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5 Reasons Competitive Intelligence Is a Critical Component of Pre-Call Planning

Picture of Conor Bond
Conor Bond on Wed, Sep 8, 2021

Unless you’re subscribed to the Crayon blog, you’re most likely reading this because you Googled “pre-call planning.”

If that’s the case, you probably noticed that there are a lot of blog posts on this subject. You may have even read some of them. We read some of them, too, and after the third or fourth one, we were struck by a surprising realization:

No one is talking about competitive intelligence.

Now, to be fair, there are several blog posts that recommend gathering intel on your prospect’s competitors. We fully endorse this tip, as demonstrating knowledge of your prospect’s operating environment is an excellent way to build trust.

As far as we can tell, however, not one of these blog posts has anything to say about your competitors. This implies that competitive intelligence (CI) need not be part of your pre-call planning routine—an implication we wholeheartedly disagree with.

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Whether you’re gearing up for a cold call blitz, a discovery call, or a demo, you should take the time to arm yourself with up-to-date information about your competitors. We say this for five key reasons (the first three being related specifically to cold calls, the latter two being related specifically to discovery calls and demos):

  1. Your competitors are calling your prospects, too.
  2. Some of your prospects are your competitors’ customers.
  3. Some of your prospects used to be your competitors’ customers.
  4. Sometimes you need to play defense …
  5. … and other times you need to play offense.

Today, we’ll discuss each of these reasons in detail. But first, please note that we’re not suggesting that pre-call planning is all about CI. Ultimately, your primary focus should be your prospect: their goals, their pain points, their decision-making authority, and so on. What we are suggesting is that you’re not fully prepared for a call unless you’ve got the ammo you need to tackle the competition with confidence.

Preparing for cold calls

Getting ready to make dials for an hour straight? Here are three reasons you should take a few extra minutes to brush up on the competition.

1. Your competitors are calling your prospects, too

If a prospect is on your radar, chances are they’re on your competitors’ radars, too—some of them, at least. Even if your industry is only mildly competitive, it’s reasonable to assume that yours is not the only company that’s trying to get in contact with this person.

Put differently: Yours is not the only value proposition that’s being pitched to this person over the phone. And if you make a pitch that sounds a whole lot like that other pitch, why shouldn’t the prospect hang up right then and there?

Whenever you make cold calls, you should be prepared to deliver a differentiated value prop. Eventually, of course, this becomes second nature—but not without plenty of planning and practice. Plus, your competitors’ solutions are not static; they change over time. As such, you may need to tweak your pitch to ensure that your messaging remains unique.

2. Some of your prospects are your competitors’ customers

It’s an experience known all too well by those of us who have made cold calls in a competitive industry. You do your research, take a few breaths, and call the prospect. They pick up. You deliver your opener. They ask why you’re calling. You deliver your pitch.

And then they say, “We use XYZ.”

Awkward? Yeah, definitely. A conversation ender? Depends on how prepared you are.

When competitive intelligence is absent from your pre-call planning routine, you’re under-prepared to respond effectively in these situations. Sure, you can ask about contract renewal dates, and you can set Salesforce reminders to call back at a better time. This is a tried-and-true tactic for a reason.

But imagine this: Before starting your cold call blitz, you refresh your memory on the weaknesses of your top three competitors. On your tenth call, a prospect tells you, “We use XYZ.” And from your brilliant competitive mind springs this response:

“Got it. And you’re not finding any trouble with the user experience?”

You ask this question, of course, because you know Competitor XYZ offers a poor user experience. Ideally, the prospect will confirm that this is, in fact, the case, and the conversation will continue with a favorable tone.

Now, will a tactic like this single-handedly put your competitors out of business? No. But it will certainly extend some conversations, and it will probably result in some discovery calls that wouldn’t have otherwise taken place.

3. Some of your prospects used to be your competitors’ customers

Sometimes, the problem is not that your prospect is currently using a competitor’s solution, but rather that they previously used a competitor’s solution—and it didn’t go well. Understandably, a bad experience with a certain type of product can make someone distrustful of the market as a whole. In these situations, you’re not so much competing against a rival in the traditional sense, but rather competing against the bad taste that they left in a prospect’s mouth.

Nevertheless, CI can still help in a big way.

Imagine this: You make a cold call. You deliver your opener and your pitch, and the prospect says, “Oh, you know, we used to use XYZ, but it didn’t really work for us and now my boss is skeptical of tools like that.”

Let’s be very clear: If a prospect says something to this effect, there’s a chance that they’re truly not a good fit. Obviously, you need to be diligent about qualification.

But let’s say this prospect is clearly qualified. If you haven’t incorporated competitive intel into your pre-call regiment, the best you can do is respond with something like this: “I’m sorry to hear that. Do you mind if I ask what the issue was?”

This is a fair question, but it puts the onus on the prospect to come up with an explanation. We should remember that this is a cold call—this prospect is probably busy, and they didn’t sign up to be put on the spot. Why should they take the time to tell you what went wrong?

Now, just like before, let’s imagine that you brushed up on the weaknesses of your competitors’ solutions before starting your call blitz. Since you did your due diligence, you’re ready to respond with this instead: “I’m sorry to hear that. If you don’t mind me asking, did your team find trouble with the user experience?”

The answer could very well be no, but at least you’ve taken the pressure off the prospect—and, hey, you may even learn about a different weakness that your team wasn’t already aware of. And if the answer is yes, then you’re in a good position to make the case as to why your solution is superior to XYZ.

Preparing for discovery calls & demos

Getting ready to learn more about your prospect and/or demonstrate your solution? Here are two reasons you should take a few extra minutes to brush up on the competition.

4. Sometimes you need to play defense …

There are instances where you’ll find out you’re in a competitive opportunity because a prospect will tell you, point blank, “Just so you know, we’re also evaluating XYZ.” We’ll talk about these instances in a minute.

But things aren’t always so candid. Sometimes, you’ll find out you’re in a competitive opportunity because a prospect will ask a question that’s just a bit too specific to be organic.

An example is useful here. Let’s say your company sells an all-in-one marketing platform for restaurants, and your chief competitor is known for enabling their customers to create targeted SMS marketing campaigns—something that your customers cannot do.

You’re running a demo one day, and seemingly out of the blue, the prospect asks, “Can you show me how to create an SMS marketing campaign?”

Now, is it possible that they came up with this question on their own? Sure. But the more likely explanation is that they recently chatted with your competitor and got instructed to ask this question—to put you in a tough spot, of course.

If, prior to this demo, you took the time to remind yourself of the questions that your competitor tends to plant—and the tactics you can use in kind—then this is no big deal. Without missing a beat, you can inform the prospect that your platform does not enable SMS campaigns, talk about the more important features that your product team has prioritized, and keep the conversation moving. But if you didn’t take the time to brush up on your competitor’s go-to plants, this question might catch you off guard—and derail your demo in the process.

5. … and other times you need to play offense

Like we said: Some prospects will tell you, point blank, that they’re evaluating one or more of your competitors. Although this isn’t exactly good news, it enables you to go on the offensive.

Let’s stick with our restaurant marketing platform example. At the tail end of a successful cold call, as the prospect is looking through their calendar to find time for a discovery call, they tell you, “Just so you know, we’re also evaluating XYZ.”

For the sake of this example, let’s say the biggest flaw with XYZ’s platform is that audience segmentation requires a ton of manual effort.

Flash forward to the following week, and you’re meeting with the same prospect for a discovery call. You ask them about their goals, and they say, “The biggest thing for me is time savings. I need to be able to automate the majority of my current workload.”

Before jumping on this discovery call, did you take the time to study XYZ’s weaknesses? If you did, you’re in luck. That right there is a golden opportunity to go on the offensive—i.e., to pivot the conversation towards XYZ’s severely limited audience segmentation capabilities.

Ideally, this point of differentiation—the fact that your platform can solve for this customer in a way that XYZ cannot—will help you book a demo at the end of your discovery call. And when the time comes to run that demo, you’ll know of at least one key feature to put on display.

The bottom line

To reiterate our earlier disclaimer: There’s a lot more to pre-call planning than studying your competitors. Above all else—no matter what kind of call you’re preparing for—you need to keep your prospect front and center.

But when you’re in a competitive market, going into a sales call without any kind of intel is like stepping into a batting cage with a tennis racquet. You’ll have way more misses than hits, and even when you do connect, the result will be far below your potential.

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Topics: Sales Enablement

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