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Dr. Mark, What’s The Best Way To Provide Competitive Analysis To The Field?

Dr. Mark, I am a product manager and I’m being asked for competitive analysis documents, powerpoints and slides which I’m told is critical to the sales process. How do I go about producing something that is useful and credible that will help us win the deal?

G2 Joe

Thanks for your e-mail G2.

Ideally the best way to present credible comparisons between your product and the competition is to have a “neutral” 3rd party state their opinions, based on their evaluation and experience of all of the products being evaluated against yours. This would typically be delivered through a Gartner Magic Quadrant or Forrester Wave. The Forrester Wave is particularly useful in that it clearly separates technology competency and company size/viability while drilling down and scoring each feature function. Additionally the Wave allows interested parties to use the Excel tool to weight what is most important to them.

If you don’t have the MQ or Wave to fall back on. Customer and analysts who have evaluated your product in the past in comparison with others in a bake-off or POC would also provide more credibility that you singing your own praises.

Failing the two credible methods above, if you were to be asked to provide direct input and feedback into a competitive bake-off, here are some rules of thumb that you should follow:

  1. Emphasize your advantages over the competition directly in the context of what the customer cares about in terms of an overall solution. For example, it’s no use focusing on your fantastic UI if your customer’s main concern is performance. This is the #1 rule of competitive positioning, don’t provide cookie-cutter competitive positioning. Always consider the sales scenario, understand your sales person’s situation in the sales cycle. Who is asking for the information, business or technical customer.
  2. Ensure that claims you make are proven and credible. Nothing hurts more than to be proven wrong. Understanding your competition is critical, more so if you are directly commenting on them in front of a customer
  3. Never bad-mouth the competition. Take a leaf from sports athletes who in post-game interviews are coached to say and give credit to the other (albeit losing) team. If the competition is not up to par, they will be found out as part of the evaluation process. You can steer your prospect in the direction of a perceived weakness, but taking the high ground and implying that the competition is particularly good at “something that your prospect doesn’t particularly care about” (see 1) is a good way to give credit without affecting your position. Many a company has lost a deal because a prospect has disliked their “dirty laundry” tactics
  4. If your product is truely better, “don’t say it, show it”. PPTs and documents are old school “on-paper” ways of comparing products. If your technology cannot be shown to be superior through some form of Proof Of Concept (POC) or demonstration, you as a Product Manager need to package this up and make a POC part of the bake-off process rather than engaging in hypothetical discussions. You would be surprised to see how many large corporations (e.g. Oracle, IBM, SAP) don’t actually have product that can be easily demonstrated without massive amounts of consulting help. They rely on reputation and relationships. A quick POC will knock them out faster than you can gather up competitive analysis.

These are just some quick thoughts about how you should think about competitive analysis materials and process to benefit your sales people. My recommendation is to always create credible external facing competitive materials. Don’t waste your time on secret, behind the doors internal documents which your sales people should read but not share with your prospects. The “fear” of competitors receiving such materials is a waste of energy since your competitors will get a hold of the info, sooner or later. Better to focus your efforts on open debates, through analysts, customers and partners who will back your public positioning around the strengths of your products vs. alternatives. You need not mention your competition by name, rather specify and group your competition into “alternative solutions” for which the focus and benefits are different to what your company and product aims to deliver.

Which brings us to the #1 rule of competitive articulation:
Clear unadulterated value and benefit positioning against the problem statement of the target prospect/customer.

About Dr. Mark Eteer
Mark Eteer was born in the UK in 1966. He studied computer science at the University of Essex and after 8 years as a programmer, moved into marketing. He obtained his PhD entirely online. His success marketing for major corporations and minor startups, combined with his no nonsense straight forward guidance on all matters marketing, has led him to be sought out by some of the most well known marketing stars in Mollywood. Although unsubstantiated, he claims that he was the marketing/PR mind behind Tom Cruise’s behavior on Oprah, although he admits that Tom took it a bit too far. He currently lives in an exclusive suburb of Mollywood.

As a leading provider of scalable, enterprise-wide, high ROI marketing ideas, Dr. Mark uses his cloud-based, next-generation approach and solar-powered, game changing methodology which leverages social media to answer paradigm shifting questions about marketing and product management.

Dr. Mark would like to thank Ramon Chen for allowing him to be a guest blogger here on Cloud ‘N Clear and understands that Ramon disavows any knowledge of any bad advice he might offer.

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