a buyer off a competitor while turning them onto you? As the competitive intel professional in the business, it’s your job to know and to communicate that information to sales. 🤝
2 – Inform product development
Competitive intelligence is about finding out what the market wants. You study your customers and competitors to find that out, then enable teams to give it to your audience.
When it comes to the product itself, that sometimes means checking boxes on features your competitors have that you don’t – yet. When customers repeatedly choose competing products over yours because you lack a feature, filling that gap is a fast way to win back market share.
Competitive intelligence can also inform your product development by urging it in new directions. Competitive landscape analysis, gap analysis, even SWOT analysis, can uncover a market opportunity or unmet buyer need for you. Take this information to your product team and show them what problems your product needs to be solving.
3 – Create a sustainable competitive advantage
To stay ahead of the competition, there are a few things you must do:
- Understand what makes you better (and where your competition has you beat) in the eyes of buyers.
- Understand how that constitutes a competitive advantage for you.
- Know whether that advantage is growing or shrinking with time.
- Know the variables contributing to that growth/shrink.
- Know how to eliminate shrink-contributing variables and how to pump the gas on the growth-contributing variables.
For example, maybe you sell project management software to businesses.
First, you have to know who your competition is. You have to know where they’re strong and where they’re weak. You also need to know those things about yourself.
Importantly, though, you need to know these things from the customer’s point of view. You might know that Competitor X offers a Kanban board view and the market loves that. You don’t yet, but your integrations with third-party apps work flawlessly, and this is more important to your target audience than the kanban board view.
You might also know from buzz on social media and various press releases that Competitor X is overhauling their third-party app integrations and is set to launch the update in a couple of months. Development for your Kanban board feature, meanwhile, only kicked off last week.
Your competitive advantage is under threat, and the gap could close soon.
One of your Shrink-contributing Variables™ could be the speed of your development cycle (or lack of it). If you can demonstrate to leadership that your competitive advantage is under serious threat because competitors are rolling out updates and features faster than you, you might just convince them to hire more developers. Or to overhaul the structure of that team to make it more agile.
Meanwhile, you could double down on your pre-existing relationships with third-party developers to mitigate your development speed problem and come up with more ways of wowing the market with how well-integrated your product is.
4 – Aid in developing marketing messaging and positioning
Messaging and positioning are, of course, critical to the success of any marketing strategy. They’re foundational, and the success or failure of so much else can be traced back to these two pillars.
But how do you position yourself in a market you don’t understand? Among other players you aren’t aware of?
And how do you cobble together a messaging strategy for a set of customers you don’t understand either?
While often lumped into the various “product marketing” responsibilities dedicated competitive intelligence pros don’t touch, competitive intel goes so far into informing every aspect of messaging and positioning that it’s unavoidable. We have to get our hands dirty.
CI gathers data on the state of the market and the factors affecting it. It uncovers invaluable details about competitors’ strengths and strategies. It also teaches you what buyers in the market think of your product, and why they buy when they do. Market intelligence informs market positioning, and helps your messaging speak directly to those buyers.
5 – Bring alignment to the business on the state of the competitive landscape
Reactions to competitor developments at most businesses fall into one of two camps.
- Immediate dismissal. “They’re not really a competitor. We have no competitors. Don’t forget that we’re unique, and our product is best-in-class.” 👼
- Skies fall. “Not again. Our biggest competitor just launched a better version of what we’ve been working on for the last nine months. What’s the point? We’re finished.” 😵
Neither of these approaches is gonna do it. A solid competitive intelligence program will teach your colleagues that a happy medium exists. One where they’re informed. Aware of competitor developments, but not intimidated. Respectful of the real threats posed by market movements, but not overwhelmed.
For the most part, all this needs is a bit of context and the promise their respected, capable competitive intelligence team is on the case. The promise of a detailed brief by end-of-week is usually more than enough to stop the hallway whispers from rising again. 🧟♂️
By the same token, informed data in the forms of customer feedback and deal win rates are irrefutable evidence that competitors can and will snap up your market share if leadership is hubristic enough to suggest they’re untouchable.
6 – Develop a culture of competitive intelligence in your organization
Any competitive intelligence practitioner who’s been in the game for a while knows it’s a losing battle trying to master the market single-handed.
Almost every team in your org has a vested interest in performing competitive intelligence of their own at some level. Whether it’s the sales rep doing all he can to hit targets on time, or the marketing executive doing her best to understand what’s driving buying decisions. Either way, knowing how to frame your brand and your products for best results always starts with orientation.
Answering questions like:
- Why do customers buy?
- What makes Competitor X so successful?
- How can we win more deals?
…requires deep understanding of your customers, your competitors, and macroeconomic conditions.
Competitive intelligence sits at the intersection of all those factors. So to answer them, your colleagues will have done a little digging.
The most effective CI teams encourage such independent work actively, and create channels of communication that facilitate the free flow of competitive information. When everyone’s thinking about CI, you have that many more ears to the ground, ready to inform you of the latest rumblings in competitor developments.
Competitive intelligence is an exciting, growing discipline. Leaders can’t obsess over competitors all day, but they can’t forget about them either. The same goes for other departments. That’s where the value of a dedicated CI team makes itself obvious.
Competitive intelligence is focused on understanding the market, your place within it, and your other competitors. All with a view to drive revenue by:
- Enabling sales to win more deals. 🤑
- Informing product teams to develop in the right direction.
- Creating a sustainable competitive advantage. 🏆
- Aid in the creation of core strategies like positioning and messaging. ✍️
- Cultivating healthy internal responses to competitor developments. 🤝
- Creating a culture where CI stays top of mind. 🧠
Plug the holes in your tech stack. 🚰
Competitive intelligence sits at the intersection of marketing and revenue enablement. With high stakes, disparate data sources, and a mandate to leave no stone unturned, CI pros face an organizational nightmare. 🤯
So what's the answer? Tools.
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