Understanding B2B Competitive Intelligence

Understanding Competitors in Dynamic, Fast-Changing Markets [eBook]

Competitive intelligence is sometimes referred to as a game of chess, with each side trying to think as far ahead as possible about their opponents’ moves and countermoves. Sun Tzu is frequently invoked as a model for competitive intelligence students when observing, learning from, and out-maneuvering a competitive nemesis. Similarly, armies and generals are typically revered by those in the competitive intelligence community, their battle plans, flanking techniques, and other maneuvers analyzed and copied.

But what happens when the market you’re studying is moving quickly, with competitors frequently entering and exiting the playing field? Perhaps you’re not even sure if a firm is a competitor — could they also be considered a partner? Or at least part of a loose affiliation that could be helpful to your firm in the future?

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Our New Competitive Advantage Score: How we’re benchmarking your interviews against our repository of data

Over the years, Primary Intelligence has collected oodles of data across numerous industries. To give you a sense, we typically analyze thousands of deals annually, and we’ve been doing this a while. We love data. But one thing we love more than data is turning that data into something meaningful for you. This is why we’ve updated our Competitive Advantage Score.

Let me back up and recap. Read more

Buyer Objections

Sales Tips: How to Better Handle Buyer Objections

In our workshops we don’t spend a great deal of time on objection handling. A high percentage of objections result from “spray and pray” approaches when sellers bombard prospects with features without first asking questions to uncover which are likely to be relevant.Sellers dominate calls when doing product pitches. Buyers sometimes raise objections to slow down speeding trains.

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Beat the Incumbent in Sales

Win Loss Analysis Best Practice Series: How to Beat an Incumbent in Sales

Sometimes when you compete for business, you’re up against the incumbent. You may think the incumbent has the upper hand because they can easily leverage their experience and relationships with the buyer into another sale.

Above everything else, the incumbent has the advantage of engaging with your prospect daily. They most likely have priceless knowledge about that prospect such as their business needs, solutions used, financial/budget issues, leadership changes, and the company road map.

There’s also the issue of inertia: staying the course is typically the path of least resistance, while changing vendors usually triggers planning, due diligence, and buy-in from a myriad of groups throughout the organization.

Convincing a prospect that you offer the best solution and should make the changeover to your product or service may appear to be a challenging task. Nonetheless, there are ways to win prospects over and beat the incumbent.

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New eBook: Understand 3 Buyer Perceptions to Increase Win Rates in Close Competitions

What perceptions do B2B buyers consider when choosing between you and your closest competitor? This is critical. Because understanding how buyers perceive your company and knowing which attributes are most important to them, will be the difference between winning or losing a tight race where features, functionality and price are similar. A buyer’s overall perception of you is tied to several main attributes like reputation, industry experience, company size, who your customers are and more. These all play a critical role in that buyer’s decision. Understanding which of these company attributes are most important to buyers can position you to increase your win rate and most importantly, help you beat that closest competitor. You know the one.

Our latest Industry Insights Report “B2B Vendor Success,” focuses on buyer perceptions and was developed directly from buyer feedback. The report outlines which attributes B2B buyers feel are the most important in making purchase decisions. This free eBook “Understand 3 Buyer Perceptions to Increase Win Rates in Close Competitions” summarizes the report and discusses the three most important buyer perceptions uncovered by the research and includes recommendations on how to leverage this knowledge to beat your competition.

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Casual meeting with backpack and iPad

When Competitive Price Discounting Becomes Your Company’s Biggest Weakness!

A few months ago a long-time client decided to “take a chance” on discovery meetings with their sales team and strategic leaders in other departments. At the time, the marketing and product development departments were using an internal competitive analysis to help shape their road maps. The sales departments also had many competitive intelligence forums and groups that completed debriefs and various methods of data gathering. This intelligence was then turned into competitive battle cards.

That said, I convinced them to let me take a deeper dive with the sales teams on the feedback we were receiving from their buyers. After their first set of interviews were completed, they learned the buyer feedback was completely contradictory to what their internal data was telling them.

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Intelligence is not just for spies

Intelligence – It’s not just for Spies

Gathering intelligence summons up images of intrigue – handsome men and beautiful women crisscrossing the globe on dangerous missions in search of foreign secrets that may be useful to their governments.

However, gathering intelligence isn’t just for government spies. Intelligence is also useful in business. While it’s illegal to steal other company’s trade secrets, it’s fair game Read more

Win More Deals

What are You Doing to Win More Deals?

What does your organization do to win more deals? What steps are you taking to effectively outflank the competition?

How do you feed the right type and right amount of intelligence to your sales leaders, product teams, marketers, and executives? Do you even know what type of information each group wants?

Win Loss Analysis helps companies determine why they’re winning and why they’re losing, breaking down different elements of competitive deals into manageable, bite-sized pieces that can be targeted to specific stakeholders based on direct buyer feedback.

Win Loss Analysis also captures intelligence about traditional and start-up competitors, outlining how these companies are effectively positioning their offerings to increase market share.

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The Interrogation

Why Your Buyer is Afraid to Leave Your Competitor

Have you ever heard someone say, “It’s the devil that we know versus the devil that we don’t?”

What do they actually mean by that? I’ve heard that phrase a lot when conducting Win Loss interviews with my clients. Basically, the buyer decided to stick with the company that they already knew, even though they have some significant customer service issues, rather than going with an unknown new company.

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The Secret Reason Keeping You From Improving Sales

There are a variety of reasons why a company chooses to not implement a formal Win Loss program. Most obvious reasons include lack of budget or simply not recognizing the value of a structured program. Or sometimes the timing is not right to evaluate and implement a program. And sometimes organizations have never done any Win Loss analysis and don’t know what they’re missing.

Primary Intelligence knows that without a process of extracting quantitative and qualitative intelligence directly from those who make the decisions to buy or not buy, and without a vehicle to organize that information and make it readily available and understandable, valuable knowledge is never obtained and needed change doesn’t happen.

But what’s the real reason?

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Is Your Impact a Plus or Minus?

There is nothing like sports when it comes to record keeping.

Michael Lewis made famous baseball’s obsession with measuring every detail in Money Ball. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight fame started his career with similarly obsessive baseball predictions.

By far my favorite sports stat is the plus/minus score in basketball. In simple terms, it measures the difference in game score when a player is on the court compared to when they are off. It’s a great way to incorporate everything that’s harder to measure about playing on a team, like influencing the intensity of play, setting up good plays before the assist or basket, and great defense.

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Role of Competitive Intelligence

Custer’s Last Stand and the Vital Role of Competitive Intelligence

On June 25-26, 1876, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his battalion from the 7th Cavalry fought the Battle of the Little Bighorn, one of the most controversial battles that has been studied and remembered in American history. In his attack against members of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapahoe tribes, Custer lost his own life as well as the lives of 268 of his men.

Can we gain insights in Competitive Intelligence from Custer’s failure?

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Using Competitive Intelligence to Understanding Marketplace

Why do South Koreans study Communism in the US?

One of my favorite subjects to study is Behavioral Economics, the process of decision making. This was one of the reasons why I earned a degree in Economics. While attending the University of Utah, I took classes from professors with backgrounds in Keynesian Economics, Austrian Economics, and even Communist economic theory.

While attending these classes, I noticed that I had quite a few international classmates, many of whom were from South Korea. I thought that this was interesting and the economist in me wondered if there was any correlation between the demographic makeup of the classes and the subject matter of the class. After discussing this with one of my Korean friends, he mentioned that one of the many reasons South Koreans came to study in the U.S. was to better understand Communist economic theory.

So, why did they travel half-way across the globe to come to the U.S. to study Communist Economic theory when they could have studied it in their own home country?

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The Interrogation

How to Hire a Spy (Without Hiring a Spy)

In every course taught in major business schools, the book, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, is a requisite when discussing business strategy. In Chapter 13 of The Art of War, Sun Tzu discusses the purposes of due diligence before a general goes into battle. He states:

“Raising a host of a hundred thousand men and marching them great distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on the resources of the State. The daily expenditure will amount to a thousand ounces of silver. There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted on the highways. As many as seven hundred thousand families will be impeded in their labor.”

In other words, going into battle is a major concern to the campaign, and a good general needs to know the opportunity costs of taking on this challenge.  How does one come to that conclusion that the usage of labor and resources are worth the battles fought? What will be the outcomes, whether won or lost?

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How do you find out if your prospects have a crush on you?

True story: I vividly remember a time back in grade school (before the ability to text or email) when we would pass notes in class. At the time, I had the biggest crush on a cute girl, Marissa. One day I built up the nerve to send her a note in class. If you ever had a crush in grade school, I’m sure you can guess the format of the note:

Marissa, do you like me? Check Yes or No.

And, of course, as the note was passed down the row, the nun spotted it and asked to see it. Then came the worst feeling in the grade school world—she read it out aloud in class.

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Effective Use of Competitive Intelligence

It is one thing to obtain competitive intelligence, but it is another to use it effectively. Many companies know they need more information on their marketplace, but rarely know what to do with it.

I speak to many prospects and customers on a daily basis. Recently, I spoke to a customer about how they are currently using the Win Loss Analysis data that is provided to them. They shared with me that they are using the individual opportunity profiles as a sales training and development tool. Once or twice per month, the customer holds round-table discussions with their sales team and discusses the individual profiles with them. During that meeting they discuss the learning points from those individual profiles. They discuss what they did well and what they can improve on for future opportunities. They answer questions such as:

  • What could we have done differently to win that business?
  • If its a win, what did we do correctly to win this deal so we can replicate it and continue to win more business?

This is a smart use of the information, but there is a relative concern many companies have stated: what if the sales professionals are sensitive in discussing these profiles, especially if its a loss?

Consider sanitizing the individual profiles. This particular customer has two different profiles delivered to them. A regular profile that goes to management with all the details about the individual opportunity and a sanitized one, with the individual customer name removed so that it cannot be identified with any particular sales rep. This way, the sales professionals don’t feel targeted, and they can openly discuss these opportunities without feeling uneasy about it.

Having these round table discussions has been very effective for this customer, and it has been a great way to leverage the Win Loss Analysis data provided to them. This creates better communication within the group and allows them to share knowledge amongst each other. Sales professionals are the ones on the front line selling, so using valuable tools such as Win Loss Analysis and creating effective training initiatives around it helps them embrace this valuable data and should help improve their win rate.

Competitive Intelligence: The Red-Headed Step-Child?

It seems to me that many CI efforts at companies get nothing but token treatment from management. They know its important to give attention to this issue, but they just cant bring themselves to care. This can stem from many issues, but one underlying reason always seems to stand out: they just don’t believe research efforts understand their company and problems like they do.

When CI is presented to management, there are generally two reactions. If the research runs contrary to management thinking, the research is considered faulty. If it confirms their pre-set beliefs, they feel the research is unnecessary since they already know whats going on.

So, how does someone present CI in a way that is interesting and relevant to management? Here are some thoughts that could bring CI to the forefront of a company:

  1. Stay in the minds of management. Generally, if you are someone toiling in a back room and out of sight, you and your work will not be considered important to day-to-day decisions. Keep a consistent flow of information in front of the right people. It doesnt have to be daily, but you should make sure they get regular communication from you.
  2. Go beyond stating data. Everyone is busy, and certainly that applies to upper management. Many times, they don’t have the time to assimilate data on their own. Make decisions and opinions based on the data you are receiving and present those findings instead of the data. Only include the pertinent information that supports your platform.
  3. Keep it short. I know, we all love writing business dissertations. What? You don’t? Well, the only thing less fun than writing such a volume is to read it. Get to the point.
  4. Keep it relevant. You may have found some fascinating data that says prospects love toast in the morning, and that 33 percent use strawberry jam. For stat hounds, that may be interesting (although they may question your survey techniques), but what does it matter in regards to buying your products? Although that example is extreme, it points out how irrelevant intelligence will just cause peoples eyes to glaze over. Know what strategic initiatives are important to management, and gather intelligence that would affect those decisions.

By keeping to these four points, you may find your work more important to those who can most use it. Talk about retaining job security!

p.s. My apologies to anyone who was a red-headed step-child. I’m sure you were loved. Really.

Where are the Innovators in Competitive Intelligence?

So, I receive a daily alert on various competitive intelligence topics through Googles Blog alert service. You probably track any number of topics (including the competition) by the same means (either in news, blog or regular search alerts). I like to track the chatter of the competitive intelligence community. I’ll also admit that I’m a little vain. I like to make sure that my blog entries make it into the top 5 each day. It took a while and a lot of consistent work to gain Google credibility, but were pretty visible now.

Everyday for the past year, I have received an email with at least 5 competitive intelligence topics which were generated that day. Occasionally, a rare treat will present itself in the form of a bit of information that makes me think. Mostly, I see article after article (day after day) about how the internet makes competitive intelligence possible for companies. Specifically, you should look at your competitors website and grab all of the information you can.

There is nothing wrong with this advice. Many competitive intelligence initiatives begin at that very spot. But, I’m a little bit surprised at how consistently some of the simplest techniques appear at the top of the searches each day.

If it isn’t Watch your competitors web page, its Do a patent search. Again, good advice, but I’m still surprised at how many people seem to come up with that idea each day and profess the practice as the next big development in competitive intelligence.

And, the whole web analytics field believes that they have reinvented the competitive intelligence field, simply by tracking Alexa traffic ratings. I’ll bet I see a couple of blog posts about that every week.

I sure do wish that the innovators in Competitive Intelligence were publishing more thoughts and creating more dialogue in the blog community. Of course, SCIP does their part to produce articles and thought leadership, but too few practitioners are participating in the blog world.

I will recommend a few of the blogs that I enjoy. Some of them are published more often than others, but they all come from very intelligent people who have a track record of sharing valuable insight.

I know I’m missing a ton. Hopefully, youll help fill in the blanks with your comments. And, I have included some of our competitors. In fact, I am happy to include them. There are some smart people out there and their thoughts should be promoted above the din.

These people are developing new ideas and sharing them with the CI community. These are the people that will move the industry forward. And, I sure do wish that their intelligence, creativity and insight would drown out some of the drivel that currently exists.

Hopefully, my thoughts, expressed on behalf of Primary Intelligence, have provides some level of quality or inspiration. There are so many topics that need to be covered in competitive intelligence. Hopefully, well hear more about key issues and less about the new technique of surfing your competitors websites.

A Really Cool Competitive Intelligence Presentation We Made Yesterday

Yesterday, RoxAnne Loosle presented competitive intelligence findings to one of our clients. In this case, we targeted our intelligence efforts at two specific competitors, gathering data and creating analysis based on recent sales interactions and opportunities (won and lost) by our client.

Due to the confidential nature of our interactions with our clients, I cant share specific information from the presentation. However, I will share some overall concepts that were brought to light in the presentation that would be considered hidden gems.

Our client found that they were leading their competitor consistently in the following areas:

  • Industry experience (Company Driver)
  • Technology reputation (Company Driver)
  • Stability (Company Driver)
  • References (Sales Team Driver)
  • Product knowledge (Sales Team Driver)

Areas of weakness were identified as:

  • Ability to customize (Product Driver)
  • Purchase cost (Product Driver)
  • Service cost (Product Driver)

Understanding these performance comparisons is so very important to our clients and their ability to grow market share. Not only were we able to show where the strengths and weaknesses exist today, we also provided specific feedback on those specific points to show why the scores were lower (in comparison with the competitors) and how they could be most effectively brought online.

In addition, we spent time showing our client:

  • The sales stage where they are eliminated as a vendor in the purchase process when they lose.
  • A comparison of their overall solution cost compared with the competition
  • Key marketing activities that influenced the sale

The intelligence we provided has direct relevance to the marketing, sales and product leaders. They left the call, graciously thanking us for the report and 20+ slides of data and recommendation.

Its fun to share our findings with clients. In some cases, our findings are eye-opening. In others, we affirm information or sentiments based on unrelated efforts. Either way, there is satisfaction in being part of strategic and tactical initiatives that build company momentum.