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Competitive intelligence: a crucial component for Product Marketing—Part 2 of PMM with Julie Taylor

This is part 2 of a multi-part series all about Product Marketing. Introhive’s Director of Product Marketing, Julie Taylor, will guide you through the ins and outs of creating a product marketing group from scratch. You might want to begin with the introduction to the series if you haven’t already, as well as the previous episode where Julie talked about how to get buy-in for your Product Marketing plans.

In this series, Julie draws upon her own experience and extensive research, letting you in on all (well, almost all) of her trade secrets about essential PMM programs, and passing along all the lessons she’s learned along the way to building a successful team that made the finalists in 2021’s Product Marketing Awards.

In this instalment, Julie talks about getting the lay of the land through smart competitive intelligence. You need to know what else is out there before you can be sure you’re better than they are.

A shaky start to a rock-solid competitive intelligence program

Our competitive intelligence program rose up from the ashes of a fire.

I was 6 months into my PMM career, added another person to the team, and his first two weeks were spent stuck in a boardroom with me, on an incredibly tight deadline. We needed to do a deep dive into our top competitors, understand their strengths and weaknesses, do a feature comparison, and determine our positioning. Honestly, I look back and I can’t believe he stayed. 

Why do we need competitive intelligence?

Our CI Program can be boiled down to three buckets of ‘why’:

  1. We help our internal customers (sales and CSM) achieve success in the market, and sell more effectively through better understanding and positioning
  2. We help our buyers buy. There are so many available tools they need to evaluate, we help educate them, reduce noise, and understand the key differentiators across the board
  3. Last but not least, we help steer the future of the organization and navigate the multitude of ways we could take our platform

How often do we check up on the competition?

Today, this program is managed mostly by one product marketing powerhouse. Some companies inspect their market once a quarter. We prefer to stay on top of it 24/7. It’s always on, never dropped, and continuously evolving—just like the market that we’re in.

One of the main reasons we’ve taken that route is because we are a platform. We cut across a wide swath of categories, and that opens us up against an array of competitors and ankle biters—all who compete against very particular areas of functionality, but no one can do everything that we do. 

Where do we find our competitive information?

Where do we find our signals? Forewarning, iIm about to brain dump on you. Here’s our laundry list of sources: 

  • Internal teams like sales and CSM are your best friends! They often hear things from their customers and prospects that aren’t publicly known or available online; give them an easy way to hand over this information whether it be through interviews, a slack channel, a CI tool, or your CRM
  • Check out their website and social to keep a read on their messaging and marketing tactics: what is getting attention, what is driving their business?
  • Obviously, new features or products they’ve released and how that changes how we stack up
  • Our win-loss program helps us understand what buyers value, what was important to them
  • Market Analysts are a great source of information if you can build the right types of relationships 
  • Press releases, news, blogs…here you can see new acquisitions, new rounds of funding, new VIP logos they’ve attracted
  • Who they are trying to recruit? What their job postings entail is a really good indicator of where they’re headed next
  • Recorded customer calls—bonus if you can create alerts for when competitors are mentioned or specific features you want to hear more about and keep a pulse on
  • Peer review sites are a big one:what do users love? What do they dislike? How their ongoing support team is structured? What types of personas are using the product?
  • CRM of course is a wealth of information: opportunity notes, lost reasons, you can even get fancy through reporting on win/loss rates to understand how different attributes like vertical, company size, or geography view and rank your solution and company
  • And of course, it wouldn’t be a legit competitive intelligence program without the dark web…and I’d have to kill you if I told you our tricks for that

Integrity matters—always

One thing to clarify here: although we are black belted ninjas when it comes to snooping on our competitors, we still analyze with integrity and class. We don’t pretend to be buyers, or hire people to pretend to pretend to be buyers. Sure it may take more work, but we can sleep at night, which for me is important as I have two youngins that i’m chasing when I’m not at work.

What do you do with your competitive intelligence?

Great! we have all of this information. Now time for the flipside of the coin, which is, in my books, even more important than the gathering state. Because now we have to distill and enable.

One thing to keep in mind is what format is easiest to use? We used to have enablement up the yin yang—sessions once per month where we would go deep on individual competitors, and we would be the source of truth for every salesperson and CSM out there.

Slack was blowing up.

We did that for an entire year, and it took an incredible amount of our time to manage. Im proud to say we’ve learned since then. Here are some tips we took into 2021:

  • Your PMM team is likely small compared to other areas of the business. See if you can embed some frontlines that will hold the fort between you and your sales/CSM team. For us, that was our Solution Engineer team. 
  • Keep a Slack channel and maintain battlecards—all inquiries should be directed there before any further work. The bonus of this, instead of monthly deep dives, is that you don’t need to worry about AE’s accessing and using stale information that could put them in an awkward sales conversation.
  • Understand who you care about: all competitors are not equal (we’ve tiered our competitors depending on how much we’ve come up against them or what we anticipate for the future). There have been cases where we’ve been asked to go deeper and deeper, that we’ve just had to say no to. Even in the case of our tier 1 competitors. Sometimes knowing every detail about how their solution works won’t help you win or position better. 
  • This year, we’ve started preparing monthly reports on shifts/changes/announcements—these are easy to prepare if you have a CI tool and keep the entire org up to date.
  • And quarterly market pulse sessions with product team and executive leadership are incredibly important to us. These sessions go beyond competitors but how the space is shifting as a whole and incorporate our voice of customer insights.

Competitive intelligence is not the one ring to rule them all

What have I learned over the last couple of years? So much. One thing that I would recommend though, is as important as competitive intelligence is, don’t let it dictate what your organization does next. It’s a dance. A fine balance you’ll need to figure out.

But if you’re prioritizing why you lose, then you may lose sight of why you win; those key differentiators, the whitespace, and ultimately what buyers and users are trying to solve for. It can be easy to get caught up in a space that moves so quick, so I recommend having a northstar on why you do competitive intelligence in the first place.

More Julie! More Julie!

By now you’ve realized how valuable Julie’s insights are, and how much fun it is to watch her explain them. There’s more where this came from, lots more. You’re going to love the next part all about building a scrappy beta program, and while you’re waiting for the rest of the series you should also take a peek at more from Introhive’s Product Marketing group.

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