Competitive intelligence is the umbrella phrase for collecting, synthesizing, interpreting, and sharing information about your competitors. Most of the time, a competitor is another organization with products that will solve a similar set of customer problems as your product does. Sometimes the competition is status quo or a do-it-yourself solution.
Early in my career, I conducted competitive research based on what my product does and how my features stacked up with a competitor's features. I would rate the features on a subjective scale, which naturally was biased toward my product. It seemed logical to me based on my software engineering background. I conducted a stack-ranked feature comparison and called it a day. It was how I was taught, so it's what I believed was the right thing to do.
Buyers care more about solving a problem than the features of my product
What I didn't factor in was what became an "a-ha" moment for me. The first big epiphany was that buyers (as in the people who control the money) care more about solving their problems than they do about features. It's the users of a product that care more about the features. In my case, they were rarely buyers. It was like I was hit with a bolt of lightning. How could I not see this before? It seemed so obvious after the fact.
Buying criteria is different than using criteria
This revelation led me to learn more about what buyers want, which led me to buying criteria. Another a-ha moment. Believe it or not most B2B buyers have a set of criteria that helps guide them to a purchase decision. Sometimes, it includes a budget cap, and sometimes, it includes specific features. But make no mistake about it. Their primary focus is solving a problem they care about, even if it means disrupting their status quo temporarily to solve the problem.
Let me use an example to illustrate my point. Let's say you are in the market for a new car. Many of the features of a car are well known because it's a very mature product category. These are called using criteria. For example, in America, we drive on the right side of the road, and our steering wheels are on the left side of the car. There is no option. But you might have other using criteria that's important to you. Maybe you haul around a bunch of kids for soccer, and you need lots of seating and space for gear. Maybe you like to go camping. Maybe you have limited space to park. All of these are about using criteria.
Now let's shift to buying criteria. Maybe you have a preferred color. Maybe gas mileage is important to you. Maybe the cost to insure the car is a concern. Or, maybe you want to purchase from a local dealership with a good reputation. These are examples of buying criteria.
How do my competitors match the buying criteria?
My attention shifted to buying criteria. I thought if I could identify the most common buying criteria, I could match what my competitors deliver and what we deliver with the buying criteria. Ureka! I found the hack. First, determine the buying criteria of my buyers. Then, evaluate my product against the buying criteria. Evaluate my competitor's product against the buying criteria. And finally, map them into a matrix to visualize the comparisons.
I would get a twofer out of it. The map would help guide the product roadmap, and I would have the basis for building better sales tools for my sales team.
Conceptually, this is what it looks like.
One circle captures what customers want--their buying criteria. One circle captures what we do and how it intersects with the buying criteria. Another circle captures what a competitor does and how it intersects with the buying criteria AND what we do.
The intersection between what customers want and what a competitor does is a strength. The gap between what customers want and what a competitor DOESN'T do is a weakness. The area where all three circles intersect is parity. For this set of buying criteria, you and your competitor are equal.
Prior to this, I was only comparing what a competitor does with what we do. I was trying to make us more like our competitor, at least from a feature perspective. It was a mistake.
I created one of these Venn Diagrams for each competitor. And it revealed something astonishing. We were targeting a market segment of buyers that had buying criteria we couldn't match, at least not yet. It helped explain why we weren't winning enough deals. It wasn't because the sales team couldn't sell the value. It wasn't because the marketing team couldn't generate good leads. It was because we were targeting the wrong buyers in the wrong market segment. The fact that we won a few deals was a fluke. They were outliers.
How did I operationalize this to win more deals?
The final step for me was to make this hack repeatable and useful to the rest of my organization. I came up with three tools: a battle card, a matrix spreadsheet to evaluate competitors, and a buying center worksheet. You can find both in the BrainKraft launch tools library.
Step 1: Document the buying criteria in the Buying Center Worksheet
Step 2: Map the buying criteria to my product (what customers want vs. what we do)
Step 3: Build a Battle Card with the information available
Step 4: Map the buying criteria to my competitor's products using the Competitor Comparison Matrix. (what customers want vs. what the competitor does).
That completes the picture and provides a simple visual representation to others to explain the competitive landscape better.
A couple of things to consider about buying criteria. They aren't always equal; some carry more weight than others. It's a nuance that is very important. Buying criteria is an average of averages across a market segment of buyers. Additionally, buying criteria can change from market segment to market segment. That is, what's working in one market segment may not work in another. Food for thought.
To learn about how this all works and much more, check and the BrainKraft Product Launch Accelerator course (on-demand).