Apprize360 | The Competitive Intelligence Experts


Competitive Strategy Thoughts

On-Going Debate: “Where” Should Competitive Intelligence Reside?

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.

Amanda Cash-Crowley
Are you collaborating or building a kingdom?

“All of the great empires of the future will be empires of the mind.”

- Winston Churchill

Within hyper-competitive companies, cooperation can be seen as weakness. Despite all that’s known about the strength of teams, powerful individuals still view information sharing and collaboration as a loss of recognition and control. Some will even subvert collaboration, often without meaning to. Of course, corporate “kingdoms” that form around influential managers do produce wins. But sealed silos are poisonous to the larger objectives of a business. The proper flow of communication and data can be the cure.

In his book Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars author Patrick Lencioni writes, “In most situations, silos rise up not because of what executives are doing purposefully, but rather because of what they are failing to do: provide themselves and their employees with a compelling context for working together. Without context, employees at all levels — especially executives — easily lose their way.”

That “context” is a sense of overall mission. But managers often lose sight of it. After all, being handed responsibility for a business unit ignites the entrepreneurial spirit. And few get command of their own fiefdom without being awfully competitive. But those instincts can go amiss, and many managers will shun collaboration because they think it weakens their individual position. This is where the company and division-wide culture – in a word, context – makes a critical difference. Company’s that foster a collaborative culture (and supply the necessary tools) keep silos in check, creating greater value throughout.

Culturally, removing formality barriers is a huge step in neutralizing silos. Writing for BloombergBusinessweek, collaboration expert Evan Rosen said, “Finding and connecting with experts and colleagues spontaneously is key to curing silo syndrome. We should be able to view the availability or ‘presence status’ of everybody in the organization and connect with them immediately through instant messaging, voice, or real-time video. Regardless of level, role, or region, everybody is potentially available to everybody else. Unified communications and collaboration systems provide this capability.”

Another step to reducing barriers and increasing collaboration is to incentivize behaviors that contribute to collaboration. Team building, working together, and information sharing are key behaviors to incentivize. Fortunately, there are some very cool applications in the market place today that can economically motivate employees to increase collaboration. Applications, such as Achievers, YouEarnedIt, Globoforce, and OC Tanner are great ways to allow peers and managers to reward and motivate employees to increase collaboration, reduce kingdoms, and work toward a common goal.

Almost regardless of the collaboration technology used, it has to advance the strategy (context) of organization and mission. Collaboration tools must cover the basics – accessing and uniting talent, serving up disparate data for maximum stakeholder relevance, fostering relationships, streamlining process – all of which help overcome the limitations of silos and fiefdoms.

Amanda Cash-Crowley
The coming crisis for the Chief Marketing Officer

It’s pretty clear that Chief Marketing Officers (CMO) will face a kind of Hunger Games scenario over the next few years. In its top 10 market predictions for CMOs in 2014 – in which #9 was “fragmented marketing IT point products and low adoption rate will inhibit companies' ability to win customers” – IDC foretold a total marketing reformation.

"Buyers are evolving their purchase practices faster than vendors are changing their marketing practices. It's not a matter of doing the same things better. The Chief Marketing Officer cannot avoid broader responsibility as the digital customer experience bursts traditional boundaries," said Kathleen Schaub, Vice President of the IDC CMO Advisory Service. “IDC predicts that by 2020, marketing organizations will be radically reshaped. The core fabric of marketing execution will be ripped up and rewoven by data and marketing technology."

Oracle recently published one of my now favorite inforgraphics on this pain CMO’s face. The infographic highlights critical issues, such as 82% of enterprise marketers have no synchronized view of their data, and 65% of CMOs can’t measure ROI across their digital marketing efforts.

This coming crisis is forcing CMOs to decide now whether they’re going to be the steamroller or the road technology-wise. The question (as always) is where to focus, and what tools are required? To master the growing number of disparate data sources that multiple point solutions create, the smart money is on a single, unified view. Automation, email, social, mobile, and an ocean of content call out for an underlying structure that makes data truly useful across the enterprise.

Marketing clouds are beginning to provide this unifying logic, with integrated management platforms that present data as actionable intelligence. The best of these organically aggregate and enhance customer data across channels. It is this kind of centralized data (with intuitive views) that provides the best individual experiences. That’s the very heart of consumerization and mass personalization.

Truly contextual and relevant content across multiple personas and lifecycles gets its best shot in the marketing cloud as well. Accelerated purchasing, better conversions, retention and brand evangelism are all enriched by data-driven content targeting. And it’s elementary at this point that only an open source marketing cloud can combine all of the data sources, technologies and processes required to manage a universe of possible customer experiences.

The drive to reach customers where (and when) they are is driving point solution adoption. Marketers are scrambling to find the best system to communicate with end users at the right channel, but there are few that cover all channels well. Making the right choice will decide the fate of marketing organizations going forward. Marketing Cloud technologies that place the customer – and their data – at the center of their solution are the ones that will truly be able to help the marketing organization meet its rapidly expanding role and goals.

Amanda Cash-Crowley
Why marketers need to re-think the term "competitor"

“Your biggest competitor is your own view of the future.” - Watts Wacker

The name “Watts Wacker” may sound like a visitor from another from the future, which some suspect he might actually be. Watts Wacker is a respected futurist, social critic, and author of The Visionary’s Handbook. He is considered one of the 50 most influential business thinkers in the world (Financial Times), one of the 21 best speakers in America (Successful Meetings Magazine), and Time magazine 2006 person of the year. He has worked with many of the world’s top corporations and organizations to negotiate ‘a sea of change.’ And, he is someone I have followed most of my adult life through multiple books on future trends.

Wacker devised a number of paradoxes in business, including: The Paradox of Competition. The paradox is that “Your biggest competitor is your own view of the future.”

Wacker wrote:

“Competition - us versus them - will always be a part of the business world. But the definition of ‘us’ and ‘them’ is in a constant state of flux: competition can come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. To compete today, businesses need to define who they want to be in the future and expand their view of the competition to embrace all other companies who are (or may be) pursuing profits in the same arena.

“At the same time, as world-wide connectivity grows, the economic model is shifting from competition to cooperation and even collaboration with ‘rivals.’ General Electric and Rolls Royce, fierce competitors in the production of jet engines, collaborate in the development of technology and industry safety standards, a course which benefits them both.”

Too often we look at competition linearly with a list of well-defined competitors that we believe are currently focused on taking away current market share. And then a company like LinkedIn acquires a company like Bizo and is quickly in the B2B marketing game, changing your thoughts about the marketing technology landscape overnight. The point is that too often marketers – including me – get tunnel vision and over focus on the recognizable names that we see in sales cycles every day. Those everyday competitors are important to understand and critical for us to help our sales teams to position and sell-against. But, we should be open to future possibilities ….. even ones as unpredictable and currently unlikely as your company partners being acquired by your current your competition. Sometimes your biggest competitor may only be an acquisition away from re-defining the landscape and your entire go-to-market landscape and you haven't thought how your company would respond.

This is why I am a big advocate of an annual “war gaming” program. In this process, companies can examine their competitive landscape, industry trends, and customer needs first hand. The process allows for multiple different competitive scenarios and future trends that may impact your company. These include the emergence of new direct competitors, functional competitors, and new technologies that can change the market landscape and customer dynamics. War gaming is not necessarily a strategic plan for how you would react to a specific scenario but more about examining future possibilities that can impact your company and how your company could react to these occurrences. It is about examining potential trends – not ignoring them – and realizing that your company can be flexible enough to maneuver and respond to future scenarios.

How will Google’s driverless car impact Uber in 4 years? How will live mobile physician consulting effect the urgent care market in 2 years? Is LinkedIn one acquisition away from being a full-blown B2B marketing technology platform?

The Wacker quote is a good reminder that competitors come in many different shapes, sizes, and technologies and and not just other companies with similar functionality. Your most important future competitor may not always be one of your “us versus them” companies you track today.

Amanda Cash-Crowley
Combating the Culture of “Can’t”

“You can’t do that. It’s not how we do that here.”

When working for (or with) a large company, “can’t” may be a word you hear on a fairly regular basis. A corporate “culture of can’t” molds employees and decision-makers into being risk-averse, void of strategic thinking, and creates artificial limitations on execution. It creates a fear-based work environment where employees don’t want to suggest a new strategy, make an investment, or highlight a new trend for fear of ridicule. Fortunately, inventive cures for a “can’t culture” are out there – if you’re not afraid to use them.

Confronting this issue requires admitting that risk-averse thinking may have taken hold in your firm, and that it has consequences. In the article Overcoming a Bias Against Risk, global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company points (ironically) to serious risk in risk-averse corporate culture. McKinsey said, “…executives making repeated decisions about the many smaller investments that a company might make during the course of a year—expanding a sales force at a consumer-goods company into a new geography, for example, or introducing a product-line extension at an electronics firm—should be risk neutral. Decisions about projects of this size don’t carry the risk of causing financial distress—and aversion to risk at this level stifles growth and innovation.”

McKinsey notes that, “Risk aversion is unnecessary because statistically, a large number of projects are extremely unlikely all to fail (unless they are highly correlated to the same risks). Yet many managers at this level—who make many such investments over a career—exhibit an unwarranted aversion to risk.”

I’ve seen this first-hand. When I was a consultant, one of our customers was a huge North American wireless communication provider. This company had a very risk-averse culture led by managers that constantly re-enforced this culture. For one project, we needed to better understand customer satisfaction with their technology support services. We proposed a survey to gauge perceptions of support strengths and weaknesses. But management shot it down, saying, “We don’t survey our customers. We can’t do that here.” At least one senior manager called it an “unwritten policy.”

Sometimes, straight up defiance is the best tonic for corporate risk phobia. A great example of this was the Fail Faire, last hosted by The World Bank in Washington DC in 2012. Several large global corporate sponsors and a list of illustrious public and private sector participants gathered to talk about their failures, and how success grew out of them. Organizers said, “Failure is no reason to be ashamed. Failure shows leadership, innovation, and risk-taking in pushing the boundaries of what is possible in scaling ideas from pilots to global programs. There is great value in examining our mistakes as we go beyond the easy and the simple.”

Since the “culture of can’t” is often unchallenged (and even indirectly encouraged by hyper-critical micro-managers), companies need internal change agents and a committed effort from employees, managers, and leadership. Like using a map to travel, there are many routes to get to a destination. It can be difficult to embrace risk, but it’s critical to encourage innovation and successful project execution. As the manager or a team leader, it is up to you to release the reins and trust employees that they will get to the result you are expecting using multiple different avenues to get there. Otherwise, the "culture of can't" will likely be a blog post one of your employees writes about in the future.

Amanda Cash-Crowley
How to Increase Your Company's Win-Rate

Putting your customer at the center of your sales, product development, and marketing is a key practice successful companies are striving to incorporate and maintain. One customer centric program companies are adopting to improve sales win-rate is incorporating regular customer win-loss interviews to sharpen your product messaging, marketing strategy, and sales tactics.

Learning from your both your won and lost customers can help you to understand what truly matters to your customers, why they think your company is different and better (or worse) than the competition, and why they selected the vendor they did. In addition, win-loss interviews can also help you understand how to re-focus your sales team with an approach & execution strategy that shows your prospects why your company's offering will better fit their needs than the competition.

But, win-loss interviews are not something you can quickly throw to an interim to do or use a web survey to complete. Win-loss interviews require a mix of art and science to maximize the results and get real nuggets of actionable intelligence. If you are serious about using win-loss interviews to increase your sales win-rate, a defined strategy and process will be required to have actionable results. In my experience, here are a few things to consider when building a win-loss interview process:

  • Using a third-party can make a significant difference in outcomes: Not only do I not have the time to complete 30 interviews a quarter and analyze the data, but having a 3rd party can help bring an unbiased perspective on why you are winning or losing sales to the competition. Plus, in my experience customers seem to be more comfortable and open talking with someone that isn’t employed by your company. If you don't have the budget for using a third-party, find someone within your organization that has the experience and success to quickly gain a decision-maker's trust and can have a "discussion" with them rather than an "interview".
  • Don't limit interviews & data to how to position against the competition: Win-Loss interviews can be used to not only power competitive learning but also help you to understand your own sales team’s effectiveness. With the right discussions, you can quickly understand that your sales team needs a new sales approach to prospects or a revised sales execution strategy.
  • "Why you Win" is just as important as "why you lose": Understanding why you win can help you to replicable the elements of a successful sales cycles to increase overall win-rate. It is important to understand why you lose, but understanding why you win, and replicating those reasons, are just as critical.
  • Great insights are not going to come from a single interview: In my experience, the "ah-ha" moments come when you have several different interviews completed and you pull the key insights out from each one and analyze the interviews collectively. Looking at all the key insights from multiple deep interviews can help you to identify the competitive differentiation you are looking for or help you to re-shape your sales team's approach to prospects.
  • Win-Loss results are only as good as they are shared: If you don’t share the results of your win-loss interviews, there really isn’t any reason to do it in the first place. You don’t need to share entire transcripts. However, it is critical to share the highlights and themes of the aggregate analysis of the interviews. I share results with a broad group of internal customers: product management, company leadership, sales teams, and marketing team members.
  • Measure changes in customer feedback over time: I like to complete a set number of "wins" and "losses" each quarter and analyze these results monthly and then again quarterly. But identifying changes in customer perceptions from quarter-to-quarter can help you to proactively identify new competitor messaging and strategies or emerging needs of your customer where you have product gaps.
  • Get sales rep buy-in first: Before you interview a won or lost customer, get the sales rep or account executive involved in the sales cycle first! Either have your interviewing partner company contact them or you email them directly. Whatever you do, make sure the rep/AE is included in this process BEFORE you reach out to the customer. They may be able to share with you that the sales cycle hasn't formally been completed, that there are politics involved that you want to avoid, or the decision-maker is no longer at the customer company.

Often times, what we "think" are critical differentiators and strong "why-to-buy" messages do not resonate with customers. Developing a strong win-loss interview program can help you to proactively identify where your messaging, marketing strategy, and sales tactics need refinement and how you can help your sales teams to increase win-rate through positioning your customers are telling you they want.

Amanda Cash-Crowley