This post is the first of four on the insights from a joint meeting of the Boston Product Marketing Association and the Boston SCIP Chapter held earlier this year.
The Boston Product Management Association (BPMA) and the Boston SCIP Chapter held a joint meeting to discuss how product management and marketing (PMM) staff could work more effectively with competitive intelligence (CI) and competitive intelligence professionals.
The panel consisted of five practioners from different industries with experience in CI and/or PMM with a moderator familiar with CI. The participants were:
Moderator Doug Wolf, whose law firm, Wolf Greenfield specializes in intellectual property and works with CI organizations among others.
As Vice President, Product Marketing and Strategy, Unica Corporation, Andrew Hally leads product strategy and marketing for Unica’s on-demand product lines.
Michael Levy is a Product Marketing Manager at OneSource Information Services (a subsidiary of InfoGroup) where he has been in charge of competitive intelligence and market research since 2001.
C. Todd Lombardo is the Marketing Manager, Agencourt Biosciences, a Beckman Coulter Company with additional experience in product management at PerkinElmer, MJ Research, and US Genomics.
Currently a competitive intelligence analyst at Fallon Community Health Plan, Brad Lovoi has worked as a competitive intelligence professional for the past five years across several industries from healthcare to property and casualty insurance.
Michael J. Salerno, a co-founder of BPMA, is currently planning market-leading CRM applications for Oracle Corporation building on his career focusing on enterprise software.
Most of the panelists had extensive experience in both product management and competitive intelligence and could comment on best practices from both sides.
The first insight is that salespeople are the key source of competitive intelligence
The panelists agreed that their key source of competitive information was their organizations’ sales force, but to gain the best information, the panelists advised establishing informal relationships.
Michael Salerno said that “Having a strong relationship with sales is paramount. They can provide a lot of information about what’s happening in the market. What is effective is to put on a social hat: salespeople love to talk, especially about their successes.”
Michael Levy added that “I live with the sales force. My desk is next to theirs.” He feels as if he’s part of the sales process and he spends more time with sales than with PM.
Brian Lovoi walks among the sales force, “I ask them about the deal, we talk about the Patriots. We sometimes have scheduled meetings with management present, but informal is best; sales are more forthcoming. Sales are invaluable. Make the other person feel important.”
Andrew Hally would rather have sales as sources than customers since sales people see CI through the lens of winning deals, the primary focus of CI at his firm.
Several panel members cautioned about relying too heavily on information from sales and suggesting turning to customers in addition.
Todd Lombardo warned, “Watch out for a salesperson screaming for a feature that only 5% of the customers want. You need relationships with customers so you can ask them to compare competitive products.” Michael Salerno agreed, saying that he been pressed to add a new feature which a competitor had. But when he asked a customer if the feature was key to its decision to go with the competitor, he was told, “No,” he said, “It was nice, and they threw it in free.”
Brian Lovoi observed that sales people love to talk about successes, but to get information about losses is like pulling teeth.
Other sources mentioned included bankers, venture capitalists, industry reports, SEC filings, job descriptions, RSS feeds from blogs.