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Innovation Requires Competitive Intelligence

Posted by Cam Montague on Wed May 09, 2018 11:15 AM

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Do You Know What Your Competitors Are Doing?

When I speak with executives from various departments and companies across the spectrum, I’ll often ask the question: “What are your competitors doing?”

Silence.

It’s awkward. Executives glance around the room waiting for another to speak. We’ll sit and wait for an answer.

Who owns this? Who knows it? Why don’t we know it?

The silence continues.

Eventually, the de facto leader in the room will respond and provide a haphazard answer about one or two of their competitors. Usually, they have upwards of a dozen competitors across various product lines and market segments. I’m still no closer to getting a meaningful answer.

So what do we do? Or, better stated, what do you do?

If your department or organization hasn’t woven CI into its DNA, then you’re in this group and are probably at a loss. So, let’s start with what our best customers have done.

Making CI Part of Your Business Identity

The brightest and fastest growing firms don’t just do CI -- they purposefully weave it into their identity. They’re collecting reviews, news articles, marketing collateral, product documents, filings, and social media to pull out powerful market and competitor trends, and acting on this information across their organization. Their CI teams are often product marketers who have CI in their job description and a chunk of time dedicated to it. Or, in larger organizations, they have their own dedicated strategy and CI team who inform internal stakeholders, such as marketing, sales, and product.

Of course, the underlying business model is critical to their company’s success, but they’re benefiting from improved external visibility to the marketplace as a result of great CI work. Remember, internal decisions are not made in a vacuum, nor are markets stable. Rather, market boundaries and structures are fluid. This reality has never been more true with the advancement of technology. Innovative business models fueled by the acceleration of data are rapidly engulfing old industries before they even realize it.

Understanding The Levels of Competitors in Your Market

The best CI folks have meticulously organized their competitors into tiers (e.g., I, II, IIB, III). Tier I competitors are usually companies that offer a directly competitive product or service in the customer’s main product line. Tier II competitors are competitors in a less prioritized product line or that only offer one competitive product in their suite. Tier III are generally chasing a different segment of the market (SMBs vs. Enterprise), offer encroaching products or services, or are a fledgling startup with promising tech or an experienced team.

What’s interesting is that many of our customers track companies that they don’t actively currently compete against. Why track them then, you ask? Well, did you notice that company XYZ offers great tech in an adjacent market, and, in an effort to move up/downstream to reduce their cost structure, have launched a product that will directly compete against yours? Probably not, at least until you’ve lost tens, hundreds, or thousands of deals to them.

So, while the average company may not have noticed until their boss calls them into their office, our customers saw that transition. They saw it early and were proactive about it. How? They spotted trends in their blog posts and YouTube videos that suggested they were targeting SMBs from the nature of the content. Then, they tied that knowledge together with the fact that their competitor was hiring sales reps at a feverish pace with a job description that read, “You will connect with a high volume of inbound leads and marketing generated opportunities in the SMB space of online marketing.” Hmmm…

As if that wasn’t enough, eight weeks later they tied the third piece of intel to the equation: a new line on their products page read, “Small to medium sized businesses.” But wait, it’s not over. The fourth change to their pricing page: a newly listed SMB pricing option. Gasp. “They have a pricing page?!” Yes, they do.

Andy Grove’s famed management book titled “Only the Paranoid Survive,” would be an appropriate title for a CI novel. While we don’t believe you really have to be paranoid to survive, we do believe you have to be smart. Part of that is being proactive, not reactive. Another part of that is acknowledging the fact of the matter that markets are not stable - they’re fluid. Likewise, neither are competitors. There are new ones, old ones, evolving ones, emerging ones, accelerating ones, and unknown ones - recognizing and acknowledging that fact is the first step to getting ahead in your market. 

Positioning Yourself as Market Leaders

Let’s avoid those wide eyes, blank stares, and the silence of not knowing. Get out in front of the competition proactively before you become reactive. When there are constant changes happening not only within your market, but with CI technology, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve. Ensure that your company is making CI a critical part of its business strategy. It’s also crucial to understand the whole scope of those who could be considered competitors. By developing a full understanding of CI and its benefits, you will be able to innovate efficiently and position yourself as a market leader.

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