How to fix broken competitive intelligence programs | David D'Aprile

Media Thumbnail
  • 0.5
  • 1
  • 1.25
  • 1.5
  • 1.75
  • 2
This is a podcast episode titled, How to fix broken competitive intelligence programs | David D'Aprile. The summary for this episode is: <p>Building a competitive program from scratch is a topic that’s been covered before. But what about <em>rebuilding</em> one? Coming into a business with the remnants of a failed CI program and turning that situation around is something that poses unique challenges. You’re walking into something where people are jaded, where their expectations of you and your program aren’t necessarily positive. David D’Aprile, VP of Global Product Marketing at Onapsis, joins us to share how <em>he</em> does it.</p><p><br></p><p><strong>Expect to learn:</strong></p><ul><li>The five step process for rebuilding a CI program from scratch.</li><li>The biggest challenge you’ll face when doing so.</li><li>Which three pieces of content are foundational, reliable, and essential in any competitive program.</li><li>Why it might not be the best idea to try to build out a tech stack while doing a rebuild.</li><li>How to build momentum by getting wins early.</li></ul><p><br></p><p>…and much more</p><p><br></p><p>Want to be a guest on the show? If you've more than five years of CI experience and nothing to sell, email and we'll be in touch to discuss next steps.</p>

Alex: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Compete Clarity. My guest today is David D'Aprile, VP of Global Product Marketing at Onapsis. Building a competitive program from scratch is a topic that's been covered before. But how about rebuilding one? Coming into a business with the remnants of a failed CI program in place, and turning that situation around is something that poses unique challenges. You're walking into something where people are jaded. Where their expectations of you and your program are quite probably not positive. David D'Aprile is here to share with us how he does it, has done it, and would do it again if he had to. Expect to learn the five- step process for rebuilding a CI program from scratch, the biggest challenge you'll face while doing so, which three pieces of content are foundational, reliable, and essential in any competitive program, why it might not be the best idea to try and build out a tech stack while doing a rebuild, how to build momentum by getting wins early on, and much more. Let's welcome David D'Aprile. David, a very big welcome to the show. Great to have you.

David D'Aprile: Really happy to be here, Alex.

Alex: Awesome. So something there's a reasonable amount of material on out there for competitive intelligence practitioners already is building a CI program from scratch. What we're going to discuss today is how to come into a business with an semblance of a CI program in place and fixing it up, bringing it up to snuff. But before we get into that, let's give our guests a little bit of background, if you don't mind. So you are VP of Global Product Marketing at Onapsis. Help us understand a little bit about Onapsis. What do you sell? What are you competing on? What resources are you using to do it? That kind of thing.

David D'Aprile: Yeah, of course. So really happy to be here. So I am the VP of Product Marketing here at Onapsis. We're a cybersecurity firm, and we're a cybersecurity firm that focuses very specifically on ERP security. So those applications from SAP and from Oracle. So we've been doing this for well over 14 years. We have a dedicated research team that drives a large amount of our threat intelligence that powers our technology. And we have a large number of probably some of the most famous brands that, as we say in cybersecurity, I can't really talk too much about. But quite a few name brands that I'm sure everybody in the audience might recognize. We have a smaller marketing team with regards to the product marketing team that I lead. But we are small and mighty, and we work very closely, as I'm sure many of your audience members would think, with product management, with our full go- to- market, we have an alliances team with which we work very closely, as well as the broader marketing team in general.

Alex: Awesome. So for you guys, competitive intelligence doesn't sit on its own as part of its own team, completely subsumed within the product marketing function.

David D'Aprile: Yeah, that's right. So it's completely within our charter and we own that whole business unit of competitive intelligence. So we're really the source, the driver, and really working hard to build this out more extensively across the organization.

Alex: Awesome. Brilliant. So I mentioned earlier the focus today is on fixing a competitive intelligence program that's already in place. I guess a good place to start is just confirming the why behind the topic. So is this a particular kind of challenge with maybe big rewards if you can come in and get it right, or is it something that, you know what, every CI pro is at some point going to find themselves doing this in their career, so it's going to benefit a lot of people if they can understand how to do it?

David D'Aprile: Yeah, big rewards. That's great. I mean, beyond all the normal glory and fame that product marketing always seems to get, yeah, of course. There's so much fame and glory here with competitive intelligence. Look, I think in general, CI is such a critical part of the business. Market as we look at it is just an arena of competition. Your product isn't always going to be the best, the fastest, have the most features, look the prettiest, and you always need to seem to find a way to win, expand, and grow a business. And so if you are in product marketing or you're in product, you're probably going to encounter this more often than not. Everywhere I've been, I have worked with competitive programs, I've built them, I've fixed them, done rebuilds quite a number of times. And I think it's really the thing that you have to get right, because it really informs the broader go- to market and the product strategy. And if you really execute well on this, it helps the business succeed, and that's truly, truly helpful, especially as you think about how you're working with your other stakeholders in the organization.

Alex: Right. So this is one of those foundational things that, if you get it right, there can be a lot of downstream benefits, but you get it wrong, there're going to be a lot of consequences downstream that maybe you're kind of picking up the pieces for that you really don't want to be later on.

David D'Aprile: A hundred percent. And I think, going back to the whole fame and glory piece of it as well, if you do well, it's going to get noticed. And so in a past life when I worked at Cisco, I was a fixer. I moved from business unit to business unit and I basically would repair was broken, whether it was sales enablement, whether it was product marketing, somethings with roadmaps, competitive was always part of that mix. And if you're considering a career just and competitive, you can absolutely build a successful career just doing that. It gives you opportunities to really connect cross- functionally, which is a huge benefit, especially as you think about growing a career. If you decide to stay in just pure competitive, that's wonderful. But the contacts and the networking you'll do, especially if you perform well and execute across go- to- market and product, can really help you grow your career and help you get to a higher level if you'd really like to do that.

Alex: Yeah, that's an interesting point. That's something that I've heard from members of the community. Sometimes you come into competitive intelligence, you kind of fall into it, you're not maybe so sure on where you want your career to go or what opportunities might come out of this competitive intelligence thing. So I think that's definitely something that people will be pleased to hear. It is a cross- functional role. It's something that's very relationship- based. So if you do a good job in it, you're going to have opportunities down the line.

David D'Aprile: A hundred percent. It's such a unique skillset too, because it's different when you think about the broader set of marketing. When you think about the skillset that you need for content marketing or for some basic product marketing, there's more analytical, there's a more research- based kind of mindset that we like to believe is part of a general product marketing mind, which is true, but then it's that extra technical level that you really look for and the ability to really extract those interesting insights beyond just what you're actually able to research and pull out. So you'll always find a niche. And generally come work in cybersecurity, we're always looking for some good people.

Alex: Something else that I'm wondering, other people might be wondering, if you're fixing an existing program, how much does that process differ from what say you do if you were coming in and there was just nothing in place at all. Maybe you're coming in and the CEOs thought, okay, this competitive landscape's kind of shifting, I don't know much about it, we just need to bring somebody in who from scratch can build something up. Maybe no one else in the business knows much about it. Are those two very different scenarios? Is this something that someone maybe with experience in that second camp might struggle with if they're coming in and there's stuff already in place? How different are those two things?

David D'Aprile: Yeah, that's a really good question. I think fundamentally your basic components of a good CI program doesn't really change. But the rebuild is going to be exactly that, you're rebuilding a program, you have to rebuild content, you have to rebuild the enablement piece of it, and you're really rebuilding trust. That's really the fundamental thing that you have to focus on. You have this whole suite of cross- functional stakeholders, and you have to basically ensure them that what you're doing won't be a disaster again. It's that key piece that you really have to really focus on. And I think that's probably the key difference between building something from scratch, where there wasn't anything, maybe, I don't want to say the bar is low because I think the bar is always high when you come and try to build a CI program in general, but there's nothing else to which you're being compared because it's never been done before. But when you're going in and trying to rebuild, what you have to compete with is also the past of bad memories and the bad experiences that the internal teams have had. Maybe they lost a deal or two. Maybe they didn't look great in front of a prospect. Maybe a partner didn't like what they said. So you have to earn back that trust, and that can very much be an uphill battle sometimes, especially depending on how you're resourced, what you're able to do, and what you have to work with.

Alex: Yeah, for sure. I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves. I'm sure we'll come back to this later on. But I imagine some of the challenges around that, people shutting down or not opening up to you in terms of sharing things that they're learning, field intelligence for example. Or sales teams maybe just straight up not using the enablement content that you're giving them because they don't believe in it anymore, maybe they don't even open the file. How do you deal with something like that? As I say, I'm sure we'll come back to this later on as well.

David D'Aprile: Bribery, Amazon gift cards. No. It's really tough and it really comes back to putting the work in, I think. So trust is not a unidirectional thing. You can't just show up and be like, " Hi, I'm building competitive and you should just trust everything I do." If they've been burned before, it's a matter of getting into the trenches, working hard with them, collaborating, demonstrating that you're actually building something that's worth their time. And once they start seeing that there's value in what you're providing, once you're able to demonstrate those wins, once you're able to demonstrate that you care and you're putting the effort in and you have a plan, what you'll start seeing is some more reciprocity. And that's really what you work at. But it's that you have to show up every day. It can't just be an ad hoc kind of thing. And that's the big challenge. It puts in a lot of time, it puts in a lot of effort, obviously. But it's really worthwhile because once you start getting that extra information from the field, once you start seeing them use the information to sweep the leg of a competitor and really win a deal, it's really gratifying. So it's a really exciting part of what we do.

Alex: All right. So let's turn to the process itself then. But if you wouldn't mind just to start with, could you give us just a high level overview of the process you would follow if you had to come in and bring a CI program up to scratch?

David D'Aprile: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think the best way to probably think about it is almost like you have a house that you bought that's kind of in disrepair and you have to come in and then figure out what you're going to do. So some basic things that I generally say is, number one, let's assess the damage. Where do we stand? What do we have? What do we don't have? Let's audit this. Let's assess the collateral damage out there. How do people consider the program? How do people work with the program? Do people use the content? How bad is it really? Then what you come down to is you say, all right, well, now let's build our game plan. How do we want to basically attack this? What do we tackle first? What's the biggest issue we have to tackle? Every rebuild is different. Small team, larger company, different products, different competitive landscape, you really have to understand that whole scope, and then you have to basically cater your program around that. And so constructing the right program is really the biggest piece. So as you're planning, you can't, as I like to affectionately call it square peg, round hole everything. Just what you've done before doesn't mean you're going to be successful in what you try to execute in a different company, a different business unit, et cetera. Everybody's very different. So as you consider the game plan and what you want to tackle and where you want to go, you have to then consider, who are my targets? Because you can't boil the ocean. What's the process I want to establish? What are my SLAs? What's the content? What's the enablement? How do I communicate? And then what you do, test and commit. That's what you have to do. You can't look for perfect. You can't boil the ocean. You have to go execute, and then you have to run it by the stakeholders and show that you're invested in that. And that comes to what I call communicating, enabling, and empowering. And that comes from that larger program. Constantly communicate, always look to enable, and try to empower your reps in your field and your product managers in any way you can. And then get quick wins, then lather, rinse, repeat until perfect success all the time.

Alex: Awesome. Perfect. Cool. Awful lot to unpack there. So sounds like we're kind of starting with orientation and then kind of a prioritization after that once you've figured out, here's point A, there's point B, there's where we want to be, and then how do we move from one to the other in the most effective way that we can given limited time, resources, all the rest of it. So starting from the beginning I guess, from a practical standpoint, how would you go about this sort of orientation, damage assessment stage? Do you shadow people? Do you call meetings with every department or set of stakeholders? How do you go about it?

David D'Aprile: Yeah, it's a really good question." And I think it can be somewhat challenging because you'd like to go in and be like, Hey, everybody. Tell me what's wrong. Five alarms, let's call a meeting with everybody." But if you're going into a rebuild, they're less likely to be super helpful. They'll be a little helpful, for sure. But really at the end of the day, you can't go in and start commanding this all around. So I like to approach like it's a new job. Anytime you go into a new job, what do you like to do in the first 30 days? You're generally doing a little bit of a listening tour, and that's usually what I do. Who are my resources? Who are my stakeholders? What's been working? What hasn't been working? And so there's a little bit of shadowing, there's a little bit of getting a feel of how do people pitch the company? How do people proactively set traps? How do people manage objection handling? Things along those lines. Work with the sales leaders, work with the SEs. That's really where I really dig into a lot. Product management of course as well. And that's really where you want to dig in and start orienting yourself to get that assessment. And then if you're inheriting a team, get some feedback from that team. If you're coming into a rebuild and it's a wonderful team of you, yourself and you basically, then not a heck of a lot to do outside of pour yourself a strong cup of coffee and get to work. So there's a lot to tackle, but really getting an audit then of everything that you have and then taking a good look at what's worked, what hasn't worked. Different companies do different things. When I was at Cisco, we had a lot of battle cards, we did some videos. When I was at RSA Security, we heavily built out larger decks, and that's how people wanted to consume that information. At an AI company that I was before, we were leveraging battle cards. Again, everybody does something different. People want to consume in different ways. And that's why really understanding what works ahead of time helps you get to that next phase of, okay, I understand what I'm working with, I understand what my stakeholders need, I understand the gaps. Now I can actually create an effective plan. Without that sort of discovering qualification, you can't really build a plan of attack. So that's generally how I approach it.

Alex: Awesome. Thank you. You mentioned a 30- day listening tour. Well actually, with the listening tour stage, would you give yourself 30 days to go through that I imagine? It's going to take much longer at larger companies. Smaller companies, you can maybe whiz around faster. Would you do things massively differently or would that just be a timescale thing depending on how much ground there is to cover and how much there is to get acquainted with?

David D'Aprile: Yeah, I mean, it's a good question. I think your mileage is going to vary, but what I'll say is 30 days is a good sort of flag in the ground that lets you say, by 30 days in, I should have a really good understanding of what went wrong and what I probably need to do to fix it. Could you do it quicker? Sure. Will it take longer? Possibly. But again, you can't seek perfection either. Where I find that there's a similarity, whether you're at a smaller company or a larger company is, your stakeholders have their own work that they do. And so getting the time from them, getting them the ability to share. Especially with you dealing with sales leaders, well, they might be traveling for work, they might be able to squeeze you in at this point, or you'll try to set up a call and it'll be like, well, I can pencil you in two weeks later. Well, that's taking up already half of your 30- day period. So I think that 30 days is a good sort of milestone to work towards, but if you could do it faster, even better.

Alex: All right. And from there, we mentioned you've got this point A, you're figuring out exactly what that point A looks like and fleshing it out completely, or as much as you can. And then you're trying to get to point B, what does success look like for the program this time around? What are we trying to achieve? And I guess that comes with aligning with the goals of the business, the goals of the business leaders. How do you make sure that you're aligned with that? Is that all a part of this listening tour process where at the same time as you're figuring out what went wrong, you're also taking note of, okay, that went wrong because it went in this direction and actually we need to be going totally off in this direction over here.

David D'Aprile: The rebuilds are interesting because you're generally being pulled into these things, and it could be because you move to a different product in your organization and you're trying to fix something. Could be that you're a new hire for an organization coming in. But either way there's probably some executive oversight or some executive pressure coming in saying something's broken, and this person is being hired to fix it. So when you're building something from scratch, a lot of times you're communicating laterally or communicating down, because you're talking to your sales leaders, you're talking to the salespeople themselves, you're talking to product managers, et cetera. When you're doing a rebuild, there's also a lot of communicating up, and you need to make sure that you're looping them in. And so generally at the end of 30 days or so, I have a good understanding of where I probably need to go with a program. And so having that conversation with the exec team, showing them that you've understood the actual scope of what went wrong, give them that better way. Approach it like a sales engagement. They're your stakeholders, sell them on the idea and division. You mentioned point A to point B. It's never point A to point B, it's point A to point B, then maybe C, D, E, F, G, all the way through to X, L, sell, Z, Z, Z, so to speak. So there's so many different points and plans, and I've been at a company where I came in and I had, here's the plan for what we're going to do for competitive, and this is how we're going to get everybody bought in. This is what we're going to do with these things, and this is how we build this larger enterprise focused competitive programming, fully disseminating intelligence across the organization. It's going to be brilliant. And then it's like, well, we don't have any resources. All right, well, let's shrink that down a little bit. Let's go to a phased approach and then we'll try to do this first and then do this first afterwards. So a lot of times you're going to have to pivot quickly, but it really comes down to understanding what you're able to handle and focus on what's the most important piece of the business that requires the attention and requires the competitive advantage that you can build through your CI research and the content being able to do. Nothing's ever the same, everything's a snowflake.

Alex: Yeah. No, I think that's really important. Thank you for correcting me on that. Because I was writing this article the other day on different models for competitive intelligence. Is it a linear process? Is it a cycle? And even as I was describing it as a cycle, I was like, you're probably going to look down at some point and see yourself as kind of an octopus because you're going to try and delineate into these different stages and am I gathering or am I reorienting based on the information I gathered last time? But there's new information coming in all the time and I've got to analyze this and prepare for this thing that's next week based on the information from last week. And it's all going on all the time, even as probably targets are moving and the industry's changing. So yeah, maybe not A to point B, but A to point wherever as it's moving at the same time.

David D'Aprile: I like that. I love the octopus idea. It's messy. There are a lot of tentacles. Your hands are everywhere. That's a really great metaphor. I love that one. Might use it. Might steal it.

Alex: Oh, please do. And I think that goes back to something else you said earlier that's quite important. It's always different. And even if you're coming in and you're like, okay, I've got the playbook for this. I know what my framework is. David said that we're starting with the kind of damage assessment and then we're going on to the next stage. Just because you did it well at the last place, doesn't mean you can just boilerplate, copy paste, and apply here. Because even though it worked last time, it might not work this time because there are so many different variables that come into play.

David D'Aprile: Yeah, a hundred percent. The fundamentals, like I said, are always going to be there. You're going to create content, you're going to want to enable people, you're going to want to do it. But what's important if you have a smaller team and a smaller scope? And the 80/ 20 rule is great to apply. You're always going to tier competitors. So you're always going to say, here are my tier one competitors, the ones that we constantly see all the time that we're always in bake- offs with. Here's the tier two. We keep an eye on them, they're kind of fringe. We think they're going to be more prominent over the next 6 to 12 months or so. We keep an eye on them and we want to update content around that. Then there's the peripheral. Then there's the, these guys might enter the market at some point in the future, we want to keep an eye on them. That list is always going to change depending on who you're running into and what competitive pressures you have. And as we all know, there are always fire drills. There's always, hey, this one came up, we need to win this deal, all this kind of stuff. And then it becomes a, well, how do you basically help with that piece of it? So every situation's really different and everybody consumes information in a different way. And you just have to make sure you're open and receptive to what your stakeholders need and you're actually listening to that, and then you're setting the right goals and the right boundaries too with regards to how you can react to these things. Because we all get those fire drills, but if there's the right understanding of how to engage with the competitive intelligence team or the CI owner on how to basically work with them on these different things, then you can help mitigate some of the fire drill ish aspects of some of these sort of emergencies.

Alex: Can you give some advice for people just around that, around the kind of setting boundaries piece? Because I imagine there are going to be people out there who struggle with that part of it.

David D'Aprile: Yeah. This is where it's really helpful to kind of have that plan of attack. So if you're able to define, this is how we respond to competitive, this is how we update, this is how we do things, I've found, throughout my career, having that and always going back to that sort of deck, going back to that sort of charter and how we approach things, is generally really, really helpful. And then also, again, when you're going into a rebuild too, since this seems to be the topic of the conversation, you might want to err on the side of being overly helpful. It's important to do that to kind of rebuild the trust for sure. But you also don't want to do it where suddenly you have to be working 24 hours a day seven days a week to work on a tier three competitor in some particular way. So if you have the right idea and if you have the right assessment of the state of your competitive landscape and the state of what you need to do to be successful, you can help guide, let's just say a salesperson, along the path of how you're doing things, why you're doing it, and why you're doing it in a certain way. Generally they're very understandable. . One of the things that I like to do is just volunteer my time even. So we might not have content available. Might be for some particular person or some particular prospect where they heard of one competitor which no one's ever heard of before. And I know that I can quickly consume the information through secondary research about what that vendor is, what they offer, et cetera. And then I just engage directly with the salesperson I have that invite me to the meetings. I talk through that. I become the subject matter expert. And that's another great way to help establish trust too. So it gives you the ability to not have to worry about cranking out a document that you're then going to throw over to someone and say, " Good luck with this. I wish you luck. Good luck." And instead saying, " I know what matters. I have the insights. I can sit down with you and I can actually talk through this and give you that advantage you need." Now the salesperson's going to actually understand that you do deliver value if you're given the time to be able to do it. And it's leading by example I guess is really what I'm kind of saying here.

Alex: Awesome. Thank you. So this process then, so where are we going from here? So that third step, I think you mentioned it's a content focused step, you've kind of figured out where you are, you've assessed the damage, you've prioritized. Now it's about building content. How do you figure out what content you need and where it needs to go, who it needs to go to? Is this all part of those first couple of steps as well? How does this step sit on its own?

David D'Aprile: Yeah, that's a good question. So I think when you're developing your game plan for how you want to attack this, part of it is, well, what's broken? What works? What do we need? I think when you get down to the execution of content, there are some elements that you can borrow from the fundamentals of CI. There are things that you've done before, content that you've created before that you know is going to be important and you can work from. And so I generally approach most of these programs with three sets of content that I generally build out. One is a larger competitive deck, one is a battle card, and then one is what I call competitive bulletins. And so your larger deck is generally where we start. And we do this because it can be the catchall. From there, the derivative content that you build, that's the easiest one to do, is you build the battle card off of that. Competitive bulletins are reserved for news alerts, things that happen. You've got a watch list of people. People have a tendency to sometimes overreact to certain news. There might be something where we need to respond appropriately. Having those ad hoc competitive bulletins that go out and inform are the third piece of the puzzle. So you have your foundational pieces where you have your long form content, which you hope people read. If not, you generally strongly encourage them that they do, build it into their seller scorecard or just enable the heck out of them until they scream uncle. The battle cards, which you know they're going to look at five minutes before they potentially go into a meeting with someone, which is great. It's a great refresher in that regard. And then the competitive bulletins, which just give you those talking points you need when there's a news alert, so for example if a competitor acquires another company and they announce the news. Well, what does that mean for us? What does that mean when I'm talking to a prospect and they bring this up? How do I respond? What's our position on this kind of stuff? That's the real usefulness for competitive bulletins. And so those are really the three foundational pieces that I generally use when I build any program. And then from there you adapt it. Sometimes people prefer consuming in video form. Okay, well let's walk them through in a video, make it available, make it part of a training section. Maybe they prefer more battle cards. Okay, maybe we go a little bit heavier on the battle cards after the fact. That's generally you kind of pivot a little bit that way.

Alex: Okay, awesome. That's great to hear, because I was kind of imagining an it depends answer completely for that question. So it's good to hear, and I'm sure other people will be pleased to hear it as well, that there are these kind of core foundational pieces that you can get good at creating and over time it's a skill that kind of isn't necessarily going to go away.

David D'Aprile: I mean, when you say it depends though, sometimes it depends. And so for example, if you have a company where let's say they're floundering with regards to certain win rates, I think we talked a little bit about this before we started talking on the podcast here, what do you do there? Well, maybe it's really more of focusing on getting them the right pieces of content and objection handling that they need to get done. Maybe it's a little bit more of a focus that way, and then you focus on the enablement piece of it. Maybe it's something more where you need to give them a broader scope of a market landscape and help give some derivative insights because product's more in need of the competitive than the go- to- market side of the house. Foundationally, those three pieces of content are generally extraordinarily helpful. You might pivot what goes into some of the content here and there depending on the broader needs of the organization. But it is nice to know that you at least have a quick cheat sheet of a couple things that you can do and kind of bring with you each way, even if you have to change what might be inside of it.

Alex: Something that I've been wondering, CI teams are typically pretty small, pretty resource constrained in a lot of places. Creating all of this content, what does the timeline look like? Is that completely dependent on how large your team is, how much you have in terms of resources? What are you expecting from yourself I guess in terms of, maybe if we look at this again, in terms of 30, 60, 90 breakdown in terms of what content is ready by when?

David D'Aprile: Yeah. I think in general, when you take a look at all of that and that sort of landscape of 30, 60, 90 days, I think it's fair to say that your sales leaders are going to want the information yesterday probably, is usually how it works. When you're doing a rebuild, there's a little bit of a time consideration with regards to assessing the damage and then figuring out how you want to course correct and basically build it better. From the content side of the house, I think it's worthwhile to say that within a quarter you should be able to deliver at least one piece of content. What I would probably advise people to do is, during your assessment, understand who let's say your tier one competitors happen to be, and out of those tier one competitors... Stack rank them. Who's the one that we run into the most? Who's the one that we constantly get into a bake- off with? Or who's the one that's causing the most problem for us on a deal side? And then in that quarter, focus wholly on just getting the content done for that one competitor. Get that win. Remember, if you're rebuilding, everything's broken, and you have to rebuild trust. So a good way to do this is by demonstrating that you can actually provide someone a really solid piece of content that's going to help them win deals. It's going to help them build better products. And then enable on that particular piece of it. And so that's generally how I focused. And I think it's a good strategy even if you have a larger team or smaller team. I mean, if you have a larger team, you can obviously do more. But if you're a team of one, team of three, whatever it is, focus on that very specific single competitor that's causing most pain for your go- to- market organization. Really tackle that and get it out of the way. That's probably what I would say is the right way to approach the content side of it. And I generally build the larger deck first, because I find it better to build the larger deck with certain pieces of information in there, construct the insights that I think are most relevant for our organization, and then from there I can squeeze those pieces into battle cards all I want, but I have that larger single source of truth that really allows me to build derivative content, and it instantly sets me up to start enabling people, which is really, really helpful.

Alex: Awesome. You mentioned building trust there and getting wins and the importance of that as well. Seems to me these are kind of two halves of the same coin. If you want to build trust, you need the wins. And in the beginning, obviously building the trust, as you've mentioned already a few times, if you're fixing something, the trust isn't necessarily going to be there. So before you've got that first win, you've mentioned already I know offering your time where you can, getting in on the calls, getting in the trenches with your salespeople. What else would you recommend that people do to build the necessary trust and momentum that you need early on to get that first win and get the ball rolling?

David D'Aprile: Yeah. I mean, I think part of it is what I mentioned a little bit before, if you're able to in a quarter turn around and demonstrate some progress with regards to at least one competitor that's causing a lot of pain for the organization, that's a good win. I think the other piece of it too is that fundamentally we all just like to be heard, we like to be listened to. And you know that they're going to gripe. You know that there's something that's bothered them about the prior program or there's challenges that they're facing. If you're able to demonstrate that you care, which hopefully you do and you're not just faking it. But I meet with a lot of different salespeople and sales leaders and I want to know where we're failing. I want to know how we can get better. I'm an extraordinarily competitive person and I hate to lose, so I want to know how we can keep winning, and I want to make sure that people will have exactly what they need in order to keep winning. And trust is an interesting piece of it that I don't think gets mentioned enough in these kind of rebuilds. When you have really good trusting relationship, you're able to do a lot more. So in the early stages of a rebuild, you're probably going to be doing 80% of the work and getting 20% back from your other stakeholders and from other people internally. Maybe it's a better situation, but I've generally found that I'm contributing more than what I'm generally getting back to a certain extent. But over time, if you prove yourself to be that subject matter expert, if you prove yourself to be that trusted resource, if you prove yourself that you're willing to get into the trenches and fight along with them, you're going to find that they're going to be a lot more open. They're going to come to you, They're going to be like, " Hey, David. I just heard this from this person over here. I don't know if it's true, but I wanted to give you that tip." And then you're, "Oh, great. Thanks." And I can go validate whether that's worthwhile, and then you can more broadly disseminate that across the organization. This is where some of the competitive technologies that you see out in the marketplace, like Crayon and things on Clue and things like that, they're really good because they allow you to collect a lot of field information. They still require you to do the insights. And if you're just starting out in a program or you're rebuilding a program, I wouldn't necessarily recommend starting with building in a tech stack because that in and of itself can be a large ordeal to try to build out. But it can be useful for getting that frontline information. And I think once you've built the trust and you're able to establish that, then these can be even more effective. But until then, a lot of manual work in that regard.

Alex: So what key challenges maybe that we've not mentioned already would you say people are likely to face when they're tackling a rebuild? And what advice would you give them for tackling those challenges?

David D'Aprile: I think the one thing we probably haven't mentioned up to this point is consumption. We can make the prettiest slide decks, we can make the best looking battle cards, we can do videos with cool graphics and lasers and whatever you want, and if nobody reads it, nobody watches it, then it doesn't work. So consumption is going to be the biggest challenge, and I think this holds true whether you're starting from scratch with a new program or whether you're rebuilding. But I've especially found it to be a challenge with rebuilds because they've been burned before and they might not know what to do with it. So with the consumption side of it, you have to turn to enablement, you have to turn to scorecards, you have to become best friends with your sales leaders, you have to make sure that people know where to get the content, they know that it's going to be updated, and then you just have to lather, rinse, repeat constantly with that piece of it and it takes a little bit of work. But the consumption one is probably going to be the largest challenge, I think.

Alex: Awesome. Any parts of this process that we've not covered yet, or does that kind of encapsulate?

David D'Aprile: Well, I think we talked a lot about the communication piece of it, but I think one of the other pieces that I'll just mention is, make sure you're communicating up the stack too. So I'm guilty of it myself, we get in the weeds of tackling problems and trying to solve them and doing the research, but then just make sure that you're communicating up to your directs, to the larger executive stakeholder team, to ensure that they understand where this is going. And then it's very easy to get stuck with... Stuck's not the right word. It's very easy to give most of your attention to maybe your go- to- market organization because they're the ones that are on the front line that try to win. Don't forget that you're also providing great information to the product management team as well. It's useful for defining a better product strategy. It's useful for understanding what we should be building so that we can compete better. Fundamentally, you want your competitive intelligence program to be the lifeblood of an organization. It's sort of what I call the competitive enterprise. This idea that if you're able to pull in this information, you can more broadly validate it and disseminate it across the org to allow our customer success team to be better, to allow our professional services team to fill in gaps that we might not be able to do with a product because we know the inside tip on this, helps our product management team build better products or filling gaps for low hanging fruit that we know is causing a problem on the sales front, helps our sales team pitch better, help them win more, helps marketing message better and go more proactive on things. So CI is really fundamental, but if you just build it and hope that they show up and read it or view it, you're just not going to be successful. So communicate, communicate, communicate is the best thing I can say.

Alex: Awesome. Thank you. Right, this next one I love asking it, but it's always a little bit tricky because there's always things people can say and what they can't say. Tell me about your biggest competitive intelligence success story, or if you prefer your biggest disaster.

David D'Aprile: Biggest disaster, biggest competitive intelligence success story. These are good. What can I say? All right. I have a minor one that I can probably talk to in recent history. But working with a salesperson who tapped me on the shoulder very frequently to help with competitive. Because this person wasn't necessarily overly technical. She got it, but she preferred having a good SME, especially in a meeting where you don't necessarily want a sales person all the time, you might want a non- sales person to come and present something here and there. So they were struggling, had some detractors, and we did a little bit of a pre- briefing on what we needed, got an idea of what was happening with the account. And then I went in and in 30 minutes I flipped the detractor to one of our largest supporters. Not only did they re- up with us, but they also expanded the actual contract based on me giving them ideas of integrations and ways that they could connect to better augment what they're doing on the cyber side. And that was a pretty exciting win because it was helpful. The salesperson was obviously over the moon that this happened. And obviously I can't name names, we're in cybersecurity, so I'm kind of dancing around that a little bit. But I think this is a good story for a couple different reasons. One, the competitive worked, and I was able to flip someone. That's huge and that's how you know that the messaging and the content is working. Two, it was the result of building the trust with that salesperson over previous experiences, that allowed her to say, " I trust you to come into this meeting with this prospect and help me, and I'm not worried that this is going to get worse by you being there. In fact, I expect it to get better." And so this is where building the trust up to that point... This was months long of engaging with this particular salespeople and with the broader sales force to kind of get to that point. So getting the tap on the shoulder and going in helped me feel really great about it because it validated that approach of everything we've been doing up to that particular point. So it's great. That's always the nice part about the role.

Alex: Yeah, I certainly love asking people that one. And it's always gratifying to hear other people's enthusiasm for when it works, it really, really works.

David D'Aprile: It's so nice.

Alex: And to turn something around in 30 minutes as well, it's not like it took masses and masses of time for your influence to pay off, it sounds like.

David D'Aprile: I mean, I chalk it up to also my personal charm and charisma as well, but it's probably most of the competitive piece of it, and all the hard work that sales person had done up to that point. And it's always a group effort, but it was definitely very gratifying.

Alex: For sure. All right, so just to close off with then, what advice have you received in your career, or what have you learned over the course of your career that you'd like to pass on to other people?

David D'Aprile: I think the communication piece is probably the biggest thing that I'd like to just kind of hammer home. I just think it's really important, and I feel that many times the work of a product marketer or a competitive intelligence analyst or whomever is very much in the weeds and very much working with teams that there's not a ton of communication outside of that kind of conversation. I think if you are communicating properly with them, but also if you're communicating the results more broadly across the organization, you're going to be successful. It's something that I wish I knew earlier in my career, but it's something I try very hard to do now. And it's a challenge for me because I'm not someone who likes to do a lot of self- promotion, but I view it more as, here's how we're helping the company be successful each and every day better than it was the day before. And so that's where I think the communication is key. Don't forget that you should be communicating to leaders and to stakeholders. Do a review. Every now and then I'm in front of the ELT and I'm presenting to them. I'm like, " Here's where we are. Here's some insights that I've come up with. Here's something that I can just send to you. It'll help you be better at what you're doing over on your side of the house." So the communication stuff, if there's one thing I want to stress today, that's the biggest thing. You'll find greater success if you're successful in communicating laterally, down and up, and that's the biggest thing I think really.

Alex: That's perfect. Well, David D'Aprile, thanks very much for your time. Thanks for coming on the show. It's been a pleasure talking to you.

David D'Aprile: Yeah, this has been great. Really appreciate it. Thanks a lot.

Alex: Thank you everyone for listening to another episode. Q4 is upon us already. How on earth did that happen? But before the year is out, we'll have released this year's edition of the Competitive Intelligence Trends Report. For the past three years, our sister community, Product Marketing Alliance, has gathered opinions and insights from around the CI community on what's changing in competitive intelligence. This year, Competitive Intelligence Alliance teamed up with them, and this one is shaping up to be our most comprehensive report on the state of CI yet. We build this report to ensure your CI programs are always the best they can be, to tell you if you're investing enough in CI to compete, and to inform you of the practices and processes those at the cutting edge are using to pull ahead. That drops in November, folks, so keep your eyes peeled. In the meantime, if you've got at least five years of CI experience, and would like to have a conversation about competitive intelligence on the show, we'd love to hear from you. Send an email through to contribute @ competitiveintelligencealliance. io. That's contribute @ competitiveintelligencealliance. io. That'll come straight through to me, and I will come back to you as soon as I can. Thanks again. We'll see you next time.


Building a competitive program from scratch is a topic that’s been covered before. But what about rebuilding one? Coming into a business with the remnants of a failed CI program and turning that situation around is something that poses unique challenges. You’re walking into something where people are jaded, where their expectations of you and your program aren’t necessarily positive. David D’Aprile, VP of Global Product Marketing at Onapsis, joins us to share how he does it.

Expect to learn:

  • The five step process for rebuilding a CI program from scratch.
  • The biggest challenge you’ll face when doing so.
  • Which three pieces of content are foundational, reliable, and essential in any competitive program.
  • Why it might not be the best idea to try to build out a tech stack while doing a rebuild.
  • How to build momentum by getting wins early.

…and much more

Want to be a guest on the show? If you've more than five years of CI experience and nothing to sell, email and we'll be in touch to discuss next steps.