One of the mysteries that we’ve encountered across the startups, as well as in the industries that we’ve recently worked with, is the lack of focus—or dedicated resources—on the subject of analyzing and combating the competition. This area, known loosely as “competitive analysis”, is a critical component of a startup’s early success.
Carol and I cut our teeth in companies that took the competition seriously. At Oracle, where I was the original Creative Director, I attended quarterly Sales meetings around the globe. Our approach to competitive analysis was twofold: 1) Both the Sales Engineers and the Product Marketing team seriously and honestly analyzed the competition (both strengths and weaknesses) and 2) Once the weakness was clear, we would go at it with an aggressive Sales campaign (called, humanely, ‘cut off the oxygen’) to underprice it and render it suspect in the long-term in the market.
Sun was no different. In the pre-Java days of Sun, every competitive desktop or server announcement was a “call-to-arms” for the Product teams to begin picking apart the pricing, performance specs and support options, and to dig for weaknesses to exploit at launch and beyond. The Product Management and Product Marketing teams dove into the bunker together to acquire, analyze and sift through advance information about a competitive product in order to arm the Global Sales teams with information to disarm and defuse every competitive claim. In those days, the trade press devoured what was then known as the “speeds and feeds” of every tech product announcement. It was the job of the Product team at headquarters to serve as the clearinghouse for competitive threats. And it was the job of the headquarters team to inform management, employees, and board members.
At the street level, every startup should have dedicated personnel (either a headcount or part of a headcount) dedicated to tracking the competition. There should be standalone PowerPoint presentations that either are there as attachments to the main Sales deck or can be used later in the sales cycle. Distinguishing your company and its technology from your three main competitors should be a mandatory part of Sales training. And at a higher level, every employee should know that he/she is a spokesperson and should be able to articulate how the company is different and better.