How to Establish a Modern Competitive Intelligence Program

How to Establish a Modern Competitive Intelligence Program

Over the past ten years, competitive intelligence (CI) programs have gone from  a “nice-to-have” luxury to an essential function of growing organizations. According to a November 2021 survey by the Product Marketing Association (PMA), 62% of surveyed companies are investing in CI. This represents a significant increase since 2014, when industry pundits estimated that only 5% of companies were engaged in some CI activity.

Most executives believe CI can help their companies increase competitive win rates, support market share gains, prioritize internal product development roadmaps, and increase customer satisfaction. But the question remains: “How do I create a CI program that has a real impact?”

Here are a few observations I have discovered over twenty years of observing programs that have excelled and those that have struggled to make an impact.

CI is a team sport, but you MUST have a quarterback

One of the reasons CI programs fail is that they lack a single person responsible for maintaining the program. Many growing companies recognize the importance of competitive intelligence but place the responsibility across a team of product marketers or product managers. 

While CI should be a team sport, with everyone contributing, you still need to have a single person managing the program. Without making a single person responsible for research, organizing information, and creating deliverables, competitive intelligence is often deprioritized in the face of competing work. Plus, when one person is responsible for CI, there is one individual who becomes the “competitive expert” in the company and a clear point of contact other employees can go to for assistance. 

Setting the priority and charter for competitive intelligence

As a company executive, it is important to set the charter of the CI program. Many companies start by focusing on CI in support of sales––a natural place to start, since CI can help quickly increase competitive win rates. In fact, the latest study completed by the CI technology company Crayon found that companies with CI programs supporting sales increased their competitive win rate by 50% within twelve months of launching their program. 

While sales is a great place to start, competitive intelligence programs that contribute to long-term market share gains strategically focus on supporting marketing and product marketing, product management, and leadership teams. Companies that have an equal balance of supporting sales and strategy put themselves in the best position for the future.

Investing in CI

CI programs built to contribute to improving revenue and market share must be a priority and must have proper investment. Companies that invest 5%-6% of their marketing budgets on CI can see strong returns within 12 months of program launch. Areas of investment that executives should prioritize are:

  • Hire a dedicated competitive intelligence leader: A full-time employee dedicated to managing the CI program and conducting competitive research.
  • Create a regular win-loss research program: Establishing a win-loss research program that interviews customers who have evaluated your company can provide essential signals you may not be receiving fully from your sales teams. Many teams focus their win-loss research programs on their sales staff. This is a great start, but it is only a half-measure. Learning verbatim directly from buyers why they selected your company over a competitor––or why they selected the competition over your company––can provide incredible insight. To scale a win-loss program, it is advisable to use a third party win-loss firm, such as IcebergIQ, that can interview buyers on a monthly or quarterly basis. Having win-loss insights as the foundation of your CI program can revolutionize your insights, and I do not use that term lightly. During my tenure at Eloqua, we increased our competitive win rate from 48% to 64% in 9 months using the insights we gained from win-loss research––insights we would not have known otherwise.
  • Use competitive enablement technology: Another way to scale your competitive intelligence program is to leverage CI technology. There are two great leading vendors today, Klue and Crayon. Both companies offer beneficial technology to automate the collection, organization, and presentation of competitor insights into strategic dashboards and tactical battlecard presentations for sales and field teams.

Create regular deliverables

To prevent your CI program from slipping into reactive, “fire fighting” mode, it is important to establish the delivery of regular CI insights. Besides, a “one-size-fits-all” approach to CI rarely provides the insights needed for different internal audiences. While the type of deliverables and delivery schedule differ from company to company, I suggest the following schedule:

  • Monthly sales CI deliverables: I like to create a “competitive kit” for each of the top competitors that make up 75%-80% of the company’s competitive engagement. For the top 5-7 competitors, I create the following four content items as part of my “competitive kit”:
  1. Sales training presentation: This is educational content that can be placed within your sales enablement platform or sales LMS to help sales reps learn about the competitor, what to defend against, and how to position to win.
  2. Sales battlecard: Battlecards should only be used as “quick reference guides” and not educational material. Battlecards should be no more than two pages, and prescriptively highlight what to defend against and how to position to win. Battlecards can be embedded within Klue or Crayon or your sales enablement platform.
  3. 90-second competitor video: For each top competitor, creating a 90-120 second video will allow sales and field team members to quickly consume the material that they need to know before a sales meeting: what to prepare to defend against and how to position to win.
  4. Objection handling guide: A one-sheet list of top objections with suggested answers.
  • Quarterly marketing and product management competitive intelligence report: This report should include competitive win-rate statistics developed from CRM insights overlaid with win-loss interview insights and any major competitor movements. The report should also include how competitors are positioning against your company, changes in messaging or positioning, and how your company is (or is not) effectively differentiating against your top competitors.
  • Quarterly leadership report: This report should include the same information for marketing and product management, focusing on the impact on your company. Coach your CI leader to put their “consulting hat” on and provide summarization and recommendations on the competitive implications and what needs to be done to increase your competitive advantage.

Creating a Culture and Cadence of Competitive Intelligence

As a leader in your company, setting the tone and expectation that CI is critical and everyone will participate is key to creating a culture and cadence of CI within your organization. If your employees understand that CI is important to you, they will make it essential in their own work. Giving your CI managers the investments, support, and creative freedom to develop an effective CI program will help your organization to have a more effective CI posture and improved competitive market share.

To learn more about creating a competitive intelligence program that can impact your organization and your bottom line, contact us at Aventi for a free consultation. 

Written By

Tim Rhodes

Tim Rhodes has built a twenty-year career in competitive intelligence (CI), including as the former Senior director and head of Oracle Marketing Cloud CI at Oracle, CA Technologies, and Workfront.