We’re exploring the impact that the reporting structure of your competitive intelligence (CI) team will have on the effectiveness of your program. This post is part of our Competitive Intelligence Expert Series. If you’re looking to learn more about how to build a high-performing CI program, you can find a running log of all of the CI articles here. Subscribe to the series to make sure you never miss an article or resource.
Competitive intelligence, market insights, competitive enablement. Call it whatever you want. Choosing where this function sits in your company, however, is a more complicated matter. Your competitive intelligence reporting structure has a serious impact on the type of competitive content that you build and the value your CI program will add to your business.
Competitive Intelligence Reporting Lines Impact Your Content
Everyone in your organization wants a piece of competitive intelligence. As a result, whoever in your organization is responsible for managing competitive intelligence has deliverables to all levels of the organization, which typically includes:
- Executives – Quarterly updates on competitor moves and ad hoc reports to address unexpected moves.
- Product – Deep dives when new competitor products/features are released. Regular assessment of us vs. them.
- Sales – Battlecards on competitors to help sales win deals. These will include correct positioning and tie into the overall company/product strategy.
Which is most important? Depends on who you ask.
How Stakeholders Influence Your Competitive Content
Who you report in to will create challenges for your competitive intelligence program and how effective your content will be in helping your stakeholders. We’ve summarized a list of the common pitfalls that CI teams fall victim to when creating competitive content:
If your budget is from the Product team (Majority of CI Report to Product):
- Your priority will undoubtedly be to the product initiatives and Executive updates.
- You’ll create board presentations and focus your content to be consumed by that audience.
- Next, you’ll try and do a shorter version that you can re-purpose for sales.
- In these organizations, we hear from Sales reps that the battlecards are weak and don’t help them win deals…So they don’t use them.
The focus of the battlecard is to help your Sales team win more deals. However, if the competitive intelligence reporting line is into Product, the creators of this content may not have the same incentive or enough of a window into the sales process to understand what content is truly impactful to change the outcome of a deal.
If your budget is from Sales:
- You are likely to be embedded in the day to day operations of the sales team.
- You’ll play a role in deals as an expert, a coach, and key resource to sales.
- Your content will be focused on helping sales win deals, not in necessarily aligning with Marketing’s positioning strategies.
- In these organizations, we hear that Marketing needs to do their own research to keep up with competitors, which can cause some challenges in message alignment between Sales and Marketing.
In our experience, a CI Program is not only impacted by reporting lines, but also by the size of the company. A smaller company usually has fewer resources to invest into it’s competitive program. The challenges faced are usually around the burden of tracking multiple competitors and the administration of effectively sharing that intel out to Sales teams and responding to Sales requests. At a large company, centralizing intel sourced from separate teams (product, Sales, Market, exec) and external sources is difficult. Similar challenges in distributing competitive content (sales battlecards) doesn’t seem to go away as a company gets larger. We’ve outlined some of the common challenges faced by CI teams at different stages of company growth, and provided a few key tips to help improve your performance.
Competitive Intelligence Reporting at Small Companies
At smaller companies (sub 200-500 employees) it’s usually a Product Marketer who owns sales battlecards as one of their many responsibilities. They’ll produce battlecards once a year or perhaps twice depending on the importance in the organization. The once a year battlecard often has a dual purpose. These are written to provide Executives insight into the competitive landscape and to help sales to win more deals. Herein lies the issue. Battlecards created for Executives are helpful, but not optimized for sales rep consumption. What’s the difference between Executive Battlecards and Sales Battlecards you ask? Well, we’ll tell you.
- Executive battlecards are important and cover a lot of competitor content including strategy, overall positioning and changes over the past year/quarter to the product.
- Sales Battlecards, however, need to be focused on helping sales understand how to use these details to crush the competition. They include a mix of strategic and tactical approaches to help win deals.
When your Sales team consumes your battlecards, the content needs to be adjusted to suit their needs. Here are some brief highlights of what type of content to include (Check out our series Competitive Battlecards 101 for more examples):
- Positioning – How does your company position against the competition? Include examples of how salespeople should talk about the competition without creating a negative relationship.
- Win Stories – What are the recent deals won by the sales teams against that competitor? Include key steps, tips, and other insights that reps could use in future deals.
- Customer References – Make case studies or connect prospects to existing customers.
Executive content, typically built for board meetings, is not formatted for easy sales consumption. It will provide sales with a ton of information but won’t help them understand how to use it to win a deal. If your sales team is able to easily understand intel about the competition and know how to apply it, they can be more agile on sales calls and increase the chances of closing a deal. For the product marketers benefit, it will help your team stay on point with messaging while giving them room to maneuver and adjust their stories as needed.
In smaller organizations, it’s critical to keep CI as a priority. We often see CI initiatives de-prioritized in favor of “more important” projects only to come up as the most important and immediate need months down the road. We’ve seen CI increase win rates, shorten deal cycles and minimize discounting. For smaller companies, putting effort into enabling your sales team with competitive content can be a game changer.
Competitive Intelligence Reporting at Large Companies
Competitive intelligence as a function gets more complex as the company’s size increases. In bigger organizations, silo’s are more prevalent and CI can report into Product team or directly into Sales. Just by looking at the reporting lines, you can tell there will be communication challenges in terms of creating, collaborating and distributing content.
Competitive intelligence reporting to Product generally results in sales content being outdated and less of a priority. Executives and product teams will be the focus and the content is typically used to help define company and product strategy. CI teams that report into this group will re-purpose this content into battlecards for sales. This usually means, it’s written for product and not written to optimize for sales usefulness. Examples, without throwing anyone under the bus, include extensive (as in, 60-page) powerpoints on the competition or equally long word documents on industry trends. CI teams that create these are not producing content that is optimized to help sales close more deals.
Competitive intelligence reporting to Sales means battlecards are more frequently updated, and positioned effectively to help salespeople de-position the competition. As a result, the demand is high for these resources from the sales team and their performance is based on how they have helped influence sales.
Tying performance to sales outcomes is very important. The downside is that too much focus is put on winning a deal as opposed to sharing changes in competitive strategies up to Exec, Product or Marketing teams. It’s important that teams with competitive intelligence reporting to Sales still have a clear and direct line of communication to marketing to ensure that the company’s messaging stays on point and any concerns can be escalated to the appropriate users. It’s when CI reports to Sales that we start to see slippage in messaging and combative relationships between the sales and marketing teams.
The Case For Making Competitive Intelligence a Priority at Your Company
Often we see companies who don’t take competitive strategy seriously until it’s too late. The old-school mindset of focusing on yourselves and not competitors just doesn’t make sense in a world where prospects do the majority of their solution evaluation before ever picking up the phone with a sales rep. A proactive approach to creating competitive strategies and enabling all teams across your organization with the intel they need to do their jobs is becoming a foundational function of any successful business.
No matter who competitive intelligence reports to or how big your company is, here are some recommendations that can help your CI team build content to help Sales win more deals because in the end, bringing in more revenue to your company will always help to build your influence:
- Become near real-time when it comes to updating sales on competitor moves.
– Example: A competitor upgrades a feature. Let the sales team know the details and provide some context as to whether or not the current sales approach needs to change.
- Provide examples of how a salesperson could use competitor intel to help win a deal.
– CI teams don’t need to come up with this necessarily. You’re not always the expert. Talk to sales leaders and get some tips. This will also help in terms of breaking down silos.
Competitive intelligence is heavily influenced by the actions of other competitors and will vary by your industry and size of company. There is no easy way to predict or guarantee reporting line for your CI team will work effectively within your organization. Here are some ideas that might help ensure that your CI team focuses on helping your sales team win more deals:
- Tie the performance of your sales team into the CI teams performance review.
– It will be important for keeping the motivation and focus of the content on sales.
- Get your CI team a seat at the executive table on a Quarterly basis.
– We see competitive roles being filled with analyst level staff and we also see talented folks buried two or more layers below the executive team.
– CI Teams should have a seat at the table as a resource when discussions on competition arise.
– More importantly, include CI in strategic discussions throughout the company. CI should be impartial and can provide some helpful insights into these discussions.
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