The Sales and CI Alliance
At present, you may be missing all of the potential influence a Sales team can exert on its Competitive Intelligence department. On the contrary, it’s quite easy to identify exactly how Sales can benefit from CI. Now it is time to recognise the benefits of both teams as allies.
Sales teams are no stranger to collecting intelligence on their competitors. They do this in order to identify new innovations, market and product expansion. They gather and collate information on selling strategies, positioning and product specifications to investigate the quality and efficiency of competitor sales strategies, relative to their own.
The relationship between Sales and CI is symbiotic as both teams share the same goal: to develop new business opportunities and increase revenue. Increased revenue is vital to help demonstrate the true value and ROI of CI. Having a Competitive Intelligence department is an investment of time, resources and money, and therefore needs to illustrate concrete evidence of its ROI to management. CI contribution comes in the form of various deliverables that will be discussed below.
The role of CI in nurturing Sales teams
The most successful organisations nurture Sales teams to spend as much time gathering competitor information, as they do on sales activities. This is because of fruitful information they come in contact with, regarding new entrants and products in the market.
Even though Sales teams are skilled investigators, they don’t always know where to find information, or what to do with it. There is where CI can assume a role and guide Sales with deliverables for different projects. Competitive Intelligence deliverables can include:
- SWOT analysis
- Profiling customers and competitors
- Short analysis of your company’s product/strengths
- Media monitoring & Media analysis
Tilton says, “Details about a competitor’s financial health, industry standing, customer support policies and track record are all important points that your sales force should be able to address.” This is where a CI team can improve Sales efficiency by providing competitor profiling deliverables. CI should nurture its Sales reps by helping to anticipate various types of intelligence they could, and should potentially come in contact with.
The final part of this nurturing process is presenting Sales with feedback on the information they gathered and the strategic decisions taken as a result. In turn, this helps to motivate them by identifying their contribution to the strategic health of the company.
How Sales teams can help CI
Dr Joël Le Bon wrote, “The sales force has abundant information about the initiatives and products that your competitors are planning and, therefore, the kinds of choices that your customers will be facing in the near future.” This in part falls down to the personality traits of successful sales people that simply keep their eyes peeled, and ears open, in every sales activity.
Companies should always strive to be customer oriented, in order to build lasting relationships and good rapport, but this trust should also be utilised to gather competitor information. Customer meetings are the ideal opportunity to learn as much about a prospect’s needs as possible, as well as the products and services they have already been offered by competitors.
The same stance should be exploited at trade shows. Sales representatives can draw product information from customers visiting their stand. It’s a prime opportunity to visit competitor stands to collect brochures and reading material for later investigation. It is also normal to network and communicate with fellow Sales reps regarding your industry.
Sales also need a method to report this information back to CI with ease and efficiency, in order for their findings to be promptly distributed. Companies should have a point of contact or system in place to aid the flow of information. Digimind developed ‘Easytrack’, a module that allows field staff to send information to CI while out on the field. At conferences, meetings and business trips they can post via email, directly to a central collection point that can be integrated into your company’s watch.
Finally, Sales communication with suppliers and other intermediaries for another chance to enquire about competitor specifications, prices and customer demand for competing products.
Developing joint business opportunities
One of the main missions carried out by a CI department is the detection of new opportunities. With this in mind, CI should be key to developing new business opportunities by assisting Sales. They can do this by monitoring key prospects with potential growth opportunities, and by identifying weak signals on these accounts. This can mean companies on the verge of a merger, acquisition or expansion for example. This allows account managers to take action at precisely the right time, to upsell, cross-sell, nurture their relationship or avert risk from competitors swooping in.
A Consulting firm deployed a dedicated connector between SalesForce and Digimind. The aim was to push qualified intelligence directly into SalesForce company account pages, for Sales teams to use. The business impact was higher level discussions between Sales teams and clients, due to a stronger understanding of the client’s needs, challenges and issues. It also made it easier for account managers to identify potential upsales.
Competitive intelligence should also be proactive rather than reactive. Detecting business opportunities that transform into sales is what truly demonstrates the value of CI inside a company.
A Tech giant was looking for ways to update their Sales team with the latest and most precise information on competitor products. The purpose was to arm them with counter arguments in the presence of prospects. Their Digimind solution allowed the team to compare products, receive qualified up-to-date and classified information about competitor’s products, and was used by more than 800 employees in the Sales, Marketing and R&D departments. As a result the Sales team’s expanded knowledge led to a significant increase in prospect and customer conversion rates.
Another Consulting client deployed a dedicated connector between SalesForce and Digimind, to push qualified intelligence directly into their SalesForce account pages for Sales teams to use. The information being entered into SalesForce was validated by CI for Sales account managers, and the result was improved and enhanced discussions between Sales teams and clients, due to a stronger understanding of the client’s needs, challenges and issues. It also made potential cross-selling opportunities easier to detect by account managers.
Finally, a client in the Transport industry wanted to automate the detection of new business opportunities and get a better understanding of the local context in each one (local actors, constraints, regulations…etc). Their Digimind solution equipped them with the ability to monitor key topics on counties, cities, regions etc, worldwide. This is where local business opportunities were detected, for example local events, competitors and political landscapes. As a result, the company was able to grow their market share through the detection of needs and weaknesses in these transport services. Through a better knowledge and understanding of new business opportunities, they were able to submit request RFPs or request for proposal documents to urban public transport networks and win contracts.
Understand the impact of CI across a company
The alliance between a CI team and Sales is just one way to improve and display competitive efficiency. The relationship however shouldn’t be exclusive. The examples above demonstrated concrete evidence of the impact CI can contribute to business opportunities and increased revenue. Tracking the impact of CI performance is what ultimately illustrates the true value, and ROI of CI in measurable terms. It’s time for companies to understand the impact of competitive intelligence on other departments and business units.