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.
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)
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.
If none of these work, use peer list searches (industry code lists) or keyword searches in sales intelligence vendors.
Industry market research firm IBISWorld rolled out its new Call Prep Insights Salesforce connector. The service delivers IBISWorld market research and Q&A content to sales and client relations professionals. IBISWorld insights are displayed on the Account record as Market Intelligence with over 1,300 industries and sub-industries covered. Regional versions are available for the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.
“IBISWorld Call Prep Insights facilitates consultative selling by enabling value-added outreach to prospects and clients,” states the firm’s User Guide. “IBISWorld Call Prep Insights delivers data, strategic insights and tactical talking points for hundreds of industries that your front-line staff can use for more engaging conversation.”
Market Intelligence, published at the 5-digit NAICS level, includes
Major industry trends
Conversation starters on industry risks and opportunities
Five-years of historical metrics alongside five-year forecasts
Industry and sector metrics include industry revenue and revenue growth, employment growth, average wages, and profit margin. Sparkline graphs provide both historical context to these metrics and industry projections. These details are particularly useful when speaking to C-Level executives as well as finance and operations teams.
Industry structure covers topics such as capital intensity, regulation change, technology change, competition level, market concentration, and major companies with their market share.
The Engagement section provides “a short discussion of the key Issue and Threat to the industry. These items are associated with SWOT-type research that shows the macro trends that companies should seek to actively manage in order to exploit opportunities and mitigate risks.”
Call Prep Questions are divided into internal issues and external impacts. They include a short discussion of the issue followed by a set of questions the sales rep can ask to engage the prospect.
Having recently engaged in an industry research project which employed both First Research (a set of industry overviews available within Dun & Bradstreet products) and IBISWorld content, I found IBISWorld to be more technical than First Research which is written in plain English for non-experts. Both services offer Q&A content which provides a set of c-level questions that work as discussion openers. Thus, First Research may be a better fit for territory reps and junior relationship managers while IBISWorld would better fit the informational needs of named account reps, verticalized reps, and experienced relationship managers.
Companies are auto-matched against IBISWorld’s universe of 14,000 companies. Otherwise, users can manually search for industries by keyword or NAICS.
Pricing begins at $55 per user per month. Both Salesforce Classic and Lightning editions are supported.
“The sales environment is not only getting more competitive, it’s getting more intelligent. Salespeople need to go beyond being experts in their products. They need to showcase how they will solve business problems. That’s why we’re launching the IBISWorld Call Prep Insights Salesforce app. Professionals will have an industry cheat sheet of talking points at their fingertips to better engage with their clients on the most important issues impacting their businesses,” says Carmen McKinney, VP of Product Development.
One of the key aphorisms in architecture is that form follows function. The quote, attributed to Louis Sullivan, holds that a building’s design should be based upon the underlying purpose of the building, not driven by ornamentation. Twentieth century design took this maxim to heart with similar thinking spreading through industrial and software design.
In the case of information services, a focus on flashy design or “bells and whistles” can be a distraction if the underlying service fails to meet the basic informational and workflow needs of its users. One of the great things about Google is that it returns high precision results from a few words entered into a search box. It was this simplicity that allowed them to grab and hold two-thirds of the search engine market share, leaving Bing and Yahoo! to pick up the scraps.
A well-designed sales intelligence solution supports multiple sales and support workflows. These users span multiple functions and departments (e.g. sales, sales directors, sales operations, sales support, service departments, business development, and marketing). Furthermore, there are multiple types of sales reps within larger organizations so your sales intelligence platform needs to be flexible enough to meet differing information requirements and workflows.
Thus, tactical sales reps need to quickly locate contact information and a few prospect qualification variables. They want to make sure that the contact they are about to call is in their territory and doesn’t work at a subsidiary of a named account.
Conversely, a strategic rep has broad information requirements around companies, company structures, executives, and key events. Strategic reps are focused on who to call, when to call, and what to say. Sales triggers are not only a flashing green light that a prospect is more likely to buy, but conversational material for catching the prospect’s attention and signaling that the rep has prepared for the call. Likewise, SWOT reports, biographies, industry market research reports provide insights into client interests and needs.
Named account reps sell only to a few firms so need a deep understanding of their target accounts. They need to be apprised of key events at an organization that could positively or negatively impact their pipeline. Furthermore, named account reps are looking for additional contacts and locations for extending their corporate footprint. Thus, searching across a company for specific job functions and then reviewing subsidiary profiles and bios is an important task in growing the account. Named account reps also benefit from PDF exportability so they can review the latest information about their client or prospect while traveling. These reports can also be shared with other members of the sales and support team.
Territory reps and financial services relationship managers need to be apprised of sales triggers within their territory, quickly research and qualify companies, and dig deeper on larger opportunities. Furthermore, as they generally sell cross-industry, they also benefit from industry overviews from vendors such as First Research. These primers are written in plain English and provide a set of Q&A sections by topic and job function.
Most reps work within a CRM, so review the capabilities of sales intelligence CRM connectors. The tighter the integration the better. If your CRM is your system of record, you want the sales reps working within the CRM on desktops and mobile devices. Services that bounce the user between a web browser and the CRM are less effective than those that provide most or all of their content and functionality within Salesforce.com, MS Dynamics, or other CRMs. Also, look for “stare and compare” updating of records, batch and real-time synchronization of data, custom fields, and duplicate checking.
Many sales intelligence services also support the marketing department. Standardizing the two functions on a common vendor helps reduce cost and channel conflict. It also provides a basis for successful ABM programs which cross the two departments. Several years ago, sales intelligence vendors only offered prospecting to marketing, but now they also support web forms, real-time and batch enrichment of leads, lead-to-account mapping, marketing automation connectors, lead scoring, segmentation analysis, Ideal Customer Profiling, TAM analysis, and net-new leads and contacts. A few also offer standalone services for the marketing department such as programmatic advertising, visitor id, multi-channel marketing, and SEO.
When evaluating sales intelligence solutions, you should understand the workflows and information requirements of each of your sales groups along with other potential beneficiaries of the service. Don’t evaluate simply on counts and features, but on the information needs and workflows of your various sales and marketing teams.
Avention was acquired for $150 million net of cash assumed. Avention generated $60 million in 2016 revenue.
“We are excited to combine our world-class company and contact data with Avention’s best-in-class technology that is fully integrated with the leading software platforms utilized by B2B sales professionals and marketers,” said Dun & Bradstreet COO Josh Peirez. “Avention is a natural fit that will allow us to deliver tremendous value to customers, and the synergies we can capture put the value of this deal well above the purchase price of the acquisition.”
Dun & Bradstreet combined with Avention functionality offers the potential for a powerful sales intelligence service with strong marketing capabilities. Both Dun & Bradstreet and Avention have been expanding their marketing capabilities and ABM messaging.
Dun and Bradstreet content assets include
265 million active and inactive global companies
NetProspex executive file with emails and direct dials
Hoover’s editorially-written profiles
First Research industry overviews
Dun & Bradstreet emphasized the following Avention capabilities:
An intuitive, dynamic user interface to deliver intelligence that can be customized to meet each user’s needs.
Powerful alerts, triggers, and profiling capabilities that leverage both structured data (e.g. industry codes, address, and employee information) and unstructured data (e.g. social content, news feeds, and analyst reports).
Simple integration with the mission-critical systems that your teams use every day, including SFDC, Dynamics, Marketo, and Eloqua, as well as homegrown systems used by many companies.
Combined, Hoover’s, NetProspex, Avention, and D&B alliance products generated over $200 million in revenue. The acquisition provides Dun & Bradstreet with a leading sales intelligence platform as well as several legacy products:
Avention OneSource: Sales Intelligence with advanced company research tools and a light predictive analytics capability. Distinguishing features include Conceptual Search, Business Signals, Ideal Profile Scores, Sales Triggers, and Smart Lists. The OneSource platform supports CRM connectors for Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, and Oracle Cloud for Sales as well as marketing automation connectors for Marketo and Eloqua (Oracle Marketing Cloud).
Avention DataVision: DataVision, launched in 2016, supports data enrichment, segmentation, look-a-like prospecting, and TAM analysis.
iSell: A legacy sales product
Global Business Browser: A legacy company research product
OneSource Open Connector: API
Dun & Bradstreet offers an overlapping set of products that will need to be rationalized following the acquisition. Hoover’s is a direct competitor of OneSource and iSell. While it has a lower price point than these offerings, it has been struggling for several years with declining revenue and limited investment. As such, Hoover’s is unlikely to see significant investment in the near-term as Dun & Bradstreet moves to integrate the D&B WorldBase company and contact file, NetProspex contacts, and First Research industry overviews into Avention. Hoover’s also maintains 42,000 editorially written company profiles which would also add value to the Avention Global Content Live Platform.
NetProspex’ Workbench service offers many features similar to DataVision. Workbench has an advantage in data matching logic and data verification tools (e.g. phone, email, and address verification), but it is likely that the Avention company universe will be quickly D-U-N-S Numbered and that DUNSMatch logic will be incorporated into Avention services. As such, it is unclear whether Workbench or DataVision would be the long-term hygiene front-end for Dun & Bradstreet.
“Dun & Bradstreet is uniquely positioned to serve this growing market with its foundational company and contact data, which will soon be delivered through Avention’s best-in-class software offerings,” stated Dun & Bradstreet in a press release. “The combination provides a tremendous opportunity to evolve Dun & Bradstreet’s Traditional Prospecting offerings into a category that serves critical B2B sales and marketing needs.
“The Sales Acceleration space offers a big opportunity for Dun & Bradstreet. We believe as the global leader in commercial information we are well positioned to take market share and accelerate our growth strategy,” said Dun & Bradstreet CEO Bob Carrigan. “Bolstered by the success of our recent M&A activity, which has exceeded its acquisition economics, we will continue to explore smart, tuck-in acquisitions that, combined with disciplined execution, will help us to further expand our leadership in this category as well as other areas of our business.”
One potential area of conflict may be around Data.com. Dun & Bradstreet provides their WorldBase file to Data.com Prospector and does not offer a D&B360 Salesforce.com connector. However, Avention has a robust AppExchange connector which competes against both Data.com Prospector and Data.com Clean.
I’ve long respected the First Research industry overviews assembled by Dun & Bradstreet. While most industry research runs from complex to arcane, First Research reports serve as industry primers providing plain English overviews of an industry. If you were to read the report for your own industry, you would probably find it useful only for new hire training.
And that is the beauty of the reports. They are for novices lacking an understanding of an industry which makes them perfect for territory sales reps or relationship managers. In fact, they were originally designed for relationship managers at banks before First Research realized that sales reps were equally in need of their research. If your job requires you to interact with individuals across many industries, then First Research may be the perfect resource for “getting up to speed” on an industry. They can also be valuable for job hunters looking for a basic set of questions to ask about an industry.
Content includes an Industry Overview containing the following sub-sections:
Products & Operations
Sales & Marketing
Finance & Working Capital
along with these additional sections:
News and Social (FirstRain)
Quarterly Industry Update
Industry Growth Rating (High, medium or low)
Executive Insights and Questions
Call Prep Questions Websites & Acronyms
First Research contains several sections of Q&A content including Call Prep Questions and Executive Insights which are questions specific to C-level executives. Sometimes in life, you need to “fake it until you make it” (i.e. develop expertise) and First Research is designed for this purpose.
Through an OEM deal with FirstRain, high-precision industry news is included in the service along with FirstRain topic tagging and visual tools. FirstRain content includes Latest News, Top Business Tweets, Management Changes, Event Timeline, Industry Health Indicators, Analyst Commentary, and Recent Transactions. FirstRain does not archive this content but provides six months of open web news links.
First Research covers over 500 US and 35 Canadian industries spanning 1,000 NAICS codes. While the reports are US-centric, they have recently begun adding international sections to the reports. As a bonus, the product includes regional reports for US states, the District of Colombia, and Canadian provinces. Country briefs are also available.
Other tools include a set of sales and marketing templates providing examples of how to use First Research content in various scenarios and an industry prospector tool for assisting with market development planning.
First Research reports are available as a standalone offering or integrated into the Hoover’s database, D&B360 CRM connectors, and the D&B Direct API. A subset of the content is also being delivered via Data.com. For library patrons, Dun & Bradstreet has partnered with Mergent to deliver the reports as a standalone offering or integrated into some of their products such as Mergent Intellect.
First Research should be viewed as industry insights for non-experts. You won’t find depth on key trends or issues, but the service is easily accessible and walks the user through industry basics. You generally don’t find industry news or Q&A sections in other industry services.
If you are looking for more advanced cross-industry research, you can step up to
MarketLine (global and regional research)
Euromonitor (global and regional research)
IBISWorld (US, Australian, Chinese, and global research)
BMI (emerging markets)
EMD (emerging markets).
These services provide more complex reports while retaining readability. While you won’t find as much handholding (e.g. Q&A sections), you will find broader industry trend and forecast content along with profiles of the top three or four competitors in the market. As many are globally focused, they may be better sources for international market entry decisions.
Update: Avention was acquired by Dun & Bradstreet and Business Browser was renamed D&B Business Browser. The blog is no longer available online.
Avention recently published an excellent blog by Jay Webb, President of the J. David Group, concerning preparing for sales interviews. His firm specializes in placing sales reps at technology companies. Webb marveled at the frequent lack of preparation by job candidates who fail to understand the company, its industry, and the individuals conducting the interviews. They often make silly mistakes like saying they are looking to work for a smaller company when they are interviewing for positions at larger organizations.
Webb emphasized the value of preparing technology sales candidates for interviews and noted six areas of focus beginning with the product. He observed that candidates often fail to sign up for software trials. Not only are they not researching the products they are looking to sell, but they are failing to show interest to the sales and marketing departments at the company where they are interviewing. Of course, not all technology companies have software trials, but there are still webinars, white papers, and other tools for researching the product and demonstrating interest to the firm.
Other preparation steps include
Researching both the organizational structure of the company (who reports to whom) and corporate family tree structures (how big is the company? What other industries is it involved in? Does it have additional offices in other cities or countries?);
Reviewing corporate SWOTs (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).
Researching the firm’s competition
Understanding the firm’s industry
“In [staffing] sales we use tools such as Avention (OneSource for those who remember that name) to do account research. Turning that idea on its head, I am able to provide candidates with a report containing the relevant information they need, gain a little more control over the process, and save time so I can work more deals,” blogged Webb
“If I can deliver better prepared candidates, I stand a better chance of winning,” wrote Webb. “Additionally, if my candidate is that prepared, they draw from the higher end of the salary range, which means more commission for me. What’s more, when a candidate is that attractive, hiring managers move very quickly for fear of losing them to their competitors. More sales, higher value, and faster close. That’s pretty easy math.”
In short, every sales rep should view the job interview as if they are a strategic sales rep preparing for their top client. Why would any sales director hire you if you are unprepared for a critical meeting?
Of course, not every candidate has access to Avention products, but there are company resources available for job preparation through academic and public libraries. On college campuses, look for OneSource Business Browser, Bureau van Dijk Orbis, Capital IQ Academic, LexisNexis Academic, Factiva, or Mergent products.
At public libraries, you should check out ReferenceUSA, Mergent, or AtoZ Databases for company research.
I would also look at Owler and CrunchBase for free online research. Both provide company overviews, funding data, and news alerts. Of course, company websites, LinkedIn, and social media should also be reviewed.
For industry research, check out Plunkett Almanacs, First Research, IBIS World, MarketLine, Freedonia, Euromonitor, Mergent Intellect, or Business Browser’s industry module.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Salesforce.com is evolving towards a System of Intelligence. At her Data.com Keynote at Dreamforce, VP of Product Marketing Michelle Huff noted that CRM has been evolving from a system of record to a system of engagement. This involves not only reducing data entry, but evolving CRM for mobile, social, and account maintenance. The next evolutionary step is becoming a system of intelligence which supports account planning, account awareness, and recommendations from within the CRM.
Historically, sales reps have conducted most of their account research outside of the CRM, but Data.com is adding additional Dun & Bradstreet datasets to deliver account intelligence within SFDC. These information sets move CRM from being a reactive tool for selling to a proactive tool for customer intelligence. Insights include account targets, task prioritization, and alerts.
At the base of customer intelligence is good data. If your system of record is out of date or filled with gaps, your insights will be limited or inaccurate. “intelligence just becomes less intelligent,” said Huff. “Recommendations will be great, but just not as helpful.” For example, leads will be passed to the wrong rep if sizing and industry data is missing.
According to Data.com Senior Director of Marketing Beth Fitzpatrick, data quality is the number one reason that CRM implementations fail. Data.com addresses this problem through both a Clean service for maintaining data quality and Prospector for list building and account planning. She also noted the value of a high quality referential data source such as the Dun & Bradstreet account file. “When you leverage the D-U-N-S Numbers as a kind of identifier across your system, it allows you to organize and structure that data…you have that index, kind of keeping things in order.”
Christoph Gerz, Director of Global Sales Operations at Polycom noted that after standardizing on Data.com, 90% of his pipeline is DUNSRight matched from a dollar perspective. Prior to Data.com, there was no standardization on company names and addresses. They also lacked firmographic and linkage data.
Jennifer Taylor, SVP of Product Development, began by stating, “we can’t create time for you, but we can create intelligence in our system that will hopefully make you more effective and more productive and enable you to cover more ground in less time.”
According to Data.com, the pillars of improved sales productive come from being able to
Discover the Best Opportunities
Prioritize Your Prospects
Understand Your Customers Better
I would argue that this list of requirements is too narrow and should also include
Monitor your Customers and Prospects Better
Sell Deeper into the Organization
Data.com has omitted these two as they do not offer significant monitoring, organizational research, or relationship management tools, though this weakness is beginning to change. The new SalesforceIQ for Sales addresses some of the relationship tools through its who knows who feature and email mining to prevent customer and prospect requests from slipping between the cracks. The addition of the Dun & Bradstreet family tree to Data.com in Winter 2016 (classic version only) is another step towards addressing these gaps.
Data.com has implemented a series of enhancements over the past year. Whereas it was a somewhat ignored platform for the prior few years, Salesforce has increased its investment in both content and functionality through an extension of the Dun & Bradstreet partnership:
“We have to ensure that you have a solid foundation of data, that that foundation of data continues to be enriched and stay clean. So we’re constantly expanding our data sets, improving our data quality, religiously helping you manage your dupes, providing you scalability so we grow as your business grows and then always making sure that everything we build, of course, is API first so you can integrate it into any workflow or process that you use within your system,” said Taylor.
Prospecting Insights was released this summer and provided broader business details, industry and competitive intelligence, and call prep questions. The extended company intelligence is from Dun & Bradstreet with the call prep content written by First Research editors and the competitors lists assembled by Hoover’s editors.
“One of the things we talk a lot about at Salesforce is customer love. The first step to love is knowledge…and Prospecting Insights aims to give you that intelligence.” — Jennifer Taylor, SVP of Product Development
Winter 2016 brings the Dun & Bradstreet family tree, Recommended Accounts (cloning your top customers), Lead Appending which adds firmographics to incoming leads, and Clean Enhancements including perpetual update and geocoding. All of these items are listed as beta or pilot in Winter 2016 so will hit general availability later in the year.
The Dun & Bradstreet family trees are global in scope and include location, sizing, and ownership type (e.g. Headquarters, Branch, Division).
If a location is currently within SFDC, a green flag is displayed along with the account owner’s name.
By scrolling over and clicking on any location, it is immediately added as an account and assigned to the rep.
Trees are collapsible at the node level so users can hide divisions that are of little interest.
They plan on additional features in future releases including white space analysis and performing account and opportunity analysis.
The Recommended Accounts feature is a black box prospecting engine that utilizes customer win / loss information to identify companies similar to the reps’ top customers. Data.com states that Recommended Accounts is “based on your past successes. Our algorithm learns from your Salesforce data to find accounts similar to those you have closed. Accounts are listed in ranked order, those at the top have the greatest possibility of success.” Reps can then filter the results to further refine the list (e.g. limit recommendations to headquarters) and then select proposed accounts to be added to SFDC with one click.
The description sounds fairly rudimentary as it basically looks at basic firmographic variables to find “good adjacent, highly probable opportunities.” It should not be confused with predictive analytics features that look at thousands of Business Signals matched against an Ideal Profile.
Lead enrichment provides web form enrichment based on two fields, name and email. Data.com then appends firmographics and phone information to the record based upon the email domain.
And since firmographics and linkage are derived from Dun & Bradstreet, leads are properly routed to the appropriate rep and the lead is given a quality and priority score.
Only a high level slide was provided on their roadmap, but it included market analysis, customer analysis, news, financials, account prioritization, and significant event alerts. Several of last year’s announcements went unremarked including the Thomson Reuters partnership and third party services (Data.com Connect and the Data.com Exchange). The third party services no longer appear to have their own mini-site with Data.com sending customers and prospects to the Data Apps on the AppExchange.
For a long time, Data.com was simply the Dun & Bradstreet WorldBase file sold by SFDC reps. It was strong on brand but weak on content and functionality. It now appears that Salesforce is getting serious about Data.com.