I sometimes get asked about how to structure an enterprise software marketing organization and the relative roles of product marketing vs. competitive analysis. In this post, I’ll share my (somewhat contrarian) thoughts on this topic.
My first job in marketing, which served as my bridge from a technical to a sales-and-marketing career, was as a competitive analyst. Specifically, I was the dedicated Sybase competitive analyst at Ingres in the late 1980s, in a corporate job, but working out of the New York City sales office. Because, at the time, Sybase was a strong new entrant with a beachhead strategy in financial services, this was rough equivalent of working for the Wehrmacht on Omaha Beach on D-Day. I learned not only by watching Sybase’s market invasion, but more importantly by watching how the local reps  and corporate  responded to it.
I’m a huge believer in competitive analysis, which probably started when I first heard this quote watching Patton as an adolescent:
“Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!” 
My other formative experience came from watching yet another movie, Wall Street, where antagonist Gordon Gekko refers to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.
While Gekko doesn’t use my favorite quote for these purposes , his reference to the book was very much in vogue at the time, and probably why I first read it. My favorite quote from The Art of War is this one:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Regular readers know I believe the mission of marketing is to make sales easier. So the question becomes: in enterprise software, how do we structure product marketing and competitive in the best way to do just that?
First, let’s review some common mistakes:
- Not specializing competitive, instead declaring that each product marketing manager (PMM) will cover their respective competitors. Too much scope, too little focus.
- Understaffing competitive. Even in organizations where competitive exists as its own team, it’s not uncommon to see a ratio of 5-10 PMMs per competitive analyst in terms of staffing. This is too unbalanced.
- Chartering competitive as strategic. While I often euphemize the competitive team as “strategic marketing” or “market intelligence,” that’s not supposed to actually change their mission into some think tank. They exist to help sales win deals. Don’t let your competitive team get so lofty that they view deal support as pedestrian.
- Putting competitive under product marketing. This both blurs the focus and, more importantly, eliminates a healthy tension . If your messaging doesn’t work in the field, the CMO should want to hear about it early (e.g., in their own staff meeting) and have a chance to fix it before it escalates to the corporate QBR and a potential sales attack on marketing in front of the CEO.
- Putting competitive in the field. This happens when marketing abdicates responsibility for producing sales-ready competitive materials and someone else picks up the ball, usually the sales productivity team, but sometimes field marketing . This disconnects corporate product marketing from the realities of the field, which is not healthy.
Now, let’s tell you how I think structuring these departments.
- Product marketing exists to build messaging and content  that describe the features and benefits of the product . The job is to articulate. They are experts in products.
- Competitive analysis exists to research competitors, devise plays, and build tools to help sales win deals. The job is to win. They are experts in the competitors.
As long as we’re in movie quote mode, here’s one of my favorite quotes from James Mason’s character in The Verdict :
I’d prepared a case and old man White said to me, “How did you do?” And, uh, I said, “Did my best.” And he said, “You’re not paid to do your best. You’re paid to win.”
While he was speaking to about lawyers, he might as well have been speaking to competitive: you’re paid to win.
That’s why I believe competitive needs to be holistic and play-oriented. Simply put, take everything you know about a competitor — e.g., products, leadership, history, tactics — and devise plays that will help you win against them. Then train sales on how to run those plays and supp0rt them in so doing.
If you adopt this mindset you end up with an organization where:
- Product marketing and competitive are separate functions, both reporting directly to the CMO
- Product marketing is product-oriented, focused on articulation of features and benefits
- Competitive is competitor-oriented, focused on using all available information to create plays that win deals and support sales in executing them
- Product marketing staffing is driven by the number of products you’re covering
- Competitive staffing is driven by the number of competitors you’re covering (and at what depth level or tier).
- You end up with a ratio of more like 3:1 than 10:1 when it comes to the relative staffing of product marketing and competitive
You think of these organizations as a matrix:
# # #
 In the case of the reps, their response was to walk away from financial services deals because they knew they were likely to lose. This, of course, had the effect of making it easier for Sybase to enter the market. The smart reps went to Westchester and Long Island and sold in other verticals. The dumb ones battled Sybase on Wall Street, lost deals, missed mortgage payments, broke marriages, and got fired — all for doing what the c0mpany strategically should have wanted them to do: to slow down the invasion. A classic case of micro and macro non-alignment of interests.
 The corporate response was to blame sales management. Rather than seeing the situation as a strategic problem where an enemy was breaking through lines with an integrated strategy (e.g., partners), they chose to see it as an operational or execution problem. Think: we’re hiring bad reps in NYC and losing a lot deals — fire the sales manager and get some new talent in there.
 Good Strategy, Bad Strategy tells the presumably more common inverse tale, where during the Gulf War in 1991 General Schwarzkopf was widely credited with a left-hook strategy described as “surprise,” “secret,” and “brilliant,” that was clearly published in the US Army Field Manual 100-5 saying the following, complete with an illustration of a left hook.
Envelopment avoids the enemy’s front, where its forces are most protected and his fires most easily concentrated. Instead, while fixing the defender’s attention forward by supporting or diversionary attacks, the attacker maneuvers his main effort around or over the enemy’s defenses to strike at his flanks and rear.
 Gekko refers to: “Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.”
 Organization design is all about creating and managing healthy tensions. Such tensions are a key reason why I like marketing reporting to the CEO (and not sales), customer success reporting to the CEO (and not the CRO/sales), and engineering reporting to the CEO (and not product), for a few examples.
 At one point, way back, Oracle had a huge market intelligence organization, but housed within Americas Marketing, a field marketing organization.
 Content being collateral (e.g., web content, white papers, e-books), presentations (internal and external), and demonstrations — all built around communicating the key messages in their messaging blueprint.
 Often, but not always, with a primary emphasis on differentiation.
 It’s not lost on me that the character was morally bankrupt and was implicitly saying to win at any and all costs. But I nevertheless still love the quote. (And yes, win within normal legal and societal constraints! But win.)