Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there’s not much discussion about competitive intelligence in B2B marketing circles lately. However, competitive intelligence should be an ongoing effort, not a one-time snapshot, within B2B marketing, even in small and medium sized companies. According to the Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP), competitive intelligence is the legal and ethical collection and analysis of information regarding the capabilities, vulnerabilities, and intentions of business competitors.
A 2014 study by Global Intelligence Alliance (now M-Brain), Market Intelligence Trends 2020, reported that 42% of respondents said competitors will be the most important area of focus for market intelligence with regards to the business environment in 2020.
Here are 8 ways B2B marketers should be using competitive intelligence:
1. Inform your B2B marketing strategy – What competitors are doing, and likely to do, impacts how, and even if, you should enter a new geographic or vertical market, or dedicate resources to expand existing market share. Competitive intelligence impacts what your marketing strategy should be. For example, a marketing plan for a new geographic market should include an overview of the active competitors or those likely to enter that geographic market. Based on this, your strategy might be to focus on your existing customers who have operations in the new geography and provide aggregated invoicing and reporting, something the competitors can’t do.
2. Provide insight to sales – An overview of the competitive landscape and specific competitor profiles provide insights and a deeper understanding for the sales team that they can use to be more strategic and to more quickly onboard new reps. Knowing competitor claims and pricing helps sales respond better to win deals based on value, not just price. It can also help sales know when a deal isn’t worth chasing, for instance when a specific competitor will “buy” the business or will win if they are the incumbent provider.
3. Align marketing and sales – Sales will see marketing as their partner (see above) and marketing will gain additional intelligence from sales. Sales can provide real world information about competitor tactics such as conferences they attend, how and why they win opportunities, new products and services, and perhaps most important, what their customers and prospects are saying/think about competitors. They may hear about reorganizations, pricing changes, or new offerings before they are made public. If most of your competitors are privately held, then sales is especially important since there may be less public information available than there is for publicly held competitors.
4. Learn who your primary competitors really are – By aligning with sales you’ll know which competitors you lost sales opportunities to and, if your sales team is well managed, why that competitor won. You’ll be able to see which competitors are a real threat to your business and help focus your deep dive competitive intelligence data gathering efforts. You should know some basic information about all competitors, but in most industries and markets some competitors target such a different segment or their offering is so different that your sales team rarely comes up against them.
5. Benchmark your website, SEO/SEM, and social – For most B2B marketers, your website and social channels are key for driving top of funnel prospects. B2B buyers research their needs online as well as possible solution providers, so it’s important to understand how they find your competitors and how you rank against them. Benchmark your website, keywords (organic and paid), and social media against your top competitors to see if there is room for improvement. Here are 12 tools to make this “digital competitor intelligence” easier.
6. Create new products and services or a new approach – Based on what’s happening with actual opportunities (see above) you can create new products or services, or a new value proposition and messaging (words matter) that will resonate better with your prospects and put you ahead of the competition. Or maybe a strong referral program or different pricing structure is in order to get a leg up on the competition.
7. Learn ways to differentiate your content – When you are familiar with the content and distribution avenues your competitors use, whether it’s their website, blog, social media, webinars, case studies, or online ads, you’ll gain a better sense of how you can differentiate your content from theirs and get it in the right places. After all, if your customers and prospects perceive no real difference, then every sale just becomes a price war and that’s no fun at all!
8. Find acquisition targets – Instead of organically growing a new market, sometimes the fastest way to enter a new market is through an acquisition. If you’ve got competitive intelligence in place, you’ll already know some potential candidates for acquisition to jump start the due diligence for your CFO or M&A team.
With on-going competitive intelligence, you’ll stay ahead of your competition and be more nimble to respond as competitors enter your markets or change their strategies and tactics because you won’t be caught off guard. In my next post you’ll learn 8 easy and inexpensive ways to gather competitive intelligence for your B2B marketing.
How do you use competitive intelligence in your B2B marketing?