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.
During my daily conversations with technology vendors about battle cards, I am encountering leaders that are taking a different approach. Sales leaders are taking responsibility for the portfolio of battle cards – some larger vendors have hundreds – and assigning someone to “fix the problem.”
Individuals who get assigned to fix “the battle card problem” sometimes report into sales operations and other times into corporate marketing. Sometimes this individual has a background in competitive intelligence, but other times the person is completely unacquainted with battle cards. The one trait that these individuals do share is that they have empathy for sales teams.
Battle cards come from a variety of internal groups including product managers, competitive teams, partner alliances, industry groups, or others who want to educate sales reps to handle obstacles caused by competitors. Each group packages up battle cards differently so that sales reps experience differences in the quality of content every time they use a battle card. As I talk with individuals tasked with fixing “the battle card problem,” they tell me that when they look at their current collection of battle cards, they don’t even know where to begin.
Before becoming an analyst serving technology marketers and focusing on the organization and automation of marketing processes, I (Peter O'Neill) had the more traditional orientation of covering a specific market — IT management software (ITMS) in my case. I remember being engaged with several ITMS vendors in the last months of that previous life discussing the same thing: how to address other market segments. Many of them selling in the enterprise segment tended to be tempted into what they call the "midmarket," which is companies with 500 to 999 employees and is perhaps more enterprise-like than small-business-like, so it seems like a safer bet. Forrester names this the "medium-large" segment in our data reports. Some were even ambitious enough to consider the SMB segment.
I was always pretty clear in my recommendations on how to market to the midmarket or SMB segments if you’re an established enterprise software vendor: Develop segment-specific solutions; use a different brand if possible; and know your channels well. None of these things are easy though and, to be honest, most enterprise vendors take the easy way out. They merely:
· Design some cut-down version of their enterprise products
· Tweak their pricing model but then worry obsessively about “cannibalizing” enterprise sales
· Go looking for channel partners but usually end up with the same ones from their enterprise segment
For this reason, enterprise software vendors that have failed miserably to scale down their products or sales channels litter the tech industry.
I’ve had a difficult year, business-wise (this is Peter O'Neill). Oh, I have certainly been busy and travelled a lot — I‘m not complaining about that. But I have found myself too often in the position of “let’s shoot the messenger.” Remember? I already complained about this back in May 2010, but the situation still hasn’t changed yet: Many tech marketers still refuse to believe our numbers. Well, our 2011 Business Technology Social Technographics® results are now ready: I presented the European data in a Forrester Teleconferencea few weeks ago and soon our excellent English-language editors will finish off two reports from me:
Showing the 2011 European data (see below).
Discussing the question: Does age matter in social media usage?
Some of you were looking for me, Peter O’Neill, at Forrester’s IT Forum 2011 in Las Vegas last week. My apologies; I was originally advertised as speaking at this event, but we decided to keep me in Europe after all, where I contributed to the first of a series of two-day partner trainings being run by Dell around the region (see my previous blog post on the topic). I will definitely be at the Forrester’s IT Forum EMEA 2011 in Barcelona next week though: I have four presentations to make and look forward to many interesting one-on-ones with tech marketers in between that packed schedule.
I wasn’t too upset about missing Las Vegas; ‘tis not my favorite place — did you know that I am invited to visit Las Vegas around six times a year? Clearly, I cannot attend everything as I must also do my day job: working inquiries, writing reports, and providing advisory; so my rule is to visit each vendor’s event every two years. Missing Las Vegas also meant I could go to the Ariba Live 2011 customer conference in London last Wednesday, which fascinated me because Ariba was one of the software vendors I worked with very closely back in my HP days in the late 90s. I was involved in several exciting eBusiness joint ventures then (BroadVision, Intershop Communications, and Yahoo were my other projects) most of which were really too visionary for those times. Ariba’s, and HP’s, vision was of an electronic procurement process running as an intranet application supported by Internet-wide directories and exchanges of suppliers.
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.
This is Peter O'Neill (often the name is not displayed when you get a blog alert). I was in Austin, Texas, last week, meeting Dell executives at their 2011 Analyst Conference. We analysts always compare notes and discuss our impressions at these meetings and we were pretty unanimous this time about Dell’s consistency and clarity of message. Some of my illustrious research colleagues were quicker than I in documenting our impressions, so I’d refer you to Ray Wang’s comments. Colleague Roger Kay even got his blog into Forbes.com! My personal highlight was the fact that the whole event was introduced and moderated by Dell’s SVP and chief marketing officer, Karen Quintos. This is not a given at these events — often I get the impression that marketing is not really part of the vendor’s story or strategy at all. Karen even had a keynote presentation on her plans for the Dell brand and marketing initiatives in 2011 — I have never heard the word “brand” used so often by a tech vendor in the B2B context. Kudos to Karen.
. . . but bad reactive marketing can make the problem much worse.
[co-authored by Zachary Reiss-Davis]
As has been widely reported, in sources broad and narrow, Amazon.com’s cloud service EC2 went down for an extended period of time yesterday, bringing many of the hottest high-tech startups with it, ranging from the well known (Foursquare, Quora) to the esoteric (About.me, EveryTrail). For a partial list of smaller startups affected, see http://ec2disabled.com/.
While this is clearly a blow to both Amazon.com and to the cloud hosting market in general, it also serves as an example of how technology companies must quickly respond publicly and engage with their customers when problems arise. Amazon.com let their customers control the narrative by not participating in any social media response to the problem; their only communication was through their online dashboard with vague platitudes. Instead, they allowed angry heads of product management and CEOs who are used to communicating with their customers on blogs and Twitter to unequivocally blame Amazon.com for the problem.
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.
What is it that you think makes one tech company stand out from another? “My product is better than your product”? Not anymore. “My salespeople are better than your salespeople”? Possibly. “My channel is better than your channel”. You’re getting warmer. How about, “My marketing machine is better than your marketing machine”?
For example, 41% of customers identify “the vendor’s (not including its salespeople’s) ability to understand our business problem”, compared with only 21% who identified “the vendor’s salesperson’s ability to understand our business problem” as the most important vendor action factor when selecting a tech vendor. Marketing is clearly the difference-maker.
But cloud computing changes everything. The implications of cloud computing go far beyond its technology delivery/consumption model. It seems I get questions from tech marketers about all things cloud these days. A few examples:
“How can I use the cloud more effectively to market our solutions?” (Answer: It’s not what you read in USA Today about Facebook and Twitter. According to the results of our 2011 B2B Social Technographics® survey, discussion forums and professional social networking sites (read: not consumer social sites) outpace Facebook and Twitter ten-fold as information sources for informing businesses’ technology purchase decisions.)