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How do you perform extensive competitive product research?

I've been tasked with it but I'm missing the mark. This research is for the CEO and Product/Engineering teams who want to know how our tech stacks up in the market. Do you have any tips?
15 Answers
Christiana Rattazzi
Christiana Rattazzi
Okta VP, Industries & Platform Product MarketingNovember 2

The best competitive research I've seen goes beyond the competitor's website, press releases and YouTube videos. They might include competitor customer interviews and tailored sales demos. I've personally worked with great small businesses and consultants who are experts in doing this analysis and research. If you have a little budget, I'd recommend that path. 

1180 Views
Hien Phan
Hien Phan
Pinecone Head of Product Marketing, Partner, and Customer MarketingOctober 5

Not sure what mark you're missing. But your CEO and product/eng team are probably looking for (1) an overview of the space, where everyone is going (2) highlighting a few players and going deep dive into why they're building it and who they are building for. [I would hire a secret shopper for the second part] 

695 Views
Leandro Margulis
Leandro Margulis
Prove Head of ProductSeptember 7

The definition of "Extensive competitive product research" may be different for different people. I suggest asking the CEO and Product / Engineering teams the kind of questions they are looking to answer. Sometimes the high level market research you can get from a 3rd party will not be enough, and you will need to get creative to get the information needed via surveys, primary research or other methods. My best advise here is to define the task in more detail to undertand what people are expecting.

387 Views
Leah Brite
Leah Brite
Gusto Head of Product Marketing, EmployersSeptember 30

I’d clarify upfront what they are hoping to achieve with the exercise. Is it for internal knowledge? To publish competitive checklists on your website? What will it mean for them to know how your tech stacks up in the market? Clarifying and getting alignment on how the information will be used and what constitutes success upfront will help you hit the mark. I find it helpful to remind stakeholders that we should be evaluating the product and competitors through the lens of value, not feature checklists. Do you have data on what features your target market cares about most that you can layer on top to get at value?

Once you’ve defined some of those foundational pieces, I’d build out the template (likely in a sheet format) and get buy-in from stakeholders that this will answer their key questions.

You can also pair this with other forms of research to make it even more powerful -- secret shopping, win/loss, surveying users of competitors’ products to understand their perceptions of offerings, strengths, weaknesses, what matters most, etc.

553 Views
Shezana Manji
Shezana Manji
BenchSci VP of MarketingOctober 12

If your'e missing the mark, take a step back. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the business challenge you're trying to solve (why do we need this research, what decisions will it help drive).

I will share a tangable example of how we approached "how does our tech stack up"

At a previous company we were evaluating the decsion to build or acquire to fill a gap in our offering. The first step we took was to be clear on who our target audience was (if we invest in this, who will care and does this align to our business goals). We then outlined various jobs to be done partnering closely with our UXR team shadow a few customers in our target audience to build this POV. We also scored how critical these jobs were for the customers business (emotional and tangible).

We then did an assessment of the features and capabilities of competitors (including paper/pen). There is so much content online, so much of this can be pulled from desk research if you know what you're looking for (don't forget to talk to your sales team!). We also coupled this with a survey to prospects using competitive solutions to get a pulse on how well the competitors serve those jobs to be done.

The artifact we created was a spreadsheet with a scoring model and a few slides for insights and recommendations. Was it 100% perfect, no. But it gave the team the directional input they need to make some really big decisions. 

You don't have to have all the features your competitor does, you just need to solve the most impactful problems better than they do. 

531 Views
Lauren Craigie
Lauren Craigie
Cortex Head of Product MarketingSeptember 14

We all miss the mark here. I'm not even sure I would trust a PMM that says they don't struggle with this! You can stack the deck though, to show that you're exploring every possible avenue: 

1. Consider a competitive monitoring solution like Crayon. I've used them in the past and even if they can't dig up things like exact product pricing, they will aggregate signals in market like a executive job posting in EMEA that shows they're about to expand internationally, or a change to their pricing page where they've dropped a freemium trial, or removed a feature, or a shift in homepage messaging or tone that signals a change in target audience. You could probably do that on your own if you know what to look for but something that monitors 24/7 and surfaces little indicators like these I've found to be really valuable.

2. If you have a slack community, ask frankly to interview folks that have made a switch. Create a case study out of it, but also use the insights to inform competitive positioning

3. Talk to a Gartner rep. Even if you don't have a subscription, you can set up a convo with a rep and tell them what research you're interested in exploring. They'll send it to you as a pre-read. In return, you can agree to start doing more regular briefings with them so they stay abreast of your technology as you grow.

4. Don't discount the audience. We often take for granted that our competitors are aiming for the same persona we are. If you can show that you're going after slightly different use cases, or slightly different audiences, the exact details of their offering shouldn't cloud what your product roadmap looks like

5. Get in those other products, or recruit someone on the product or eng team to give you a tour. Bring someone from the product design or UX team along (they may have already done this work, or be in the process of conducting this research). 

6. Check out the forums for people comparing your solution to another. Check Hackernoon, StackShare, and even Reddit for posts.

417 Views
Ryan Van Wagoner
Ryan Van Wagoner
Forethought Senior Director, Head of MarketingSeptember 15

My first recommendation would be to make sure you understand exactly what exactly your stakeholders are wanting to know (and why). Are they looking at making product decisions based on this information? Adjusting the pricing? Refining the messaging? Knowing the strategic goals behind the request will help you know what types of information to search for. 

Next, frame your search by putting together a template for a product comparison matrix comparing your product with each of your top competitors' products (I recommend doing this in a spreadsheet where you can add additional information and notes). This exercise will help you discover which features are the most important to evaluate. Read industry reports and any other third-party research you can find to try to understand what customers are looking for.

Once you've compiled the list of features to evaluate, it's now time to get detailed on what your product offers vs. what competitive products offer. This can be challenging, and you may have to get creative. Scour competitors' websites, read product reviews, download free trials (if available), talk to your sales team, etc. This is grunt work, but if you do it right these insights will be indespensible not only to product/engineering teams and the CEO but also to the sales team, core marketing team, and to your own product marketing efforts.

424 Views
Ambika Aggarwal
Ambika Aggarwal
Tremendous Head of Product and Corporate MarketingSeptember 23

This is definitely tricky since getting in-depth product intel requires intimate knowledge about your competitors products. One technique some companies employ is mystery shopping research where you hire a researcher to pose as a buyer, but your organization may have a stance against this type of research. You can always look through review sites like G2 to see how your products are compared against top competitors products. But what I've found to be most effective is actually spending time talking to your sales, account management, and customer success teams. Prospects and existing customers are constantly sharing competitive intel with reps and CS teams and will often even send through a competitor's pitch decks, sales collateral, demos and sometimes even product roadmap which can give you really granular insight. 

391 Views
Amey Kanade
Amey Kanade
Amazon Product Marketing at Fire TV (Smart TVs)February 17

Here are some tips based on my eperience:

1. Keeping up with competitive product research, especially in tech, is hard: The tech space evolves at a rapid pace and your research can become absolute/stale within few weeks. Provide competitive intelligence back to your CEO/Product teams at an agreed upon cadence. 

2. Try to templatize your findings. You will likely find your data on various product pages, press announcements and internet in general. Following a common template where it's easier for your audience to see this data consolidate at once place is very valuable.

3. Include your PoV/Inference. #1 and #2 above are relative easy but involves lot of work, but what is most important is what you infer from this information. Think - where the trends are leading, potential risk, benefits for your product.

4. Be the Voice of customer: In many tech orgs, especially orgs where the technology is very sophisticasted e.g. hardware, AI etc it is more likely that the product/engineering team will have a deeper understanding of competitive products. As a PMM bring in the voice of customer into your research.

1186 Views
Grant Shirk
Grant Shirk
Cisco Head of Product Marketing, Cisco Campus Network ExperiencesApril 13

I think this one just dropped in. Let's do it live!

My gut reaction is: If you're being asked to do "extensive competitive research," something is broken. And you should say no, gracefully. It's very difficult, if not impossible to learn how to win in a market by looking at a competitive product from your (biased) POV. 

If your CEO/founder/prouct team doesn't understand what problem they're solving for a customer and where they have a unique differentiator, you're not going to get that answer from a teardown. 

If you want, hit me up with a DM here or on Linkedin. Would be happy to dig in deeper. Why are you "missing the mark?" My guess is they don't know what they're looking for either.

Reframe the problem internally and offer another approach:

- Use sales to identify and discover current users of the product in question. What are their real problems?

- Reassess the customers who are buying -> are you targeting the wrong ICP or use case?

400 Views
Indy Sen
Indy Sen
Canva Ecosystem Marketing LeaderMay 18

There's no silver bullet for this. You want to bake competitive research into everything you do and have your antennae out. The cool thing about product marketing is that done right, you have a unique vantage point. You are the closest members of your team to customer conversastions, product conversations as well as what analysts and influencers think of you. So you have to synthesize those inputs. Take and share notes on an ongoing basis and then summarize findings in battlecards, competitive dashboards, win/loss analysis. Bottom line: Competitive Intelligence is a full time job. 

Competitive intelligence is always one of the first things I tried to build in my PMM organizations, having benefitted from great competitive intel early in my career as a PMM too, I know how valuable having the right facts at your fingertips can be so that any time a competitor comes in a conversation is an opportunity to deposition them or, frankly, to deposition yourself if this is not a conversation you can carry based on requirements. Saves everyone time. 

To gather competitive intel, a quick shortcut can be scanning prior customer conversations, look at deal entries in salesforce/your CRM to the extent competitive info was captured there, and prioritize the research based on who appears on deals. You can also carve that work out to an agency who will create battlecards based on independent research and customer interviews. Talking to analysts via an inquiry, especially if you're a larger organization, is also a healthy practice. But again, don't take this on by yourself, unless it's the #1 prioritiy. Either hire for it or outsource it to begin with. 

Finally, you can also look into implementing a CI tool/dashboard. Once you have the data, I've found tools like Crayon super useful to disseminate competitive intel as well as gather new inputs as it allows anyone to add to them. That makes competitive intel more of a team sport, which depending on your company stage, is not a bad thing!

398 Views
Jeff Hardison
Jeff Hardison
Calendly Head of Product MarketingJanuary 10

There are different types of competitive product research. Therefore, it's important to ask execs who this research is for.

Doing extensive competitive product research to train sales and customer-success is one thing. They're often satisfied with a one- to two-page "battle card" that will help them beat the competition. They rarely need an exhaustive list of every feature (and, if you did create that exhaustive comparison list, it would likely overwhelm them anyway).

If the research is for product management — because, say, they want to create complete feature parity with the competitor — I recommend asking to partner with the product manager on a shared OKR around competitive research.

For the latter, you'd likely need access to the competitor's software (if they have a freemium offering that makes it easier than something you have to talk to their sales team about), their help-center documentation, and interviews with your customers (be sure to check with your customers to ensure they're not violating any contractual NDAs by giving you information).

495 Views
Pranav Deshpande
Pranav Deshpande
Vanta Senior Product Marketing ManagerAugust 25

To start I'd say thorough competitive research is the foundation of great product marketing, so it's great that your company is investing in it. It's really important for the PMM that owns a product to be an expert on both direct and indirect competitors. Competitive research shouldn't happen in a vaccuum — it needs to be informed by persona research and the long term vision and product strategy. Especially at the early stages of a new product, the competitive landscape can seem vast and intimidating. Knowing what your core personas care about and where your product and engineering team is investing helps narrow it down significantly. 

At Modern Treasury, the PMM team maintains a list of jobs-to-be-done for our target personas that guides everything from how we look at competitors to our product positioning framework. Our approach to extensive competitive research involves producing a Competitive Deep Dive, a 4-5 page document designed to uncover everything product, sales and customer success teams need to know about the company. These documents typically include a list of the company's products, an analysis of their positioning, screenshots or screengrabs of their product experience (if self-service), their media presence (if any), pricing (if available) and customer reviews (both andecdotal and from review sites if available). Since we're an API product company, we also break down API documentation and devex if available.

These deep dives serve as the foundation for battle cards, objection handling and other sales enablement content, in addition to being used by product teams for product strategy.

Hope this was helpful! I'm also happy to chat about it 1:1 any time. 

683 Views
Marcus Hartwig
Marcus Hartwig
Vectra AI Director of Product MarketingSeptember 1

Sales and customers will be your most vital partners for this task. They will have likely have had multiple run-ins with your competitors. As a result, they will give you an excellent high-level understanding of competitive pitches, pricing, what attracted customers to them, and how the market, in general, perceives them. When you want to go deeper on a technical level, SEs, TMEs, and other PMs will be able to assist you with a feature-to-feature comparison, but keep in mind to approach the problem from multiple angles to get a better picture. 

306 Views
Mirio E. D. de Rosa

The industry sector you deal with may lead to different suggestions. In general, however, “product research” may suggest you are working on a new product launch or re-staging. In such cases, begin with the framework, consider the research tools, and then move to the operating part of the research.

The framework may be the:

- Product Strategy, for products bought for what they do (like pharmaceuticals, chemicals, engineering, and others)

and/or the

- Copy Strategy, for products characterized by how they look, work, taste, or smell (like most consumer goods, washing products, cosmetics, etc.)

The framework influences the tools used to conduct the study. The king research tool of business decision-makers is marketing research. Marketing research, however, is expensive and poses technical challenges in order to deliver sound information.

My suggestion is, in both cases, to begin with dissecting the Product Strategy, which describes three brands elements:

- Technical performance. What the product does.

- Product design. How the product looks and works.

- Customer acceptance. How strongly customers (eventually both buyers and users) prefer the product.

The latter element requires sampling customers and gathering information with marketing research, which implies substantial investments of knowledge, time, and money. If you are not knowledgeable of this tool, ask for expert help. Do not improvise. And, do not rely on salespeople, they are biased (although they could supply useful ideas to state research hypotheses).

The former two elements are less knowledge-intensive and can be approached in a pragmatic way. Collect pieces of communication material used by your competitors, like advertisements, promotional material, product packages, product samples, and the like.

If it is a technological product begin with the Technical performance. Compare the major claims of each competing brand, and you will begin noticing differences. For instance, one brand may claim to remove tough spots, another cleans cleaner, another is price convenient, one is delicate, and so on.

If it is a hardly differentiated product begin with the Product design: How the product looks and works. Some are fast, others are safe, smaller, colored, smelling better, healthier, and so on.

At this point, add sales data to your analysis (if unavailable, replace it with customer preference data from marketing research by brand), and you’ll begin to see clusters of consumption preference, which brings you closer to answer the part of your question concerning how your tech stacks up in the market.

For more, connect with me on LinkedIn.

Good luck with your endeavors,

Mirio E.D. de Rosa

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