ZoomInfo Expands its Technographics

ZoomInfo, which began as a technology sales intelligence service, has expanded its technographic intelligence to more than 30 million global companies.  The technographic dataset now spans 300 million company/tech pairings, whether that is a technology, platform, or programming language.

The firm, which has recently focused on sales and marketing enablement technology (e.g., Conversational Sales, Chatbots, Sales Engagement, Recruitment/HR) and Operations, has been quietly expanding its content coverage with announcements concerning company coverage and technographics in the past few weeks.

“Knowing which technologies your prospects use before you even pick up the phone gives sellers a tremendous head start,” said Kirti Patel, Senior Director of Engineering at ZoomInfo.  “With today’s economic headwinds, sales teams are looking for every opportunity to increase efficiency, and having access to a prospect’s tech stack can transform your go-to-market engine.”

ZoomInfo’s technographics intelligence is derived from over twenty data sources, including company websites, job postings, and customer testimonials.  Its taxonomy covers over 30,000 technologies.

ZoomInfo claims that nearly 90% of its active tech-to-company pairings have been updated within the past three months.

Technographics assists with prospecting, lead and account scoring, look-a-like modeling, and market analysis (e.g., Technology Market Share, ICP, and TAM).  It is also common for firms to target customers of partners for complementary pitches and competitors for takeaways. ZoomInfo supports alerting when technologies are added or dropped from prospects’ tech stacks.  In addition, its Workflow module automates sales and marketing outreach.

ZoomInfo provided a pair of ZoomInfo SalesOS screenshots to GZ Consulting with functional descriptions concerning their technographics capabilities:

Technographic Alerts: “Customers can subscribe to individual technologies to get alerts on what companies are Adding/Dropping/Discovering that technology. For Adds, we know the company recently began using that technology, whereas, for Discoveries, we believe the company has been using the technology for a while, but our systems are just discovering it for the first time.”

Company Specific Profile: “This image is just one technology that ZoomInfo uses. It shows the date of the last time we have seen evidence that ZoomInfo uses machine learning technology. We can only view one technology category at a time on a company’s profile. You’ll see to the left of the image all of the technology categories that we have ZoomInfo technologies for.  You can hover over each to get the date of the last evidence.”

Gong Integrates with Crayon

One of the unsung benefits of conversational intelligence is market and competitive monitoring for product and strategy teams.  Vendors such as Gong and Chorus can tag competitors and product requests.  Still, this intelligence needs to be regularly and directly reviewed, making it more of a hit-or-miss proposition.  Furthermore, this intelligence is rarely tied to competitive battlecards for sales reps.

Competitive Intelligence Platform Crayon is looking to address these issues.  It now delivers a daily log of competitive mentions to sales reps, providing them with battlecard links and links to call transcripts that help them write follow-on messaging that parries competitive statements. The mentions are collected from Gong.

“Product marketers and competitive intelligence professionals dedicate a tremendous amount of time ensuring sales reps are equipped with the most up-to-date competitive and market intelligence,” stated Crayon CPO Erica Jenkins.  “However, despite these efforts, there’s still friction around the adoption and use of these enablement materials.  The integration between Crayon and Gong gets competitive intel into an account executive’s hands quickly and easily, drastically improving competitive positioning for reps to level up their game.”

Crayon listed two other Gong-related initiatives on its roadmap to assist CI and strategy professionals:

  • Field intelligence: Your prospects and customers are sharing intel with your colleagues every single day.  Remove the middleman by automatically pulling these insights out of Gong transcripts and pushing them into your Crayon portal.
  • Win-loss analysis: When an account is won or lost, the notes you find in your CRM will only tell one side of the story.  Find out what really happened by pulling Gong snippets into Crayon, where they’ll be matched with the notes that our system pulls in from Salesforce.

These future releases will benefit competitive intelligence and strategy professionals who struggle to gather real-time market intelligence, particularly from remote individuals.  For example, while sales reps are often happy to discuss competitive scenarios, they rarely take the time to record competitive details in the CRM.  Conversational intelligence platforms are an excellent source of this intelligence, which can be automatically fed into competitive platforms such as Crayon, helping to close the loop.

When I was a CI professional at a SalesTech company, gathering competitive intelligence generally involved interviewing customers, prospects, and inside sales reps and collecting and synthesizing this information.  This approach was haphazard and often anecdotal.  Although Competitor fields were added to the CRM, they were rarely populated, and virtually all losses were attributed to pricing. 

A structured set of competitive signals gathered from customer conversations would have been significantly more accurate, complete, and timely.  Furthermore, these signals and comments would have omitted sales rep biases concerning lost deals and enabled competitive coaching on high-value deals.

Crayon supports a broad set of Sales Enablement Platforms, including Seismic, Highspot, and Showpad. The Gong-Crayon integration is immediately available to joint customers.

Zoom IQ for Sales

Zoom Video Communications announced the availability of its new Zoom IQ for Sales conversational intelligence add-on for Zoom Meetings.  Zoom Phone support for Zoom IQ is in development.

“Zoom IQ for Sales analyzes customer interactions to surface key insights, actions, and content from sales meetings.  Sales leaders can also use this data to help make better-informed management decisions regarding their sales teams,” blogged UCaaS Product Marketing Manager Theresa Larkin.  “With actionable insights based on proven sales strategies and a wealth of data, organizations can streamline the new sales rep onboarding process, create a modern sales methodology, and further develop their sales teams.”

Zoom IQ for Sales conversational analytics

Zoom describes Zoom IQ for Sales as its “First Step in Conversational Intelligence.”  The service is “tightly integrated” with Salesforce, Google Calendar, Office 365, and Exchange.  Insights include

  • Engaging Questions – Analyzes questions posed to determine the frequency with which customers respond to queries.
  • Longest Spiel – Identifies the longest monologue to help reps hone their pitches and avoid monologues.
  • Next Steps – Assesses whether clear next steps are outlined during the meeting.
  • Patience – Determines whether reps wait for a response after asking a question.
  • Talk-Listen Ratios – Analyzes whether there is a balance between lead speaker talk time and time granted to others.
  • Competitor and Feature Mentions – Tags competitors and product features so reps, competitive analysts, and product teams can drill into prospect concerns, competitive statements, and potential gaps in the product.

AI provides a set of sentiment and engagement scores that assist with deal risk and health assessments.  Other features include transcription highlights, filler word frequency, and talk speed.

Post-deal analytics include which topics arose most frequently, time spent in each stage, and which negotiators made the final purchasing decision.  General Deal analytics include the number of conversations per deal and the duration of conversations per deal.

Zoom IQ supports a video snippets library of best practices exemplars.  Snippets can be used for initial training or for reviewing how to handle specific objections, present the value of various products, or position across target verticals.

Zoom Sales IQ Playlists

“Zoom has made strategic investments in homegrown speech recognition technologies and recruited a world-class team to produce high-fidelity transcription services that are a backbone for products like Zoom IQ…We’re developing domain-specific NLU (natural language understanding) using few-shot models to build features that will be more reliable and valuable to our users,” said Josh Dulberger, Zoom’s head of product, data, and AI.  “Sales teams…want to focus on the customer, and managing the engagement rather than taking notes, but also so they can review their calls to pick up nuances, easily identify next steps, or solicit some guidance from a colleague.  Managers and sales leaders can’t sit in on every call but want to understand the selling climate, when to coach, and which reps are finding the right message.”

Zoom IQ for Sales places Zoom in competition with many of its partners, including Salesloft, Outreach, Chorus, and Gong.

TechCrunch Senior Report Kyle Wiggers cautioned buyers about Zoom’s AI capabilities: “The jury’s out on the accuracy of Zoom’s algorithms, particularly given the company’s history of deploying flawed AI.  Sentiment analysis algorithms are especially prone to gender and race bias, and not every salesperson will necessarily agree with how Zoom measures engagement.”

“Zoom is almost certainly feeling the pressure from investors to establish new lines of revenue,” continued Wiggers.  “While the company’s earnings soared during the pandemic, guidance is down as customers begin to shift to hybrid and in-office work arrangements less reliant on videoconferencing.”

Zoom IQ for Sales is priced at $79 per month per seat.

“Half a million businesses choose Zoom and rely on it for internal and external conversations,” said Dulberger. “The Zoom platform already has a strong foundation in this area with features such as transcription, recordings, and highlights.  This also gives us an opportunity to expand this type of functionality across the Zoom platform such as Zoom Contact Center and within our meetings and events solutions to help presenters pace their speech, take notes, capture action items or employ specific tactics.”

Zoom Events, Zoom’s platform for virtual and hybrid shows, is adding a backstage feature that lets panelists, speakers, and production crews meet before, during, and after events.  During the session, support staff can view the webinar feed, chat with each other, answer attendees’ questions, and practice their presentations.  Zoom Events Backstage should be available by the end of April.

Other new Events features include branded wallpaper that displays behind tiles and webinar reactions.

IT Central Station $30M Series A

Tech review site IT Central Station closed on a $30 million Series A led by Invictus Growth Partners.  The site grew ARR 124%, surpassed 500,000 registered members, and was visited by 3.5 million enterprise software buyers over the past year.  The firm was bootstrapped in 2012 and has been self-funded until now.  It is both profitable and cash-flow positive.

The funds will be employed to rebrand the site as PeerSpot, expand its coverage of new enterprise tech categories, and accelerate sales and marketing.  Hiring will be concentrated in the R&D, Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success departments.

IT Central Station has focused on core IT sectors such as Cybersecurity, DevOps, and IT management; however, it does not have the profile breadth of some of the major review sites.

“Now we are expanding to categories where IT is not the primary buyer but is still on the buying committee,” explained CEO Russell Rothstein to GZ Consulting.  “Following that we will expand our coverage for all enterprise technology categories, including mid-market.”

The new brand and site will be launched in January 2022.

“IT Central Station has succeeded in building a platform that tech buyers trust and enables vendor marketers to achieve strong ROI,” said Rothstein.  “We are in the top of the first inning in our plan to build the world’s largest B2B marketplace for enterprise technology, built upon a foundation of verified user-generated content and peer reviews.  The Invictus team adds deep operating expertise, including a uniquely valuable approach to data science, and I am thrilled to have Invictus as our partner for the next stage of our growth.”

Rothstein explained that as a bootstrapped company, the firm didn’t have the marketing resources of other sites, so he focused on the depth and value of reviews, high-quality intent data, and building its customer success team.  Along with rapid revenue growth, the firm posted a net retention rate of 142% last year.

“People trust their peers more than any industry analysts or so-called experts,” said Rothstein. As a result, younger tech buyers expect to “go online to tap into the knowledge of their peers as part of the buying process.  It’s just natural for them.”

Rothstein argues that IT Central Station’s reviews are “the most in-depth,” with an average length of 620 words.  In addition, it offers a “Zero Fake Reviews” commitment, with a triple authentication process (LinkedIn profiles, community policing, and human oversight) for validating reviews.  First, reviews are checked to ensure the individual does not work for the reviewed company or one of its competitors.  The job function is also verified to ensure that a qualified individual wrote it.

“Every review has to have pros and cons. We don’t accept any five-star ‘everything’s perfect’ reviews without any room for improvement,” explained Rothstein.  “Reviews have to have both room for improvement as well as value that you get from the product.”

Conversely, IT Central Station also filters out reviews that are purely negative rants.

“If someone’s having such an extreme opinion, then they’re not really presenting a realistic picture,” continued Rothstein.  “It’s just losing credibility.  People aren’t going to believe the review and it just reflects poorly on the review site itself.  So we really aim to get that balance in every review.”

Rothstein explained that IT Central Station has a strong community that both polices the site for biased reviews and supports active Q&A discussions.

Profiles include an overview, filterable reviews, pros and cons, pricing, alternatives, “Many of our customers generate millions of dollars in pipeline and closed business from IT Central Station leads and intent data,” blogged Rothstein.  “They’ve given us high marks with an average 70 Net Promoter Score (NPS) over the past four quarters. That’s world-class NPS, putting us at the level of Apple and Starbucks.”

IT Central Station profile of MS Azure.

IT Central Station argues that review sites mostly attract “high intent buyers” in the decision phase of the buyer’s journey.  Furthermore, Demand Gen’s 2021 Buyers Survey found that most purchasers reached out to peers and existing users before contacting any vendors.

“People don’t read complex product reviews just for kicks – they are looking for help in choosing what product to buy,” added IT Central Station Content Manager Rony Sklar.  “B2B buyers who are about to spend a lot of money on an enterprise solution want to know what their peers’ experiences have been with the solutions they’re considering before making a purchase.  Because review sites have this highly targeted, homogenous audience whose main logical use case for a review site is researching a purchase, all the site visitors exhibit a degree of intent. Unlike other types of data, this intent data is low funnel and has a high degree of accuracy because there is no guesswork involved. The intent data generated by a review platform shows you exactly which companies are researching you and your competitors.”

Along with CSV files and webhooks, IT Central Station delivers integrated intent data to Salesforce, Demandbase, and LinkedIn.  In addition, the firm will be announcing support for 6sense, Marketo, HubSpot, Outreach, and Metadata in the coming months. 

“We can provide [intent data] at the contact level, but also aggregate it at the account level, as we can associate multiple people at the same company,” stated Rothstein.  “We provide a proprietary Buyer Intent Score for each account that incorporates activity done both at the contact and overall account level for each account.  For contact level, we provide email, phone, title, function, job level, and BANT information.  We also provide product interests per contact, so you can see which products the contact is researching and comparing, with the level of depth of their research.”

Intent data is updated daily. “Making the right enterprise software purchasing decisions has never been more mission critical for the success of growing businesses and the careers of enterprise software buyers,” said Invictus Managing Partner William Nettles.  “IT Central Station’s reviews have proven to be a must have for enterprises to validate the performance of their products, while providing buyers the most trusted and reliable data for their buying decisions. We are thrilled to partner with Russell and his team to help them scale the business to the benefit of enterprise software buyers globally.”

Competitive Intelligence Drives Revenue

As a member of SCIP (Strategic & Competitive Intelligence Professionals) and a former CI practitioner (I am more of an industry analyst and market researcher these days, but the skills and tools often overlap), I pay attention to research on the efficacy and ROI of CI. Unfortunately, CI’s role is often diffuse across the organization, providing both strategic and tactical assistance across a broad set of functions. Thus, the impact is often difficult to properly attribute.

Thus, I wasn’t surprised when a Crayon survey on the State of Competitive Intelligence found that only 61% of CI Professionals and Stakeholders believed that CI boosts revenue (26% felt that it did not). And it may be that some of those professionals that hold a dim view of CI worked at companies that lacked somebody in that role or simply assigned a product marketing manager to perform CI along with several other duties.

But the confidence level should be higher. After all, a good CI person or team:

  • Monitors the market for general trends, new product launches, product enhancements, emerging technologies, key events (partnerships, funding, acquisitions, executive changes, filings), and competitors.
  • Briefs senior level management on the market, highlighting opportunities and threats.
  • Briefs product management on product gaps and weaknesses that place the company at a market disadvantage.
  • Performs competitive benchmarking, collects pricing data and market collateral, and monitors competitive positioning.
  • Assesses competitor’s product launches and major upgrades and briefs internal stakeholders.
  • Assists with product launches by briefing marketing and sales on competitive positioning, addressing the question of how new products and features stack up in the marketplace.
  • Supports new hire onboarding, particularly for product management, product marketing, executives, and sales professionals.
  • Trains sales reps in how to position vs. competitors, lay landmines for competitors, parry competitive charges, and stay above the fray (i.e. remain professional and avoid slinging mud).
  • Manages or participates in win/loss analyses.
  • Joins sales calls (usually virtually) when the client wishes to discuss the competitive landscape.
  • Provide on-demand support to sales reps.
  • Review RFPs and RFIs to determine whether they are neutral or one of the competitors has influenced the process.
  • Collects internal competitive data from CRMs and competitive mentions during sales calls. Conversational Intelligence from vendors such as Chorus and Gong is an emerging data collection opportunity.

If a CI team is performing these duties in a timely and accurate manner, then there is no doubt that they influence revenue generation both in the short and long-term.

Source: Crayon, “NEW DATA: 61% of Businesses Say Competitive Intelligence Directly Impacts Revenue,” March 2021

Crayon also found that the impact to CI was strongly related to the creation of KPIs for the program. Without KPIs, 57% of professionals were unsure about the impact of CI on revenue. When KPIs were in place, 78% of survey respondents were confident that CI helped drive revenue.

The frequency of CI distribution is also strongly related to its impact. 70% of respondents with daily or weekly intelligence distribution said that CI helped increase revenue, falling to 55% monthly and 46% quarterly. The frequency of messaging probably has several effects: it reinforces the role of CI in the organization, it delivers a timelier and more comprehensive work product, and it embeds CI into the knowledge flow and company discussions.

Competitive Intelligence professionals help drive revenue growth through their interactions with sales, marketing, product management, and c-level executives, fostering better planning, messaging, and product development.

BuzzBoard Graph of 100M Global SMBs (Part II)

Yesterday, I began my profile of SMB Sales Intelligence vendor BuzzBoard which supports a global company graph of 100 million SMBs. Part II discusses several BuzzBoard reports titled Competition, Category Insights, and Recommendations.

The Competition tab compares a company against three local peers, allowing reps to take a value-added discussion approach to customer and prospect meetings.  This benchmarking can be performed as early as the first call, helping to differentiate the sales rep.  Should the prospect wish to see other competitors, the representative can quickly remove one of the competitors and add a requested company to the analysis.  The competitive benchmark supports three tabs: Digital Marketing, HR & Organization, and Communications.

BuzzBoard recommends that reps not go through the competitive report line-by-line, but focus on two or three categories where the vendor “has solutions.” Going line-by-line is “the digital equivalent to the PowerPoint presentation,” warns BuzzBoard Director of Community & Training Phillip Cortez.

Category Insights include local advertising intelligence from Borrell Associates.  Borrell data includes industry-specific ad budgets for local markets.  Local data is available for both digital advertising, non-digital advertising, and their sub-categories (e.g. General Paid Search, Targeted Display, Listings Paid Search, Newspapers, Local Broadcast TV, Radio).  There is also a section on Audience Targeting Opportunities for the industry, providing fodder for sales conversations.  This intelligence would also be valuable for the marketing communications team in developing blog and social content that targets top segments.  Other sections include technology trends, threats and opportunities, top products and services, and “know their customers.”

The Recommendations tab provides a set of recommendations and talking points based on gaps in a firm’s digital marketing presence.

BuzzBoard is well-positioned for firms that target SMBs, particularly if they provide digital services of some form.  This focus, however, makes them ill-suited for enterprise sales.  The database does not offer company linkages, long business descriptions, tickers (for quickly looking up the HQ of a firm), filings, financials, etc.  However, they are clear in their positioning as a B2SMB database.

BuzzBoard is headquartered in San Francisco with offices in Lyndhurst, New Jersey and Hyderabad (engineering).  The firm has 85 employees with open positions in sales, customer success, engineering, and product management.

COVID-19 has “not really impacted us substantially,” said CEO Umesh Tibrewal.

Vertical IQ: Freemium Industry Profiles

The new Vertical IQ freemium service provides the first three chapters of Vertical IQ industry profiles at no charge.
The new Vertical IQ freemium service provides the first three chapters of Vertical IQ industry profiles at no charge.

Vertical IQ launched a freemium market research service that provides “foundational information” for over 280 industries.  Vertical IQ writes plain English industry overviews for bank managers, consultants, and accountants.  However, the research has broad value to other functions such as strategic sales, market planning, and procurement.

Previously, professionally sourced industry research was only accessible by purchasing individual reports or subscription licenses, but the business model is evolving.  To fill a market need, Vertical IQ is now offering much of its valuable industry insights for free.  This innovative approach delivers market research on a freemium, just-in-time basis – a first in the marketplace.

“Vertical IQ Freemium was created to fill the void for an easily-accessible, user-friendly industry research product.  This new free version of our popular research platform puts valuable industry insights at the tips of your fingers in a matter of seconds.”

Vertical IQ co-founder, Bobby Martin

The free content covers the first three sections of the Vertical IQ reports: Overview, Industry Structure & Forecast, and Industry Trends.  Full reports are available on a pay per view basis ($99) or via a subscription ($1,099). The Full report spans an additional nine chapters:

  1. How Firms Operate
  2. Risks to Watch Out for
  3. Quarterly Insights
  4. Working Capital
  5. Call Prep Questions
  6. Financial Statistics
  7. Business Valuation
  8. Web Links
  9. Terms

The Full report is downloadable as a PDF file and includes access to report updates over the next year.

The annual subscription covers 400 industries and 325 local US economies.  Updates and industry news alerts are emailed quarterly.  The subscription service also supports mobile access, a Sales Kit which “Integrates industry insight into your contact strategy by sharing deliverables with business owners,” and an industry ranking tool.

Vertical IQ competes against D&B First Research and IBISWorld.  All three provide plain English market research for financial services firms and sales professionals. Vertical IQ has over 35,000 users.  Research is updated monthly.

The Vertical IQ Industry Forecast and Structure report displays historical and projected growth rates, the characteristics of an average firm within the industry, and industry structure (e.g. concentration, female and minority ownership rates) and the top firms.
The Vertical IQ Industry Forecast and Structure chapter displays historical and projected growth rates, the characteristics of an average firm within the industry, and industry structure (e.g. concentration, female and minority ownership rates) and the top firms.

Mattermark Returns

The Mattermark Account I-Frame in the Salesforce AppExchange supports both company news and an account overview with over 80 fields. The service is reasonably priced at $49 / user / month.
The Mattermark Account I-Frame in the Salesforce AppExchange supports both company news and an account overview with over 80 fields. The service is reasonably priced at $49 / user / month.

Mattermark is back as an independent company after being acquired by FullContact in late 2017.  Unfortunately, the acquisition announcement was mishandled with FullContact first saying the product was going away and later saying that it was still available.

The relaunched Mattermark attracted back much of its early staff including its founders Danielle and Kevin Morrill and Product Lead Paul Denya.  The firm has a “renewed focus on private deal intelligence.”  

“This transition has been in the works for the past few months without disruption to services. You have our assurance that will continue to be the case.”


Eric Milliken

To support the relaunch, Mattermark is adding headcount to their customer service, engineering, and data teams “to redouble our commitment to customer satisfaction and data excellence.”

Mattermark data coverage spans 4 million companies, company news, and funding data.  Users can leverage public lists or build shared lists.  Mattermark also supports an API, Salesforce integration, Chrome extension, Google Sheets, and lead and account enrichment.

Quora: How do I find a company’s top competitors?

The following is a post I wrote on Quora.


There are a couple of ways.

  • If a US public company, look at its 10-K (annual report). Firms generally discuss their competitors. You can locate the 10-K on a company’s investor site, through sales intelligence vendors, or free Edgar sites.
  • If a private company, look at Owler, a free site (See below). This is crowdsourced so may include firms that aren’t true competitors.
Owler competitor lists are gathered through social voting.
  • Look at sales intelligence services such as D&B Hoovers or InsideView. Hoover’s competitors are editorially generated and include top three flags (see below)
D&B Hoover’s competitor lists are gathered by a team of researchers.
  • Within IT, look at Forrester Wave reports. Another option is technology category searches in PE/VC databases such as DataFox, Crunchbase, Pitchbook, or CB Insights. Keep in mind that companies within the same segment may not be competitors, but partners, customers, etc.
  • Many industries have industry specific market research that includes competitors. A few general market research firms also provide competitors (e.g. MarketLine, Euromonitor, Global Data, and Freedonia). Top Competitors are also available in IBISWorld, Vertical IQ, and First Research.
  • Zoominfo and a few other vendors identify similar companies based upon proximity in articles. This finds competitors, but also customers and partners so should be carefully reviewed.
  • For new technologies or industries, D&B Hoovers offers Conceptual Search which identify companies associated with key phrases (e.g. Marcellus Shale, Obamacare). This is more of an associated companies list and will identify firms in a topical ecosystem. For example, “Harry Potter” identifies studios, publishers, toy makers, theme parks, and thematic tours. (See example below of conceptual search on Marcellus Shale). Conceptual Search lists may be refined by standard prospecting filters such as industry, geography, and size.
D&B Hoover’s Conceptual Search looks for companies associated with specific phrases.
  • If none of these work, use peer list searches (industry code lists) or keyword searches in sales intelligence vendors. If cost is a concern, go to your public library and see if they have ReferenceUSA, AtoZDatabases, or Mergent Online. Each of these allows you to build peer lists based on industry codes, company size, and geography. If you need help, ask for the business or reference librarian to assist.

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.