We think it’s really sad that some companies have become so siloed that they embark on expensive competitor research programs when their salespeople already know what their competitors are doing. Marketing departments in some large companies are getting carried away with “make work.” It’s almost like they have convinced top management there is no other way to know what the competition is doing other than expensive and extensive focus groups, complicated analysis, and massive report writing.
Well, it can work that way, but we think the first stop to find out what the competition is doing is to ask your salespeople. They are the ones who are out there every day. They know what the other guy has that is stealing their commissions. They have a financial stake in competitor intelligence. They also hear the hub bub that goes on in the big buyer’s outer office where the other company’s salespeople just can’t keep their mouths shut about the latest initiative they have to present.
So many companies overlook the best and most current source of competitor information – right under their noses. How did this happen? Simple: marketing, which is located in the central office, not in the field with the salespeople, has physically and figuratively distanced themselves from the salespeople. Further, they gained a higher status in the company. Marketing started to tell sales what to do and stopped listening to what sales needed to keep their products and sales materials ahead of the competition.
Maybe marketing should be paid a commission based on sales. They can certainly take a bow for any outstanding sales period. And if sales are down, well then it’s “those salespeople’s” fault. So sales winds up having a lower status than marketing who is isolated and insulated from the front lines.
Rather than let the salespeople just tell top management what’s going on in the market, marketing may try to protect its turf and “own” competitor market research. And why shouldn’t they? They‘ve got MAs from the top schools. They have become expert at in-depth analysis. And besides, they use the latest acronyms and buzzwords.
But they have something else the sales team doesn’t: the ear of the boss! So when it comes to finding out about the competition, it’s really up to the boss to take advantage of that great asset: the sales team – as well as the customer service department. Get current insights about the competition you may never see in the competitor market research study you get from your marketing people. Watch for this creeping separation between marketing and sales in your own company. It takes place over time and eventually gets institutionalized. If you, as the boss, buy into it, get out your check book. It’s going to be expensive.
We saw a company acquire a true new leader in a category, with an incredible growth rate. The acquirer’s marketing team immediately did a competitor research study for how the new acquisition fit in to the competitive landscape. They looked at every measurable aspect, except the way the market was changing, they had the winner, but didn’t realize the market was actually moving toward their new product. Instead, they looked at a static market and plotted the current market leader in the center of an elaborate chart showing all the offerings in the category clustered all about. The chart was based on retail prices, volume, and other factors. Their recommendation? You guessed it. Change their new product to copy the current leader. Due to market dynamics, their new product would soon be in the center. Their salespeople could have told them, but they weren’t invited to the meeting.
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders