What's your approach to competitive differentiation?
There are many stakeholders when it comes to competitive intelligence and aligning messaging and product strategy with competitive differentiation. I have found an effective model where PMM is the the driver, although any of the contributors could also drive. Regardless, it is a joint effort across at least PMM, PM, Presales and Sales Enablement (some larger enterprises like IBM have dedicated, centralized competitive program offices).
As the driver, PMM can focus on arming the sales team with up-to-date tools (e.g. battle cards) to win, ensuring marketing can land us in competitive evaluations, and ensuring the roadmap continues to reinforce our competitive differention.
Ideally, your brand positioning pillars are unique enough individually or in combination with each other that competitive positioning is baked in.
Effectively enabling sales is about educating them on the landscape and competitive buckets (read answer above re: putting all your competitors into distinct categories you can more generically position against).
Then when it comes to your Tier 1 competitors, it's all about training the sales team and making battlecard content super easy to find. Bring the energy, show them a side-by-side demo if you can to give them confidence, and personalize your competitive differentiation for each sales role (e.g. SDRs need a one-liner, Senior AEs may need you to explain product differentiators). That, combined with compelling assets, is a winning strategy.
You can measure effectiveness of competitive positioning at different stages of the funnel. For example, if you have competitive landing pages you could A/B test messaging changes to see if there's a lift in conversion. Further down-funnel (this takes more time), you can do before-and-after analysis of competitive win/loss rates.
I believe competitive research should always be part of the process when you develop your core messaging, but it’s important to not get too hung up on your competitors, you can easily lose sight of what your own customers care about. (Also, who is to say that their messaging is better than others?)
I usually build a competitive positioning matrix where I will have at least 2 rows for each competitor: “We help you”, and “so you can” (But use what version works best for you)--- and then go through competitor websites/content/materials to gather what statements they use to answer each of those. This helps to look at your competitors’ positioning in a more uniform way. Then add a column for your company and your own statements - and in the simplest, easiest way this should give you an idea of how you differentiate at a high level.
Enabling sales on competitive intel is a whole topic on its own, but here are a few tips on how to do it effectively:
- Make it easy to find - so have a centralized location where you can point people to.
- Share the links, and share it again, and again over time.
- Have quick, TL;DR versions of all your competitive intel docs (but also keep detailed documentation if anyone wants to dig into something more specific). This can be in the form of battle cards or simple FAQs that you can publish internally
- There are certain tools that allow you to publish information like this within platforms like SFDC or slack - where people already look for information
- Create short videos and see if people find it easier to listen than read
- It’s not always enough to just create these materials. It often helps to do regular competitive readouts with the sales team so you can have a more interactive conversation and help answer specific questions.
And here are few tips on how to test if it's resonating with your buyers
- Run test campaigns against your control messaging across different marketing channels to see how it performs (Paid, Social, Email, website A/B tests, Sales pitches, etc.)
- Talk to your sales team, run pilots, listen to gong calls, sit in on sales calls, etc.
- Test in-product messaging
- Run quantitative studies, interviews, focus groups, etc
- Test it with analysts.
Competitive differentiation should make up the pillars of your messaging and value proposition. The reason being is that most markets are crowded and customers can choose from many alterntatives, so your differentation needs to be clearly articulated across the buyer's journey. To understand your competitive differentiation you can conduct buyer persona research, closed won research, analyze Gong calls with high ACVs, speak to reps and customer success teams, and really hone in on determining 1) What pain points are you solving for your buyers and 2) What makes you the "only" one? (see onlyness test here )
A couple ways to know if your messaging and value proposition is landing with your buyers
1. Market research messaging testing
2. A/B Test is through marketing channels (paid, email, website)
3. A/B Test it with SDRS in their outreach sequences
4. Present it to your customer advisory board (or similar) to see if it resonates
5. Test it with Analysts
Competitive differentiation is what forms your positioning and what you build your messaging around. With how crowded every market category is now its essential to nail your differentiation and then communicate it through your messaging and the rest of the go-to-market.
Enabling sales effectively requires making the competitive information actionable and easily digestible. Whether you’re creating battlecards, sharing competitive updates in Slack, or leading a competitive play sales training distill it down to the key points and bring it to life with examples with what worked in deals.
Finally to test if your messaging is resonating you can:
- Test copy across competitive campaigns and landing pages
- Look at competitive win rates before and after competitive enablement
- Sit in on sales call or listen to call recordings to see how competitive messaging points are resonating
- Ask industry analysts for feedback
The answer here is in the question. My approach to differentiation starts with understanding why the product or service you're responsible is uniquely suited to a specific customer. And then focus on what makes you great, not what makes others less good.
Too many companies (including a few I've worked with) focus too much on the question of "how do we compete against X competitor?" This creates a backwards-looking mentality and you're always in reactive mode. I will say it's my favorite thing to compete against someone who's more concerned about me than I am about them... they can chase my message all day, and all I have to do is worry about making customers wildly successful. Way more fun.
How do you know if it's working? If sales are up, win rates are strong, average deal size is up, and the competition is starting to talk about you more? It's working.
Competitive positioning is a key component of defining core messaging. If we sit down and come up with copy on how to best describe our offerings, a key step is to compare that against how competitors describe themselves. You’ll likely be hit with an unpleasant surprise that about half your copy has already been used directly or indirectly by competitors. Some words might be well-adapted lexicons that prospects associate competitors with. Developing your positioning and messaging without this key insight would lead to bad outcomes.
I always try to find words we can “own” in the prospect’s mind when associating the value to our products and brand. These words should be unique from the competitor’s identity and still be aligned with the prospect’s language. We try to stay away from feature differentiators and focus on how we help customers solve the problem in a better way.
The most effective forms of training for sales are role play sessions combined with learning materials as everyone learns and retains information differently. Salespeople in different segments (SMB, MM, Enterprise) may need different forms of enablement to drive meaningful results.
Testing your messaging with potential target buyers from interviews or tools like Wynter is the best way to confirm if your positioning is on-target.
Great question! I'll start with saying Klue has a phenomenal blog post on this topic I'd encourage you to read.
But to your question, most will try to differentiate off features. In most cases this will lead to a conversation about value -- and in a crowded market is really difficult to truly differentiate in this case.
There are some tactical things you can pursue to drive differentiation:
- Social Proof
- Lean-in to aspects of your solution that customers rave about! I've seen this be everythign from the sales team/process, to customer support team, implementation, education, and more. I call all those out just to say it's important to think outside our product as well.
- Competitive content - while it's tactical, if you have a comparison page it enables you to tell a story about how your different -- and not just about features.
- Brand - This is the ultimate differentiation, but it's not an overnight fix. Consider what's unique about the attributes of your company, and lean-in to building your brand around that which will give prospects a clear view of your company.
Beyond the above, it's really about storytelling and messaging. Instead of just thinking about how your product is different from compeition, think about the changes your prospects are experecing in their day-to-day and tell a compelling story around that -- and then educate them on how to win, with your product.
Our competitive differentiation is central to our overall company/product positioning. They're almost the same thing. We have a high-level view of our position in the market vs other categories of tools, and a deeper view of the specific capabilities that make us unique.
Enabling sales is a constant function of updating self-serve resources, delivering training, and sharing major intel. good luck!
With messaging, the one thing that I always push my team to think about is what’s unique to Shopify that no one else can own. Can someone slap their brand on top and say the same things? If so, the messaging and positioning is not good enough. We want to ensure that we are sharing what is most valuable to our business and that no one else can claim.
I have a few lenses that I look through for competitive differentiation:
1. The Positioning Canvas -- I mentioned this in an earlier question, but it's worth repeating the effectiveness of April Dunford's Obviously Awesome positioning canvas (must reading for any Product Marketer). With this methodology, you and your team will go through an exercise of defining 'competitive alternative' -- the task here is to identify what customers would use if you did not exist AND to look inwards at what unique attributes you have that your competitors do not. Highly recommend using this as part of your competitive differentiation exercise.
2. Company Strategy -- Many people think competitive differentiation is limited to product. It's not. I like to look at competitive differentiation through a combination of (1) product strategy, (2) GTM strategy, and (3) operational strategy. Often, you can find -- or create -- differentiation in one or multiple of these areas. One way I've put it all together is to develop a 'Buyer Consideration Attribute' map and workshop strengths and weaknesses vis-a-vis competition on the most important attributes. <-- Informed by Blue Ocean Strategy (another must read)
Once you have a good thesis on competitive differentiation, it's time to document it and enable as many relevant teams as possible. Not just sales. Product management and engineering needs these insights to inform their roadmap. Marketing needs these insights both for messaging strategy and in determining other GTM elements like channel, audiences, and more. And then, yes, Sales and customer success needs easy-to-understand and easy-to-take action enablement so they have 20/20 vision of who they will be up against in deals and so they know how to navigate conversations....and win deals.
Competitive differentiation is, first of all, a positioning exercise that means finding ways to influence the customer's perception of your company and product versus existing alternatives. This means not only what your direct competitors (other vendors) are, but what other ways of getting the customer's job done there are. You might have a powerful new financial app but if the customer is used to Excel and, well, it's kinda free if you have MS Office, then are you considering Excel a competitor?
So, the approach to take is:
Map all competing vendors and alternatives;
Identify the customer's "job-to-be-done" and which areas your product help with;
Map how competitors approach the same jobs and what are their strengths;
Interview customers to find out what matters the most to them;
Identify your "value wedge", i.e. the customer need that your product solves but competitors don't or don't do as well as you do.
The most important aspect of competitive differentiation is that it's authentic and resonates with the customer and/or user.
From a core messaging standpoint, you first and foremost want to focus on the value prop of your product—make sure you have a clear and accurate description of the problem you are solving for people. If you happen to be in a competitive space with similar products, you want to make it clear why someone should use your product vs another to solve that problem. You should emphasize the things that make your product different and that you know your audience values. It's not often necessary to explicitly create a comparison with a competitor—focus on what you do well, what the customer cares about, and how your product solves the problem differently/better than any other solutions. When the customer goes to compare your product vs another, the differentiation will be clear.
Enabling sales to speak to competitive differentiators is a crucial piece of the puzzle. It's not just important for salespeople to be fluent in your core messaging, they also need to be able to respond to prospect and customer questions and pushback. Beyond creating talking points and sales materials, you can also create more proactive wedge questions that sellers can use to position your product's differentiators in conversations. This also acts to de-position your competitors and increase the odds of winning or holding onto customers.
The easiest way to know if competitive differentiators are working in the market is by looking at win/loss rates and doing win/loss interviews. Talking to sellers and talking to customers allows you to gather evidence from both sides of the equation. In an ideal scenario, customers are repeating back to you the competitive differentiators that you've identified and built into core messaging and sales enablement.
I believe in a simple exercise:
what are you good at. this is the category you want to operate in. Its table stakes. if you want to be in the electric car business and you cant design a chassis and a battery you have a problem.
what are you better at. this is where you are competitive. say your battery comes in 3 sizes. 0.5 hrs to full charge. 2 hours to full charge. 10 hours.
what are you unique at. UNIQUE! something that nobody else does. Irrespective of charging speed your battery and chassis will give the driver 600 miles of driving distance. This is what you message like crazy. This is all you talk about.
And to be clear. there are say 10-15 things you need to be good at. 2-5 things you need to be better at. But only ONE you are unique at. What is hard is agreeing what that one thing is