Forrester’s sales enablement team is launching a collaborative effort with our clients and other experts to establish standards for competitive battle cards and I invite you to participate – send me an email to join.
If you are on the receiving end of battle cards today, you know the big challenge intimately because I hear you daily in my inquiries saying things like, “how can we standardize battle cards that come from dozens of different teams?” and “How do we equip our sales reps to anticipate and respond to competitive obstacles more effectively?” For those of you on the supply side, I hear you too, saying, “every sales rep asks for different things” and “we don’t have a way to measure the impact of our work, so we keep doing what we think is best.”
Stuck in the middle are the folks battle cards are supposed to be helping in the first place – sales reps – who tell me, “it takes too much work to find and use our battle cards” and “I need competitive insights, but I tap other sources that are more reliable.”
Consider the size of this opportunity! When we get this right, we will be able to connect battle cards with real business outcomes – like faster sales cycles and win rates against key competitors – and isn’t that why we build battle cards in the first place? Opportunities will advance through the pipeline more quickly when sales reps have tools to anticipate and effectively respond to obstacles created by competitors.
I hear you! My earlier post about battle cards, and my title in particular, confused some readers. By outlining some of the problems with battle cards that have surfaced in our current research on the topic without providing a clear context of where battle cards are headed, I did not play out my cards effectively. My bad; thanks for the feedback.
Here is what we are up to and why: We are in the process of interviewing competitive intelligence professionals and reviewing a raft of tech industry battle cards. Our research to date shows that the wide range of purposes -- and the inconsistency of content -- in battle cards are undermining the value to sales reps at many tech vendors. This lack of a clear design point and focus on content that will be useful to the buyer -- and thus usable by the rep -- is making many battle cards mushy -- but not all of them!
At companies where battle cards are successful, they are very successful.
Effective battle cards provide valuable talking points that lie at the intersection of buyer expectations and needs and the product advantages and competitive differentiators that satisfy those needs. Great battle cards don’t deluge sales reps with facts out of context, but rather equip reps with usable insights to engage customers about meeting their needs. That is what we are finding so far.
Our purpose in researching battle cards is to identify what makes them successful and to develop a design point and methodology for creating great ones. Our research indicates that as the tech industry moves toward outcome selling, sales battle cards will become one of the important vehicles that portfolio teams will use to enable their sales channels.
We recently interviewed dozens of sales enablement professionals within the tech vendor community. These interviews painted a less-than-ideal picture of how sales teams value and use competitive battle cards – that competitive battle cards are a relic from out-dated selling models.
Battle cards still focus on products – just as they did in the days when customers purchased one product over another based on a side-by-side comparison of their features. In those days, competitive intelligence teams created battle cards about competitors – their company financials, products, sales tactics, and weaknesses – literally for sales reps to keep in their pocket.
A sampling of battle cards that we collected from across the tech industry confirms that battle cards are fashioned from a product point of view and often created because they are among the checklist of items for product managers when creating sales content. Today, portfolio managers also use the term “battle card’ for almost anything prepared for sales teams. In addition to competitive battle cards, we uncovered materials labeled as battle cards that talked about:
Industry overviews. How a vendor’s products can combine into a new solution to meet the needs of customers in an industry that the vendor does not currently service.
Technology profiles. How the capabilities of a new or emerging technology will allow it to displace the products or solutions that customers currently use.
A few years ago, I took the helm of customer & market intelligence (CMI) for a large vendor. Executives wanted analysis that was more relevant — intelligence that was “deeper,” “more actionable,” and provided “knock-out punches.”
As a CMI leader, you likely hear the same thing. But, as you try to improve, you get feedback such as “the material is not helpful,” “looks the same as before,” or “isn’t specific enough.”
In hindsight, if I were to join a CMI team again, I would take a completely different approach — instead of trying to refine the research itself, I would change the design point.
CMI’s sales-oriented purpose is to prepare sales teams for customer conversations!
Earlier this week, during an interview with Forrester, a CMI leader commented, “CMI can make a strategic impact on sales because it prepares sales teams about important topics and potential surprises in customer conversations.”
But across the tech industry, CMI is not succeeding:
A Forrester survey of technology buyers shows that only 38% of sales “reps understand the customer’s issues and are able to identify how the vendor can help.”
Preliminary data from a Forrester study of marketing executives shows that 65% claim that one of their biggest strengths is “knowledge of the markets and customers we serve.”[i]
Successful sales enablement reaches beyond just sales. Marketing functions such as customer and market intelligence (CMI) supply materials to your direct sales teams. This content can significantly improve sales impact if it is timely, relevant, and in-context, which for CMI means:
Timely - the right information available to sales teams at the right time.
Relevant - content that sales teams can easily adapt into customer content.
In-context - framed by the business outcomes that customers use to make purchasing decisions.
The words of "War," Edwin Starr's 1969 Motown classic, began ringing in my head this morning. It was brought on by a Harvard Business Review blog post by Steve W. Martin, "Why Sales and Marketing Are at Odds — or Even War." Within tech vendors, sales and marketing teams often fail to communicate or align go-to-market strategies. Forrester's sales enablement visionary Scott Santucci discussed the different languages of sales and marketing in his blog over two years ago. As for my own experience with sales and marketing:
A few years ago, I sat with the chief marketing officer and chief sales officer of a Fortune 100 tech vendor. The conversation didn't focus on customer problems, which should be the starting point for sales enablement professionals. The conversation didn't focus on sales efficiency issues such as sales cycle duration or win rates, which should be critical imperatives for all sales and marketing professionals. Each of these executives controlled massive budgets but neither one sincerely trusted the other. Their words were about aligning sales and marketing programs, but the real conversation, when read between the lines, was about control, boundaries, and politics. They were at war!
Technology vendors are disconnected from their customers. If the problem were simple, such as changing message themes, tech vendors could easily adapt.
When looking at tech vendors, the "problem" is long-standing, entrenched behaviors about how products and solutions go to market. The "problem" includes customers that now want to buy "business outcomes" rather than traditional products. The "problem" includes sales organizations that fail to learn about the customer's business or requirements. The "problem" includes marketing organizations that fail to recognize that while they get to aim the gun, only sales can pull the trigger. Across these three processes, companies are trying to shoot faster, shoot bigger bullets, or even aim at different targets when the real problem is eye-hand coordination - or aligning methods and messages.
Selling technology requires three processes to align: (1) the customer problem solving process; (2) the vendor selling process; and (3) the marketing processes for communicating solutions. Gaps in these processes will cause finger-pointing within the vendor, raise the average cost of sales, lengthen the sales cycle, increase turnover of sales and marketing employees, confuse customers, etc. Few tech vendors are changing their internal methodologies to align these processes.
How are these gaps in your organization? How is your company addressing these gaps? We'd love to hear your experience!
(Next in this series, Forrester will introduce "portfolio management" as framework to help sales enablement professionals align these silos.)
It's a shame to get old! My oldest child recently announced that he and his wife are having a child themselves. On one hand, I am thrilled at the prospects of having a smiling infant in the family - that I can hand off for unpleasant tasks. On the other hand, I am in complete, 100% denial about the word that will define my relationship with this child - the "G" word - shhhh, don't say it!
This made me reminisce about work. I remember my years in marketing at Sequent Computer Systems. The sales organization sold products based on "feeds and speeds" that became possible from "symmetric multi-processing." It was exciting stuff. We lived on the cutting edge of technology. Customers bought "products."
My next move placed me in the outsourcing industry. Rather than buying products, customers looked for solutions - usually a functional combination of hardware and software to solve a technical problem. Acronyms such as ERP and CRM were common, and the services industry exploded. Customers bought "solutions."
Now I am at Forrester and witnessing another fundamental change in the market. The financial pressures of the recent (and continuing?) recession changed customers. They now align business investments with technology costs. Customers want "outcomes."
The problem is that tech vendors are going to market the same way that we did 20+ years ago. In today's market, vendors must understand the customer - not in the abstract - but understand current problems and desired outcomes. Adapting your products and messaging to a customer point of view is called "portfolio management." Forrester's sales enablement team would love to hear about your experiences, perspectives, or insights.