Leveraging sales employees for competitive intelligence

Anyone who has taken the time to map out customer touchpoints quickly realizes the scope of the map can become extensive and fast. These customer connections can provide a wealth of data from potential product improvements and service enhancements to numerous other ways to improve the overall customer experience and add to the bottom line.

One aspect of these customer connections that can be easily overlooked is that of the salesforce’s role in gathering intelligence about the competition. As a market researcher I typically look to surveying the market in order to gain insight regarding our competitors. This is certainly a valid measure, but one that should also be coupled with what members of the sales team are hearing in their conversations with customers and prospects.

External market surveys offer many advantages and are the gold standard for developing and understanding how the market perceives the competitive landscape. However, they are costly and can be timely to complete. As an adjunct consider developing a survey focused on your sales team(s). Internal surveys do not need to be as robust as external market surveys and they can be implemented for a significantly lower cost.

Depending on the scope of your sales organization and the nature of your purchase cycle consider a monthly or quarterly tracking study. Most markets move at a pace where a monthly or quarterly survey should capture significant shifts in the competition. Adjust the timeframe according to the dynamics of your market – slower moving markets can use a less frequent survey whereas faster moving markets may need to measure bi-weekly or even weekly.

The one thing I have learned in terms of working with salespeople is you absolutely have to keep it simple, otherwise it becomes a perceived threat to their productivity. To this point it is advised to that you design your survey efficiently with a minimum number of questions. Include those relevant to your current product line and the sales territories you currently cover. As for the competitive angle, include known competitors, but allow your respondents to list those companies that may just be entering the market. You can also leave room for a floating question that changes periodically.

All this will be mute if you don’t have the cooperation of your sales management. Seek this out early in the process and ensure them you will keep it simple and in return you will share the information once it is analyzed. Closing this loop is critical in developing internal trust and facilitating an ongoing dialog where salespeople feel comfortable sharing what they hear.