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 so have built up a significant archive on these topics.

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.

And interest in my little newsletter has grown to over twenty paid clients including firms in the UK, France, Israel, 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.

MarketLine Advantage Research Database

MarketLine, formerly known as DataMonitor, is expanding the content and functionality of its MarketLine Advantage research database.  The service is designed for management consultants, investment bankers, trade agencies, lawyers, and academic research.  While its company and industry content has long been licensed by the sales intelligence vendors, the additional datasets found in Advantage provide only limited incremental value to sales teams.

MarketLine is expanding profile coverage of both companies and industries, but not expanding the licensed dataset it makes available to sales intelligence vendors such as Factiva, Bureau van Dijk, LexisNexis, and Avention.  Industry coverage has roughly doubled to 6,000 country/industry pairs.  For company intelligence, they are trebling the number of company profiles to at least 100,000 firms; likewise, the number of company profiles with SWOTs is quadrupling to 12,000.

Company profiles are available in multiple formats and can be selected at the table or chart level.  Thus, users can perform a one-click export of a company or industry table to PowerPoint, Word, PDF or Excel files.  Unfortunately, company and industry news is maintained separately from company and industry profiles; thus, users cannot create a unified report containing editorial research plus news.  This lack of unification adds to the search and export work of researchers.

Marketline is one of the few vendors that provides global and regional industry research across a broad set of industries.  Most vendors focus on a subset of countries (e.g. emerging markets, United States) or industries (e.g. Consumer Products).  MarketLine publishes industry research at the country, regional, and global level allowing users to compare the same industry in different countries or many industries within a country.  This ability to compare across countries and industries – with standard terminology, methodology, industry definition, and economic assumptions – assists with market entry analysis, whether it is researching new sectors or researching new countries.  It also helps sector-focused sales reps adjust their messaging and targeting across markets.  Furthermore, by including Five Forces Analyses and the top company profiles for each country, it is possible to determine whether new companies should be added to your ABM target list as well as assess potential obstacles when entering a new market.

MarketLine Industry Research provides a half dozen Spider Charts (The Five Forces Summary with sub-category detail) along with short explanations of each sub-category.
MarketLine Industry Research provides a half dozen Spider Charts (The Five Forces Summary with sub-category detail) along with short explanations of each sub-category.

Because MarketLine research covers so many regional / industry pairs, the reports should not be considered detailed industry research.  Industry specialists generally write technically oriented reports on specific industry topics.  Instead, the focus is on market size, key segments, current trends, top competitors, and market growth projections.  MarketLine focuses on actionable information that can be understood by industry generalists and researchers operating across many industries.

MarketLine also offers a set of country profiles which assist with market entry decisions and help users develop a basic understanding of local dynamics and risks.  Country profiles utilize a PESTLE framework.

Each of the major profile categories contains a standard Competitive Intelligence / Strategy tool employed by B schools and analysts:

  • SWOT – Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat analysis looks at a company versus its competitors and the overall market.  Thus, opportunities might include emerging technologies or newly opened markets while threats cover exogenous variables such as government regulation, market substitutes, and competitor actions.
  • Five Forces – This industry tool was developed by Michael Porter and covers Buyer Power, Supplier Power, New Entrants, Threat of Substitutes, and Degree of Rivalry.  Within each of these elements, a set of sub-topics is covered.  The Five Forces analysis is discussed at the sub-section level and displayed as a spider web graph.
  • PESTLE — Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental analyses for 150 countries.

Other MarketLine Advantage datasets include:

  • Deal profiles spanning venture capital, private equity, mergers & acquisitions, partnerships, private placements, and joint ventures.  Deal profiles are generally available within one business day of the transaction announcement.  The deals database is screenable and goes back at least three years.
  • Country and city demographic datasets gathered from governmental resources (e.g. OECD, Eurostat, CDC) covering 750 macroeconomic and demographic variables.  Launched just a few months ago, the cities database covers approximately 2,000 global metropolises and can assist with initial planning intelligence for locating international offices and projecting which regions are poised for rapid growth.  Multiple visual formats are supported including bar, line, and pie charts.  The datasets are exportable at the field and location level, allowing users to build custom datasets.
  • Company News written by MarketLine’s analysts.  MarketLine reports on 11,000 companies with 60,000 articles per annum.  The current archive exceeds 300,000 articles.
  • Market Data Analytics for major consumer product categories including food, drink, and personal care products.
  • Company and investment prospecting.

The Home Page is a bit flat with no dynamic content.  Users are presented a single Google-style search bar along with database browsing options.  This format is in line with a reference service, but the layout indicates a lack of personalization for frequent researchers.  This is a missed opportunity.  Frequent users should be able to track specific companies, industries, and countries with homepage and email alerts.  These alerts could cover both company news and updates to key reports.

The MarketLine Advantage Homepage focuses on quick search but lacks dynamic content.
The MarketLine Advantage Homepage focuses on quick search but lacks dynamic content.

MarketLine Advantage customers benefit from access to MarketLine’s team of 178 researchers that conduct both primary and secondary research.  Users may pose questions to the researchers subject to a 24 hour SLA.  Other benefits of directly licensing the Advantage service is data currency (aggregators generally receive monthly report updates), broader content sets, custom screening tools, and the ability to quickly export report sections in multiple formats.

MarketLine Advantage is sold on a named user basis with annual subscriptions subject to volume pricing.  Users have unlimited access to reports, datasets, and downloading.  Pricing for MarketLine Advantage was not disclosed.  When MarketLine Industry reports are sold on the GlobalData store, they are priced at $350 for single user access to a report, $700 for a site license, and $1,050 for an enterprise license.

Advantage is available via web and mobile browsers but the service lacks CRM connectors and mobile apps.

LinkedIn Premium Insights: Hiring & Employment Analytics

LinkedIn announced immediate availability of a set of company insight analytics to its premium products including Sales Navigator, Business Plus, and Talent Solutions.  The new reports provide company employment intelligence from the LinkedIn database which competing sales intelligence vendors would be hard pressed to replicate.

Product leader and strategist Megan Kamil blogged, “The use cases for these insights are limitless. From the market research associate gathering relevant information on key market and competitive landscapes to the investment professional trying to uncover the next ‘hot’ company, this information will be valuable to any business professional.”

The new Total Employee count provides a two-year graph of LinkedIn employment trends.  The trend data can be quite useful for evaluating a company’s recent trajectory.  LinkedIn also provides the average tenure.  Low tenure needs to be interpreted carefully as it could be a sign of either rapid growth or an unhappy workforce.  Had they also included an employee churn rate this issue would be clarified.

LinkedIn Total Employee Count provides two years of data, growth rate, and average tenure.
LinkedIn Total Employee Count provides two years of data, growth rate, and average tenure.

While employee counts are available in other services, the LinkedIn data is likely to be more accurate for companies with a high percentage of professionals.  Firms with a high percentage of blue collar, seasonal, or part-time workers are more likely to be undercounted.  Be aware, though, that larger companies often appear as multiple companies (e.g. overseas subs, major divisions, or acquired companies) in LinkedIn, so they could also be subject to an undercount.

Also quite useful is employment by job function as it allows sales reps and analysts to evaluate where the bulk of employment is within an organization and how it is shifting.  This information is particularly valuable at startups as it provides an indicator of product maturity.  For example, a firm that is engineering focused with few sales and marketing positions may be pre-revenue.

LinkedIn Employee Distribution by Function provides insights into the relative size of departments over two years.
LinkedIn Employee Distribution by Function provides insights into the relative size of departments over two years.

However, if sales and marketing functions spiked last quarter, the firm may be readying a product launch.  Such a shift can be detected in the New Hires report.

 

New Hires shows overall hiring trends with a focus on senior management.
New Hires shows overall hiring trends with a focus on senior management.

The other two new reports are Notable Alumni and Total Job Openings.  Alumni may be useful for tracking former execs at a long-standing client to their new place of employment.  Such tracking may find new startups not on a sales reps’ radar along with potential connections or talking points.

Total Job openings are displayed by month and broken out by function and seniority.

Total Job Openings details monthly open positions for two years and current openings by function and level.
Total Job Openings details monthly open positions for two years and current openings by function and level.

LinkedIn is beginning to leverage its 433 million profiles to provide unique insights for its premium services.  A logical next step for them to take would be predictive modeling based upon their executive data.  For example, an analysis of the hiring ramp at retail and logistics companies in November provides insights into how optimistic the industry is about the upcoming holiday season.  Similarly, unannounced layoffs at companies just before the quarter ends might be picked up well before public companies announce their earnings.  As LinkedIn also has a large dataset of hiring data, the firm could also begin providing insights on the open positions at companies.  Unfortunately, the Job Openings report does not link to position details or allow for prior period analysis.

“This is just the beginning of the deeper, more advanced company insights we aim to deliver as part of our Premium experience on LinkedIn,” said Kamil.

If Microsoft is to obtain a strong ROI on its pending LinkedIn acquisition, it needs LinkedIn to more broadly develop analytics and tools which leverage the unique LinkedIn crowdsourced dataset.  Imagine the value to sales and risk departments (e.g. credit, purchasing) of providing hiring trends over time and by position within Microsoft Dynamics.

One firm that is already providing hiring data analytics in their sales service is CB Insights for Sales which uses the Indeed hiring database for its reports.  Users see a report similar to the LinkedIn Total Job Openings report, can view the open positions by function and level for current and prior periods, and drill down to both open and closed positions.  Thus, a sales rep could view the required skillset for the new VP of Product or CMO to better understand her mandate.