How B2B Companies Can Gather Competitive Intelligence
From how competing companies are viewed by your target market to how industry leaders pitch products and services, successful B2B companies build a competitive edge by seeking to understand their competition.
For some companies, this is as straightforward as following twitter accounts, dissecting industry news, or reading competitor blogs. For others, it may take on the form of employing a team of specialists who interview customers, suppliers, distributors, or other industry players and experts. Then there are those companies who invest millions of dollars conducting in-depth competitor intelligence studies.
Regardless of your approach (and budget), gathering competitive intelligence can make the difference between getting ahead or being left behind. In the following paragraphs, we explore one tactic successfully employed by B2B companies of all sizes – Sales Win Loss Analysis.
Gathering Competitive Intelligence
We’ve all been there. Waiting to hear the final decision on a pitch you’ve invested so much time in. Finally, you get the email and you can’t believe it – they’ve chosen your competitor.
What went wrong? You developed a good rapport with the decision makers and felt very confident that their needs were well aligned with your competencies. How did you misread those tea leaves? On the other hand, another sales person just landed a major contract. What gave your company the edge in that situation? What messages or behaviors can be replicated to help improve sales close rates?
Sales Win Loss Interviews
Uncovering the factors behind a purchase decision is one of the most informative and useful activities your company can perform. And one of the most insightful approaches to gathering competitive intelligence is the sales win loss analysis.
Comprised of a few elements, the analysis begins with a 15-30 minute phone interview conducted on the heels of a competitive sales pitch effort. By speaking directly with decision makers who have had an opportunity to conduct in-depth, side-by-side comparisons of you and your leading competitors, organizations can validate how their value proposition is being received and formulate the sales strategy, thereby increasing win rates.
Going Deeper: Sales Win Loss Interviews
As explained above, sales win loss interviews should be conducted with decision makers who engaged in your sales process. Generally, the goal is to gain a more in-depth understanding of the leading factors that drove their selection of you or one of your competitors. And don’t let the name fool you. This method of competitive intelligence gathering isn’t limited to the sales process. It also allows you to dig deeper into the decision maker’s overall experience with you and your competitors.
An effective sales win loss interview can actually provide you with valuable information on everything from how your pitch is received, to what the decision maker really thought about your commitment to service and how it compares to your competitors. And while the most obvious learning opportunity presents itself in the customer that chose your competitor, it’s important to realize that you can learn just as much from the customer you won.
Getting Started with a Sales Win Loss Program
So you’ve decided to start conducting sales win loss interviews. Here’s an obvious first question – who conducts them? Certainly a leader on the sales team or even the sales team members themselves might be an easy answer. But a third-party firm, such as Satrix Solutions, that specializes in conducting these interviews often proves to be the best option.
If you’re wondering why consider this – your goal is to gain the most candid, helpful information possible. Your sales team, leadership, and business as a whole works meticulously to establish a rapport with each decision maker they work with. There’s a relationship there, whether they chose you or not. So when it comes to candid feedback, those people will be more open to sharing fuller details of their experience, including what went right and what went wrong, with a third party.
Key Elements of a Sales Win Loss Interview
When gathering competitive intelligence, it’s important to think about what you want to learn. For example, you might want to know if your products or services meet the needs of your target market. Or maybe you’re trying to understand how your pricing compares to competitors. Or perhaps, your goal is to better understand how the distinct behaviors of your sales team are being perceived.
Not surprisingly, people usually don’t just offer up the information you’re looking for. That’s why asking the right questions is critical, and it’s also another great argument for choosing a third-party firm – we know what works and what doesn’t. We also know how to probe further in order to garner the most useful response.
If you’re looking to get started, here are a few questions to consider:
- What was the business need that prompted an evaluation of our company and competitors?
- What were the main differentiators between our company and the others you considered?
- What was the most important factor in your decision to choose (or not choose) our company?
- What could our company have done better to secure the deal?
Additional Benefits of Sales Win Loss Interviews
An effective competitive intelligence program uncovers what is and is not resonating with decision makers, and how you can use that information to improve.
For example, your marketing message – is it really working? How do your most valued customers find you – web search, outbound sales, social media or another way? These are just a few examples of additional intelligence you’ll gather by implementing a sales win loss program. Other benefits include:
- Test your value proposition – what works and what doesn’t?
- Understand how prospects perceive the handoff between sales and the account team, within the sales team, or to other areas within the business.
- Identify training opportunities to close gaps and improve sales close rates.
Putting Competitive Intelligence to Work
Once you start gathering competitive intelligence, it’s time to analyze the responses from decision makers. Here are a few steps to get started:
- Review the conversations for key themes, complaints, or unexpected feedback.
- Find successes. This is your chance to start replicating that success for other potential customers.
- Understand the perceived weaknesses. Are they specific to the decision maker who provided them or does it indicate a pattern others have experienced?
- Get the information you gathered in the right hands – sales, marketing, customer service, operations, and leadership teams.
In the end, it’s important to understand that building an effective competitive intelligence program is an ongoing process that requires patience, constant attention, and perhaps most importantly – humility.
If you’re interested in learning more about our sales win loss program, contact us today.