Product Marketing

A Practical, No-Drama Approach To Competitive Intelligence And Analysis

By Trusted CMO

A Practical, No-Drama Approach To Competitive Intelligence And Analysis

Most founders build startups to provide better solutions to current problems. What differentiates the great from the merely good is a powerful value proposition. Being able to communicate why your way is the best way is the linchpin of marketing. Competitive intelligence is less about tracking your competitors and comparing them to your progress and more about grasping the credible differentiators and successfully helping prospects and customers navigate through the alternatives.

Why competitive intelligence should be a priority

It’s easy to see why competitive intelligence wouldn’t be the top priority for early-stage startups, but I believe this is a rookie oversight. Building a company is like entering into a new, all-consuming relationship. Investors will ask about the market landscape, and competitive intelligence provides valuable information up front. Successfully raised your latest round of funding? Congratulations—but that isn’t an excuse to bury your head in the sand. No one wants to fall out of love with their product when sales points out weaknesses, customers say “if only,” or the product and engineering teams can’t build a feature fast enough. And on the other hand, dismissing competitors (“no one else is doing this”) doesn’t make them go away. Forging headlong into build mode based on limited information is also likely to set you and your founding team up for expensive mistakes. If you’re an early-stage company, how you talk about your value—why you, for whom and how — is as important as the value itself.

Here’s how to keep up without burning out.

Set-Up: Ownership, accountability and standardization

• Establish a framework and goals for competitive intelligence. Clarify what you want to find out and achieve, and keep the scope tight and targeted to what’s most relevant for your business’s survival.

• Broaden the scope of your analysis beyond direct competitors to include giants who can take you out in six months and actions to take (which may be “do nothing”).

• Create a comparison matrix and deck for key points. These should capture competitors, messaging, features and approaches. Keep it short, sweet and simple. Distill the big moves, insights and differences into a few bullet points.

• Remember that answers are often hidden in blogs and press releases.

• Assign one person (like someone in product marketing) to maintain these materials, and update and review the information monthly with your teams.

Application: leverage knowledge to drive outcomes

Done right, an effective competitive analysis should inform your go-to-market strategy. Here’s how to connect the dots and make it actionable.


• Create battle-cards, comparison sheets, messaging, nurture campaigns and advertisements to make it easy for target customers to see that you’re the best choice.

• Keep “background” personas on board by curating your messaging and materials for different users.


• Take a user-centric approach to clarifying product-and feature-related priorities and creating a road map for the future. Triangulate key points and insights to keep the big picture in mind and direct messaging and campaigns appropriately. Create a CI steering committee to align cross-functional leaders on the current state of play and next steps.

Staying the course: build a company for the long-haul

Once you have your competitive matrix, think about how to stand out. Know your competitors, but don’t let them build your business for you. Early success is great, but the best growth is sustainable and iterative.

Staying Customer-Obsessed

• Identify why your customers buy from you, and double down on that.

• Missing a feature isn’t the be-all and end-all unless you’re losing deals because of it. It’s not just about what you say but also the customer and product experience that you embody—and that comes down to the strength of your brand, product, vision and go-to-market strategy.

Finding Where You Fit In

• Zoom out and understand market shifts. If you sell to a specific persona, who is influential in their decision-making? How are their worlds changing? Stay on top by getting ahead.

• Pro tip: Where are the big companies that could wipe you out? How are their products and services evolving? Are people buying them?

Optimizing How You Communicate

If your insights are trapped in one-off emails to sales, you’ve got a problem. At the other end of the spectrum, monitoring the #competitive channel from your treadmill isn’t great either.

As a leader and decision maker, you set the precedent for effective (or not so effective) working practices on your team. Strike a balance between keeping a finger on the pulse and being blinded by the noise, and don’t be afraid to question your ways of doing things.

Startups don’t become unicorns overnight. It might not be sexy, but sometimes slow and steady wins the race. To take your competitive intelligence to the next level, go beyond asking why you should exist. Instead, get clear on why you will.

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