Refocusing Customer Intelligence

Dean Davison


Sales reps crave insight into customer challenges and information about competitors already working in their accounts. However, a recent Forrester report reveals that competitive and market intelligence (CMI) deliverables often end up confusing and overwhelming sales reps instead of helping them.

The disconnect lies in the fact that most CMI teams structure the bulk of CMI content around a product point of view that doesn’t map to steps in the sales engagement process, such as getting a meeting or building a business case. Moreover, CMI deliverables often compete for mindshare with other forms of sales support that rain down like random acts of “help” directed toward sales, forcing salespeople to figure out how and when to build the intelligence into their selling strategies.

To increase the value of the content that CMI delivers to sales, it’s time to begin working from a new design point, one that reflects the purpose of that content in the first place — meaningful sales conversations. This allows CMI teams to anticipate customer problems and equip salespeople with strategic insights in the context of customers’ problems, easily adapted into existing sales messages, and aligned with the correct stage of the selling activity at an account. To begin engineering deliverables that are purpose-built for what salespeople do — talk with customers – consider this two-step approach: 

Step One: Define the Relevant Sales Objective and Target Stakeholders

Every sales process, no matter how complex or simple, includes four common objectives across the sales cycle — a rep must 1) get access; 2) have meaningful conversations; 3) establish a shared vision; and 4) help the client make the business case to justify the purchase. During these stages, insights into how the client solves problems, with whom she does that, and how your company has worked successfully with other people like her are critical. Each objective is distinct, meaning that the CMI content that will be important will vary as well.

While sales objectives identify what sales reps are discussing with prospects at each stage, stakeholders define who is involved in the conversation. Each stakeholder has a unique view of the problem and has different motivations for addressing it. To progress and succeed, sales reps must understand and engage each stakeholder in successful conversations throughout the sales process.

For example, assume that your organization is responding to a request from sales management to help a specific rep prepare for an upcoming customer meeting at a critical account. In response, you first need to ask a series of questions to find the relevant sales objective, the target stakeholder, and the critical topic, such as:

  1. Who is the stakeholder you are targeting?
  2. Where are you in the sales process?
  3. Are there any key points you want to discuss?

Step Two: Organize Your Deliverable with the Customer in Mind

After defining the stakeholder and sales objective, CMI professionals need to determine the precise questions to research based on the customer’s industry, company size, and unique circumstances. These questions will frame your conversation with your requesting customer and thus your research, so be as specific as possible to ensure that your work will be as useful and relevant as possible for sales.

Outline the content you create as answers to the questions from the customer point of view. Analysis and information about products, markets or competitors become the supporting facts for the answers or insights you are helping sales to convey. Your CMI deliverables will be more relevant, usable and valued by salespeople if you design them as a natural input to the conversations they have every day. Specifically, sales-ready CMI gives reps critical insights into these questions:

  • Who is responsible for solving the problem? These include the names, profiles, and goals of stakeholders who are decision-makers or influencers in solving a specific problem.
  • What is the problem and what are the desired results? These are the known problems that the company plans to address or that CMI can reasonably deduce from public sources, including industry or peer company actions, executive hires, acquisitions, partnerships or stated imperatives.
  • Why is the customer solving this problem now? Internal and external pressures, such as regulation, competition or even debt calls that would impose a timeline for executives to make choices or show results, are all examples of timeliness drivers that CMI can unearth.
  • When (at what point) in the problem-solving life cycle is the customer? Is the customer just now becoming aware that there is a problem, meaning that CMI could address successful case studies or outcomes, or is the customer evaluating alternative solutions, making a detailed competitive positioning more relevant?
  • How will the customer solve this problem, and what is your company's role? CMI is uniquely able to collect examples or case studies about how your company solved similar problems for current clients across multiple industries — whether reducing costs, managing risk, or increasing business performance — to help sales teams gain credibility and conversancy.

Expect increased scrutiny soon, if you have not experienced it already, from executive management to justify the value that the CMI team delivers to sales. CMI leaders should be proactive by reaching out to sales leadership, communicating your intent, and taking the initial steps toward delivering sales-ready content to lock in your value and grow your impact on sales.

Dean Davisonis a senior analyst at Forrester Research, where he serves Technology Sales Enablement professionals.