In an ideal world, the buying process would be simple. Customers would consider your offering and ask themselves "Should I buy it?" Unfortunately, for all but the most extreme monopolies, firms have to compete with other vendors. In these cases, customers will pose a very different question, "Which one should I buy?"
Fortunately, companies don't have to leave their fates up to the unguided whims of the marketplace. They can affect the decision-making process through the application of salesmanship.
- How can vendors present their cases to potential customers?
- How can vendors possibly know which arguments to make, which facts to point out, and which problem areas to avoid discussing?
If only there were some kind of tool that the sales team could use to prepare. Oh wait, there is: a sales battlecard.
Sales Battlecards in a Nutshell
A lot of people talk about battlecards, but few bother to explain what they are in a succinct manner.
Here are the highlights:
- A battlecard is a short document that contains information about two offerings: one from the vendor that created the battle card and one from another company.
- They are used internally by salesmen to prepare for, and conduct, sales pitches to potential buyers.
- Typically, firms will have many battlecards: one for each of its major rivals.
- Battlecards are used by solo practitioners, mid-sized companies, and even Fortune 500 brands.
Why Are Battlecards Necessary?
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” -- Sun Tzu explains the power of sales battlecards in The Art of War
It's very difficult to consider all of one's competitors at once. There are just too many variables in play, and often the competing firms are too dissimilar to be aggregated into a single model. It's far simpler and more effective to cull the field and look at only two competing products at a time.
Battlecards are like the ultimate CliffsNotes for salesmen. Because they break down the necessary information so effectively and efficiently, firms can be sure that their sales teams stay on point and present their wares in the best possible light. This is especially important for firms that employ sales professionals with varying levels of marketplace knowledge, technical sophistication, and knowledge of corporate strategy.
The major benefits of using battlecards are as follows:
- Reduced risk of customer rejection - Sales teams will know the important topics to stress and how to respond to difficult questions. Rather than searching for answers, making wild guesses, or promising to find out important details, the sales staff will be able to address matters correctly and instantly.
- Reduced preparation time and expense - Sales teams will not have to spend as much time preparing for pitches. The information they need will have been compiled ahead of time and made available to every member of the team.
- Increased consistency of messaging - Sales teams will be working from the same script and materials, so messaging can be incrementally tested and improved across the organization.
What Does a Battlecard Look Like?There is no single recognized format for a battlecard, and there are some very good reasons for that fact:
- Every marketplace is different.
- Every sales process is different.
- Every company is different.
- Every product is different.
That said, well-designed battlecards share a few characteristics in common:
- They are short - A full battlecard will typically fit on a single sheet of paper. The more information contained on a battlecard, the more likely that the most important messaging will become forgotten, misremembered, or never even read.
- They are easy to scan - The sections of a battle card are often visually separated from each other through the use colors, boxes, and empty visual space.
- They are designed for high-level and strategic discussions. The more detailed the information, the less appropriate its place on a battlecard.
The Process of Battlecard Creation
Although battlecards can take many forms, the ideal process for creating them is similar across all industries.
The principal steps for creating battlecards are below:
Identify Competing Products
The first step in building a set of battlecards is the selection of a roster of products to analyze and prepare.
Many overeager firms will be tempted to compile a list containing each and every competitor their staff has seen in the marketplace. This level of completeness is unnecessary. It's almost always best to limit the initial creation of battlecards to no more than three.
Why so Few?
- As research is performed, participants will undoubtedly come up with new ideas about what is universally important and what is not. Unexpected information, lessons, and viewpoints will rise to the surface. As a result, firms should expect that their initial set of battlecards will undergo significant rounds of revision. Limiting the number of battlecards being created at one time will minimize the cost and time required for rework.
- Quality is more important than quantity. The larger the number of battlecards being created, the more pressure the sales teams will feel to complete them quickly. By keeping the number of battlecards low, more time and attention can be spent to ensure that the battlecards under development are useful and not simply a painful exercise in needless paperwork.
- Even firms with many competitors may only face a handful that truly offer themselves as serious competition. Limiting staff members to a small number of battlecards will force them to select only their employer's most dangerous rivals.
Select Categories of Information
Many battlecard creators get hung up on this part. They worry that they'll pick the wrong categories of data to collect. This should not be a concern, because it's not just a possibility but a near certainty - especially if the staff members have not created battlecards in the past.
It's OK to have to make revisions later. The important message to remember is that perfect is the enemy of done. Imperfect, but useful, prototypes will serve as the basis for improved battlecards in the future.
The categories below will likely prove to be a good starting point, but may not represent a perfect slate for a given marketplace:
- Corporate information (headcount, revenue, location)
- Ideal customer description (methods for identifying them, and common pain points)
- Product descriptions
- Product pricing
- Product and vendor strengths
- Product and vendor weaknesses (and how to exploit the competitor's weaknesses)
- Common customer objections (and how to overcome them)
- Previous success stories (customer lists, statistics, and references)
- Previous failure stories for the competitor (customer lists, statistics, and references)
At this point, it's simply a matter of filling in the blanks. Remember, work can be parallelized by having different people research different categories of information. For instance, while one person is compiling business profiles, another could look for product reviews, as another seeks out pricing sheets.
Where Can Information Be Found?
Information is everywhere. Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Previous and current users of your product and your competitors' products
- User forums
- Behavioral interviews
- Customer reviews
- Professional reviews:
- First-hand research
- Eat your own dog food (use your own products)
- Purchase and use competitor's products
Gathered information should be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism. Random sources can prove highly fruitful, but the word can must be stressed. A few hints to keep in mind:
- Sometimes information is accidentally wrong. Testers and users don't always understand products, their purposes, or the environments in which they are used. Sometimes they even make typographical errors.
- Other times information is intentionally misleading. Biased reviewers, disgruntled former employees, and unethical competitors may attempt to mislead the public about a product's characteristics. Similarly, marketers may attempt to make their own products look a bit more capable or desirable than it actually is.
- Even when information is true, it may not be relevant for most buyers.
- Even when information is true and relevant, it may not be particularly important for most buyers.
A strong feedback cycle is absolutely critical for the creation of useful sales battlecards. As staff members gain expertise and see the results of their pitches they will be in a powerful position to go back and revise the battlecards to increase their value.
These are a few of the questions that sales staff should be asking themselves after their interactions:
- Is the win rate for pitches increasing?
- Do clients have concerns that were not anticipated?
- Are there product characteristics that have changed?
- Is some information on the battlecards never used?
- Is there a need for additional battlecards for other vendors' products?
Common Mistakes when Creating Battlecards
There are many mistakes that battlecard creators make time and time again. The list below covers the majority of them:
- Using battlecards for specific products, rather than classes of products - Some firms know their competitors by name. Coke knows it has to watch out for Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and RC Cola. Others do not. For instance, an independent web designer may be competing against thousands of independent designers across the globe. These firms may find it useful to create personas for the types of organizations that they face in the marketplace. For instance, the web designer from the above example may find it useful to create battle cards for tiny one-person shops, shops with a handful of employees, and shops with large numbers of employees.
- Allowing groups other than sales to own or edit the battlecards - Battlecards are a tool for salesmen to help them sell. Without ownership by the sales team, the battlecards will be difficult to edit, not only due to layers of red tape, but a political agenda that may find correctness to be less important than saving face. For instance, product managers may wish to prevent mention of missing functionality in their key products.
- Filling the battlecards with useless boilerplate information - In many cases, details such as the location of corporate headquarters, names of founders, and stock ticker symbols is completely irrelevant and only serves to distract from more important information.
- Treating the battlecards as a tool for pitch preparation only - Battlecards have many uses. They can even be used to determine which fights are worth pursuing, and what needs to be addressed by marketing and product teams within the firm.
- Not being used - Sales teams are often pushed to meet quotas - Time spent studying documentation is time not shaking hands and pitching. Teams have to understand that reading and understanding the contents of battlecards can vastly improve their sales numbers.
- Focusing solely on the products and ignoring vendors - Excellent products can be brought down a peg or two, if their vendors have terrible reputations for support, honesty, or quality. The opposite is also true.
- Not being kept up to date - Old, incorrect, and missing information can cause sales staff to look foolish, and allow competitors to bring up points to which the sales teams have no response. Decreased sales could easily result.
Battlecards are an excellent means for improving the close rates and de-risking the sales process. They won't change your business overnight, but they will help your bottom line over time.
Do you have questions about battlecards? Do need some assistance building them for your team? Feel free to contact me for help.