Manufacturers are increasingly turning to hosted CRM applications including those from Salesforce.com and others to have their sales, service, and sales operations departments capture competitive intelligence from the field. The competitive intelligence generated from the many interactions with resellers, dealers, distributors and direct customers gets captured by channel managers for use by sales, marketing and senior management in the creation of per-deal and per-market competitive strategies. Manufacturers are using separate Salesforce.com and other hosted CRM application accounts specifically for this purpose.
For serving the channel, entirely different portals are used for providing pricing, order capture, order management and service-related tasks. This area has traditionally been known of as Partner Relationship Management and is separate from competitive analysis efforts inside the manufacturer.
Sales Leads; CRM Vendors Respond
One manufacturer of custom-made HVAC equipment reports their quotes are being generated an average of 30 percent faster due to having more accurate competitive data captured company-wide to tailor responses to prospects and clients. Close rates on deals from this data being available are averaging 15 to 22 percent. Sales managers are saying that using a hosted CRM solution better organizes competitive intelligence more effectively than e-mails and Outlook folders, and is instantly available worldwide after its posted by any account manager.
Both Siebel in their CRM OnDemand product suite and Salesforce.com in their Opportunity Management applications have functionality for tracking which competitors are also being considered for a specific deal. Salesforce.com specifically calls this area Competitor Tracking in Opportunity Management. The inclusion of cataloging is also making it possible to create large databases of documents, including PDFs and PowerPoint presentations for use in selling situations.
Manufacturers don’t stop with these features however. They are building out profiles of their competitors in using these hosted applications, with a few tailoring incentives for the number and quality of entries on competitors by members of their sales forces. One manufacturer has their dashboards set up to show quota attainment on the left side of the screen and top contributors to competitive data collection on the right. This is a manufacturer in the highly competitive tape storage market where sales cycles are relatively quick and margins towards the thin side.
Uncloaking the Competition
In addition to manufacturers incenting customer-facing sales and service to provide entries into hosted CRM apps that are quickly becoming competitive analysis portals, business development, product marketing, and sales operations in several manufacturers now have the task of doing the in-depth research to flesh out competitive profiles available online.
Here are the lessons learned from manufacturers who are building out competitive analysis portals using hosted CRM applications as the platform:
- Publicly held competitors are by far the easiest to track, while privately held ones are more difficult to uncloak. In the post-SOX era of financial reporting, there is a wealth of excellent data available on publicly held competitors through a wide variety of sources. Getting started with a competitive analysis of a publicly held competitor, start with the filings they have made with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Using the EDGAR database accessible from the front page of their site you can gain access to each form, report, addendum and statement your competitor has had to file with the SEC. These filings alone are incredibly valuable and are easily saved to account records that Salesforce.com for example created for each competitor. Using the catalog function, the reports are easily saved into folders for future reference.
- Investor Relations sections of Web sites have a wealth of competitive data. Many publicly held companies post the audio files and presentations from quarterly earnings calls. These calls are incredibly useful to listen to and create record entries for future reference.
- Investment analyst reports. These are often available free from the competitor’s Investor Relations pages of their Web site. If they aren’t, find out which investment analysts and their firms are tracking your competitors and get a complimentary login and password from the investment banker’s research division.
- Dun & Bradstreet reports are invaluable for uncloaking privately held competitors. Running credit reports on competitors is invaluable in that you can find out their financial viability very quickly. You can also find out if they are quietly being sold or buying someone, if they are involved in any litigation, and what the majority of their assets are. A further bonus is that you can have D & B deliver alerts to you on your competitors any time there is a change to your profile.
Hosted Apps First, Portals Second
The manufacturers I’ve spoken with on this subject say that it was much faster to get their competitive data organized online using hosted CRM apps, and is easier to use since many of their channel and sales organizations are on hosted applications already. A few of the manufacturers are looking to extend their existing channel management systems so channel-centric competitive data can be shared outside the company. The security concerns, however, inside manufacturers contemplating this move hold them back.
Tracking Industry Analysts
Many of the manufacturers and software companies tracking competitors also now track industry analyst interactions in hosted CRM applications as well. Giving global visibility to European-based engineering, product development, product management, sales, and service organizations is making this second use gain rapid adoption because these companies can quickly coordinate on analyst briefings for consistency of messaging. Manufacturers with analyst relations are also doing this, yet it is much more prevalent in the software industry.
Bottom Line: Manufacturers are having success customizing hosted CRM applications for competitive intelligence, leading to higher deal close rates as a result.
Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He is the author of several books on making the most of analyst relationships, including Best Practices in Analyst Relations, which can be downloaded for free.