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The Evolution of Competitive Intelligence in SaaS

Competition is one of the critical components of life on Earth.

For billions of years, organisms have been competing for survival in rapidly changing environments and ecosystems. And for as long as humans have engaged in trading and commerce, competition has been instrumental in creating the world we live in today.

Successful companies stand apart from failing ones because they understand how their business stacks up against the rest of the market. A rigorous knowledge of the competitive landscape can be a crucial advantage for any business in its planning, decision-making, and strategic implementation.

Competition in the world of B2B software is only becoming more intense, which is why many companies are turning to competitive intelligence practices. However, competitive intelligence is a relatively novel process, and most companies don’t have a formal approach to doing it right.

To fully appreciate the power of competitive intelligence for software vendors, I spoke with industry expert Andy McCotter-Bicknell, Head of Competitive Intelligence at ClickUp. With Andy’s help, we’ll explore the origins of competitive intelligence, how it has changed, and where it will likely go next.

Competitive intelligence is extremely valuable since it aims to present unique opportunities and target potential weaknesses. Businesses can use this information to guide product roadmaps, marketing campaigns, and go-to-market strategies.

How organizations approach CI can look very different from one business to another, but it empowers them to make better decisions with greater confidence. Competitive intelligence is constantly evolving, but let’s first examine where it came from.

The history of competitive intelligence in SaaS

Gathering information about competitors is nothing new.

The principle of competitive analysis has been around for hundreds of years. However, the explosion of technological innovation over the last several decades paved the way for a more formal approach to competitive intelligence.

In terms of the software and SaaS industry, there were essentially two time periods worth noting:

There wasn’t a ton of publicly available information out there. And if there was, you had to know who to tap to get your hands on it. The big switch was the massive amount of information available in the late 2000s.

Andy McCotter-Bicknell
Head of Competitive Intelligence at ClickUp

Businesses analyze more data than ever before, which was a tremendous step for advancing competitive intelligence.

“Before, there wasn’t so much, but now there’s an overwhelming amount of information,” says McCotter-Bicknell. “You really have to do your best to prioritize the stuff that actually matters for your company.”

Knowing how to execute based on those insights is an immense challenge. Because of this, competitive intelligence is increasingly becoming a crucial skill set for certain professionals.

How competitive intelligence has changed

Competitive intelligence as a formal business practice is still in its early days. Interestingly, its advancement is directly tied to the expansion of another relatively new concept in the business world: product marketing.

Over a decade ago, product marketing roles weren’t as prominent as today. Because these professionals touch on brand management, growth marketing, and product management as part of their primary responsibilities, many B2B software brands view product marketers as indispensable.

Over the past 10 years, product marketing has transformed into one of those must-have roles in a growing SaaS company. And within the past four or five years, we’re starting to see a lot of competitive intelligence specialists coming from a product marketing background.

Andy McCotter-Bicknell
Head of Competitive Intelligence at ClickUp

Much like other marketing career paths in content, email, or analytics, more roles are becoming specialized and nuanced. For example, the day-to-day duties and relevant skills differ for short-form copywriters and long-form content marketers.

Competitive intelligence is one of those capabilities product marketers need to have in their toolbelt. Only now, companies are beginning to invest in CI programs with a disciplined and formal approach.

What competitive intelligence looks like now

Competitive intelligence is undoubtedly seeing more consideration across the software world, but these activities fall on multiple stakeholders within a company. Companies often hesitate to develop a formal competitive intelligence program because of limited bandwidths or the added costs of hiring CI specialists.

However, there are benefits to instituting a CI program. Doing so empowers one or several professionals to prioritize CI data collection and analysis while balancing the needs of numerous stakeholders and cross-functional teams.

3 pillars of competitive intelligence 

Since the function of competitive intelligence is still quite young, there isn’t a typical system or team structure consistent across the B2B software landscape. But to get a sense of what a dedicated CI program could look like, McCotter-Bicknell shared the three pillars he uses as the foundation for the competitive intelligence program he runs.

  • Win/loss: Supply reasoning and analysis behind the customer buying process and how they perceive your product relative to your competitors.
  • Sales support: Tactical go-to-market support to help sales teams win more competitive deals.
  • Product support: Help the product team comprehend what top competitors are building out, the strengths and weaknesses of your product, what to prioritize from a product roadmap perspective, and more.

The concepts above are the core ways a designated CI program creates value for modern SaaS companies. Until competitive intelligence becomes ubiquitous across B2B software, most companies will have CI duties fall on product marketers and several stakeholders.

The future of competitive intelligence

CI will continue to change and develop in the coming years. After talking with McCotter-Bicknell, here are two specific developments he sees becoming a reality very soon.

From taboo to mission-critical

Organizations, especially those in business for longer, tend to hesitate when talking publicly about their competitors and how they address their competitive landscape. McCotter-Bicknell thinks this is a bit of an “old school” mentality and sees this changing for marketers and leaders.

Overall, McCotter-Bicknell says that competitive intelligence will eventually become less taboo than it is now.

One way we see this shift is with the rise of newer podcasts where thought leaders share some truly unique insights. These podcasts have very open discussions with other CEOs and founders to understand how they differentiate themselves from their competitors. 

If you listened to these podcasts five years ago, it would have felt very weird to hear leaders be so open about their competition. That’s not the case anymore. We’re seeing more and more industry leaders being very transparent about their strategy and how they’re winning more.

Andy McCotter-Bicknell
Head of Competitive Intelligence at ClickUp

Wider adoption and budget allocation

Since the world of B2B software is only getting more competitive, vendors need to seek out solutions to give them an edge and win over more buyers. As competitive intelligence continues to gain traction, more companies will likely prioritize investments to create their own programs.

“Just like how product marketing has a dedicated budget, I think more budgeting will be set aside specifically for competitive intelligence,” says McCotter-Bicknell. “From hiring candidates to investing in tools that assist in CI, we’re going to see wider adoption.”

Tip: When assessing candidates for roles with an emphasis on competitive intelligence, McCotter-Bicknell suggests opting for product marketers who are natural collaborators. They must have high comfort levels with coordinating with multiple stakeholders and asking hard questions.

The expanding role of the voice of the customer

Learning foundational principles is the first step to finding success with competitive intelligence. The next natural progression is getting a complete picture of the types of data you’re collecting about your competitors and customers.

Of the many different data sources that fall under the umbrella of competitive intelligence most relevant to B2B software, there’s one that’s crucial: the voice of the customer.

G2 is the world’s largest B2B software marketplace, with over 1.8 million reviews from real users. As the best source of insights driven by the voice of the customer, G2 has numerous tools and available data that can help software brands understand their customers, the competition, and market trends.

Ready to dominate your competitive landscape? Book a demo today to learn how G2 Market Intelligence gives you a leg up on the competition.