Category Archives for "Strategic Planning"

Competitive Analysis – The 3 Essential Building Blocks

Competitive Analysis
Competitive Analysis

An area of sales and marketing that often gets overlooked and underserved is developing a comprehensive competitive analysis.

Most times we know who we compete against on a regular basis, but it’s typically high level. The fact is that most companies don’t invest nearly enough time and energy understanding their competition deeply enough. They also neglect to create a process for feedback needed to keep the information current. In a study by the CMO Council, only 9% of companies surveyed had extensively analyzed their competitors. To make things worse, a surprising number of businesses don’t make it a priority to understand how they won or lost deals by doing formal reviews after the fact.

“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”  ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Knowing your competition inside and out will help you: learn what others in your industry are doing; what prospects want; and how to position and differentiate your company with more impact. All of which eventually leads to more sales! If this makes so much sense, why don’t companies do enough of it? Why can’t they sustain it once they have started? Great questions and a few simple answers come immediately to mind:

Competitive Profiles

​ 1. They have glossed through the exercise 5 years ago and feel they still have it covered
 2. They don’t make it a priority and it sits on a long to-do list somewhere
 3. There is no ownership or process to keep the information current
 4. They don’t know how to do it well or don’t have a disciplined process to manage it

#1 Competitive Profiles

The starting point for doing a competitive analysis is something I call competitive profiling. This process is the research conducted to get a complete view of who your competitors are, what they do, and their strengths and weaknesses. Think of this as your “pre-game preparation.” The output of this effort is a “Competitive Profile” – which is a detailed summary of each key competitor you face on a regular basis (usually a 2-page document, or small slide deck).

#2 Product Face-Offs

These usually involve creating tools such as feature-benefit checklists or side-by-side comparisons. Be sure to think about them from the buyer’s point of view since having product attributes that are not relevant from their perspective is a waste of time. It’s a good practice to think about your product comparisons in terms of:

  • Table-Stakes: The features that are minimum requirements. and
  • Differentiators: The features that add more value than competitive offerings

Other critical aspects of Product Face-Offs are quality, pricing, packaging and service and support levels. Going through this exercise will help you understand two important things:

  • The direction your product development needs to take, and
  • How to position more successfully against others with what you have today

#3 Win-Loss Analysis

Thoughtful forensic work on past sales opportunities will help you understand the reasons a buyer selected you, or your competitor. It provides key insights into the perceptions buyers have about your products, pricing, and approach. Even though we call it Win-Loss Analysis, people tend to focus much more on lost opportunities and often ignore the “win side” of the equation. Although it may have been a well run sales campaign (at least in the salesperson’s mind), there is still a great deal that can be learned when you ask people why they bought from you. For more information about the power of analyzing your “wins”, see Win Analysis: A Neglected Hero of Analytics.

How Much Detail is Enough?

Competitive Analysis can be as deep and detailed as you want. There is, of course, a rational balance between what you need to know versus the merely interesting. The level of depth you need for a Competitive Analysis and the types of information you gather, will be determined in large part by your industry and offering. For example, if you sell high-ticket products or services in multi-year contracts, or your products require a high degree of aftermarket support – then prospects will have more interest in factors such as the vendor’s stability, reputation, and service structure. In this scenario, your Competitive Profile will focus more heavily on those things. If the product is a one-time purchase with little post-sale interaction – an increased focus may be placed on factors such as the product specifications, pricing, return policies, etc. Before building a Competitive Profile template, you must decide what things will be most significant in your market.

Who Owns the Competitive Analysis Process?

Competitive Analysis is always a team effort, but typically Marketing drives the process and creates the frameworks and artifacts needed. If your organization is large enough to have a dedicated Product Marketing function, that group would normally be responsible. Sales will play the strongest supporting role in gathering the intelligence. After all, they are in the trenches day in and day out. Also, executives, customer support, service staff and anyone else who interacts with clients and prospects on a regular basis will be good sources of feedback. It’s important to make the process clearly understood and as simple as possible for those who contribute. A good practice it to use standardized templates and forms and make sure they get stored in a place that is easy to access – a folder on your company Intranet, or CRM as examples.

Using Competitive Analysis

Now that you have all this great information, how can it will it be used to help close more business? Marketing will use it for market positioning, messaging, and targeted competitive campaigns. Salespeople will rely on it to help them “position” and focus the prospect on the right factors in competitive sales cycles. The knowledge will also help your salespeople build credibility by showing they know their industry. It’s best to share Competitive Analysis through formal training sessions as new profiles are created. It’s also a good idea to make sharing competitive strategy and best-practices a formal and ongoing part of your sales meetings. There is some subtlety in leveraging competitive information. Sales must always be honest and tactful when contrasting with competitors, and they should never put a company, it’s product or people down! Those who blatantly “slam” competitors will seldom leave a good impression and at times it’s disastrous. Instead, sales should focus more on what’s most important to the prospect, how you positively differ from others, and how your offering will best satisfy the need.

Conclusion

Leads and opportunities are not easy or inexpensive to develop. The vast majority of sales cycles are tough battles fought against one or more adversaries. Competitive analysis will help you win more business if you invest the right amount of time, thought and energy into it. If you don’t have the bandwidth, resources or know-how, you may want to consider outsourcing. For a higher level view of industry analysis and competition, you may be interested in this good overview of Porter’s Five Forces Analysis.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and would love to hear your thoughts about Competitive Analysis or any experiences you can share. Please follow us on your favorite social feed and Contact us if we can help in any way.

Competitive Profiles – Build Them and Win More Often!

Competitive Profiles
Competitive Profiles

​In a recent article titled Competitive Analysis – The 3 Essential Building Blocks, I presented a framework for building a strong competitive analysis.

The three basic building blocks needed to gain a deep understanding of your key adversaries are Competitive Profiles, Product Face-Offs, and Win-Loss Analysis. Any one of these is valuable on its own, but when they are combined, you have the full and powerful picture. Today, we are going to focus on building Competitive Profiles. It should be noted that going through . . .

​“How can you win against an enemy you can’t see?”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Knowing your competition inside and out will help you: learn what others in your industry do; what prospects want; and how to position and differentiate your company with higher impact. All of which leads to more sales!

If this makes so much sense, why don’t companies do enough of it? Why can’t they sustain it once they have started? Great questions and a few simple answers come immediately to mind:

Competitive Profiles

​ 1. They have glossed through the exercise 5 years ago and feel they still have it covered
 2. They don’t make it a priority and it sits on a long to-do list somewhere
 3. There is no ownership or process to keep the information current
 4. They don’t know how to do it well or don’t have a disciplined process to manage it

​Competitive Analysis Overview

​A thorough Competitive Analysis consists of three basic building blocks: Competitor Profiles; Product Face-Offs, and Win-Loss Analysis. The ultimate goals of having this information are to help you win more often, with less effort and better margins. As you would suspect, sales and marketing leverage competitive analysis the most. However, the data will also provide essential inputs into critical decisions that impact your product development roadmap, overall business strategy and potentially M&A considerations.

Competitor Profile Components

Listed below are the typical elements of a detailed Competitor Profile. Not an exhaustive list, but the essentials. Again, some of these may be more or less important depending on your business.

Competitor Profile Components

A Competitor Profile starts with the background information about your competitor’s business situation, structure, and so on. If they are a public company, most of this data will be readily available. If private, then you will need to do more digging. The typical attributes you will want to know are as follows:

  • History: When did the company start? How has it evolved? What was the founder’s vision? What is their current focus?
  • Lines of Business: What other products and services do they offer? What percentages of revenue come from each LOB?
  • Structure and Size: Public/Private? Annual income? (particularly in the areas that impact your market), Number of employees?
  • Locations: Where is the head office?, Where are other offices, plants, and service centers?
  • Leadership: Who are the relevant key executives? (tenure, responsibilities, backgrounds, etc.)
  • Financials: How they are doing financially and how is the growth rate trending?
  • Reputation: How they are perceived in the industry and within your specific battlegrounds? Have they had previous legal issues, negative press, etc.?

Strengths / Weaknesses

​Perhaps the most useful element of the Competitor Profile is defining your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses (SWOT analysis), and this is often the starting point. There is always a subjective aspect in identifying strengths and weaknesses, but try to gain as much external perspective and as many hard facts as possible. Some of the best sources of this data include: learning gained from previous sales cycles; publicly posted reviews (social media, Glassdoor, etc.); and their customers, prospects, and former clients. An entire article that could be (and surely has been) written on how to gather this information, but the simple premise is that the more data and proof-points you have – the better! Making a statement about a competitor that your prospect knows, or believes is inaccurate will instantly dissolve your credibility. The only worse thing is making a comparison that is a distinct competitive slam. Every company has its weak points. If you look hard enough and talk to enough people, you will find them. It’s also critical that you identify and respect their strengths as well, so you can use your competitive strategy in the way that artfully deals with them.

Product Summary

This section is intended to provide a high-level overview of the offerings your competitors have that are comparable to yours. Unless what you sell is incredibly simple, the detailed product comparisons should be created in separate Product Face-Off documents. The information in the product summary of your Competitive Profiles would include:

  • Your competitor’s product names and brief descriptions
  • The name and brief descriptions of your products aligning with those stated above
  • The top 3 strengths and weaknesses of each product
  • An indication of whether your product wins more often, less often, or relatively the same in your deals (percentages would be best)
  • Relative overall quality and pricing comparisons (superior, equal, inferior for example)

Again, the idea here is that the Competitor Profile is a single view of a rival and not a 20-page document. It should give the reader a good “feel “of the products you are competing with and how your offering stacks up.

Target Market

This section is really about several things – who the competitor sells to and where, and how strong they are relative to your company. It also should include your win-rate against them in competitive situations – you can draw this from your Win-Loss Analysis. Some of the key questions to answer here would be:

  • Market Focus: What vertical markets do they target? How large are the companies they target? (small business, SMB, Enterprise, etc.), Are there new areas they are trying to break into?
  • Geographic Sandbox: Where do they sell? What are the overlaps with your geographic presence? How do you stack up in each region (win-rate, regional market share, focus, strengths, etc.)
  • Market Share: How big is the overall industry in which they are competing against you? Can you approximate how much share they own?
  • Customer Base: Who are their major clients? How much overlap is there with your client base? How much direct competition has there been for your large customers and theirs?

Go-to-Market Strategy

One of the more important factors in looking at competitors is how they market and sell against you and others. Knowing this will help you better prepare your go-to-market strategies. It will also help your sales people when going head-to-head against them. Some of the key questions to answer here would be:

  • Positioning: What are they trying to be to the market? (low price leaders, best service, highest quality, premium provider, etc.) What themes and messaging do they use to reinforce the positioning goal?
  • Value Proposition: How do they define their audience, offering, value and differentiation?
  • Marketing Effectiveness: How do you perceive the quality of their marketing program? What does their marketing strategy focus on? How are they building awareness in the marketplace? What tactics and campaigns are they using to drive engagement? How effective is their website, social media coverage, traditional media coverage and analyst recognition?
  • Channels: Do they sell through partners, direct, online, or a combination? How much of their business that competes with you comes from each channel?
  • Sales Team: If they have a direct sales team – what is the structure? Where are the people and are they well-trained? Is there a general style? (consultative, aggressive, etc.)

Finding Information About Competitors

Gathering the information that goes into a Competitive Analysis does take time and energy. Some find it better to outsource their competitive research which will cut down the work significantly. However, the most vital sources of input will come from your sales team and actual competitive situations. Here are a few ideas that might help you get started:

  • ​For competitors that are public companies, leverage readily available corporate SEC (US) and SEDAR (Canada) reports online.
  • Leverage government resources (Statistics Canada, public directories, etc.)
  • Go through your competitor’s website with a fine-toothed comb. This exercise will fill in the majority of your information gaps.
  • Scour online blogs, reviews, press releases and any other web resources related to your competitor and the industry
  • Have a formal internal feedback process to gather real-time input from sales, marketing, and other relevant stakeholders in your company
  • Ask clients or prospects who have dealt with them for information

Finding Information About Competitors

I believe that having the best possible “handle” on your key competitors will help win more business. If you agree, you may want to consider investing more time and energy into it. If you don’t have the resources or know-how, consider outsourcing. Hopefully, you have picked up a point or two here that helps. For a higher level view of industry analysis and competition, you may be interested in this good overview of Porter’s Five Forces Analysis on the MaRS website. Remember the famous words of Sun Tzu “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”

I hope you have enjoyed this article and would love to hear your thoughts about Competitive Analysis or any experiences you can share. Please follow us on your favorite social feed and Contact us if we can help in any way.

Effective B2B Marketing -  6 Things you Absolutely Need!

Effective B2B Marketing
Effective B2B Marketing -  6 Things you Absolutely Need! 1

Building an effective B2B marketing program can be a long, tough road. But, when investments are made the returns on your effort and patience will be generously rewarded.

How much thought do you put into your marketing plan – is it enough? Do you have clear, realistic goals? Do you have everything you need to execute properly?

My experience has been that many companies miss on one or more of these essential elements and end up being underwhelmed by the outcome. Getting great results from marketing is not an accident, and although there are many success factors, I believe six are most critical.

6 Key Ingredients of Effective B2B Marketing

#1 Strategic Planning

This is one of the most crucial components and the starting point of effective B2B marketing. When not enough time, focus or thought are invested in creating the plan, the rest won’t matter. The main aspects of good planning include:

  • A reliable process and a standard framework for mapping out your plan.
  • Research and analysis of the key inputs that should be used.
    • Internally-focused information including the value proposition; business objectives; budget; available resources; and historical results.
    • Externally-focused information including marketing segmentation and competitive analysis.
  • In-house planning expertise and skills – if you don’t have these, consider getting help.

#2 Realistic Goals

The budget has to be substantial enough to align with your goals. Determining this number can be difficult, but you have to do it. Looking at past results can help. Also, the objectives themselves need to be achievable in the timeframe you’re working with. Important considerations are:

  • The time-to-impact must be understood. What you do now will not bear fruit until some point in the future. This is particularly the case when sales cycles are long and/or complex.
  • Don’t underestimate the time it takes to develop ideas and execute. It takes longer than people think. When you’re involved in the more creative parts of marketing, inspiration isn’t something you can turn on like a switch.
  • Don’t forget about “foundational” work that still needs to get done such as administration, training, implementing tools, managerial duties, and sales support. These activities need to be accounted for.
  • Build at least a small buffer into your plan for unexpected requests and opportunities that may arise during a given period.

#3 Effective Prioritization

It all comes down to choice. Knowing what to focus on is a constant battle, but when research, data, and past results are used as guides, you increase the odds of better decision-making. Here are some other ideas that may help:

  • Determine what percentages of effort, time, and money you want to allocate to each major initiative. For most organizations, between 3-5 large-scale activities in a quarter makes sense.
  • Don’t focus on activities for the wrong reasons. Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you should. Develop sound rationale when picking your mix. Know exactly why you should do what you’re planning.
  • Rank your top priorities and weight them accordingly. For example, in a given quarter you may decide to invest 40% of your marketing resources into building a new website because yours is outdated or your bounce rate is too high.
  • Don’t succumb to knee-jerk reactions and change your plan mid-stream. it’s easy to get side-tracked by “shiny objects,” but you must resist. Unless something new comes along that’s a sure winner – stick with the plan!

#4 Execution Excellence

It all comes down to choice. Knowing what to focus on is a constant battle, but when research, data, and past results are used as guides, you increase the odds of better decision-making. Here are some other ideas that may help:

  • Pay attention to detail in everything you do. Missed steps and sloppiness lead to poor results.
  • Don’t spread your team too thin – this approach usually leads to mistakes and frustration.
  • Build room in your campaigns for experimentation. Today’s technologies help us explore options before making larger investments. Pay attention to the data – if the first wave of a campaign fails but you believe you’re on the right track, you can still adjust.
  • Capture and nurture sales leads and be sure your follow-up process is iron-clad. Don’t waste potential opportunities you worked so hard to create!
  • Leverage everything as much as possible – this includes automation technology, your CRM, content re-use, etc.

#5 Continuous Improvement

Well-run marketing departments pay attention to the numbers. They use data to refine their approach, messaging, promotions and other tactics. Be sure to track, measure and analyze everything relevant to your program and focus the following:

  • Don’t waste time tracking metrics that don’t matter – this is a common trap for some.
  • Stop doing things that don’t work. I’ve seen marketers do things year after year that add no discernible value. Sure, you need to give things time. But, know when to cut your losses.
  • On the flip side, press the gas pedal harder when you find things that work. Keep track of your trending, though – with some activities, you reach a point of diminishing returns and may decide it’s time to re-adjust.
  • Keep learning and growing. It’s a fast-paced, competitive world. You need to keep up with the trends and technologies that impact your marketing. Always look for better ways to do things.
  • Understand that what really counts is how your marketing program helps create leads and opportunities. Marketing KPIs showing progress are important, but always remember that the ultimate goal of marketing is to help increase sales.

#6 Determination and Consistency

Finally, creating an effective B2B marketing program is not a one-shot deal. It’s cumulative and must be sustained over time to work. This is particularly the case with social media. If you are not looking at marketing as a long-term investment, save the money and do something else because you will be disappointed otherwise. The good news is that with solid planning, execution, and continuous improvement – marketing will pay for itself many times over once you create the momentum.

The Optimal Marketing Mix? Let Your Target Audience Decide!

Optimal Marketing Mix
Optimal Marketing Mix

Choosing wisely and in the right proportions is difficult. But, it plays a significant role in determining how well your marketing investments will pay off.

In every marketing planning process, it comes down to two simple questions. What should we do and how much should we do it? With limited resources and budget, marketers need a solid rationale for their choices. The strategy will be less effective if it’s based solely on the latest trends, last year’s plan, or guesswork. Like virtually all things in marketing – focusing on the target market will help you develop the best possible scenario.

In this article, we’re going to look at the optimal marketing mix in more detail and why basing it on target markets is so important. While there is seldom a perfect blend, the goal is to get as close as you can.

What is the Optimal Marketing Mix?

Although they are central to the overall strategy, we’re not talking about the traditional “marketing mix” – product, place, price, promotion, etc. Here we refer to the specific campaigns and initiatives you will execute over a given period. It’s the precise definition of the amounts of time, energy and budget you will spend on each primary activity.

The good news is that there is a fairly limited choice when it comes to marketing. If you think about categories of activities such as brand building, lead generation, channel development, or sales enablement – the list is not that long. The challenge is picking the work that will have the greatest impact. If you choose well, your results will be stronger with less effort and cost. If not, the opposite will come to pass. There are other key factors – such as competition, or the complexity and price of your offering. While these are important, they too revolve around a target market.

Why Target Markets Matter

Planning your initiatives in the context of who you are selling to, will always be more productive and fruitful. It seems intuitive enough, but can be easily overlooked when caught up in a busy workload and trying to stay afloat. If you have done a reasonable job with marketing segmentation, you have a good understanding of the characteristics of each target audience. Here are some typical attributes used in defining a target market.

  • Are your prospects B2B or B2C, government, or not-for-profit?
  • Are they small to mid-sized business or larger enterprises?
  • Where are they located?
  • How many companies or consumers make up the target market?
  • Is there a typical type of person who buys your product or service?
  • Where do they meet or communicate with peers?
  • How do they get information to learn about products and services such as yours?
  • How do they buy? What is the buying criteria? How often do they buy?
  • Are there trends in the purchasing processes they use?

How These Factors Impact Decision-Making

When focused on the breakdown of a target market, it should naturally lead to thinking about the approach in specific ways. Here are a few examples and the impact they have on selecting an optimal marketing mix. The list can on and on, but you’ll you get the idea.

  • If you sell B2C to a broad audience, digital and traditional advertising will be a healthy part of your mix. If you sell a complex technology to a well-defined market of a few thousand companies, more direct campaigns will likely be best.
  • If your typical buyers are young and heavy social media users, you will invest more in this area. An activity such as telesales will likely not be high on the agenda.
  • If you’re in a mature, price-driven market – sales and promotional tactics may play a vital role in your plan.
  • If you have a high concentration of prospects in certain cities, in-person activities such as seminars could be wise choice.

Conclusion

Choosing activity based on what you know about your prospects will significantly increase the odds of creating the amount of awareness, attraction, and action needed to achieve your goals. This approach will be more efficient since you won’t waste time and energy aiming your marketing in the wrong places, or at the wrong people. If you don’t understand who they are and what makes them tick, how can you possibly figure out how to engage them? As a side benefit, It will also help you refine your messaging so it resonates most with the people you want for customers.

When you build your next marketing plan, try to look at all your decisions through the lens of your target audience. When a target market guides the thinking in selecting your optimal marketing mix, it’s bound to improve the results.

Please share any ideas or thoughts you may have on this topic and contact us if we can assist in any way. To get notified when new articles are published, please hit the button!

The Optimal Marketing Mix? Let Your Target Audience Decide! 2

Randy Fougere, President, Think2Grow Marketing
With a passion for building brand awareness and lead generation, I started Think2Grow for B2B clients looking to accelerate growth through better marketing strategy and execution - something I have been doing for more than 30 years now.

Win Analysis: A Neglected Hero of Analytics

Win Analysis
Win Analysis

Lately I have noticed an increase in the number of retailers offering a draw prize for completing on-line surveys related to the buying experience. This is a smart way to gather primary research with little cost or effort.

It makes me think of the B2B world and how many companies fail to conduct meaningful win-loss analyses, if they bother at all. In my experience, even if there is a structured win-loss program, it tends to fade quickly and leans heavily on the loss side of the fence. I’m not suggesting a loss analysis can’t provide some great insight, but there are inherent challenges.

Most prospects really doesn’t want to talk to you after the fact – they have moved on emotionally and let’s face it, the process can be uncomfortable. Unless your interview drills down aggressively enough, you will often get answers like “your price is too high” or “they had features you don’t.” These are seldom the real reasons you lost. They either don’t want to hurt your feelings, or simply want to get off the phone as quickly as possible. My advice, absolutely do the loss analysis – but dig deeper! You may want to consider using a contractor, since people will generally open up more to someone external.

That brings me to the real topic at hand, understanding why and how a deal is won. In my opinion, a well-structured win analysis is at least as valuable as the loss post-mortem, if not more so. The emotional atmosphere is more conducive to sharing information. The new client just bought from you, so they likely feel good about the decision and are willing to help. Depending on the size and nature of the business, I always prefer phone interviews. So what information should you be digging for? Well, the specifics are up to you, but some good categories of questions revolve around:

  • How they found you and what communication vehicles reinforced your messages during the process (quality and impact of marketing, your references, campaigns, etc.)
  • The pain points / compelling reasons to buy and how you addressed them (the problems you solved and how well)
  • What stood out with your company relative to competitors (specifics about your offering, perceptions of your company and the sales engagement differences)
  • The decision makers, buying process and criteria (stack rank pros and cons against competitors – this information should overlay well with similar prospects)
  • Overall commentary on why they bought from you and how much more they will help (will they provide a future testimonial? case study? reference? etc. – ask while everything is on a high note)

Why do companies generally neglect the win analysis? Maybe everyone’s excited the deal closed and they’re ready to move on. Maybe there’s so much work to do once the order has been signed, that it just gets forgotten. Whatever the reasons, most companies miss this great opportunity to learn, improve, and increase their win-rates!