One of the most common forms of sales collateral that product marketing teams create and maintain are battlecards. Battlecards arm sellers with an overview of a competitor, their products, and provide key insights and conversation points around selling into a customer when we know who we’re selling against. This type of intelligence should be easy to read, stay updated, and contain competitive intelligence specific to the selling motion.
Badmouthing a customer is, well, bad. If we’re bigger it makes us look weak and if we’re smaller it makes us look like we’re so far behind that we have to mudsling to catch up. Unless it’s the Iowa Caucuses, just don’t do it (and then don’t either). But there are ways to frame up a conversation so we never have to mention a competitor by name. One of the most common is to set our strengths and differentiators up as expectations for a given product category.
Each type of product that’s sold requires a different selling motion. Each industry or market segment can as well. An important aspect we’ve learned over the years is that every sales organization is different. However, there are similarities in what sellers within each organization need to know. These may (or may not) include the following:
Overview: One to two sentences about the competitor, their products, and their market.
Strengths: Three to five short descriptions of areas where the competitor does well.
Weaknesses: Three to five short descriptions of areas where the competitor comes up short (especially when compared to our own strengths).
How We Win: Three to five reasons we believe customers choose us, with some often comparing a weakness in a competitor to one of our own strengths.
Questions: Three to five questions we can ask to help frame a conversation about products in such a way that the customer asks about our strengths without us having to mention any competitor by name.
Objection Handling: A list of common objections with regard to a competitor and how to phrase a response.
Pricing: Cost of competitor SKUs (if appropriate).
We’re including a simple Keynote template for making Battlecards that lay out each of these. They should stay simple, have language a seller can parrot, and be honest. And sometimes it can be hard to admit areas where a competitor is beating us. But any misleading information will backfire.
Again, don’t reference competitors by name. Doing so transfers the conversation to and about them and thus gives the competitor the power to shape the conversation and write the narrative. Sales needs to scale. Perhaps nuance is easier to teach a team of two but a team of 20 or 200 sellers will result in bad behaviors unless we make not engaging in mudslinging competitors abundantly clear. Yet it is easy to scale training on battlecards where we have sellers write email responses and role play objection handling activities. Here, we want to train sellers to use phrases like: “we win against competitors when” or “oh I can put you in touch with a customer who came over from them if you’d like to discuss key differences in products” or “some vendors in our space don’t focus on your size of organization” or “I’m happy to hear you’re talking to other companies like us, I love working with potential customers who are informed enough to choose us.” Far better than “oh they don’t know what they’re doing, they ship a lot of bugs and don’t listen to what customers want.” All a customer hears is “what a bunch of poopy faces.”
Further, as we get bigger, we get a bad reputation. That provides further ammunition for especially smaller competitors. The battlecards are necessary to educate our sales teams about what the market they’re selling into is like and so they’re not caught off guard.
Getting bigger also means limiting our intelligence gathering to public sources of data to develop battlecards. We don’t want every single person in sales, marketing, and product management out there setting up accounts with competitors and potentially violating license agreements. We don’t want to seem predatory if we’re larger or get letters from attorneys. We also don’t want friends who work at a former customer violating any of those agreements. These days most every screen of a competitor’s software is in Google images, pricing is on G2.com, pay bands are on Glassdoor, or there are Slack channels or forums to get sentiment. And there are sites like crayon.io that do much of the aggregation work for us.
The larger a market the more companies that operate on beachheads of the market. This means we’ll have competitors custom made for certain types of environments. So the Managed Service Providers, the small businesses, the solutions for use in retail environments, etc. Those may come in at higher or lower price points, but each is actually probably better for a given subset of customers. We still want to inspire our sales teams to go make sure, and we need to understand that success on those beachheads will mean the competitors will move into larger and larger markets we occupy. This is the nature of a maturing industry and a valid path for all involved. But it does make the need to have good battle cards important and keeping them updated one of many components to our long-term success.
Finally, to help on the journey to build battlecards, here's a simple template in Keynote to help get started!