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.

Gong and Chorus Growing Rapidly During Pandemic

Gong, which closed on a $200 million Series D round earlier this month, is in one of the SalesTech segments that has benefited from remote working. Demand for conversational AI tools from vendors like Gong and Chorus that record, transcribe, and analyze meetings and calls accelerated with the pandemic.

“With global sales teams switching to remote work and field sales teams grounded for the foreseeable future, we are seeing substantial demand for Gong’s solution even in a challenging business environment,” said Gong CEO Amit Bendov.

“Gong’s Web site is like a direct view into the subconscious of those hyper-enthusiastic salespeople who make the rest of us nuts but get the job done.  The actual product is AI technology that captures video, phone, email, and face-to-face interactions and extracts insights about people, deals, and market events.  It must work: they just raised a $200 million Series D, bringing total funding to $334 million.  Did I mention their chatbot is a bulldog?”

David Raab, CDP Institute

Carl Eschenbach, a partner at Sequoia Capital, argued that firms benefiting from COVID fall into two classes, those that are enjoying a temporary lift and those that will enjoy long-term benefits due to social and technological shifts.

“There will be less [SIC] field sales reps than ever before.  Said Eschenbach. “People will be working remotely and selling over digital mechanisms like we’re using Zoom.”

While Gong did not disclose their revenue, they said it has trebled over the past year.  Forbes lists their 2019 revenue at $30 million so 2020 revenue should clock in around $90 million.

Gong has over 1,300 customers, including Autodesk, HubSpot, LinkedIn, MuleSoft, Outreach, PayPal, Shopify, Slack, Twilio, Zillow, GE, and Zoominfo.

Over 64,000 sales and support professionals use the Gong platform, up from 45,000 in December.

They recently launched a Deal intelligence module which provides deal pipeline visibility and “deal at risk” alerts to sales reps (see the image at the top of this blog).

Gong Partners include

  • Conference: Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, BlueJeans, WebEx, GoToMeeting, JoinMe
  • ­­Sales Engagement: Outreach, SalesLoft, Groove, Xant, FrontSpin
  • CRM: Salesforce, HubSpot
  • Others: Slack, ClearSlide, Clari, Google, Outlook

“We made a bold prediction in 2016 that Gong’s technology would become the most significant innovation for sales since the invention of CRM,” said Bendov.  “The market has proven that prediction was correct.  With global sales teams switching to remote work and field sales teams grounded for the foreseeable future, we are seeing substantial demand for Gong’s solution even in a challenging business environment.  There is a new way to win in sales, and the best sales teams are turning to Gong’s Revenue Intelligence Platform to guide them down that path.”


Last month, Gong competitor Chorus closed on a $45 million Series C. The round was led by Georgian Partners, with participation from Emergence Capital, Redpoint Ventures, and Sozo Ventures.  Five-year-old Chorus has raised $85.2 million to date.  Georgian also led the $33 million Series B in December 2018.

The new funds will be deployed for product innovation and expanding its go-to-market team.  CEO Jim Benton said that they would continue to develop their interaction signal capture capabilities, particularly those tied to relationships and driving deals to close.

“The insights provided by conversation intelligence can be a lifeline, identifying risks as well as what is working so that they can replicate best practices across the revenue team,” said Benton.  “Sales floors in the office may be empty, but through the use of conversation intelligence, managers can still walk the floor virtually and offer coaching and a helping hand when needed.”

Chorus records, transcribes, and analyzes business calls.  Transcripts include time-stamped notes and a call summary with risk factors and upsell opportunities.  The Chorus platform helps reps capture and analyze interactions from calls, meetings, and emails.  Chorus looks for keywords and topics such as pricing, competitors, and next steps.

“We want to make sure each person says, ‘I was just watching the call, and here is where we left off,’ or ‘I noticed this theme in your conversation, so let’s get started there.’  We are putting the ‘R’ in customer relationship management.  There is a lot with the ‘customer’ and ‘management’ aspects, but in terms of ‘relationship,’ that does not always make it back into the CRM, and we think it should.”

Chorus.AI CEO Jim Benton

“We are continuing to make sure we are understanding these interactions for teams and leadership to see what works, so they bring their best,” continued Benton.  “You want to make sure you represent the best of your team, give feedback, coaching, have the right messaging and which interactions drive the best close rates–all the science behind what success looks like.”

The firm doubled its headcount to 100 and trebled its revenue in 2019.  Chorus has over 200 customers, including GitLab, Zoom, Adobe, MongoDB, and Qualtrics.  It is headquartered in San Francisco with offices in Boston and Tel Aviv.

Chorus Conversational Intelligence records, transcribes, and analyzes audio and video meetings.

Correction: I originally transposed the digits on Chorus’ Total Funding. The correct value is $85.2 million.

Cien Hidden Revenue Assessments

Cien contends that a sales rep is only as successful as his or her weakest skill permits.  Therefore, it is best to determine skill deficiencies and coach for them.

Cien announced the availability of its Hidden Revenue Assessment report which analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of sales reps to determine which qualitative factors are limiting their success.  Cien ingests data from Salesforce Enterprise to “reveal the factors that are preventing their teams from achieving their numbers.”

Cien Head of Marketing Damien Acheson noted that firms such as Gong and Chorus are more prescriptive while Cien is diagnostic, helping managers identify skill gaps and determining where reps add or destroy value during deal flow.

Presented as individual scorecards, Cien employs over 100 AI models to identify issues in sales enablement, training, and onboarding.  Cien does not believe in cloning the best sales reps as reps have different strengths and weaknesses.  Instead, reps are assessed for value-add across the pipeline, helping determine where reps need coaching, which reps are creating value, and which reps are benefiting from a rich set of leads but not adding significant value to them.

Furthermore, their models indicate that addressing weaknesses is the best method for improving sales outcomes and reaching quota.  If a rep is weak at any of the key sales skills, he or she is unlikely to reach quota.  As reps are only as successful as their weakest skills, it is better to identify gaps and coach accordingly.  Cien holds that the best path to driving revenue growth is focusing on mid-level success reps as they are the ones with the greatest opportunity to improve their performance.

“When it comes to managing sales teams, it’s important to understand that no sales rep is created equal, and no opportunity is created equal,” contends Cien CEO Rob Käll.  “To date, Cien’s Hidden Revenue Assessments have uncovered between 20-40% worth of lost revenue due to gaps in selling skills.”

“Cien’s AI models search for correlations between reps’ skills and attributes and their impact on the final value of opportunities.  This is the basis for a set of patented algorithms called the ​Cien Value Chain​.  Cien determines the relative value of each lead as it enters your CRM and tracks its value at the end of the sales cycle.  The Cien Value Chain measures the value-added at each stage of the opportunity and the skills and attributes that drive incremental value.“

Cien FAQ

The Hidden Revenue Assessment is available as a free report to technology companies with at least ten sales reps and a minimum of one year of Salesforce data.  It provides an assessment of a few sample reps across work ethic, product knowledge, engagement ability, and closing ability.  The Hidden Revenue Assessment also evaluates CRM data quality to provide a level of confidence in the assessment.  Firms that have deployed Sales Engagement Platforms such as Outreach and SalesLoft often have complete data as they automatically gather activity data and sync it with their CRM.

Cien “Baseball Card” Profile

The Hidden Revenue Assessment includes a 30-minute walkthrough.

The Cien app, available for $49 per month per rep, provides mentor prescriptions that help prioritize coaching.  While flagging weaknesses can be demotivating, Cien inverts the model and calculates the revenue opportunity available to reps who focus on developing their skills.  Being told that you are weak at prospect engagement is unlikely to motivate a rep.  Being told that focusing on prospect engagement can retire $200,000 worth of quota is much more likely to motivate the rep to focus on his or her weak-link skills.

The Cien app provides data on all of the reps and covers a broader set of skills.  The app also provides dynamic data indicating how the reps are performing over time.

Cien is Privacy Shield certified and does not gather Personally Identifiable Information beyond rep names. Cien received a $3.5 million seed round in June.