Mastering Competitive Intelligence: Key Strategies for Success

Kristina Milian
Playbook
June 27, 2024
Jun 28, 2024
Mastering Competitive Intelligence: Key Strategies for Success

Takeaways:

  • Understanding your market is essential to differentiation and growth. 
  • Building a scalable and effective competitive intelligence program is a key part of the solution.
  • Leveraging competitive insights refines positioning and helps sales combat objections and close business. And when you’re planning a research function, there’s no better place to start than the blueprint outlined by Yesol Shin.

Yesol built the market research function at PlanGrid with a focus on construction project management. After PlanGrid was acquired by Autodesk, Yesol expanded the research function to cover the entire construction lifecycle, creating a quarterly market survey, tactical sales support and much more. We sat down with Yesol to discuss her journey to market research and CI strategy more broadly.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How did you get started in competitive research?
I got started at PlanGrid. Before joining, I was in a consulting role at EY and knew I wanted to work on a product marketing team. However, transitioning directly into a go-to-market outbound product marketing role without experience was challenging. I leveraged my strengths from consulting, particularly in data analysis and research, to position myself within PlanGrid’s product marketing team under a role called marketing intelligence. After onboarding, my first major project was building the competitive intelligence function for the product marketing team.

For a smaller company without a competitive research function, how would you recommend they start?
If you're a small company with no competitive collateral, start by creating a simple document or spreadsheet. List your competitors and categorize them into four main buckets: incumbents, market leaders, niche players and innovators. Understand where you fit within this matrix and focus on high-priority competitors. Build documentation that directly compares your product or company to these competitors, and ensure this information is accessible to everyone in your company.

How should a company start engaging with different stakeholders based on competitive research?
In a B2B environment, take the information you've gathered and validate it with your sales team, who have firsthand experience with competitors. Their input will help refine your data and integrate them into the competitive intelligence process. Include product managers as well, as they might have deeper insights into certain product functionalities. This approach not only enriches your data but also helps in strategic planning for the product roadmap.

Are there vendors in the competitive intelligence space that you would recommend, or should companies keep it all in-house?
There are two types of vendors. Some offer dashboards to track competitor activities but have limitations, especially regarding product functionality insights. Others conduct market research surveys, but it’s essential to ensure they are very industry-specific. When choosing a vendor, ensure they understand your industry and have a robust participant network to get accurate survey responses. 

What are some key sources of data for pulling in competitive intelligence?
Apart from Google and company websites, consider attending or monitoring competitor-hosted events and keynotes, which can provide valuable insights into their plans and products. Earnings calls also offer a wealth of information. These creative sources often reveal details not easily found online.

How important is it to build consensus around who the key competitors are?
It's very important to have a clear understanding of your key competitors. Publicly available information, such as the presentation of a company's website, often indicates their market position. Leaders usually have well-aligned messaging and sophisticated presentations, whereas less established companies may not.

How paranoid should a company be about competition, and what keeps you up at night regarding competitors?
Competition is healthy as it signals market needs. However, focus on your product's key differentiators and benefits to win deals. Addressing competitors' tactics indirectly by proving your product's superiority is so important. Staying aware of competitors' moves helps ensure you're meeting market demands.

Can you give advice for someone starting out in competitive intelligence?

  1. Know your product: Use it extensively to understand its functionalities.
  2. Engage with internal teams: Conversations with sales reps and other departments speed up your industry knowledge.
  3. Understand your ideal customer profiles (ICPs): Knowing your primary and secondary audiences and their pain points helps prioritize competitive research and target the right competitors.

How do you avoid common mistakes in competitive intelligence?
Not understanding the state of your sales team. Swiftly addressing the concerns of your sales teammates is crucial. Regular internal surveys to gauge sales confidence and needs helps to prioritize content and support areas effectively. Creating a centralized repository for competitive intelligence, regularly updated, ensures all teams have access to accurate and up-to-date information.

Kristina Milian

Kristina Milian

Kristina Milian, with over fifteen years in communications, currently serves as the vice president of communications at TigerEye. She has a rich background in strategy and press relations, previously contributing significantly to Meta's VR platform communications and managing crisis and artificial intelligence communications at Salesforce.