The following Insights post is contributed by David Nixon, former Senior Director, Competitive Intelligence – Applications at Oracle and expert JPK Group Presenter.
“Give me 3 things I can say to win this deal.” As a CI professional I get that a lot. If it were that easy products would sell themselves and you wouldn’t need sales professionals. You would create a single cheat sheet to use against Competitor A. Just send it to the prospect and wait for them to pass back a signed contract. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Still, the requests for silver bullets keep coming.
While differentiating from competitors is rarely as simple as a checklist, we still have to come up with a way to respond to these requests. After all, the job of CI is to provide competitive positioning. But to do that well it’s vital to look beyond features and capabilities. Inputs like how the competing offers address evolving market trends and your company’s broader brand promise are critical to a successful sales strategy. Incorporating them requires a broad view of the business and requires understanding factors that no single team or department has a full grasp of. CI teams can’t do this alone.
Teaming Up for Competitive Advantage
The only way to get this broader competitive perspective is to take a team approach to Competitive Intelligence. CI teams are used to working with internal teams, but they typically focus on product capabilities and differentiators. These are important but only show part of the picture. You need at least two additional viewpoints to develop your sales strategy: a clear understanding of the complete value proposition that you and your competitor is offering (i.e., your brand promise to customers) and an understanding of what the market is looking for and how the different value propositions address those needs.
Product Differentiators: Understanding how products compare includes specific capabilities as well as intangibles like ease of use. This is the starting point. Involve Product Marketing and Product Management teams to get key input on your product differentiators.
Marketing & Positioning: If they all tell time, why do some watches sell for a few dollars while others sell for thousands? Because the value proposition is more than the product’s features/functions and much of it is captured in the brand. That’s why Swatch Group acquired brands like Omega and Breguet, proven luxury brands, rather than create a luxury Swatch. Work with Corporate Marketing teams to understand where the brand is and where it’s going. Analyst Relations can also provide input on the perception of your company’s brand. Understanding your brand position versus your competitor’s is a key input to your competitive strategy.
Market Conditions: What you’re selling and what prospects want to buy are two different things. Does the prospect value your differentiators? Understand prevailing market conditions along with the prospect’s specific requirements to determine where you need to target your messaging. Market Intelligence and Analyst Relations teams can provide key insight into market conditions and how they are evolving. Sales has the best perspective on what customers will spend money on today.
The point where these things intersect – the alignment of your offering, the complete value proposition and the customer/market requirements – is where you will find the most compelling competitive differentiation. This is the Competitive Differentiation Zone and is much more compelling that product differentiation by itself. CI rightly owns this, but teaming across the organization is the only way to get there.
Are you building a team culture around Competitive Intelligence? If you aren’t, you should be.
With more than 25 years of experience working with a range of technology companies and industry advisors, David brings a strong understanding of underlying business issues to his work. He uses that understanding to develop and assess strategies with a particular emphasis on ideas that take advantage of an organization’s strengths and strategic vision. He has worked closely with all organizational levels and brings a passion for working in teams and for helping team members achieve their best.
David holds an Electrical Engineering degree from Cornell University and an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management.