Category Archives: Competition

Structuring the Organization and Duties of Product Marketing and Competitive Analysis

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 [1] and corporate [2] 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!” [3]

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 [4], 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 [5].  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 [6].   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 [7] that describe the features and benefits of the product [8].  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 [9]:

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:

# # #

Notes

[1]  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.

[2] 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.

[3]  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.

[4] Gekko refers to:  “Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.”

[5] 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.

[6] At one point, way back, Oracle had a huge market intelligence organization, but housed within Americas Marketing, a field marketing organization.

[7] 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.

[8] Often, but not always, with a primary emphasis on differentiation.

[9] 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.)

Video of my SaaStr 2019 Presentation: The Five Questions Startup CEOs Worry About

A few days ago, Jason Lemkin from SaaStr sent me a link to the video of my SaaStr Annual 2019 conference presentation, The Five Questions Startup CEOs Worry About. Those questions, by the way, are:

  1. When do I next raise money?
  2. Do I have the right team?
  3. How can I better manage the board?
  4. To what extent should I worry about competition?
  5. Are we focused enough?

Below is the video of the thirty-minute presentation.  The slides are available on Slideshare.

As mentioned in the presentation, I love to know what’s resonating out there, so if you ever have a moment where you think –“Hey, I just used something from Dave’s presentation!” — please let me know via Twitter or email.

Talking Competition: Methinks Thou Doth Protest Too Much.

From time to time marketers and executives need to talk about the competition with those outside the company, including analysts, partners, and prospective investors.  In this post, we’ll cover my 4 rules for this type of communication.

Be Consistent. 
The biggest mistake people make is inconsistency, often because they’re trying to downplay a certain competitor.   Example:

“Oh, TechMo.  No, we never see them.  They’re like nowhere.  And you know their technology is really non-scaleable because it runs out of address space in the Java virtual machine.  And their list-based engine doesn’t scale because it didn’t scale when the same three founders, Mo, Larry, and Curly, did their last startup which used primarily the same idea.  And while I know they’re up to 150 employees, they must be in trouble because in the past 6 months they’ve lost their VP of Sales, Jon Smith, and their VP of Product Management, Paula Sands, and that new appexchange-like thing they launched last week, with 37 solutions, well it’s a not real either because 15 of the 37 solutions aren’t even built by partners, and they’re more prototypes than applications, and — another thing — I heard that TechMo World last week in Vegas had only 400 attendees and customers didn’t react well to the announcement they made about vertical strategy.  Yes, TechMo’s nobody to us.  We hardly ever see them.”

— Would-Be Dismissive Product Marketer.

What’s the one thing the listener is thinking on hearing all this?

“Holy Cow, these guys are tracking TechMo’s every move.  They sure know a lot about somebody they supposedly never see.”

Or, in other words, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.”  (Hamlet.)

Don’t be this person.  Stay credible.  Be consistent.  If you’re going to be dismissive of someone, dismiss them.  But don’t try to dismiss them, then bleed fear and guilt all over the audience.  Line up your words, your attitude, and your behavior.

Cede, But Cede Carefully.
Some people say never cede anything at all, but I think that’s dangerous, particularly when dealing with sophisticated audiences like industry analysts, prospective investors, or channel partners (who work in the field every day).

I think ceding builds your credibility, but you need to be careful and precise in so doing so.  To take an old example, from BusinessObjects days:

  • Bad/sloppy:  Brio is doing pretty well.
  • Good/careful:  Brio is doing pretty well — in the USA, with companies where the end-users have a strong voice in the process, and they prioritize UI over security and administration.

It’s called positioning for a reason.  You’re supposed to be able to say what you do well, what your competitors do well, and what the difference is.  If you just go on singing “anything you can do I can do better, I can do anything better than you,” then you’re not going to build much credibility with your audience.

  • Bad/sloppy:  Competitor X seems to have some traction in the market.
  • Good/careful:  Competitor X is appearing in high-end deals, has a “fake cloud” offering, and competes well against entrenched Oracle product Y.

Don’t give competitor X an ounce more than they deserve and don’t forget to point out their limitations along the way.  When it comes to credit, give it where due, but be stingy — don’t give a drop more.

This will build your credibility in being reasonably objective.  More important, it also forces you to build some positioning.  As long you are claiming universal superiority — that no one will believe — you’re letting yourself off the hook for doing your job, in building credible positioning.

Keep Your Facts Straight
Be sure of what you say.  It’s far better to say less and be correct than to add just one more point you’re not sure of and get quickly contradicted.  Why?  Because your credibility is now in question as are all your other assertions — even the correct ones.

If you’re sure about something, then say it.  If you’re not sure but think it’s probable then weasel-word it — “we’re hearing,” “I heard from customers that,” “you can see several reviews on Glassdoor where former employees say,” or simply “we think.”  But don’t assert something as fact unless you are sure it is and you’re ready to defend it.

Read the Audience to Avoid the Blindside Hit
I warn every marketer and product manager I know about the blindside hit.  When you’re doing a briefing with hardened industry analyst on a market they’ve covered for 20 years, you’re as vulnerable to a blindside hit as an NFL quarterback.

You make some assertions, and you’re feeling good.  But you stop paying attention to the audience.  You don’t notice the body language showing that they’re not buying it anymore.  You don’t read the warning signs.  You miss the building tension in their voice.   You don’t know that the vendor you’re attacking is the analyst’s favorite and they just had a big steak dinner at the roadshow they did last week in Cleveland.

And then you make one too many false claims and then like a safety on a blitz, the analyst sees a hole in the offensive line, accelerates through it, and hits you in the back at full speed.  BOOM.  You awake a few minutes later and discover you’re strapped to a stretcher with a neck collar on and the CMO and the analyst relations director are carrying you out of the meeting.

“Sorry, Brian got a little ahead of himself, there.  Bob will take it from here.”

quarterback blindside hit

Product marketer carried out of industry analyst briefing. Don’t let this be you.