What's Happening With Forrester's Battle Card Standards?

Dean Davison

For those of you following Forrester’s project to create industry standards for battle cards, I want to give you a glimpse into the group’s progress and remind you about Forrester’s public webinar on September 7, where I’ll touch on battle card standards in more depth.

Each member of the standards group has success stories with their battle cards, but each member also struggles to change battle cards from being “random acts of sales support” to providing consistent, reliable support that helps sales reps win more deals. The purpose of our standards initiative is to do just that – identify and repeat how battle cards help sales reps win competitive deals.

Last week, the standards group reviewed the first draft of specifications for battle cards. Getting these definitions correct is important because all the downstream work we will do depends on these specifications. Our working document defines for battle cards the:

  • Purpose. Battle cards help sales reps anticipate and respond to competitive obstacles in the later stages of competitive deals.
  • Scope. Battle cards build on a point-counterpoint structure by identifying the competitor’s claims and equipping sales reps with responses.
  • Intersections. Battle cards must be consistent with competitive positions established in market overviews, pitch decks, and “marketectures,” RFP responses, and other sales tools.
  • Design point. Battle cards fuel customer conversations by addressing competitive issues through the lens of solving the customer’s problem, focusing topics that are core to the customers purchase decision.
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Questions From Forrester’s Sales Enablement Teleconference, May 17, 2011

Dean Davison

Earlier this week, our Sales Enablement team hosted a teleconference about building battle cards that better line up with sales reps’ needs. If you missed the teleconference, you can download the slides and recording; we wrapped up with the following questions asked by CMI professionals:

Question No. 1: What's the best way of collecting intelligence from within our company?

CMI leaders often want to discuss how they can harvest the expertise that lies within the heads of sales reps. We at Forrester haven’t seen any silver bullets, but we are documenting common experiences and planning research on the process of gathering insights and building them into compelling battle cards.

A few methods that we see across the industry include: 1) A CMI leader facilitates calls for reps to discuss issues with sales peers; 2) structured sessions with reps who recently encountered the competitor; and 3) retaining a “panel” of sales managers who meet quarterly to reassess a competitor’s tactics.

Question No. 2: Is the Forrester battle card a competitive document, selling points document, both, or more?

Our recommendations do not outline a specific length, whether the battle card is integrated with product messages or customer pain points (i.e., selling-points document), or what kind of software you use to deliver battle cards to sales reps.

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Redefining Sales-Ready Battle Cards

Dean Davison

A theme that frequently shows up in survey data and during interviews with purchasing executives is that customers care more about how tech vendors sell than what they sell. Tech customers now put more emphasis on the behavior and skill of your sales reps than on your products or prices (see “Do Your Value Propositions ‘Go To Eleven’?”). What does this change mean for your CMI team?

Since customers are changing, how are your competitors selling differently? What intelligence do reps need from battle cards to anticipate and respond to new tactics from competitors?

As you frame your CMI team’s analysis within the customer’s problem, you see competitors from a different point of view – you first determine the merits in the competitor’s approach, then contrast your company’s solution, and, finally, build out a point-counterpoint discussion that will help reps anticipate topics that are likely to come up during customer conversations.

As CMI leaders, many of you tell me you are frustrated that the company measures your value by the number of clicks or downloads on sales portal, but that you don’t have a better way to show the volume or quality of work that you produce.

The only relevant gauge for battle cards is whether they advance the selling goals of sales reps.

The challenge is that sales reps have unique conversations with many stakeholders across a number of accounts. Your CMI team, obviously, cannot build battle cards for individual customer conversations. To break this impasse, Forrester will not provide a simple formula to quantify the value of your battle cards, but we will outline a methodology allowing your CMI team to define and measure how battle cards line up with selling situations.

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What's The Value Of Battle Cards?

Dean Davison

During the past few months, our sales enablement team has researched and written about battle cards. We've spoken with more than 40 companies, including CMI leaders and sales professionals, to understand how sales reps use battle cards, what role a battle card plays in fueling customer conversations, and what CMI organizations can do to build more value into their battle cards.

During our interviews, sales reps told us that they need battle cards for effective selling today. Reps spend their time identifying a customer’s problems and building a shared vision to solve them. Competitors also engage in a similar journey, and sales reps told us that battle cards help them to:

Anticipate traps. Sales reps need to be aware of ideas that competitors will suggest to the customer early in the sales cycle, but that the customer won’t bring up until the final stages of a purchase. One rep told us of a situation: “A competitor’s rep told the customer that we have a lot of hidden costs – that we don’t include them in our early proposals, but that we will ‘change our tune’ later.” How do you prepare your sales reps for competitive traps?

Respond to questions. Sales reps must be able to answer their customer’s questions and recognize the more subtle issue behind the question – especially those issues that originate with statements from a competitor. A simple dialog shown in the graphic illustrates how a competitor will influence the questions that customers ask. How do you anticipate competitor’s questions and equip sales reps to respond?

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