This is our second blog post in JPK Group’s CI Experts series, and our first CI practitioner post. The following is an interview with CI expert Matthew Sell. Matthew works for works for SAP as chief analyst in its centralized Competitive and Market Insights (CMI) team. Matthew first spoke at the February 2015 JPK Group Summit.
Conducting the interview is Alok Vasudeva of The Marketer’s Continuum.
AV: How did you start your career and, specifically, the CI function?
MS: I started my career as a technical support engineer for a small software company. I then transitioned into a pre-sales role for a leading business intelligence company. Being on the front line – dealing with customers and their respective competitive scenarios – is when I first started to learn about the power of CI. By engaging with customers, I learned how to competitively position our products and handle landmines placed by our competitors.
AV: Was your route to competitive intelligence a typical one?
MS: I don’t think there’s necessarily a typical route leading to a CI role. However, a CI role is probably not going to be your first job out of college. Some of the required nuances and skills that one picks up along the way, include sales skills, product knowledge, and a holistic understanding of marketing. Part of the role of any CI analyst is being able to determine the competitive differentiators that a product offers. In my space, enterprise software, a reasonable amount of understanding of technology is needed to succeed.
AV: What are some examples of competitive intelligence that you deliver?
MS: In terms of deliverables, the battle card has been a consistent staple throughout my career. Similarly, some type of alert or competitive newsflash in response to a competitor’s action, such as a tradeshow announcement, product release, or M&A activity, provides a narrative as to what the action means to our organization, and delivers actionable recommendations.
We do publish a newsletter, although newsletters can be a dangerous output. If you have one, regularly ask yourself the question, “What is the newsletter used for?” And, if you stopped your newsletter, would anyone in the organization even notice or care? Make sure that the newsletter is providing content that is timely, relevant, and goes beyond just reporting the news. Good analysis should also explain why things happened and provide recommendations on what the organization should do about it.
Read of these two headlines and gauge what’s more effective:
a) Competitor X launched a new product, or
b) Adjusted sales strategy to counter competitor X’s new product claim
Here’s my three-phased approach when reporting:
1. WHAT? – Explain the facts of the event on what just happened
2. SO WHAT? – Explain why something happened and what it means to your organization and entire industry?
3. NOW WHAT? – Provide a list of actionable recommendations on what the organization needs to do next.
AV: To do your job properly, what departments do you interface with?
MS: As a CI analyst, you should be regularly talking to with in sales, marketing, and R&D. Those departments also tend to be the heaviest consumers of CI information. The departments that CI interfaces with is somewhat dependent on the remit of the CI team in the organization. For example, if it is purely sales support, which tends to be in smaller or mid-sized organizations, then sales and marketing are the primary depart ments. For larger organizations, if the remit of the team usually expands to include further MI (market intelligence), then it should be interfacing with all departments across the entire organization. A seat at the executive table becomes even more critical in this type of role. If you don’t have a seat at the executive table, then that’s something you need to fox, no matter what size organization or remit of the team.
AV: What department do you fall under, and where should CI reside?
MS: At my current employer, the CMI (competitive and market insights) team reports directly to the chief strategy office. A CI team might also report under sales or marketing. Either way, the intelligence team should strive to be a stand-alone entity, independent of any another department. This means internally branding the intelligence team, as well as earning a seat at several tables.
CI should reside in the middle between all the various functions within the organization, as its own entity. Now that’s not to say other functions in the organization, such as product marketing or product management, shouldn’t have a competitive component to them, because they should, but having a dedicated intelligence team will help provide the organization with a more holistic view than just what an individual in marketing or product team may care about.
AV: Do you do your own work or is any of the work outsourced?
MS: It’s a mix of both, and depends on the size, resources, and bandwidth the CI department has at that given time. Some projects make business sense to be outsourced, but you should consider the following question, “If your CI department stopped outsourcing any of its work, would it still add value and be critical to the organization?” If the answer is “no,” then rethink what you outsource.
AV: What kinds of questions are you asking?
MS: Part of any CI or MI team’s role is to constantly ask questions of the business. The types of questions you should be asking can vary, but generally should be around understanding 1) why we are currently winning or losing, and 2) anticipate why we will win/lose in the future. A key in doing good analysis is to define your set of key intelligence questions (KIQs) upfront. While it sounds obvious, many analysts fall into the trap of only collecting the data and creating a data dump deck, and with very light analysis. Know the question that you are trying to answer and illustrate your analysis by building a story around it.
You should also consider this holistically. For example, when examining any competitor, don’t just look at sales situations where you are head-to-head against a competitor; consider how the competitor won and lost in sales situations when your organization wasn’t involved. This will give you a 360∞ view of how to compete more effectively in the market against them. It will also help you think about share of wallet, and not just for competitive deals.
AV: Do you find a difference between CI generated by a dedicated professional versus CI generated by a someone whose primary function is something else?
MS: Yes. Typically, CI generated output by a dedicated CI professional will be a more substantiated and defensible piece, based on data and reputable sources. If you think of CI as part art, part science, then a CI professional should be bringing the science part in. CI generated outside the CI department can sometimes be more “artistic,” namely looser and less fact-based, subject to conjecture and hyperbole.
AV: What forms of analysis do you have experience with?
MS: Michael Porter’s Five Forces is a classic one to use; however, the framework you use is dependent on what works best for that particular situation. There are plenty of other frameworks to incorporate in analysis, including SWOT, Business Model Canvas, technology adoption lifecycle (TALC), and scenario planning.
AV: Give me examples of skills required to do your job?
MS: There are various skills a CI analyst needs to have, such as sales skills, product knowledge, and a holistic understanding of marketing. For example, to determine product differentiation, you would obviously need to have a technical understanding. Crafting this into a message that resonates with customers requires some marketing skills, as well as understanding how the sales process works to create deliverables that sales people can embed into their interactions with customers.
A CI analyst would need the skills of an interrogator, for example investigating strengths and weaknesses of a competitor, and that of a reporter, to present the analysis in a persuasive matter, with great writing skills.
AV: What type of CI ethics do you adhere to?
MS: In any CI role, a high level of ethics is mandatory, period! The SCIP Code of Ethics for CI Professionals are good guidelines to follow. You should also work closely with the legal department in your organization. There should be no gray area.
AV: How does the CI department go from a nice-to-have to critical? Are there CI metrics that are judged by?
MS: The key is to demonstrate your value to the organization. A CI department should have a services fulfillment mindset towards its stakeholders and look for ways to measure use of those services and the value it provides. While some metrics around value can be intangible, there are still plenty of metrics that can help show the value the CI department brings – 1) how many deals was CI involved with, 2) what’s the revenue value of those deals, 3) what’s the win rate, 4) how has the win rate improved over time, 5) how many downloads/reads of competitive assets, and 6) how many sales training/enablement sessions. You should also consider regular surveys of your stakeholders and ask them what else you need. The more you are directly engaged with stakeholders and understanding their requirements (and delivering on them), the more you will become critical to them. If they keep coming back for more, then you know you’re not just a nice-to-have.
AV: What did you learn about CI in your previous companies? What’s different about this company?
MS: In one of my previous roles, CI resided in the marketing department, reporting up to the CMO. This helped me get a better appreciation of different aspects of marketing. The core tenet is that marketing exists to make sales easier, whether its branding, pipeline, conferences, or product marketing. My current employer is a Fortune 500 organization. The larger the organization you support, the more leverage and scale become important. For example, a small team can have an individual, 1:1 sales engagement with a CI person. For a larger organization, this is impossible. You need to think about how you train folks outside the team, and design your competitive assets so that they stand on their own. Sales enablement becomes critical.
Matthew Sell – Chief Analyst at SAP
Matthew is an experienced competitive and market intelligence analyst in the enterprise software B2B domain, covering various dynamic markets such as analytics, big data, and mobility. During his career Matthew has worked in various analyst roles ranging from tactical competitive intelligence in sales & marketing, to strategic market intelligence in corporate strategy. Matthew currently works for SAP as chief analyst in its centralized Competitive and Market Insights (CMI) team.
Alok Vasudeva – Principal and Founder at The Marketer’s Continuum
As principal and founder of marketing consultancy, The Marketer’s Continuum, Alok blends big company processes with the agility and frugality of a startup.
A Silicon Valley native with an extensive history as a B2B marketing professional, Alok has held roles and responsibilities focused on product, content, and corporate marketing. His titles include director of marketing, product marketing manager, product manager, marketing programs manager, marketing manager, and industry analyst.
Alok currently chairs the Silicon Valley chapter of the Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP), the largest competitive intelligence organization in the world.