One of the most valuable contributions that your Product Marketing organization can make is to equip its sales force with tools to help them compete more effectively. Battle cards are the popular tool to do exactly that – educate your reps on competition, enable reps to set competitive traps in the minds of prospective buyers, differentiate your offering, and help overcome objections.
Here’s a quick summary of the questions that a good battle card must address:
Competitive set: who are the top three competitors in your product category including “do nothing” which speaks to the customer’s inertia to making a purchase and the resistance to the change management needed to implement the solution?
Differentiation: what differentiators have proven most effective in recent wins? Why? Notice I emphasize what has actually worked in the field rather than relying only on what product marketing claims might be the differentiator.
Positioning: what is the “one-liner” statement that reps should know for each of the top competitors to quickly position them. An example might be “product xyz [competitor] is great for do-it-yourself organizations but lacks the robust, enterprise–class capabilities out of the box required by the business and backed by a global support organization.”
Relative strengths: what are your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses relative to your product? Be honest because it’s better to let reps know of valid competitor strengths rather than sugar coating the truth and having them learn the hard way in front of the customer.
Objection handling: what are the objections sales reps will encounter and what should be their response? Careful not to dismiss an objection or to address it with generic feature/benefit language from your datasheet.
Evaluation criteria: how should a customer assess their viable options? Obviously the customer knows you will be biased but your competitors are also attempting to define the rules and parameters of competition. You must play the game too. The best competitors actually influence customers to include their proposed criteria in RFI/RFP documents.
Comparative Statistics: What hard metrics and stats best highlight your product and company strengths versus the competition? Don’t just limit this to product “speeds and feeds” but also include company financials, strength of your customer base, industry expertise, innovation and thought leadership.
Credibility: what customer and analyst quotes provide the greatest credibility for claims you make?
Pricing: how does your product pricing compare with that of competitors? How might you use the return on investment (ROI) or total cost of ownership (TCO) calculations so that it’s not just a pure pricing comparison?
Of course it’s a lot easier to pose these questions than it is to answer them satisfactorily or to keep them current. Where might a product marketing manager go to get the best intelligence on competitive dynamics? We’ve found that beyond researching competitor websites some of the best insights come from sales reps and systems engineers who have actually engaged recently with a competitor in a specific deal. Interview these reps and glean everything you can on the items listed above. Also channel partners can be surprisingly helpful. Remember anything they tell you they are likely telling your competitors if they also carry a competitive offering. Industry analysts and product review analysts are only too happy to share their perceptions of your product/company strengths relative to others. Another excellent source is employees who were recruited from competitors.
Lastly, the competitive battle card is only as good as how current you keep it. It’s important to have this document on a corporate intranet or in your sales tools repository and to update it at least monthly if not weekly. Reps will almost never post comments on a forum so it’s up to you to nurture those relationships and plow your gleanings back into the battle card on an ongoing basis. One way to get reps to talk with you is to offer “Competitive Help Desk” office hours where, say, every Friday at 8-9am PT you hold a standing conference call where reps dial in to get and give the latest on competitive intelligence. You simply document the key insights that come out of these weekly calls in your battle card.