Don’t Disparage Your Competitors

I much prefer looking at competition as a set of parries and thrusts. Competitors are to be respected. Disparaging competitors only serves to undermine your case and is indicative of fear.
I much prefer looking at competition as a set of parries and thrusts. Competitors are to be respected. Disparaging competitors only serves to undermine your case and is indicative of fear.

I wanted to call attention to an excellent article written by Dave Kahle in Industrial Supply which aligns fully with my philosophy on B2B competitive strategy and sales training.  For nearly two decades I have emphasized the value of staying above the fray with a focus on a company’s unique value proposition and strengths.  While the easiest route is to disparage a competitor, it generally conveys fear and a lack of confidence in your own offering.  This tends to undermine trust in your company and its people.

“Disparaging the competition – speaking badly about the company or the individual salespeople, using little innuendos and side comments – all of this says more about us to our customers than it does about the competitors to whom we are referring. It reveals us as small-minded, petty, smug and far more interested in ourselves than we are in our customers.”

  • Dave Kahle, Author and Sales Trainer

Instead I have advocated only discussing competitors when directly questioned about them.  In that case, I have recommended a fast pivot where the rep recognizes a strength and then quickly segues back to their offering.  The strength should be real and non-trivial, but not applicable to your customer.  For example, if selling to an SMB, saying that the competitor offers highly customizable solutions for enterprises, but your offering is designed for small businesses with a straightforward user experience.  Such an approach is honest, differentiates yourself from the competitor, and avoids mudslinging.

Kahle offers several alternative, but equally valuable strategies for staying above the fray.  Instead of speaking directly about a specific company, generalize the competition.  Generalization “provides you a means of pointing out your distinctiveness without being negative about your specific competitors.”

Kahle also suggests posing statements in question form to help frame the prospect’s thinking;

Don’t say, “Y Company is a small local company that doesn’t have the systems or technology to support you in the long run.” Instead, say, “One of the questions you should ask of every vendor is this, ‘What technology and systems do you have in place to assure that you will be able to support us for the long run?’”

Another strategy is a feature list between companies, but I am not particularly fond of this approach for tech firms as the table needs to be assiduously maintained and it shifts the focus from value to features.   Furthermore, such lists aren’t tailored to the needs of individual prospects and prospects are likely to view such collateral as biased.  When I used to put together such tools, I avoided simple checklists and instead focused on workflow stages and framed the discussion as features and benefits in the context of each stage.  Each comparison was dated and I told sales reps that I would perform a just-in-time review of the tool if it was more than several months old.

“While we can’t change the competition, we certainly are responsible for our attitudes and behaviors toward the competition,” wrote Kahle.  “What we say and how we act about the competition can have a daily bearing on our bottom lines. An appropriate attitude and set of practices for dealing with the competition should be an essential part of every salesperson’s repertoire.”

It is easy to disdain the competition and crow about your product or service, but competitors should be respected.  They also have well qualified sales reps and some feature advantages.  “From the 10,000-foot-high perspective, if your competitors were as flawed as you think they are, they wouldn’t be in business, and your customers wouldn’t be buying from them,”  said Kahle.  “So, bury those attitudes of superiority, and cast off that disdain for the competition. If your customers didn’t think they presented a viable option, they wouldn’t be buying from them.”

Kahle suggests that if a company is truly focused on its customers’ needs, then competitive offers are irrelevant.  “Your mindset, from the beginning, is not a bit focused on the competition, but rather is 100 percent targeted to completely understanding the customer’s requirements. The conversation is not about how you compare to the competition, but rather how you meet the customer’s needs.”


DoD photo by Master Sgt. Lono Kollars, U.S. Air Force.  Public Domain.

CreditSafe US Credit Reports

CreditSafe USA added payment and trade line intelligence to its US credit reports.  Expanded intelligence includes trade line information from business leases, commercial credit cards and term loans that will enable businesses to make better, more informed decisions.  Other information includes total credit utilization, past due amounts, at risk balances, and closed accounts.

“While business credit reports and scores are traditionally put together using a variety of public and private information covering business demographics and company-to-company trade payment data, the addition of payment data showing not just how a business pays its bills, but how it pays its term loans, commercial cards and other debts takes our reports to another level,” said Matthew Debbage, CEO of Creditsafe’s Americas and Asia-Pacific division. “Creditsafe has built its reputation and success on doing things differently. We are committed to changing the way business information is used and by adding in this payment data to our U.S. offering we are continuing to do just that and to provide American businesses with a compelling option. Our Analysis shows that a typical user will now have the added benefit of seeing financial payment data on over 40% of previously ‘thin credit file’ companies. We believe this increase in data availability is a complete game-changer.”

CreditSafe USA Closed Account Details
CreditSafe USA Closed Account Details

The new financial details span $220 billion in commercial transactions from 400 financial institutions.

A 2016 Manta survey of small businesses identified a “major knowledge gap” concerning business credit scores.  The survey of 3,000 businesses found that almost three in four did not now their own credit score and sixty percent did not know where to obtain such intelligence.

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.

 

Outreach Sales Intelligence Tiles

Outreach Sales Tiles Account Overviews
Outreach Sales Tiles Account Overviews

Account Based Sales Development (ABSD) vendor Outreach, rolled out its latest capability, Sales Intelligence Tiles, which displays account intelligence from Owler, Twitter, and MapBox alongside account information from Salesforce and Outreach.

Three tile formats are supported

  • Engagement insights: a combination of insightful information including company news, local time and historical interactions with prospect/account to ensure the communication is effective
  • Prospect overview: everything from historical Outreach & Salesforce activity to custom fields
  • Account overview: displays account firmographics and prospect information

Users can customize the layouts to better meet their informational needs.  Tiles may be moved and resized.  Additional enhancements will roll out in the next few months including “partner integrations, new tiles, design updates, and new suggested layouts.”  Layouts may be shared with co-workers.  Other partners include DiscoverOrg, Datanyze, DocSend, and Sendgrid.

Outreach’s internal research found that reps saved five hours a week by leveraging tile insights.

Outreach recently began a beta program for their Chrome Extension which they call Window Mode. “This new experience is unlike any other chrome extension,” said Product Marketing Manager Rachel Siegel.  “It removes the extension from on top of your window and creates a separate window that snaps perfectly to the side of your browser. The experience is lightning fast and immediately responsive to what you’re doing in the moment.  Many of you likely switch through a number of different browser tabs as your job. Window Mode keeps up with your pace. You’ll find that it’s faster and immediately responsive to what you’re doing in the moment.”

Selling is hard – we know it’s more difficult than ever to connect with prospects and keep them engaged throughout the sales cycle.  Sales technology has failed to deliver for reps, largely because it focuses on logging data and reporting on pipeline rather than helping reps to execute more of the right selling activities. Ultimately sales reps spend hours laboring on menial tasks. This has to stop. We’re on a mission to empower sales teams to more efficiently and effectively engage with prospects so they can predictability achieve revenue goals.

  • Outreach CEO Manny Medina

Outreach received a $30 million Round C a few weeks ago and continues to invest in tools for sales reps that assist them across the customer lifecycle.  This vision goes beyond outbound communication unification and includes sales intelligence, recommendations, and workflow simplification.

“Outreach continues to tirelessly deliver the capabilities that solve business challenges,” blogged Siegel yesterday.  “No longer are we solely investing in making SDRs and hunters efficient, we’re turning our eyes deeper into the customer lifecycle.  At Outreach we see a future where every sales organization has a platform that helps their reps build a pipeline and closes that pipeline faster and more efficiently than ever before. The future is a platform that acts like a sales assistant, suggesting meeting times, entering data, creating action items, suggesting which personas to engage at what points in the deal cycle, and more.”

Outreach is unveiling its roadmap at their Unleash conference in Sonoma, CA this week.

Quora: How do I obtain the necessary information for a B2B competitive analysis?

I answered the above question on Quora, but I thought it was worth posting the answer on my blog as well.

B2B is a broad category, so I will be providing a high-level process:

  • Start with the open web — the company website, corporate blog, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Vimeo, and SlideShare.
  • Jump to the LinkedIn and Twitter pages of key executives.
  • Continue with third-party review sites such as TrustRadius, G2 Crowd, Glass Door, and Quora. Also compare web (Alexa, SimilarWeb) and social media activity (Owler) of the company vs. its top competitors.
  • If a US public company, obtain their 10-K, 10-Q, Annual Report, Proxy, and 8-Ks. Also, review all material on their investor page and look for Fair Disclosure Earnings Transcripts (Seeking Alpha, NASDAQ), investor presentations, financial models, etc.
  • If a US or global public, analyst reports are often available subject to a one week embargo. Vendors with analyst reports include D&B Hoovers, Factiva, Zacks, FactSet, Capital IQ, and Investext. Reports with fewer than five pages tend to only look at the stock, and provide little in the way of detail. Particularly good are the Initiating Coverage reports as they often entail an overview of the business.
  • If a US or global public, review the synopsis of material events going back over a decade. Significant Developments are available from Reuters, Factiva (Reuters), D&B Hoovers (Reuters), Capital IQ, and FactSet.
  • If a European private, they are likely to have filed financials, directors, and shareholdings with a local registry. You can obtain these through D&B Hoovers, Bureau van Dijk Orbis, or local registries.
  • Major companies are profiled by MarketLine and Global Data. Check to see if they or key competitors are profiled. Industry vendors also profile companies and products within their target segments.  These profiles include SWOTs, company histories, market shares, and overviews of key products and segments.
  • Determine the firm’s list of competitors. If it is a public company they will list this in a proxy. If it is a private company, refer to Hoovers, Global Data, or Marketline.
  • If you are looking for technology employed, refer to Datanyze, HG Data, BuiltWith, DiscoverOrg, or RainKing.
  • Review all news for the company. The open web thins out quickly, so you are best off using an archival service such as Factiva or LexisNexis
  • For Intellectual Property and Legal, use LexisNexis or Westlaw. You can also search the USPTO site for trademarks and patents.
  • Check research from industry vendors. Most focus on only one or a few sectors (e.g. Gartner, Forrester, and IDC for Hardware and Software). A few provide higher level market overviews at the country or global level which include national or regional market shares, forecasts, and mini-profiles of the top 3-4 competitors in the market:
    • MarketLine (country and global)
    • Euromonitor (country or global)
    • BMI (Emerging Markets)
    • Freedonia (US)
    • IBISWorld (US, China, Australia, Global)
  • A few US industries are required to file with state or federal agencies. These include banks (FDIC), insurance (states), and nonprofits (990 forms with the IRS).
  • Larger companies file ERISA forms (5500s) annually with the Department of Labor. This filing covers benefit plans so is useful for direct research on a company and plan advisors. Judy Diamond offers a freemium service (FreeErisa) for ERISA filings.
  • If the firm has PE or VC funding, refer to Crunchbase, DataFox, Mattermark, PrivCo, or other vendors that collect this detail. Crunchbase and Owler provide this information for free.
  • Setup news alerts on the company and competitor you are evaluating. This can be done via Owler, Contify, InsideView, D&B Hoovers, Factiva, and LexisNexis.
  • Obtain a credit report (D&B, Experian, or local credit company if overseas)
  • Research the company family tree and review major subsidiaries and recent acquisitions. Global Family Trees are available from D&B Hoovers, Bureau van Dijk, and InsideView (parents and subs only). Public companies also list their subsidiaries in their 10-K (Note 21).
  • M&A research can be performed with Zephyr (Bureau van Dijk), Mattermark, FactSet, Capital IQ, and other vendors.

This is a quick overview for secondary research.  For primary research, reach out to customers, partners, and former employees.  They can be identified via Case Studies (generally fans so don’t be overly reliant on them), customer references on site, TrustRadius, G2 Crowd.  Former employees can be determined via LinkedIn.  Partners are generally listed on the company website.

One area that is particularly difficult to obtain is pricing data.  Some B2Bs are transparent while others publish virtually no details, particularly if they have complex product lines and pricing.  Don’t be surprised if you find little in this area beyond “Pricing begins in the five digits” for many vendors.  Pricing details may require primary research and this will provide data points, but not full price lists.

If you are performing regular competitive analysis work, consider joining SCIP (Strategic & Competitive Intelligence Professionals).

Feel free to add additional tips in the comments.

 

Market Insights News

Market Insights Newsletter (January 22, 2017)
Market Insights Newsletter (January 22, 2017)

One of the services I provide to vendors is a weekly newsletter called Market Insights which covers the Sales Intelligence, Data as a Service (DaaS), Data Hygiene, and Predictive Analytics markets.  I’ve been writing it since mid-2012 and continue to expand my coverage of Sales and Marketing Intelligence.

Year one, I had four clients, all located in the United States.  Three were in the Sales Intelligence space and one was in Data Hygiene so my focus was on those segments plus DaaS, a key delivery channel.  But predictive analytics was beginning to compete with the SI firms so I folded it into my coverage in 2013.

By 2015, Account Based Marketing and Account Based Sales Development were hot topics so they joined my topic list.  I was also covering many more sales intelligence companies outside of the United States.  On the DaaS side, Marketing Automation Platform and Chrome Connectors have become much more prominent in my coverage.  I’ve also added coverage of intent vendors and sales engagement platforms.

And interest in my little newsletter has grown to over two dozen paid clients including firms in the UK, France, Israel, Germany, and India.  This list now includes content vendors that market their databases to the sales intelligence, hygiene, and predictive analytics vendors.

What I’m most proud of is that eight of the top nine sales intelligence vendors in North America are now newsletter clients along with three of the top four UK vendors.

Please contact me If you are interested in a free trial subscription to Market Insights.

2016 in Review: Sales Intelligence Content

InsideView Coverage as of April 2016.
InsideView Coverage as of April 2016.

One of the most straightforward ways to increase the value-add of a Sales Intelligence Service is to expand the content it delivers to its users.  Generally, a vendor can license additional content within the same general category (e.g. more contacts) or expand coverage into new content categories not previously supported by the product.  The first approach is usually faster and less expensive as there is limited development involved in adding additional coverage within a currently supported category (assuming the vendor is not hitting up against platform limits), but there are still costs involved with licensing, de-duping, and merging content sets.  As such, it is much more common for firms to increase the scope of current data sets than to add entirely new content categories to their services.

So which of the fourteen sales intelligence vendors discussed in my new Sales Intelligence book invested in increasing their depth of coverage?  Basically, all of them.  Of course, the scope of content investment varied greatly:

  1. Avention roughly doubled their global company, contact, and email coverage.  Their product now spans sixty million companies, eighty million contacts, and twenty million emails (US and UK).  I previously discussed their AsiaPac expansion, but the coverage expansion was global with most of the new content outside of the US, UK, and Canada where they already had significant depth.
  2. DiscoverOrg also greatly increased its coverage as it grew to 60,000 editorially researched company profiles and one million researched contacts.  Over the past twelve months, DiscoverOrg had a 91% increase in company coverage, 134% increase in contact coverage, and a 371% increase in non-IT contact coverage (numbers supplied by DiscoverOrg). The non-IT increase was due to an expansion of their job functions datasets to include Product Management (TEDD), Sales, CxO, and HR.  The firm also continued to invest in their marketing dataset.  CMO Katie Bullard noted that “the Marketing budget has begun to meet or exceed the IT department budget in many companies and vendors” while “service providers selling into marketing continue to proliferate.”
  3. RainKing continues to build out its company and contact coverage and expects to hit one million executives by the end of 2016. The firm roughly doubled the number of decision makers in its database while extending its international coverage. They also have increased the number of marketing, finance, and HR decision makers.
  4. InsideView’s executive coverage grew to 17 million US contacts and 8 million European contacts. Total global contacts more than doubled to 31 million and global emails grew by 10 million to 17 million.
  5. Bureau van Dijk added RepRisk environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risk reports to their service while continuing to build out their company database.  At the end of the year, Bureau van Dijk provided close to 210 million active and inactive company profiles
  6. DueDil rolled out enhanced financials for UK and Irish registered companies. Along with performance and growth metrics such as EBITDA and multiple CAGRs (compounded annual growth rates), DueDil is providing historical graphs for key metrics. In total, six new metrics and 12 key performance indicators (KPIs) have been added.
  7. Data.com expanded the Dun & Bradstreet content displayed in a new Prospect Insights view.  Extended company intelligence includes D&B WorldBase firmographics and linkage, Hoover’s top company descriptions and competitors, and First Research industry overviews with call prep questions and industry summaries.
  8. Infofree grew its executive email file to 26 million.
  9. Salesgenie raised its business email count to 58 million US contacts.
  10. Owler’s primary focus in 2016 was to expand their Competitive Graph and gather additional company intelligence. The Competitive Graph improved as the user base has grown and the firm has implemented a set of data cards (simple user queries such as is company X a competitor of company Y) which help refine sizing data, competitors, and a few other firmographic topics.  Revenue and employee figures have grown to 2.7 million companies.
  11. Zoominfo expanded its set of company enrichment variables with the addition of 200 new Company Attributes in October 2016.
  12. LinkedIn continues to add two members per second.  At the end of the year, they delivered 467 million global profiles across ten million companies.
  13. Dun & Bradstreet grew its WorldBase file of global companies to 265 million active and inactive firms.  Over the past few years, they have also focused on improving the depth and accuracy of their international file.

So who did I omit?  Technically Artesian Solutions did not make the content list, but that is simply because their new US edition will be discussed in the new product category.  Likewise, InsideView’s Tech Profiler Premium is also being discussed as a new product.