The Competitive Landscape Isn’t What It Once Was – A Conversation with Rob Begg, VP of Product Marketing at Salesforce

4 min

In Klue’s Competitive Enablement Series we interview both leading competitive intelligence professionals, product marketers, and those that use the competitive intel. 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 Rob Begg, VP of Product Marketing at Salesforce. We get into why enterprise businesses don’t expect competitive intel to ‘stick’ with salespeople, and what the changing competitive landscape now looks like.

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As someone in charge of product marketing at a large enterprise company, what’s the single biggest competitive intelligence challenge you face?

In the space that I work in, there are thousands of companies. So usually, what happens is that a competitive team will be able to commit to focus on one or two competitors that are considered to be top competitors. That’ll work 50% or 60% of the time. 

Where you really struggle with coverage is when you’re like us, and you sell to everybody 

We have a different set of competitors: small businesses, enterprise, and even different competitors in financial services or retail. The coverage piece is a huge obstacle, and once you nail coverage then it’s about keeping it up-to-date.

How do you combat the difficulties of competitive intel collection?

We get a SWOT team wrapped around a competitor; a couple of sales engineers, a couple of long-term tech veterans like myself, and then two or three people that are familiar with the company that we’re looking at. Then, we’ll also bring in a product marketer to help with the tech stack. 

The product marketer will own getting the content together and making sure that it’s organized, then we’ll put it in the repository that we use to collaborate.

How do you decide what competitors to track?

When we run things like a new product introduction, or whether we’re making a change to something, we’ll start by looking at a category. 

We’ll look at a landscape of 90 competitors, then narrow it down to 15 who are in our wheelhouse. Then segment out five that deserve a deep dive. The output of that would be a landscape where you’ll have shallow intel, but it’ll be an omnibus of what happens. 

However, we do individually track any company that is a multi-product competitor in more depth.

What is the main focus of competitive intelligence at an enterprise company?

Corporate competitive teams have a split focus. One focus is supporting C-suite and their decision-making by helping large company founders and VPs that want to understand their competitive landscape. They want a clear picture to understand company X, Y, and Z. 

It’s not deal-specific, it’s more about the market rather than product and customer.

But then there’s a second split, where we really want to hone in on a handful of top competitors. In that case, we focus on sales-specific material.

Sales-specific content is most important when you want to hone in on a competitor

Right, we know that salespeople are important in this function. How do you ensure that a large team of salespeople actually use the competitive intel provided?

If you’re in sales, CI relevance is all about being able to apply it to specific deal situations. Having a CI session in a boot camp, even though everybody says they want it, can be a complete waste of time. It’s just too much.

If you hire a new AE and she’s learning a new category, barely knows who the personas are, what use cases look like, then you try to put a bunch of competitors in her head? It doesn’t work. 

I think that having tools that are readily accessible, easy to digest, really specific, and easily applied to deals… that’s where you find the highest relevance for competitive intelligence in sales.

On the other hand,  sales engineers have more capacity to absorb a body of knowledge. No matter where I’ve worked I always find that they’re really good at sharing things with each other. They just do a good job of that as a community. As it’s a complicated job, they have to rely on their peers for best practices.

Competitive intelligence tools are important for sales

What is the greatest benefit of competitive intelligence for enterprise companies?

Where you really get the benefit of the competitive team is the legwork. We have roughly 55,000 employees, so if we’re looking at a competitor we can usually find twenty-five people who know the company well, or customers who are really keen on being helpful and will give us a deep dive. 

They’ll do that legwork that we would never have the time to do as an ad hoc team.

Also, if you take a competitive intelligence job at Salesforce, you don’t have to guess what people want. Sales are pretty clear about what they want from you. It’s easier in a place like this.

I think it’s a whole lot harder for a company that doesn’t have a history or culture of competitive intelligence and doesn’t know what they want.

What do you think the competitive landscape will look like moving forward?

It’s going to get really, really competitive. When there’s lots of change, or companies are forced to fold, ten more pop up. It creates a lot more fractures in the marketplace.

I think there’s going to be a huge demand for competitive intelligence; enterprise software companies are getting challenged more than they ever have. 

We used to only fight a battle at the top… we only fought these battles in one direction, which was up. Now we fight battles in two directions, in front of us and behind us.  

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