Product Marketing

The 7 Biggest Problems Affecting your Competitive Intelligence Framework 

5 min

It’s impossible to build a competitive intelligence framework without first establishing the problems that it will solve.

There are so many different sources of competitive information, and numerous teams that will value different insights. Without clarity around the problems that need addressing, you can get swallowed up whole. 

Prepare beforehand. Determine what the primary objectives of your competitive program are in order to avoid drowning in this sea of intel.

A clear understanding of your company’s current competitive intelligence problems provides two things:

It will guide the focus of your competitive program.

For example, if your sales team is having to deal with new competitors that are popping up in deals, yet your focus has solely been on your primary competitor, your insights are just empty calories. Or maybe you’re tracking user reviews without making distinctions between the size of clients, yet your team is specifically looking to increase traction with mid-market businesses.

It allows you to demonstrate the impact of your competitive program.

If you set out to improve win-rates in enterprise deals, now we have something to measure! If customer retention has been difficult and is now a focus for the quarter and you’re regularly enabling CS with competitive information that helps them maintain high levels of customer satisfaction, you can look at renewal rates as an indicator of your success. Too often we see competitive goals that are vaguely defined and in turn, diminish the value of your efforts.

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Identifying these problems is the first step in building an effective competitive intelligence program. And what better way to learn how to do so than from a tested CI expert?

Good thing we have Tracy Berry here to help.

Tracy is the Sr. Competitive Strategy Manager at ServiceMax, where she built out the company’s competitive intelligence program. Here’s how she discovered the competitive intelligence problems that needed to be addressed and how they determined the five key requirements of her competitive program. 

You can learn how Tracy built ServiceMax’s entire CI function in 90 days here.

How to identify the problems your competitive intelligence framework faces

Tracy set out to get a broad idea of ServiceMax’s competitive problems and who was suffering the most. First, she sent a survey out asking how employees can be more effective in their job. 

One thing became immediately clear: the sales team were not only dissatisfied with current competitive intelligence, but were also expressing a need for it.

“The information that could be had was out of date… it caused sales to lose faith in the competitive intelligence at their disposal,” Tracy said.

Competitive intelligence was out of date and sales lost faith in its importance - Tracy Berry

These results indicated that there was a concrete demand for competitive intelligence. It was a quick validator that a functioning competitive intelligence framework will bring value to the organization.

Next, Tracy conducted the most important component to drill down on the biggest competitive intelligence problems that teams were facing. Thirty-in-thirty interviews.

She met with thirty key stakeholders in the company for thirty minutes each. This helped her get a sense of the strengths and gaps in their current methods. The same questions were posed to every interviewee:

Questions to identify strengths and weaknesses of a competitive intelligence framework

  • What is your history of competitive intelligence within the context of your role?
  • What is working?
  • What is confusing?
  • What is broken?
  • What is missing/ on your wish-list?
  • What are your consumption preferences and frequency of deliverables?
  • If you had a magic wand, where would you wave it?

These seven questions were targeted enough to draw out a large number of insights. They did establish some of the company’s strong CI practices, however, they also shined a glaringly bright light on their deficiencies. These became the problems that needed to be solved.

And they are common problems that many competitive intelligence programs face.

The biggest problems for competitive intelligence programs

1. Poor competitive differentiation

Competitive intel was too general and didn’t differentiate based on specific competitors. The information was also feature-specific, rather than giving insight for employees to set the product apart with valued propositions. It really didn’t help the business stand out.

2. Decentralized competitive intelligence

Information was being pushed out, but it was scattered all over the place. Employees would have to sift through old emails, docs, and slides in an attempt to find the insights they needed. It made consuming information an arduous process that turned teams off. Add in the fact that the intel would end up being out-of-date, and there was a recipe for disaster. 

3. Internal messaging was inaccurate

Out-of-date information is bad, but incorrect information is worse. There was a disconnect between what marketing said and what sales experienced; marketing campaigns pushed positive positioning slants that weren’t actually true. Sales couldn’t relate to the messaging and weren’t being brought in to the process by delivering intel from the field. This meant that teams were left interpreting what they thought their differentiating factors rather than actually figuring out what they were.

4. Competitive information lacked strategic direction

There was no clearly defined strategy behind the competitive intelligence being gathered. Sales teams were just using the intel on an ad-hoc basis, rather than creating structured battlecards that could help them through every stage of the sales cycle.

5. Competitive intelligence was requested too late in deals

Everyone knows that it’s really difficult to scramble and get the information that you need at the eleventh hour. As there was no clearly defined competitive strategy, this was happening on a regular basis. This just added stress onto sales reps, leaving them to cram for calls as if they were college students all over again.

6. Win-loss data was unreliable and didn’t track competitors

The data in the company’s CRM on win-loss analysis was dirty. Although the CRM provided space for sales reps to fill in information about competitors during a deal, they were not required to. As such, salespeople were closing deals without providing any details about the competitors they faced and how different prospects perceived each of their value propositions. This made running competitive intelligence reports inaccurate; there was no way to project how much win-loss data they’d get, and there was uncertainty as to its accuracy.

7. The organization was too reactive and not proactive with competitive insights

Employees were concerned that the competitive intelligence team was doing too little, too late. They felt that they were constantly on the defensive, and that competitors had the upper hand on them by using insights against them. Most time spent interacting with competitive intel was scrambling to find information that could help sales simply defend themselves in the moment.

Identifying competitive problems will lead to finding the solutions

Surfacing the problems that employees face is a starting point that will guide how you determine the key requirements of your competitive intelligence framework. It’s a magnifying glass that zooms in on the areas that are impeding your organization from utilizing competitive intelligence to its fullest extent.

Once you begin to build a plan that optimizes your competitive intelligence framework, you’re going to want buy-in and support from different departments across the organization. In order to get that support, clearly establish how your new competitive program is going to solve the problems that they regularly face.

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