An Opinionated View of Competitive Battle Cards

“Pro Football Hall of Fame Playbook” by marada is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

As a followup to my last blog Creating a Competitive Intelligence Practice in a Nascent Product Marketing Team, I thought it was worth talking about the most commonly expected deliverable of a CI program: the battle card.

What exactly is a competitive battle card? What purpose is it supposed to serve?

A quick Google search conjures up a lot of different formats, but I found them lacking. Most of them provide fields for general background of a competitive company and product. But how is that different from a general information web page? Its almost like the concept of a battle card dates back to the era before intranets and portals — when such information might be distributed to the salesforce in printed binders.

If I’m already creating a portal site that provides background information about categories of competitors and individual companies and products, what additional value would a battle card provide?

Taking inspiration from the term “battle card”, I created my own format that provides highly actionable advice for a sales rep. The goal is to allow a rep to quickly bone up on a competitor with talking points before they have a conversation with a client. This way they can expertly explain our product’s differentiation related to alternatives in the market, and use this information to prospect, qualify, and look for warning signs or advantages in their opportunities.

Below is my suggested format with explantations, followed by an example.

Competitor’s Product
Proper brand name of the competitive company and their product or solution.
Competitor Category
Link to a category description of similar competitors, probably on your competitive intelligence portal.
Competitor Focus & Go-to-Market
Description of public or known marketing focus, campaigns, and go-to-market initiatives. Where they are overtly trying to win new deals.
Positioning the Competitor
Narrative positioning the competitor to edge cases based on facts and known advantages.

Go – Where We Have An Unfair Advantage
Description of use cases or requirements that our solution can solve uniquely or better than the competitor. Reps should ideally be looking for these use cases, and can confidently say our solution is better than this competitor.
No Go – Where We Have A Higher Risk of Losing
Description of use cases or requirements that our competitor has superior benefits for meeting compared to our solution. Reps should be cautious about pursuing opportunities related these use cases without other circumstances disqualifying the competition.
Our Strengths vs. Competitor
Feature-benefit description of where we’re better than the competitor. May also include business considerations.
Our Weaknesses vs. Competitor
Feature-benefit description of where our competitor is better then us.

Questions to ask the customer
Questions a rep should ask the customer upon hearing about a competitor to test their qualification of the opportunity, or search for opportunities
Previous wins vs. competition
List of prior deals where the competitor was a factor, and contacts to offer further advice.

Competitor Pricing (optional)
Optional if pricing is known and radically different from our own.
Total Cost of Ownership (optional)
Preferably quantitative formula of total cost of ownership of competitive solution. This is particularly powerful in cloud-based solutions.

Here’s an example battle card from the perspective of if I was selling apples, and saw oranges as a competitive alternative.

🍎 Apples vs. 🍊 Oranges

Last updated: August 18, 2020

🍊 Oranges
Fruit – Citrus
Orange Focus & Go-To-Market   
Primarily utilized for:
• Fresh fruit snacks
• Juices
• Ingredients for desserts.

Positioning Oranges
Oranges are known for their tart to sour taste, a stringy texture, and are extraordinarily juicy. They are great for when a recipe calls for a highly acidic, sweet, juicy ingredient, particularly if the cook is able to squeeze the juice to avoid the stringy texture.

Oranges are not so good for general snacking where ease of eating and less mess are desirable, or an ingredient needs a milder taste, and crunchy or crisp textures.
Go – Where We Have An Unfair Advantage
• Easily transportable healthy snack food for picnics or hikes.
• No prep, minor cleanup healthy snack for feeding children.
• Pairing with other delicate tasting foods to avoid clashing taste.
• Healthy filler ingredient for pies, or replacing oil for holding moisture in baked goods.
No Go – Where We Have A Higher Risk of Losing
• Snack food needs to be “fun”, and prep and mess can be tolerated
• Ingredient flavor profile calls for high acidity
• Ingredient profile calls for intense flavor and high liquid content
• Fruit will be cut in advance and laid on a platter.
Our Strengths vs. Oranges
• Easily washed, edible skin means zero prep, and no peels to clean up, and no juicy mess while eating.
• Solid consistency makes apples easily transportable, and store longer.
• Crisp, crunchy texture makes apples enjoyable to consume.
• Mild sweet flavor doesn’t clash with other foods or upset tummies.
• Versatility of textures through processing: crush for sauce, or squeeze for juice.
• Pectin content of apples prevents formation of glutens in baked goods to create fluffier, moister consistency, and a healthy substitute for oils.
Our Weaknesses vs. Oranges
• High acid and tart flavor are sometimes desired.
• Bright orange color can be seen as more decorative or enjoyable for some recipes.
• When volume of juice and intensity of flavor is needed, oranges can be seen as superior.
• Oranges do not discolor in cut fruit servings like apples, and can look more appealing.

Questions to ask the customer
1. How much tolerance do you having to do food prep before eating?
2. How easy do you need cleanup to be?
3. How well will an acidic sour taste fit with the food you are preparing?
4. What kind of texture are you wanting for your recipe?
5. Will you be pre-cutting fruit? Will you be coating with a sauce?
6. Are you interested in creating healthier baked goods?
Previous wins and losses vs. Oranges
1. Win: Carmel apples
2. Win: Apple Pie
3. Win: Carrot cake with apple sauce instead of butter & oil
4. Win: Waldorf Salad
5. Loss: Orange smiles
6. Loss: Cut fruit spread
7. Loss: Citrus dessert

While pricing depends on production year to year in general:
• Apples exhibit more price stability month-to-month on account of easier storage.
• Oranges show a higher price per pound off season, and a lower price when in season.

Total Cost of Ownership
In their simplest usage: eating a whole piece of fruit, apples require a simple rinse, no peeling, no special accommodations for packing, and cleanup is a small easily decomposable apple core.

Oranges must be peeled or cut to eat, these peels must be thrown away, and the extra juiciness of an orange often requires cleaning faces and hands as well.

Now, a bit more about battle cards in context with my CI best practices:

  1. Treat CI materials as company secret and perishable – date your battle cards from last update, and presume they need to be reviewed quarterly.
  2. Assume any anti-competitor content you provide to a customer will end up in the competitive sales team’s hands – battle cards are not meant for distribution for customers, and should be labeled “company secret”. Proper use is to provide talking points. So the text within battle cards can be used, but don’t send the whole card to a customer.
  3. Try to compete at the business level, and avoid technical bake-offs. Battle cards are meant to help a rep try to deposition a competitor out of consideration for an opportunity, and also avoid investing in opportunities that they have a lower chance of winning.
  4. Keep your customer focused on what they can achieve with your solution and what they can’t achieve with the competitor. Just being “better” often isn’t “good enough” versus incumbent competition. – Battle cards help provide talking points to remind customers of differentiating benefits, and help reps qualify whether those differentiating benefits matter to the customer.
  5. Positioning competitors with truth is far more powerful than with falsehoods. Battle cards provide talking points based on facts, and often positive attributes. Its most convincing to position competitors according to what they’re famous for.
  6. Competitive replacements are much harder to win than adjacent opportunities. Ideally battle cards should help reps find unserved needs that competitors leave unfilled.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what should be part of a battle card.