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CI: A Critical Tool in Your Arsenal

April 2000, Volume 14, No. 161

By George Durtler

It happens all the time: One of your Sales Reps worked long and hard on a new large account. He established a good rapport with all the decision-makers and systematically went through all the steps of needs-satisfaction selling.

He was confident of getting the order. Only to learn that he lost the business to a competitor with a product you believe is inferior and less suited to the needs of the client.

You wonder what happened. The Rep is experienced at sales and knows his products and company capabilities well. If the annual sales meeting was the last time the Rep received updated information the competition, then the Rep likely lost the business because he lacked a critical tool in his sales arsenal: Ample and accurate Competitor Information.

The scenario of loosing business for no good reason is not limited to big-ticket, face-to-face sales situations. Telemarketers and inside sales people often have less than a minute to give prospects a good reason to ever consider your product.

Often telemarketers are told to push a special promotion as a reason to switch' because marketing management figures it should be attractive to the average prospect. But in many cases, a special promotion is not enough.

The prospect needs basic, easy-to-grasp product-related reasons why he should switch. He needs to be shown in concrete terms that the service he is using today is inferior to what your company has to offer. What the rep really needs here is immediate access to a summarized comparison of your product and the one your customer is using now.

Sales at all levels have the common need for timely and accurate CI. It is actually quite amazing that companies invest so much in things like contact management, sales force automation, customer relationship management, and the like, yet don't have a company-wide system to collect and share competitive information.

After all, if you can't turn a prospect into a customer in the first place, what good is all that technology to 'track' and 'manage' customers?

That's exactly the question that moved me to found Strategy Software Inc. and develop the STRATEGY! Competitor Information Management System 'CIMS'.

The PC-based software allows companies to track and outsmart competition.

It allows companies to collect and share Competitor Information in a database accessible to anyone with a need to know. In absence of good CI supplied by their company, the best sales people tend to do their own research on competitors to support themselves, duplicating each other's efforts and wasting valuable selling time. CIMS virtually eliminates this problem.

Marketing and sales managers agree that it's conservative to say that at least one in 10 lost sales could have been won if only the Sales Rep had timely and accurate CI. When the incremental revenues are multiplied out across the whole sales force, they can see that the CIMS system can pay for itself within months after initial launch. This explains why several Fortune 500 companies and many mid-sized organizations started using STRATEGY! within a year of its introduction.

There are several critical issues to keep in mind for successful deployment of a CI system.

First, you must have strong support from executive management because this is an ongoing process, not a short-term project. This means fostering an environment where people are encouraged to keep their eyes and ears open and share information they learn.

Employees must be shown how to use the information to their advantage and given an easy way to contribute the information they learn. Recognition in some form for such contributions is a good idea.

A small group of people must be responsible for entering the information into the system. Ongoing maintenance of the CI in the database is required, or the information contained goes stale and people soon stop using the system.

If it's not practical to have employees do this, you should consider Database Population and Maintenance Services by an outside provider.

George Durtler is founder and president of Strategy Software, Inc., in Kirkland, WA. Prior to that he was president and VP/sales & marketing at GraphiCode, and before that, GM at Eicon Technology in Montreal.