🗣️ Erik Mansur: My name is Erik Mansur. I'm the VP of Product Marketing at Crayon and the host of Into the Fray, the Product Marketing Alliance’s podcast dedicated to all things competitive intelligence.
I’ve talked a lot with my guests about getting buy-in from your key stakeholders, building credibility as the primary driver of your competitive intelligence efforts, and creating an ongoing conversation with your audience about the process in order to build a better program. 💪
However, we've never had a conversation about training those stakeholders or the techniques that will turn them into curators of competitive intelligence. Making other team members feel like participants in the process is immensely valuable, and this interview is all about how you do just that.
Jennifer Roberts, Director of Market Strategy at ServiceTitan, is here to walk us through her process. She’s going to share her techniques on how to bring colleagues online and send them into the field with an eye toward activating and gathering competitive intelligence.
First, a little about Jennifer. 👩💼
She's not your typical product marketer turned CI professional. She started on the analytics side of things, parlaying her background in research into gigs that allowed her to use data to make a more measurable impact on go-to-market strategy.
In this episode:
- How to deal with bad data.
- Tips on building a strong foundation for your CI program.
- Motivating teams to use your enablement content.
- Training teams to use your battlecards.
Dealing with bad data
🗣️ Erik Mansur: When you're educating your team members on how to submit field intelligence, how do you train them to have a discerning eye for quality data? How do you get them to understand what's good intel and what's not so good?
👩💼 Jennifer Roberts: That's a great question. You're bringing me way back to the beginning of my career. I used to do a lot of what I call “anthropological work” – literally watching the way people work and how they captured data for the product team to leverage.
Frequently, people are paralyzed by data. There's a conversation to be had about good data and bad data, but at the end of the day, you could start with any data. You can't let yourself be paralyzed by trying to find the best and cleanest data. Even with data that's incomplete, inconsistent, or bad, inferential insights can be pulled to help drive decisions. It becomes a question of tolerance to risk.
When someone's handing over something they think is a golden nugget, it's on you as the CI practitioner to validate that. If you realize it's not good data, or there's a bigger or more robust story that can be told, there’s an opportunity for you to educate and to help tell a fuller story than that isolated insight can tell.
🗣️ Erik Mansur: That's interesting. You don't want to put the onus of figuring out what's good or bad on the deliverer of the data; you or your team will figure that out. You just want to have as open of a conduit from those team members as possible.
👩💼 Jennifer Roberts: Exactly. You have to be comfortable operating in ambiguity, and that's not everybody's forte. It can be uncomfortable to be in an ambiguous space or not to have the full picture. But at the end of the day, even with good data, you're living in ambiguity.
I think CI professionals know that. We could create a million competitive battlecards, enable the best, and do all the right things, but we're still making educated guesses about what our competitors are doing. Even if we know their pricing model, how they're positioning against us, and what our strengths are, we’re still taking a chance.
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Building a strong foundation for your CI program
🗣️ Erik Mansur: This notion of ambiguity is not something that a lot of data-driven businesses feel comfortable with. They want everything in black or white. Shades of gray are not something that people like to play around in. Do you have to set that expectation early on when you're bringing your program to a different team or a new company?
👩💼 Jennifer Roberts: 100%. At ServiceTitan, this will be my third round of setting up a CI function, and I've learned a few things along the way.
I had the great fortune in my last two roles to have CMOs who were like, “I hired you as the expert – you're the expert,” but usually, everybody has an idea of what CI is and what they want from it. Sales can be super noisy, and product can be super noisy; they have very different ideas and needs. I would love to empower everybody in this position to make it clear that they’re the experts.
Now, with that expertise comes a level of expectation setting, but you have to gain credibility at the same time. You’re building while you're flying the plane. As you build credibility, you're then able to say with a little bit more confidence, “Look, we don't know everything, but here's what we know, and here's what we're going to do with it.” That’s easier once you gain that credibility and they trust you.
"I highly recommend dealing with one stakeholder at a time. This way you can tailor-make what they're looking for, but you have the same base information that all the different consumers might need."
A lot of times I've walked into kind of duct-taped situations. I don't want to negate how awesome duct tape is, but when the CI function has been added in ad hoc, and it’s basically held together with tape, a lot of the ways of working might be clunky. To gain credibility, you want to make those processes easier. You remove a little bit of the tape and build a real foundation.
Going back to the original data question, you need to ingest all the data you can early on. That’s going to help you identify the low-hanging fruit so you can quickly start to gain credibility.
As an example, when I came to ServiceTitan, some key pieces of the program were already in place, but the program as a whole was much more reactive. When you come into a reactive process without a strong foundation, you have to start building it somewhere, right? You could eat the whole elephant, but you’ve got to do it one bite at a time.
For me, building that foundation meant taking a deep dive into threat analysis through our Salesforce records. That quantitative data is important, but almost equally as important is the qualitative piece.
Frequently, when I see a reactive program, it’s because people are not listening. You usually only have executives freaking out about the sky falling when a new competitor comes into play because they don't think we have a handle on the situation.
Now, it might be that we don’t have a handle on the situation, or perhaps we just don't have an infrastructure in place that allows them to feel heard and understand how we're handling the situation.
"We are huge on pilots around here because they’re a great way to convince people that whatever you’re launching is going to help them win more deals."
Here's the thing: your Salesforce data can tell you who your biggest competitor is and who's taking the most money, and that's a worthy cause. Don't ignore that. However, if there's a competitor that's not taking up much of the market share, but is giving your sales team the yips, I'd argue that they are just as important of a competitor.
That's why you have to pay attention to the quantitative and the qualitative. You’ve got to listen to what your teams are looking for, then you can deliver that low-hanging fruit through your CI infrastructure and start to build some credibility.
🗣️ Erik Mansur: Do you design your CI program with an eye towards what internal users said in those interviews you mentioned, or are you basing it purely on your expertise? At what point do you start adapting the program to the business and your stakeholders?
👩💼 Jennifer Roberts: I think that the basics of expertise come in with the bill of materials. It's how you segment your top-tier, secondary, and tertiary competitors. It's how you build battle cards and orient them to sell. That's the expertise we bring. Most of us have built a million battle cards in our careers, right?
When it comes to fitting that into the needs of the business, I highly recommend dealing with one stakeholder at a time. This way you can tailor-make what they're looking for, but you have the same base information that all the different consumers might need.
When I say focus on a stakeholder, the idea of sales is even too broad. We chunk it down to SDRs, AEs, and CSMs. They all want the same basic information. The difference is in how we enable those audiences and deliver different pieces of what they need.
Your SDRs team is making calls every day, and probably getting hung up on quite a lot of the time. When they get a hot minute to actually have a conversation, they just need a few quick-dismiss tidbits of differentiation that set us apart from our competitors.
For our AEs, we're thinking further down the sales funnel. While they might need a quick dismiss if a competitor gets brought up, what they really need is objection handling. They need landmines to plant. They need more specifics on our positioning that will help them as the prospect evaluates. When it comes to customer success, it's all about differentiation and objection handling for when a client is at risk of churning.
My point is that there's a lot of overlap in their needs. It's just a matter of orientation and enabling teams to use the intel you give them. There’s a big misconception that just creating the battle cards your teams are asking for is enough; I would argue that most of our teams don't even know how to use them properly. They know they're there, and they can study them, but are they using them correctly? There's a lot of education that goes into it.
Motivating teams to use CI resources
🗣️ Erik Mansur: Before you start educating and enabling your teams on their new battle cards, do you have to take steps to motivate or interest them? Do you have to say, “Hey, we're getting our butts kicked out here, and this is the thing that's gonna solve your problems!” Or does everybody at a company like yours generally know that this is important?
👩💼 Jennifer Roberts: Arguably, anybody in a seller's position wants to win. That, along with their comp structure, motivates them.
To build on that motivation, when we launch new things – whether it's battle cards, one-pagers, or even new messaging – we run pilots. We are huge on pilots around here because they’re a great way to convince people that whatever you’re launching is going to help them win more deals.
Not only that, but who am I to tell you how to sell? I’m not a salesperson. It's better if that comes from their peers, and by piloting, we can create a few champions in their peer groups so that now, for enablement, I'm not even a part of it. I'm letting one of the pilot people come in and say, “This is how I used it. This is how it helped me.”
Then I come in at the end and show the benefits that the people using these materials saw compared to everyone who wasn’t using them. Maybe the win rate was better. Maybe we got more revenue or closed faster. We look at all those facets because we’re big fans of the data-first approach, and it’s also really motivating.
How to train your sales teams on using battle cards
🗣️ Erik Mansur: I want to go back to something you said before about how just handing your team battle cards is not enough and some education is needed. However, I know a lot of account executives, particularly seasoned ones, are like, “Just give me the ingredients and let me cook.” How in-depth do you get in terms of training people on how to best use these tools?
👩💼 Jennifer Roberts: It's a great question. Honestly, I've been experimenting with this for a while. The answer is multifaceted. One part of it is that at our kickoff meeting every year, we run a session on how to use competitive intelligence, where I show the teams the toolkits and battle cards available to them and how to use them. I also walk them through the win-loss program, which is fundamental, in my opinion, to a robust CI program. It’s important to refresh annually.
To your point about seasoned AEs, I think there's also something that needs to be acknowledged – a seasoned AE, who has been selling into this market for years probably doesn't need a battle card, to be honest with you, whereas someone new to the field is going to leverage it a lot more frequently.
If the seasoned AE is killing it, why change? All I ask is that they participate in my pilot because they know how to sell, and I want to study the way that they're selling.
Another thing we do is enablement calls. Anytime a new battle card is made or there's a new competitor of interest, we make sure to get a good 10 minutes with each seller. I spend about the first two-thirds of the call talking about where they can find the new battle card and how to use it; I spend the other third on the actual content. I want them to walk away with two or three tidbits that will help them win, and that will get them back into the content more generally.
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