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Purchasing Competitive Intelligence Tools & Services: Part 1

Every week a new vendor comes knocking on my door with a sales pitch for their – fill in the blank – market research, competitive intelligence (CI) research, industry news, web scraping, expert network, CI software, consulting, company research, or outsourcing service. Some of these firms have a unique value-add offering, but as a general rule, 80% of the sales pitches are so weak they never get past the first email.

Part I of this blog series addresses what I look for before engaging with a firm to discuss their offerings. Part II will cover the broad range of tools and services our team uses to add value, efficiency, or effectiveness. For the record, my team and I don’t receive remuneration from any third-party firm. The exception is that I am a council member with expert networks where I speak on the process of building out market intelligence (MI) teams.

Let’s Talk About the Vendor Sales Pitch

As a general opinion, I’m fairly jaded when it comes to email pitches for Market Intelligence (MI) related offerings. Nearly every solicitation sounds the same to me, with a few exceptions. These are the criteria I look for to initially qualify vendors, and that sets them apart.

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Did they do the research? – Did the vendor look at my LinkedIn profile to understand what my team does? (I check every time.) Did they visit the HERE website and have a minimal clue of what we do? It’s not that hard folks, at a high-level, it’s location data, traffic, and navigation services. If it’s clear the salesperson hasn’t conducted due diligence, I am not likely to respond to their outreach..

Have they tailored their pitch? – Are they considering the needs of our team and company? I’m not looking for perfection, just a minimum attempt to match their offering with our needs – something that shows they have done their homework, have dealt with similar customer needs before, and have a sense of how they can provide value to us.

Have they differentiated their uniqueness? – So many pitches sound the same, and they force the buyer to discern the unique value proposition. As a potential client, that’s not my job, that is the vendor’s responsibility.

These quotes from  the Key Provider Index, in my opinion, gives a sense of bad and good examples of differentiation.

  • The Bad – These sales pitches do not provide what I’m looking for – industry focus, price points, specialty capabilities, or uniqueness. 
    • “customized global strategic intelligence research & analysis”
    • “full-service competitive strategy and technology firm, offering world-class consulting services and technology solutions that help clients gain and maintain a competitive edge”
    • “enables organizations to make the most effective strategic and tactical moves relating to their customers, markets, and competition at the rapid pace that the digital business world demands”
  • The Good – These pitches provide insights on what the offering is, why it is unique, or how we could potentially benefit from it:
    • “best-in-class software for Market and Competitive Intelligence that converts unstructured Big Data content into organized, digestible information for decision-making”
    • “… firm focused on the healthcare industry. Our experienced pharma executives advise leading organizations in developing strategies to accelerate value creation and innovation. Clients partner with us when they have to make business-critical decisions and investments, such as acquiring new assets, creating and executing development and launch plans or for maximizing market penetration
    • “software-driven market and competitive intelligence platform that enables businesses to track, analyze, and act on market movements from their competitors, customers, and partners”

Is the website informative and organized? – How can I expect the vendor to write an informative and organized research study if they can’t execute this on their website?

Are there white papers, customer case studies, or analyst research on the website? – Is the vendor a thought leader with current content on their website? M-Brain is a good example with Customer stories, White papers & e-books, Handbook of market intelligence, Blog posts, and Events. Further, are there Gartner Magic Quadrant, Gartner Cool Vendors, Forrester Wave, or equivalent reports available that mention the vendor?

Are they respectful? – I understand salespeople have a quota to meet and want prospects’ full attention. But they need to be respectful and cannot continually chase after their prospects. If a salesperson wants to drop a short email once every 4-6 weeks to keep in the loop that’s fine, maybe send some relevant news about your company or product: new enhancement, new product, special pricing, new use case.

Can they produce references? – Have they sold to me in the past? To someone else in my company? To someone in a company where I previously worked? To a similarly sized technology company? Vendors should find some way to connect with me – and one of the quickest ways is to provide the ability for me to pick up the phone and talk with someone who knows the vendor’s services intimately – and is a person I trust or have a connection with.

Can they produce samples of their work? – What does their quality look like? If it is a software platform or online tool, easy enough to offer a one-week trial. But for MI and market research firms, I want to see examples of the work. And it is fine – advisable! – to strip the report of client-identifiable content.

Are they ethical? – A few months ago, a research firm was hounding me to set up an initial sales call. Yet their value proposition just wasn’t apparent in any of their communications, so I asked for examples of their work. Imagine my surprise when they sent an actual report completed the previous month, with the client’s name written on the cover (one of the largest technology firms in the world), and no attempt to hide the conclusions. If the vendor could share a client’s study with a prospect without any apparent approval, why wouldn’t they turn around and do the same to us? 

Stay tuned for Part II of the blog, where I will cover the broad range of tools and services our team uses to add value, efficiency, or effectiveness.

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Bill Strugger
Bill Strugger is Head of Market Intelligence at HERE Technologies, a provider of insights on the location and movement of things – be it cars, goods or people. Previously, Bill spent 3 years at clinical trial SaaS provider Medidata Solutions and 15 years at data storage leader EMC Corp. in market and competitive intelligence leader roles.