The debate “where” the competitive intelligence (CI) function should be housed within a company is one that has been on-going over the past 20 years. Some are insistent that a CI program needs to be a function of product marketing with the goal of influencing product messaging and arming sales with the latest sell-against intelligence. Others believe that CI should be a function of product management helping to drive competitive product differentiation through unique features and functionality that rivals do not yet support.
With the "age of customer", now more than ever your target audience is influencing product demand, product design, and even affecting your messaging. With customer opinions on social media, reviews of product comparison sites, and word of mouth amplified by multiple communication channels, buying decisions are more influenced by your customers rather than the messaging and promotions your company is developing. Because of the pervasive nature of customer opinion, it is important to integrate customer perceptions on the competition into your company’s mainstream CI analysis. Like your marketing and sales strategy, your company’s CI function should also be “customer centric”. This is why I believe that the CI function should reside closest to the actual voice of the customer within an organization.
For some organizations, customer feedback may be a function of product marketing. Many organizations have robust win-loss interview or voice of the customer research programs that are often managed within product marketing. Other companies take the pulse of their customers as a subset of a product manager’s responsibility. A more recent trend is to have voice of the customer be a responsibility of a company’s sales enablement team. Unfortunately, there are many more companies that do not have a formal voice of the customer or win-loss program, failing to formally collect and analyze feedback from both won and lost customers.
During my time at Eloqua, we had a very robust win-loss interview program that we called the Eloqua “voice of the customer”. This was a function of product marketing and managed by the CI team. We believed that customer perceptions on competitors’ strengths and weaknesses versus our own was more important than our own believes on differentiation. With the “voice of the customer” being part of the CI team’s responsibility, we were able to not only understand the competitive landscape but also analyze how our customers (both won and lost) thought about Eloqua in contrast to other vendors. In that regard, it really did not matter “where” the CI function was housed in the company organizational chart.
So back to answering the question. Modern CI programs will continue to excel when they are placed closest to the voice of the customer. After all, it is the customers' perception of what makes your company different (and better) that matters most…not what you the employee believes. Of course, you have to create that differentiation and message it properly. Ultimately, it is up to your audience what they believe from all the various information inputs that they have at their disposal to make a decision. And having your CI team closest to that customer input can make the difference in creating winning messaging and a superior sales strategy.