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Listening Provided the Pivotal Clue for Competitive Intelligence

The Competitive Situation

A glass manufacturing company wanted to know why a competitor was still in the glass business, as its glass business was losing money, and had been for several years. Their ultimate goal was to predict when this competitor would exit the glass business so they could capture the competitor’s customers.

My Mission

My goal was to learn as much as I could about the competing glass company, and most importantly why they were motivated to remain in the glass business. Most of the publicly held competitor’s revenue, and all of its profit, came from their food business.

My Findings

I had found out that the competitor was investing minimally in their glass factory operation, and hired many Spanish speaking immigrants to work in the less hot and less dangerous jobs. There were piles of scrap glass around the factory, but they didn’t bother hauling them away.

It was time for the quarterly earnings phone call, and my client suggested I listen in. I almost didn’t as I figured I could read this later. However, something made me listen. The competitor’s CEO was all cheery when discussing the food business. Then an analyst asked, “And what about the glass business? What are you doing there?” “Ah…the glass business…well…,” uttered the CEO in a dejected and hesitant tone.

Hmmm I thought, it sounds like the CEO is emotionally attached to the glass business. I researched and found out that the CEO’s Dad had bought the glass business, and surmised that he wanted to stay in it for that reason, not for revenue or profit. I called the analyst who had asked about the glass business to learn why he thought the company remained in the glass business, and what might cause the company to exit it. He agreed that the CEO was emotionally attached to the glass business. Thus, he was not likely to leave the glass business for any rational reason, else he would have already done so.

These conversations and research gave me the insight to answer my client’s question: what would cause the competitor to divest or sell the glass business?

While I couldn’t say when, I concluded that it would take a catastrophic event for the CEO to exit the glass business. It would have to be an event that was out of his control. I figured an accident in the factory or something that serious, could be a trigger.

I recommended that my client should closely monitor the competitor since something was bound to push the company out of the glass business. Thus, my client closely monitored the competitor’s activity. The trigger was when a stockholder’s group filed a complaint and threatened to submit a class action suit against the company if they didn’t divest the money losing glass business. Bingo, this was the event my client was waiting for. They went after the competing company’s glass business. The time was right, and they were ready.


All too often we rely only on written digital data. It turned out the CEO’s tone of voice in the competitor’s earnings conference call provided the pivotal clue. If I had only read the earnings report—my original intention—I would have missed it. My lesson learned: in competitive intelligence projects, when you can listen to the human voice, especially the company’s CEO, do so.

Learn more about competitive intelligence

Win/Loss Analysis book; Amazon link to Win/Loss Analysis book

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Overcoming Your Salesforce’s Objections to Win/Loss Analysis

I just had another client tell me he was getting pushback from his salesforce to do Win/Loss analysis. They felt threatened by what the output might be. They felt that win/loss analysis would be a critique of them, and only them. Really!? The objective of Win/Loss analysis is to win and retain more business, not to critique sales people.

To strengthen this argument, I share the 4 topical areas we cover in the Win/Loss interviews with the company’s customers and those who chose a competitor:

  1. Relationship Health
  2. Company Reputation
  3. Service Issues
  4. Product Attributes

Win/Loss Analysis

When you look at the detail under each of these 4 topical areas, only #1, Relationship Health is primarily a Sales’ assessment. The other three are NOT assessing Sales, and they are just as important to helping companies win and retain more business.

Another way to help dispel the salesforce’s belief that Win/Loss just targets them is to share the strategic benefits that companies gain from Win/Loss. How could this be if we only assessed the salesforce?

Here is a list of 15 strategic benefits from doing Win/Loss analysis:

  1. Which industry segments do and don’t like your solutions.
  2. What business to walk away from.
  3. Which business sweet spots to strengthen.
  4. New business opportunities.
  5. New competitors, entering from industries different from yours.
  6. Strategic partners or acquisition candidates.
  7. Geographic markets to enter or exit.
  8. How to improve your product or service mix.
  9. Unintended product uses.
  10. New product and service developments.
  11. Improved revenue forecasts.
  12. Sustainable ways to increase profits and revenues.
  13. Trends working against competitors.
  14. Knowledge of disruptive changes before they hit the market or better yet, how to become a disruptor yourself.
  15. Fuel for strategic planning.

I hope these ideas and approaches help you get your salesforce to understand two things:

Win/Loss is not a critique of the salesforce. That’s your company’s management’s job! Win/Loss analysis’ objective is to learn how to win and retain more business—both in the short term and over time.

Actually, your salesforce is the biggest beneficiary of Win/Loss analysis since your salesforce’s goal parallels the goal of Win/Loss analysis: to win and retain more business. Win/Loss lets your customers and prospects enlighten you from their entire buying experience with your company…and the competition.

BTW, research indicates that companies who act from a formal Win/Loss program can improve business win rates anywhere from 15 to 30%. Can you afford not to be doing Win/Loss analysis?

Here are some resources on Win/Loss:

Win/Loss Analysis: definition, presentation, etc.

Win/Loss Analysis book; Amazon link to Win/Loss Analysis book

Join our mailing list and get our cheat sheets on “How to Build a World Class Win/Loss Program.”

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