Discover why B2B competitive intelligence (CI) is becoming more important and how it can benefit your business in the long term. Learn about the latest trends and insights that can help you stay ahead of your competition and adapt to rapid learning cycles within a rapidly changing market.
Table of Contents:
- Customer Behavior Analysis: B2B Competitive Intelligence
- The Rise of Competitive Intelligence
- How Rapidly is Competitive Intel Changing
- B2B Competitive Intelligence: Learn, Synthesize, and Adapt
- Science of CI for B2B SaaS Companies
- Understanding Your Competitive Landscape: Top Challenges
- Rapid Learning Through Competitive Intelligence
- The Importance of Customer Retention
- Power of Third-Party B2B Competitive Analysis
Customer Behavior Analysis: B2B Competitive Intelligence
Your customer’s behaviors have changed. Actually, they are constantly changing, all the time. And right now, they’re changing so fast that it’s nearly impossible to keep up, especially with the recent rise of so many new AI companies. Your products and services give customers something they need, but without knowing what has changed, our businesses will suffer through longer sales cycles, lower win rates, and higher churn.
Just looking at the 90 or so publicly traded SaaS companies, over $1T has been wiped out since November 2021. “2022 Saas Crash ‒ Meritech Capital.” ‒ Meritech Capital, https://www.meritechcapital.com/blog/2022-saas-crash.
This is a big problem; the opportunity landscape is changing faster than companies’ learning cycles are informing them (that is if they even have a competitive intelligence program to attain deep insights from customers or other data sources). Some companies are rushing to find a new software development partner to build something to copy their competitors (often without even having enough data to do so), and many are just stuck in the weeds and not sure what to do.
What customers need from you, how they want to interact with you and your products, and even what they expect from your brand, are all rapidly changing. If you don't understand why, you are losing ground. RevOps, Sales, and Marketing are more important than ever because they utilize various data sources to inform business strategy. This means, in many cases, that internal teams are struggling with massive amounts of data because it falls short of actionable intelligence. It also means everyone else (i.e., your competition) is seeking out answers from largely the same dataset. So how do you get a competitive advantage and truly understand customer buying behavior?
The Rise of Competitive Intelligence
Job titles with "revenue" or "competitive" are increasing in number. Companies are looking for an edge; competitive intelligence that constantly updates you with your own dataset that nobody else has access to. It's true, with proprietary data you can see patterns. Patterns lead to insights, and over time those insights lead to strategic wisdom.
Competitive advantage doesn't come with the quantity of data you have, and solely removing silos doesn't do it either.
The effectiveness of competitive intelligence boils down to three things:
- Your learning cycles have to be as fast or faster than the speed at which your opportunity landscape is changing
- Your organization has to be willing to be changed by your findings
- Your findings are deteriorating as soon as you write them down.
How Rapidly is Competitive Intel Changing
Since early 2020, change in our world has accelerated. Our politics, identity, social injustice awareness... it has all been challenged, torn down, and rebuilt in a very fast change cycle. Sure, customers always change. But right now, we are seeing exaggerated effects of the changing markets because it's all happening so darn fast.
Just consider our workforce. Employers are clawing back their policies on remote work that aren't even a year old.
We're seeing massive layoffs, whereas 6 months ago there was an absolute gold rush for talent. Avery Hartmans, Samantha Delouya. “Goldman Sachs Plans to Cut Thousands of Workers. Here Are the Other Major US Companies That Have Made Cuts in 2022, from Amazon to Twitter.” Business Insider, Business Insider, https://www.businessinsider.com/layoffs-sweeping-the-us-these-are-the-companies-making-cuts-2022-5.
Talk about whiplash.
Here in the US, we've seen the largest stimulus package in history (around $5 trillion to date) and the economy is on edge as interest rates rise and we head into a bear market (S&P is currently down almost 20% over the last 6 months) market. Parlapiano, Alicia, and Deborah. “Where $5 Trillion in Pandemic Stimulus Money Went.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Mar. 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/03/11/us/how-covid-stimulus-money-was-spent.html.
Will R&D projects go away as they usually do, in a recession? What does B2B and B2C spending look like right now? It's true we may be facing a tough recession, but with all the stimulus dollars it will be interesting to see how those funds are deployed as companies vie for a competitive edge.
Navigating Rapid Change to Gain a Competitive Advantage
It’s very hard to keep a pulse on what your customers care about. What will they buy, when, and why will they buy it? You're competing not just with other companies for their business, you're competing with other deal killers like loss of R&D budget, or reprioritization of internal projects (or doing nothing, in some cases).
I believe these uncertainties are the reason why RevOps and competitive intelligence programs are more important than ever to product marketers, designers, and executives. The fact is your customers often change faster than your products and brand change. That phenomenon is accelerated right now, and businesses are struggling to find a deep connection with their consumers. This can lead to low percentage sales efforts, lower lifetime value, and clients churning unexpectedly. What people say they will do or buy vs. what they actually do or buy are usually different. Thus, organizations need to embrace a faster learning cycle and be willing to be led by their findings.
B2B Competitive Intelligence: Learn, Synthesize, and Adapt
Experimentation has always been integral to the success of digital projects at Anthroware -- distilling insights from data to make good product decisions is the steel thread that touches everything we do. Data doesn't have feelings, it just shows you information about your landscape.
An objective, even critical, analysis of data that is focused on finding patterns and applying them to your best thinking allows you to move forward with confidence. This applies to product-market fit, it applies to sales, and it applies to strategic decisions. Becoming an insight-driven organization doesn't happen overnight.
Being willing to "kill your darlings" (let go of prior best thinking or understanding, even your pet ideas) is actually pretty hard to get right in any organization. Being able to objectively go through product R&D to create a strategy based on evidence takes guts.
Perhaps you've seen this in your own organization? Evidence is there, but it's hard to quantify a strategic direction, so you stay the course and suffer from being behind the curve... it happens all the time.
Science of CI for B2B SaaS Companies
Mathematical models are good at predicting smooth curves and trends, but their accuracy decreases the faster the markets are changing. B2B organizations that are willing to embrace this within their CI programs will win. It isn't trivial to put your ideas, designs, pitches, or sales talking points into the crucible of the real world. However, the more learning cycles you run, the more pieces of evidence you have, and the more confidence you can have in the insights you derive from the data.
This is a very design-thinking-focused approach to your competitive landscape, and it's very effective for B2B SaaS Companies building out a CI program.
The faster things are changing, the faster the learning cycles need to be for your competitive intelligence program. If you take anything away from reading this, let it be the focus on increasing the speed of your learning cycles!
Excessive Customer Behavior Data
One more thing while we're on this topic... organizations are inundated with data. They have data coming out of their ears. Some of it is great, some of it is biased (i.e., self-reported win-loss data is a good example), some of it is available to your competitors, and a lot of it is held in silos throughout the organization.
Having 'data' is NOT the full picture. But clean data is the first step towards looking for patterns and garnering deeper insights that explain buyer behavior.
Anthroware has found that fast learning cycles are empowering. It doesn't mean your product strategy should change as rapidly as your learnings. It gives strategists good enough fidelity in sample rate to make informed decisions. Competitive intel or CI work is much more than hiring a director of compete, it's a constant investment in learning. As soon as you write down a key insight about the behavior of your customers, it's aging.
Understanding Your Competitive Landscape: Top Challenges
Organizations that remove data silos, interpret actionable insights, and speed up learning cycles will have a competitive edge. Looking at history, there are always winners and losers in recessionary periods. Here are some historical challenges that exclaim these points based on the impact they will have on businesses.
- Length of sales cycles will increase, which increases acquisition cost.
- Budgets will tighten on non-revenue generating activities (i.e., IT departments being asked to consolidate tech stacks).
- You will find yourself more often competing with 'the cost of doing nothing'.
- Marketing qualified leads (MQL's) costs will increase due to fewer buyers and smaller buying windows.
- Layoffs and hiring freezes will cause a power shift away from employees back to employers.
- Churning your installed base is unacceptable.
These predictions make intuitive sense to us. How do faster learning cycles and competitive intelligence make a difference with respect to this list?
Rapid Learning Through Competitive Intelligence
Well, first off, understanding changing priorities of your customers is paramount. Do you currently have a customer retention strategy? The usual playbook is more likely to become less effective than the opposite. Tighter budgets mean even more pressure on buyers, and certain spending will stall completely. With fewer buyers in the market for products and services there will be more competition for each opportunity.
Relationships, unbiased product relevance, and human psychology in design are more important than ever. Investments in competitive intelligence arm your organization with insights that are relevant to you, and relevant to your customers. This benefit can't be understated.
The Importance of Customer Retention
Speaking of relationships, caring for the customers you already have (installed base) is more important than ever. This can be handled with a customer retention program. A deep insight into the marketplace and what's on buyers’ minds will also give you superpowers when customer success folks are interacting with your existing accounts.
SaaS companies aren't just investing in win-loss analysis or churn analysis studies these days, they are also deploying similar studies to understand deep insights into their own customers. PE and VC firms often run studies to understand the strength of both the competitive landscape AND customer relationships before making investments.
Power of Third-Party B2B Competitive Analysis
Unbiased third-party assessments uncover the bold truth, challenges, and opportunities. Better selling, longer lifetime value for accounts, and better strategy are a direct result of knowing the hard facts.
It's pretty hard for organizations to implement this type of feedback loop. It takes time, but it's worth the effort!
Try not to let your data and insights stay inside your account team or CRM. A 3rd party competitive intelligence company like Anthroware can help you synthesize and distribute this data to your other teams like marketing, product, customer success, and customer experience.
Most sophisticated organizations have plenty of data. The "so what" comes from focusing on human behaviors and feelings and interpreting nuanced patterns. Data, insights, and strategy age and deteriorate as soon as you write them down. The faster your opportunity landscape is changing, the tighter a grip you need to have when analyzing your customers and their behavior. B2B competitive intelligence supports all of the above and can better prepare you for what is to come.