How Hootsuite Overcame Their Biggest Competitive Hurdle – A Conversation with Ryan Donovan, CTO at Hootsuite

4 min

For Klue’s Competitive Enablement Series we’ve interviewed both leading competitive intelligence professionals and consumers of competitive content. We get an inside look at what goes into building a quality competitive program, and what different teams want from competitive intelligence (CI) in their company. 

In this edition of ‘Competitively Enabled’, we spoke with Ryan Donovan, CTO at Hootsuite. We dive into the biggest struggles CI teams face and the steps taken at Hootsuite to ensure sellers are using the competitive insights built by their compete team.

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Why does competitive intelligence matter for your role?

From a product planning perspective, you’re constantly being asked by your board if they’re doing a good job, and how you fare competitively. So you have to know where you stand, and where your plans stand relative to the competition.

Conversely, from a product management perspective, you need to have competitive intelligence to really make sure you’re planning and prioritizing the right features. It’s fuel to understand how you can differentiate, because if you don’t know what your competition’s doing, there’s no way you can carve out your own differentiation strategy. 

Thirdly, from a product marketing perspective, you need to know how to price it, package it, position it, and train sellers on it. Then, you need to have the right Q&A and collateral ready. When customers say, “Well, you know, what about X, they’re cheaper. Why would you go with the likes of Hootsuite?” you can have an intelligent answer.

Where have you seen teams struggle with competitive intelligence in your career?

It’s a lack of intelligence where I’ve seen the biggest misses. When a board member knows something that one of your competitors is doing, and you don’t, that’s the worst possible scenario. Having the data in the first place and being able to get it and coalesce it, that’s the biggest challenge point for any company that’s trying to build a competitive intelligence practice.

Also, if you show any sign of hesitation, or anything other than authoritative confidence, that’s where the credibility starts to erode. It just goes downhill from there because salespeople are immensely talented BS detectors. They’ll just laser in on anything that might be seen as a wobble. This is why having solid intelligence matters.

If a board member knows something about a competitor and you don't, that is the worst scenario - Ryan Donovan

Can you speak a little bit more to this idea of authoritative confidence in the competitive content?

So increased confidence means that you can survive a precision questioning. If I don’t feel well-armed, I’m going to be reticent to put myself out there like that.

From a product marketing perspective, the PMM is going to lose faith with the sellers when the seller is able to pull up data and go, ‘Well, what about this? What about that?’. It’s not necessarily moment-in-time reporting, but content that’s been out there for a bit, and when questioned the PMM doesn’t know what is going on. Those are the moments to be avoided.

If somebody from sales can go and get better data than if they went to the product marketing team, then that’s problematic from a credibility standpoint.

What is important when providing competitive intelligence to consumers of the content?

Competitive intelligence has got to be easy, especially for sellers as they’re the biggest audience. So coming up with very simple tables and Harvey Ball-type formats and ensuring everything is consistent. So as you get into the collateral, competitor X looks the exact same as competitor Y, and then tying that back to our own sales enablement collateral. 

You also have to be able to restrict what they can do with things, especially if you’ve managed to get something juicy. You obviously might want them to see it, but not actually be able to have it, download it, or distribute it, because oftentimes you do see sellers move between competitors. So having that rights management piece on competitive collateral is very important because that’s where you typically see the most competitive migrations.

Competitive intelligence has to be easy for sellers as they are the most important audience - Ryan Donovan

What is one of the biggest competitive intelligence challenges you’ve faced?

Our challenge has been getting the information in a format that has been useful to sellers.

Distributing intel hasn’t been the challenge point because we’ve had Klue. We’ve now done a much better job with the synthesis and packaging of the information so that it’s much easier from a self-service perspective to discern the information.

Distributing it has never been a problem, but I did have nightmares about password-protected PDFs back in the day!

How did you solve this?

That journey really started in 2019. Early in that year, the right connectedness started to build up, and then what Lynette did (Sr. Director, Product Marketing) brought that to scale. 

Spending the time to get all of the information on each competitor into a consistent format took a fair investment, but has paid dividends. Now everything is packaged and distributed in a consistent manner, making it easier for folks in the field to consume. Even the most grizzled and cynical representatives feel that the level of service being provided to them is the best ever. 

There used to be a lot of reading and a lot of navigation that went into going through intel, and I think the art of what our team has done is getting intel distilled down into something that’s easy for the sellers to consume. It’s quite a game-changer, this ‘Starbucks experience’. No matter which Starbucks you go to in the world, you’re going to have a pretty consistent experience. Now you’re getting a Starbucks-like experience from our PMM team.

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