Competitive Intelligence is a Team Sport


Chandler Perry:                                              

Welcome to this session of WinLossWeek, The world's largest online event dedicated to win-loss analysis. This event is hosted by Clozd. We'd like to thank all of our partners for their contribution to making this event a success. The title of this session is, Competitive Intelligence is a Team Sport. Today, we're lucky to be joined by John Notman. John is currently a Senior Manager over Competitive Intelligence and Market Research at Wrike. John has extensive experience in both product marketing and competitive intelligence. In his free time, John is an avid and published photographer. John, thanks for joining us today.

John Notman:                                          

Thank you Chandler, I appreciate it, and I really appreciate the opportunity to be talking about something that I really enjoy doing for my role here at Wrike. Thank you for that kind intro. I think now is a great time just to jump in. We already went through intros, I'm just going to talk about Wrike for just a quick second. I'm going to follow some foundations on my philosophy with competitive intelligence is "Always be launching," we'll get into that, and we'll finish off with some do's and don'ts.

So Wrike is a work management platform. We've been around since 2006, we're based here in San Jose, California. We have 20,000 customers across most of the globe, tons of users, and about a thousand employees, we are still growing quickly. And one of the things that makes this a really challenging role for me, is that because our market space is so active right now and there are a lot of different technologies that fit into how people do their work, on any given day, I have a list of easily over 50 primary and second competitors that come up in conversations.

So one of my challenges was trying to help Wrike become this new office that connects across teams, but while also trying to understand what makes us better, what makes us different compared to all of these other competitors. Now, one of the challenges here that I'll talk about today, is that I basically had to build this program from scratch when I joined Wrike a year ago.

All right, so I want to start with the foundations. For those of you who are watching, who have spent any time learning the Pragmatic Framework, this is going to align nicely to that. I've been following Pragmatic for over a decade, at least, and this is a great place to start. These themes will be high-level alignment to them, and I think that you'll appreciate how I connect this to competitive intelligence.

All right, so let's start with this first section on all about how to establish a competitive program. So the first point I like to make when I talk about this, is that you got to know your frameworks, and there's a reason for this. We have to realize that competitive intelligence, is a research process, but it's also a content process, and it needs to be distributed to multiple stakeholders pretty much all the time. I mentioned that I rely on Pragmatic a lot. It's not perfect, but it's a great place to start. This is a research loop, you can see that shown right here. We do content mapping, and then I rely heavily in building my own org frameworks. They're like an org plan, but it shows some process that I need to tap into as well.

The next thing that I like to talk about with CI and our competitive program here at Wrike, is that we really need to know our sources, and it takes digging to really get into knowing what insights are going to be the ones that are the most effective, and for us, it's our sales team who is primarily using this, but then also our marketing team as they build out campaigns. So I take a trust but verify approach. I know some people like to triangulate their... Like when they hear claims and they want to validate them, that also works. The key here is just to be investigative. You got to dig in, roll up your sleeves, and really figure out what it is that the claim is trying to articulate, and then is it accurate and reliable?

Our sellers are by far my favorite data source, they're the ones who are talking to customers in real time, working through deals, and our customers, our buyers, they have the luxury of choice right now, like I mentioned a few slides ago with a number of technologies that they can pick from. So they also are a great source, our buyers, because that's who we conduct win-loss interviews with, with Clozd. Our competitors, they publish stuff that they don't even realize that I can use, And even from pricing pages and comparisons, it really is great. Of course, most of us already use our own CRM data, win-loss data out of, probably. If you're not doing that, that's a major component to this that I'm not going to talk about today. Then we have analysts and review sites. Review sites is last year. I always have to do the trust but verify with review sites. I just think there's a lot of bogus stuff out there. Sometimes I get some good leads, and right before I think I'm about to write them off totally, I find a good nugget that brings them back into my purview.

And then this graphic here, this is actually showing how some of this data that we pull together turns into really meaningful, directional insights. This is our dashboard from our Clozd portal, and the one that's highlighted on the upper right, is that we keep getting dinged in the last year, over our user interface. It's something that our product management team could use right away and make some pretty serious updates to our product's look and feel, which has already been rolled out. It's pretty great actually, about how we know how to take our competitive intelligence from data all the way to action, especially when it comes to in product field.

All right, so moving on. Another foundational concept is to know your hypotheses. I really start a lot of my conversations by reiterating that I'm the person at this company who is essentially paid to understand and obsess over how Wrike is different and how Wrike is better. And so, I need to structure hypotheses when I go into my research around, what am I looking for? And it's simple stuff, it doesn't need to be absolutely perfectly scientific. For some of you listening, it might be, but not for where I am with my role.

So things like if we improve this feature, should we expect this? Or is there a null event that could happen? Or if we remove that feature over there, should something else happen? Or if we look at it from a hypothesis with just changing messaging and nothing else, then would those departments over there benefit from a more technical message, or versus a high level message? And this is important, because how we take the insights that we glean needs to turn into actions. And so, knowing the questions that we're trying to answer, or even better yet, the results that we're trying to influence, that starts by structuring it the right way.

And then of course, know your content. I am the lead for our competitive intelligence program. I sit within our product marketing team, and I have dotted lines all over the place, just for the nature of my role, but at the center of it, I still need to deliver actual written content. And so, I don't just do one large PowerPoint presentation, I take everything that I do and structure it, first into content that can be delivered to first, our sales team, so they can use it in real time. This is important, because I want to get insights into what's working and what's not, as fast as possible. Ditto with our marketing team and some of their kill campaigns. So I try and structure everything through action, like content that people can use right away. Research PowerPoints, I do those, but I'll get into that a little later about why I think it's actually a caution, and I'm just a team of one right now, and I rely heavily on others helping me. So if I get really stuck into a deep dive, that's not a place that I really want to be.

We have something called Quick Hits, these are our silver bullets. I cannot show you those, they're pretty darn strong. Comparison tables, this is an example of some of the comparison tables that we use internally at Wrike. I changed the names around here so you couldn't tell who we're talking about, but I love comparison tables. It structures the conversation and our narrative, and it already, when you see this, it makes the psychology of the buyer shift instantly. So there's a talk track that goes through this, I've used this with our Fortune 100 prospects to great effect, and I've used it with small, medium sized businesses who just need to know all the marketing looks the same, so why is Wrike different? Why are they better from one of these categories?

All right, so that was a quick run-through through the basics, the foundations. It might seem light, but there's about six months of work in just those four slides that I just shared with you to get this program where we need it to be. The second piece of this is now to be thinking about how do we launch this content out to the rest of the company, and actually out to the world at large?

All right, good time to stop. Whenever I think about launches, I try and get some space and some clarity in between what it is that I've done, and where it is I'm trying to go. I hope you appreciate this quote, it is totally applicable for the next part of this presentation.

All right. So when I roll out material, and this is true for when I was in my pure product marketing roles in other parts of my career as well, this is one of those nifty tricks that I pulled into competitive intelligence, and this is a philosophy that not everyone adheres to, but I have seen it work greatly, and that is to build narratives collectively. Now, I'm part of the product marketing team here, and our product marketing leads, they all have to build their messaging briefs. And part of their messaging briefs, it is required that they liaise with me and we understand the marketscape for their products, and what verticals they want to go into. It is required that they know how to build the differentiation narrative into their stories when they are working on their own product messaging.

And then we use working sessions, and this is something that I picked up two jobs ago, where I was in a real launch-heavy role, and we were always strained for people writing the content. And at some point I'm like, "You know what? We have to roll up our sleeves, and we have to get some work done and we have to build in real time." So I've worked at large companies, I've worked at small companies and a little bit of things in between, and this is one of those things I'm going to take with me for the rest of my career. So this is one of those big tips, master the working sessions, build the work together, don't obsess over perfect, but get the work started and see what it turns into. Not kidding, I probably do this eight hours out of a given 40 hour work week.

All right, so some common processes you could start with if you want to get plugged in, if you don't know how to take your competitive intel and how to roll it in to building the narrative, well, a lot of times this happens with campaign planning. I know I've worked with marketing teams for my whole career, and we always start with a creative brief or a messaging brief. It's not that hard to really do a good job talking about and answering, "Well, how are you different? How are you better?", in the narrative of that particular creative brief. Go-to-market, I'm not going to talk about that, because that's basically all this is. And then roadmapping, of course, this now gets more to the product side.

Okay, the next thing here is I am a big believer of sharing the information, so I need to get this stuff out there. There's a constant feedback loop that we've set up. So we have our own CI folder that everyone can access. I also have a private place where I don't want to, not because I'm necessarily worried about sensitive material, but where I'm worried about noise. So I still collect a lot of things like analyst reports, I do a lot of reading, a lot of reading, and I just have my own repository for things that I think are interesting, and the things that I want our sellers to use when they're in a negotiation where they have to influence a prospect or a buyer. That's not the same stuff that I have to deliver to our executive team, for example. So I have different places where I keep stuff, but I lead with wanting to share as much is useful.

I do have an intake process, I use Wrike for that, it's great. It automates requests that come to me, and it structures them in my project workload. It's one of the great things about using the product that we're also trying to sell out to the masses, is that it can speed up certain parts of your workflow, and even actually automate the things that are repetitive. So this is great, and it's great for visibility. My director, whenever she needs to see, "Where's John, what's he working on today?" We all know that with competitive intelligence, it's like, "Well, it took me four hours of research on that one little thing." That may not seem like a lot to you, but now I have a way of showing my work, and actually quantifying it with all the other open requests that come across my desk.

I like this, because it also encourages stress testing of the actual material. You saw on another slide previously that we have something called Quick Hits, the silver bullets. To me, that is the atomic unit of competitive intelligence. What's something that you can do that somebody else can't ,or if they can do it, then why is it substandard to your process methodology, whatever? So, but it needs to be stress tested, and let's be honest, the world changes, and in the technology world, the world changes kind of quickly sometimes. So I also use this same philosophy for understanding the points of failure, looking for, "Okay, well, this is true today, this one Quick Hit, this differentiator, but will it be true tomorrow?" Some of the best ways for me to find that out isn't through all the tools here, or all the information on the internet, it's just from a seller running into it in an active deal, and then it gets back to me.

All right, so I'm also a firm believer of storytelling, which is pretty popular right now. Frankly, this is something that has been kind of like a buzz phrase for most of the last decade. You know what? Stories are fun, they really help set context. They help us identify the protagonist and antagonist, the thematic arcs. Honestly, stories can go much deeper than a single slide can, and they actually work. So we use that here for... This is our high bar for product marketing. We try to structure everything into stories, and don't think a story needs to be 900 pages long for it to be interesting, we actually try to get stories down to just a couple paragraphs. And so, that takes some creative writing, that takes a lot of discussion and creative thinking, but it's worth it.

So they work well, they can tap into or elicit emotions from all of us, because they have this human element, they're quite much easier to remember, like you remember the general flow of a story, versus all of the things on that comparison table I showed you four slides ago. So that's a major benefit. The concepts in general, complicated concepts are easier to communicate when you can tie them together, and you can introduce deeper elements when you need to, so a storyline helps sort of set that tone. It's really nice for competitive intelligence, especially for me in the technology world, where I sometimes have to go from what sounds like management speak, in terms of features and benefits, down to a very sometimes even code level. And let's be honest, they work because they're persuasive and influential, and people like that, and that's the whole point of all of this.

Okay, and so the whole point of all of this is to always be launching, and like I started the presentation with, I have been convinced, just because of my own career, and having to build programs like this competitive intelligence one, or building entire launch processes for some of the companies I've worked for from scratch, I'm convinced that the goal is to always be doing these activities. And once you get good at this, it actually becomes pretty easy, and you can strip away a lot of the filigree around the edges.

I have worked with competitive intelligence experts my entire career. There are times where I won't talk to them for six months, and I get a 70 page research deck on my desk, and then I have to distill it down and I can't turn it into anything where I really, if I could've just gotten some of those insights five months sooner when they actually got them, then I probably could've built some campaigns around it or helped distribute it throughout the company. So I'm a fan of breaking this down to the base units, and then having a system and platform in place where you can distribute it.

So like all launches, it takes a team, and I absolutely mean by team, I mean an entire business. And getting back to the title of this whole presentation, that this is a team sport, this is why your entire company needs competitive intelligence. It's not enough for just me to hoard this information to myself and to be the expert alone. T.

This is something where if you want to be competitive, yes, it's one way to know where your insights are coming from and the process around it, but if we want to really think about what it means to be competitive, we also have to realize that we can be competitive in the way that we sell, in the way that we go to market, in the way that we talk about ourselves, in the way that we play defense, in the way that our customer success managers are prepared when they have accounts coming up for renewal, when we need to help educate partners who might also be selling our other competitors' products as well next to ours. So this is a cross-organizational initiative. This is also one reason, probably the reason why I jumped at this opportunity at Wrike.

So you build iteratively, you create with others, you keep the simple things simple, you really need to take the perspective of adopting your colleagues' goals and objectives. That's something that I learned a long time ago, it makes things much easier. If you talk in their language, help them be successful. Other people will refer to this of like what's in it for them? Sure, but tie it back to what they're trying to achieve. With customer success managers, there's retention goals, with sellers, it's quota, with marketing, it's their different campaign metrics, or lead scoring, or whatever. And then important note here, I also advise for people in roles like this, if they really want to do this, they should be both strong and pleasant to work with, and it doesn't really work if you're just one or the other.

So that's where I'll end it. Let's just wrap up with some reviews of do's and don'ts. This is what I just went through. So real quickly, I want you to think about your frameworks. What I don't want you to do is plan out everything. The whole point is to have a guide in place, and not adhering to a strict process. I want you to know your sources. I want you to caution against deep dives. You heard me talk about this twice now during this presentation, I don't really like spending X number of months getting the deep dive on one competitor, unless I know it's going to be something I can split up along the way. The idea is to tee up the right insights at the right time.

Know your hypotheses, and what I really want to caution against, this is true for most roles, is just don't try and prove your own ideas. If you just have your own ideas and you're trying to figure out ways to prove them, well, that's kind of backwards logic. It's not going to fool anyone. A lot of people know some of the stuff that comes from competitive intelligence. Really, they need help structuring it in a way that will help them. So you're not going to fool anyone if you're just trying to prove your own ideas. Also, you can publish hypotheses for others to see, so they can agree with you or disagree with you based on that, not exactly what your own perspective is.

Know your content, this is another one. I don't want anyone to be limiting their differentiated messages, so use content as a way to get things out there. This is a way for us to turn intel into marketing pretty quickly. I talked about building narratives collectively. Don't tell stories in a vacuum, that's a no-no. Again, you might spend a lot of time, you might waste time in the process if you just iterate by yourself. Iterate with someone else, turn your one-on-ones with your boss into, "Hey, let's just spend 15 minutes going through some of the new insights I have. How can I turn that into something that will be valuable for the marketing team?" If you start working on the content in this way, it'll become stronger, and you'll actually probably build trust along the way. I'm a big believer in, we get good by doing the actual work.

Democratize the information, do not hoard or hide insights. Again, this is as much to do with building trust as much as it is with credibility and buy-in. Be a storyteller, I talked about this one a lot. And with this one, it's important to point out that don't assume the obvious, I fall into this trap. I go deep daily, and then when I come back up to surface level and have a conversation with the seller, I cover something that I think is painfully obvious and they're like, "Wait, slow down. What did you say?" And I'm like, "Well, so-and-so, can't do this. Didn't you know that?" They're like, "No," and I'm like, "Oh, it's on their website." "Oh, oh, okay. We got to go to this level. All right." So don't assume the obvious, set it up to tell the story, and get all the pieces right? If you don't get the pieces right with the story, the story doesn't make sense.

All right, and then finally, let's close up with the whole point of this, always be launching. This is a cross-organizational initiative. You're not waiting for perfection, and the whole point of this whole presentation is that the work that we do in competitive intelligence, it is really impactful to the business. And so, if we approach it with a more agile like mindset, we will see things occur much more quickly.

All right, so is any of this working? Well, for us in the last year that I've been here, we have a win rate of 73%, versus our top competitors. This is pretty awesome in a competitive marketplace. I want to give a shout-out at this point to Clozd. We work with them on our win-loss interviews. Like I mentioned, I'm a team of one, I rely on a lot of others to help me do this work. So big shout out to Clozd, thank you for all of your help and your support. That's it. Thank you everyone.

Chandler Perry:                                            

Thanks, John. Really appreciate your thought leadership today about building and launching a competitive intelligence program. To everyone else that's viewing this, thanks for attending WinLossWeek, and have a great day.