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Aligning Sales and Marketing With a Collaborative Competitive Intelligence Strategy

Picture of Alex Crumb
Alex Crumb on Tue, Apr 9, 2019

You won’t be able to see success within your organization unless your sales and marketing teams are aligned. This is true when it comes to goals, initiatives, and strategies—including your competitive intelligence (CI) strategies. There are only minimal barriers preventing marketers from deriving actionable competitive intelligence from their day-to-day activities to help sales succeed. There’s also little preventing sales from passing anecdotal intel back to marketing for ultra-targeted content and campaign productions. Yet many sales and marketing teams are not yet aligned in their CI strategy.

If your prior marketing and sales alignment attempts stumbled, perhaps your new impetus lies in a holistic competitive intelligence methodology.

Sales People: Turn To Your Marketers For The Latest Competitive Intelligence

For a salesperson, the accuracy and depth of a prospect’s contact information can make or break their day. While they have lists of contacts, deal sizes, unanswered emails, and nuts to reach, salespeople truly want one thing: precise, relevant info on a living person that’ll buy all the brick-a-brack they’re packing.

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Here’s the excellent news, salespeople: if you’re angling to utilize competitive intelligence in that selling process, but you’re worried about taking on more weight to get the job done, there’s probably a marketer sitting two desks down with the fresh data you’re craving. They just might not recognize the untapped potential.

Marketers make fantastic competitive intelligence agents. Marketers face a panoramic landscape of forest and trees, trying to tell the difference between signal noise and actionable intel. They gather inspiration from their surrounding industry for their content production. They gather daily buzz and track weekly performance. Marketers mainly face outward, and those who don’t should be wary of the consequences. If it’s not already obvious, these are core tenets of competitive intelligence.

Salespeople should recognize how often marketers pick up competition-centric insights in everyday venues and actions:

  • Fluctuating SEO ranks
  • Ad buy costs
  • Timely responses to industry news and events
  • Tailoring language and positioning
  • Content marketing efforts
  • Social media actions

Marketers, that list isn’t a mountain to climb, it’s a resource to mine. Competitive intelligence becomes most viable when first-hand data drives your deliverable to sales. Competitive intelligence is how you package marketing collateral as a sales differentiator. You could assemble sales training based on comparison data pulled straight from the competition’s online reviews. You could turn the industry’s morning social buzz into afternoon call closes. You could even contribute insight-based battlecards.

That means marketing—as if governed by a Swiss watch-like mechanical predestination—must sit on the same side of the table as sales.

Competitive Intelligence Also Flows from Sales Back to Marketing

Sit on a sales call and you’ll likely notice your reps are already absorbing marketing-ready anecdotes from prospective customers several times a day. While to an attentive marketer’s ear, these stories could easily become blog posts, content offerings, or social buzz, even the most attentive salesperson’s thoughts remain dominated by their monthly number. It’s unfair for them to do both activities at once.

Meanwhile, marketers adore disseminating true stories with analytical objectives, but cannot always be certain whether those stories remain relevant to sales’ daily prospects or if their objectives commingle with sales’. Time for everyone to brunch and barter.

Competitive intelligence is a fantastic unifier. It encompasses goals all sides pursue. CI is anecdotal and mathematical. Exactly as marketing can pass competitive data insights on ad buys and website language changes to sales to aid their close rates, sales can just as well float competitive intelligence insights back to marketing in equal measure.

Marketers, imagine receiving primary-source answers to actionable, content-ready questions like these:

  • What attracted the prospect to our business in the first place?
    • (Fantastic content fodder)
  • Why did our product lose this deal?
    • (An opportunity for your product marketers to be more clear with their messaging)
  • What assumptions did the prospect reveal about their needs?
    • (Check your company’s public perception)

For marketers to make full use of these types of insights from sales, you will have to coordinate with your colleagues on the sales side around a principled competitive intelligence practice. Initially, sales reps can simply share these anecdotal insights across a designated Slack channel or other repository. As your office’s competitive intelligence alignment progresses, sales and marketing can contribute directly to your battlecard platform, so marketing can track exactly when, and in what context, your competition challenged your position.

That’s the sales/marketing alignment you must seek and reach if you wish to align, evolve, and grow.

How To Get Started Sharing Competitive Intelligence Between Teams

Time to drive home the point. Why is competitive intelligence alignment critical to success?

It’s a matter of differentiation at all points in your buyer’s journey. What makes your company, the entity that you labor over every day, different from the alternative?

From the sales team looking for differentiation, approach marketing with questions like these:

“Those folks who closed yesterday said they were considering McClure Inc. until I told them about our comparable feature—are we positioning marketing budget to out-maneuver McClure with that particular feature?”

“The recent deal we closed with Roxxon was valuable and easy to snipe from our competition over at Biff Co. once they heard about our enterprise feature—marketing should double down on that feature advantage we have over Biff Co., and we can really eat their lunch.”

If you’re on the marketing team, here are a few sample questions you can ask your sales colleagues to begin gathering useful competitive intelligence insights:

“These guys at Torgo Corp. have been trying to horn in on our SEO and jabbing at us on social media with a featureless product—have you encountered any prospects parroting Torgo’s marketing copy on calls?”

“It was easy to out-pace Capsule Corp.’s Twitter presence with a week’s effort—what other companies have you come up against while prospecting, maybe marketing could overrun their social positioning just as easily?”

Don’t be intimidated. While you’ve likely had passing conversations like these all the time, you may not have ever formalized the practice. If you’re uncertain where to begin, here are two steps to get you going.

  1. Together, share your high-level activities between marketing and sales!
    1. EXAMPLE: Marketing is currently competing for THESE keywords
    2. EXAMPLE: Sales is currently competing against THESE companies
    3. EXAMPLE: Marketing is currently planning a campaign to push into THIS competitive space
    4. EXAMPLE: Sales is training reps on positioning THIS key feature
  2. Together, create a repository for this intel!

How to Know if Your Teams are Aligned

I want you to try an experiment at your next sales and marketing team meeting to test your competitive intelligence alignment. Give it a shot, I promise it’s easy.

In the meeting, I want you to first sit together on one side of the table.

This is where the trick begins, so read carefully. First, the head of the marketing team should ask this exact question of the sales team head with these exact words:

“What tie-down questions did we use in last month’s most valuable deal?”

Take a moment and seek the answer. Was it a matter of meeting the customer’s needs? Or was it a better price point? Check your records, your CRM, or Closed Won notes until you find out. If you can’t discover the answer, jot a note to find it later.

The next question, this time from the head of the sales team, asks of the marketing team:

“Where is our marketing combating our competition the most and where do our products differ the most?”

Same drill—can you discover the answer? Are you encountering competition in SEO, or on social? Is your company scoring worse feedback than the competition on review sites? Marketing should know. Go through Google Analytics, or HubSpot lists, wherever you track your standing against the competition. Take a few minutes, this is a fickler question, but still nonetheless important to prove the point. Once more, if you can’t provide a confident answer now, record a calendar reminder to find it later.

All done? Congratulations, your sales, and marketing just aligned around competitive intelligence!

If you struggled to summon these answers, that’s part of the exercise. The questions’ purposes were clear enough. What would it look like if your sales and marketing teams were aligned with CI, swapping anecdotes, and sharing your methodologies when observing the shadows of your competitors? If these competitive insights from marketing and sales—gathered from each unique perspective to inform the other—could be easily passed between teams, your advantage against your competition would be enormous.

Such alignment might be simpler than you imagine.

Be Realistic with Your Alignment Goals

The more significant commitment to this insight repository for sales and marketing to align around, the smoother informational flow. Having one person maintain a repository is a good start. Having a team oversee a well-formatted spreadsheet or a view in your CRM is even better. Investing in a true competitive intelligence platform to track all that’s occurring outside the four walls of your business demonstrates the greatest possible commitment.

Strong alignment between sales and marketing on competitive intelligence emboldens your entire company in nearly all outward-facing facets. Good luck!

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Topics: Competitive Intelligence

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