Ethical Competitive Strategy

When training sales reps, I emphasize staying “above the fray.”  Besmirching a competitor’s product also sullies your reputation.  It shows a lack of class and a sense of desperation.  Oftentimes it can backfire.

“It is a mistake to believe that you can win hearts and minds by attacking your competitor. When you have no idea how strong the relationship is, you can make a complete fool of yourself, doing more harm than good, and doing nothing to create a real opportunity.

Speaking ill of your competitor is an indication of who you are, not who they are. There are better strategies available to you.”

It is much better to position the value of your offering and focus on areas of differentiation than it is to throw mud.  You should lay landmines for competitors, not besmirch their reputation.

A landmine is simply an emphasis upon those features and benefits where your product or service offering excels.  The goal is to frame the discussion around the dimensions in which your product provides superior value to the end user.  Keep in mind that value is dependent upon the customer in question, so you need to factor in job function, industry, company size, etc.  Also, be careful to select areas in which your firm excels overall, not dimensions in which you are superior to competitor X that is vying for the deal but inferior to competitor Y.  Otherwise, you may later find out you lost the deal to Y.

Likewise, you should expect your competitors to be laying landmines for your sales reps.  They need to understand where these mines are laid and how to diffuse them.

One tool I recommend is the quick parry.  This is a quick response to the question, “how are you better / different than company X?”  A quick parry is only three or four sentences and usually begins by saying something positive about the competitor before transitioning with a BUT or HOWEVER.  The positive item can be a recognition of some dimension in which they are the acknowledged leader or a dimension which is of limited importance to the customer in question.  Thus, if you are selling to an SMB, you might emphasize the breadth of their solution for enterprise customers vs. the ease of use, quick implementation, and pricing models you offer for smaller firms.  Such a tool differentiates your service from the competitor without throwing mud.

Of course, sales reps will only be able to deploy landmines and respond with quick parries if they understand both the value proposition of their offerings, the needs of their clients, and the strengths and weaknesses of their offerings vis-à-vis competitors.  This is where tools and training come into play.

 

B2BSignals

B2BSignals' departmental filters are more granular than most vendors and span functions across the organization.
B2BSignals departmental filters are more granular than most vendors and span functions across the organization.

Technology sales intelligence vendor B2BSignals offers data enrichment and prospecting across a database of 50,000 global companies, 700,000 locations, and 27 million executives.  Emails are available for over 20 million executives with emails suppressed in countries with opt-in email regimes (e.g. Canada, Europe).

B2BSignals maintains a proprietary taxonomy for product categories, roles, departments, seniority, skills, and industries.  Over 20,000 technology products are tracked across 8 million product users.  Products and executives are identified at the location level.

B2BSignals does not license any data but acquires it through an open web crawl combined with social listening and editorial review by 900 staff in the Philippines and India.  The web crawl completes every 45 days.

Company prospecting filters include company name, industry and sub-industry, product category and sub-category, employee range, revenue range, domain, international region, country, state/province, city, and “HQ only”.  Contact filters add name, title, email availability, email id, department, and seniority level.  Users may upload suppression files as well as suppress previously downloaded records.

Executive profiles display location address, emails, corporate phones, work histories, roles held, title, department, level, tags and firmographics.  Users may add tags and download the profile as a PDF.

B2B Signals Contact profiles are quite detailed and include emails, titles, roles, products used, work history, tags, and firmographics.
B2B Signals Contact profiles are quite detailed and include emails, titles, roles, products used, work history, tags, and firmographics.

While the prospecting module has clear strengths concerning product and functional responsibilities, sizing data is limited to ranges and location prospecting lacks postal codes, counties, metro areas, and ZIP radius filters.

Company profiles include contact information, Google map, revenue and employment ranges, products installed, contacts by department, and tags.  However, the profile lacks social links, news, sales triggers, and business descriptions, all content which could be gathered via its web crawl.

The User Experience is modern and straightforward.  Separate home pages are provided for sales and marketing.  The Sales Home focuses on prospecting with filter variables, saved searches, recently viewed companies and contacts, and company and contact counts.

Pricing begins at $500 / month with unlimited search, read, and discover, but restrictions on the number of exported contacts and users.  If multiple users download the same record, the user is not charged for subsequent downloads.

In Q4, they will roll out an enterprise edition with APIs and connectors.  A recently introduced Salesforce connector supports batch and on-demand enrichment; custom field mapping; “stare and compare” updates; company and contact prospecting; and i-frame display within account, contact, and lead records.

The B2BSignals Find Contact Prospecting tab in Salesforce
The B2BSignals Find Contact Prospecting tab in Salesforce

The company has an analytics product in beta called Market Insights which provides installed technology segmentation analysis by geographical region, industry vertical, company size, and department. The product is similar to analytics offerings from BuiltWith, Datanyze, and HG Data.

The data cleanse and enrich function pre-processes the records before attempting to match them (many vendors skip this step).  The cleanse steps validate company and contact data, flag obsolete records, remove special characters, dedupe the file, and normalize company data. Cleansing helps improve match rates while flagging out of business companies and contacts no longer at a firm.  Data enrichment then appends firmographics, installed products at both the company and contact level, title, role, department, email, and products used at the contact level.

DiscoverOrg’s recent acquisition of number two technology sales intelligence vendor RainKing cemented their position as the leading vendor.  However, B2B Signals is positioning itself to take a run at the number two position in the technology sales intelligence space with data enrichment, market analytics, and prospecting.  Other contenders for the second position are Aberdeen Services, HG Data, and Corporate360.

Salesify had 2014 revenue of $16.9 million according to their Inc 5000 listing.  The firm was acquired in 2015 by Ziff Davis.  They launched B2BSignals last October.

Correction: B2BSignals was spun off as a separate business unit from Salesify after the Ziff Davis acquisition.   The article originally referenced Salesify, but that is a separate business unit.

Nimble Prospector

The Nimble Smart Contacts App captures the Name, Email, Mobile Phone, Work Phone, Job Title, Company, Website URL, Physical Address, Facebook URL, Twitter URL, and LinkedIn URL contained within an email signature.
The Nimble Smart Contacts App captures the Name, Email, Mobile Phone, Work Phone, Job Title, Company, Website URL, Physical Address, Facebook URL, Twitter URL, and LinkedIn URL contained within an email signature.

Nimble partnered with CircleBack to add two contact maintenance features into its social sales and marketing CRM for individuals and teams.  Users can capture email signatures or take a photo of business cards to populate Nimble.  Email signatures are gathered from Gmail, Google Apps, Outlook / Exchange, and Office 365.  Furthermore, CircleBack appends missing fields such as social links, corporate addresses, and URLs which may not always be available.  It then updates the records to ensure they remain accurate.

“CircleBack’s collaboration with Nimble brings tremendous opportunity to leverage and enhance our open API ecosystem, and to enable Nimble to enrich contact information from social data in new and increasingly effective ways.” said Manoj Ramnani, CEO, CircleBack. “What makes Nimble such an incredible Social CRM is its ability to provide instant context to its users, and now through the power of our APIs, we want to empower Nimble to do it with greater precision.”

Nimble browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge allow sales reps to capture and enrich contacts while browsing the web.  Thus, a sales rep could be on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or a corporate website and add the contact record with a single click.  CircleBack then enriches the record with missing details.  What’s more, the sales rep doesn’t need to key information into Nimble or guess at email structures.

Nimble plans include 25 free lookups per user per month.  Additional contacts are priced in bundles between 20 cents (50 credits per month) and 10 cents (1,000 credits per month).  While credits are shared across the team and reasonably priced, they do not rollover.  Thus, the true per record cost is higher.

Nimble Prospector Pricing
Nimble Prospector Pricing

Your Biggest Competitor is No Decision

Back when I was a product manager, I used to conduct sales training classes.  I often opened up the session by asking the question, “Who is your biggest competitor?”  The reps invariably listed a company or two they had heard over the prior day and a half of training.  Even seasoned reps would answer the question incorrectly.

Unless you are in a duopoly or there is a competitor that controls half the market, your biggest competitor is probably NO DECISION.  Either the purchasing decision is kicked down the road or no funding is found.  It may also be that the opportunity was poorly qualified to begin with.

Sales reps no longer control the conversation due to the informed buyer who leverages the Internet and social media in order to research vendors prior to contacting them.  This is one of the reasons that marketing is looking at digitally influencing anonymous individual on the web via Visitor ID, SEO, SEM, and Programmatic.  Sales reps are also confounded in their sales efforts by a second change in purchasing patterns.  B2B budgetary decision making processes have become more complex.

Budgetary centralization and committee-based buying decisions have increased the number of decision makers in the purchasing process, resulting in a greater likelihood of no decision.  According to a Forrester survey of IT sales reps, 43% of lost deals weren’t to competitors but to a category titled “lost funding or lost to no decision: customer stopped the procurement process.”

Furthermore, the rise of cloud computing has shifted budgetary decision making authority away from the CIO to the heads of various functional departments.  Purchasing decisions are being compared to a broader set of non-related purchases from across the organization.  It is therefore critical that sales reps “understand and navigate complex agreement networks and processes within the buying organization that span different altitudes and functional roles,” blogged Forrester Sales Enablement Analyst Mark Lindwall.  “Because decisions are more cross-functional, every dollar is compared against how it could add value in potentially completely non-related areas of investment.”

Thus, sales reps need better tools for identifying who to engage and when best to engage.  They also need to be better informed about companies, individuals, and the industries into which they sell.  In short, they need to know who to call, when to call, and what to say.  They need to quickly navigate what Forrester calls agreement networks to establish relationships across multiple levels and job functions at the organization.

Fortunately, Sales 2.1 tools provide rich biographies and full family trees for navigating these networks.  Users can target specific job functions and levels across the corporate hierarchy, research the appropriate individuals, and reach out to them via social media, email, or phone.

Newer ABM tools help identify the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), score leads based on the ICP, and call out similar accounts and contacts that are not on the company’s radar.  Thus, it’s not just about selling more intelligently based on insights, but targeting and prioritizing one’s sales efforts more effectively.

Sales triggers assist with identifying executive changes, M&A events, product launches, and other reasons for reaching out to individuals.  Triggers can also indicate an expanding opportunity or that a proposal is potentially at risk due to company or market dynamics.

And yes, sales reps should research both the company and the executive.  They need to understand the key trends in the prospect’s industry, why their last quarter was soft, and what does the executive muse about on social media.  While such facts may not be immediate hooks, they provide context and potential talking points down the road.  It also shows that the rep is willing to invest time in understanding the exec, her company, and the environment in which she is making decisions.

There is an opportunity cost to poor targeting, prioritization, and account planning. It shows up as No Decision in your CRM, slow deal velocity in your pipeline metrics, and disappointing sales growth.

RampedUp Sales Intelligence & Win Stories

RampedUp Win Story Questionnaires are customized for each company.
RampedUp Win Story Questionnaires are customized for each company.

Launched in 2015, RampedUp offers a sales intelligence solution for browsers and Salesforce. Company and Lead Prospecting is managed from the browser with the option to send one or multiple records to SFDC. Along with standard firmographic selects, prospecting supports technographics and sales triggers. The database is gathered from Synthio and other vendors and spans 6 million global companies and 180 million contacts.

From within Accounts, Leads, and Opportunities, sales reps have access to the following Battle Card intelligence across five tabs:

  • Company: Contact information, firmographics, social media links, mined business descriptions, and recent news stories
  • Contacts: Title, location, email, and phone. The service also indicates whether the contact has been previously loaded into SFDC.
  • Customers: Similar companies with win stories.
  • Competition: Peers based on firmographics and keywords.
  • Technologies: Products for complementary and competitive targeting

A distinguishing feature of RampedUp is a custom tool for recording and sharing customer wins. Win Stories allow reps to understand how their peers closed deals in similar situations.

Sales Ops or Marketing define the key questions for a Win Story template and sales reps enter their responses. Of course, sales ops or marketing can conduct an interview to gather this information with the custom questionnaire operating as a survey template.

The wins are then published as email announcements and available as mini-case studies for other reps within SFDC. Thus, if prospect X has a competitor that has a win story, the competitor’s win is made available in the RampedUp i-frame. The browser version supports a searchable Win Vault.

Relevant Win Stories are delivered in the Customers tab within SFDC.
Relevant Win Stories are delivered in the Customers tab within SFDC.

RampedUp’s Home Page provides a set of gamification elements including recent case studies and a leader board.

RampedUp front page with win stories and a Leader Board.
RampedUp front page with win stories and a Leader Board.

While the most recent company new stories are displayed within SFDC, users must pop out to the RampedUp browser application to view a deeper set of news or filter by event category and date. Triggers are searchable by company, URL lists, or broadly. Bing-based sales triggers go back several years and are tagged by company and topic.

RampedUp does not yet provide sales trigger alerts, but they are on the company’s roadmap.

RampedUp also provides data enrichment functionality via a Clean Tool. The service charges $1,000 for every 10,000 companies and contacts cleaned during an initial batch cleanse. There is also an on-demand batch Clean process which flags inactive contacts, updates company and contact information, and adds additional contacts. Clean includes a unique contact update feature – not only does it flag departed Contacts, but it indicates where execs moved to as new SFDC Lead records.

RampedUp is priced at $1,000 per month for up to twenty users with unlimited access. Additional users are sold in twenty user bands.

RampedUp has fifty clients and is based in Norcross, Georgia.

SaaS Market Valuations

Venture Capital and Private Equity firms place a higher valuation on companies with recurring revenues. In Q1, software companies with a SaaS model received multiples of seven times revenue while other software companies received a multiple of 6.1.

“Any firm with recurring revenue is extremely attractive to investors,” said Rohit Kulkarni, head of research at SharesPost. “The subscription model translates to greater visibility of revenues, less volatility.”

According to PitchBook Data, Software-as-a-Service deals grew 217% between 2010 and 2016.

“SaaS is a more predictable and reliable revenue stream than if you had to go out and sell the software — the perpetual license model,” said Peter Fair, managing director at Golub Capital LLC.

Michael Larsen of Cambridge Associates said that SaaS models provide a “better measuring stick” as “these companies are moving toward more attractive, more readily transparent ways of selling products and they have attractive, meaningfully recurring revenues.” Employing a SaaS model does not prevent firms from failing but “it creates a more intensely analytical and measurable way of determining how a company is doing.”

For example, subscription firms that employ discounted offers to lure new customers may suffer from churn and see their business model unravel quickly. Subscription length needs to be carefully factored into valuing a firm and estimating its viability.

DueDil Posted Strong 2016 Turnover Growth; Positions Itself for European Expansion

DueDil's new credit risk filter allows users to filter prospects by the degree of trade credit risk.
DueDil’s new credit risk filter allows users to filter prospects by the degree of trade credit risk.

European private company information platform DueDil recently filed its 2016 financials with Companies House. Revenue increased from £1.21M to £2.25M. The startup continues to run in deficit (£6.17M), but that should be anticipated for an information services startup that is rapidly expanding its content and functionality. DueDil averaged 75 employees last year, up from 46 in 2015.

DueDil’s losses expanded last year as it pursued the European company intelligence market which it believes is becoming more hospitable.

“In the last 12 months, our competitive landscape has changed dramatically, Bureau Van Dijk got sold for $3.3 billion to Moody’s, and Dun & Bradstreet divested its Benelux division. This, along with our much better unit economics, gave our board and management team a clear signal to grow the product and the team and start to compete directly with them. The higher costs are the result of growing our product coverage from the UK and Ireland to pan-European, soon to cover 100 million+ companies.”

  • CEO Damian Kimmelman

Because subscription services are ratable, growth in revenue lags billings. Although enterprise sales grew 100% last year, much of this growth won’t show up in the top line until 2017. DueDil had its best quarter in Q1 and then grew 60% in Q2.

“Over the last 6 months, we have grown sales 5% week over week and are continuing to do so,” said Kimmelman.

To fund growth until its next equity round, the firm recently issued a £900,000 convertible note and plans to issue a £1.1 million convertible note. “I think you can assume that we wouldn’t be so bullish on a convertible if there hadn’t been an immediate liquidity event in sight,” Kimmelman told Business Insider. “I am not trying to be coy but that is all I can say.”


In product news, DueDil added Credit Risk and Ownership filters to its list building module. Sales and Marketing can employ the credit risk filter to remove prospects that are unlikely to pass credit checks or to target higher risk companies. The filter can also be used by credit risk and procurement teams during the onboarding process allowing them to streamline the processing of low-risk companies.

Ownership search filters assist with targeting firms with concentrated shareholdings which are “ripe for takeover.”  New Ownership screens include Total Shareholding Count, Individuals Count, Companies Count, and Shareholder Name.

Along with credit scores and ownership filters, DueDil supports a broad set of financial screening filters spanning 40 million companies in the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Benelux, Norway, and Sweden with additional European countries in queue.

DueDil added four new shareholder filters for identifying firms "ripe for takeover."
DueDil added four new shareholder filters for identifying firms “ripe for takeover.”