An Opinionated View of Competitive Battle Cards

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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.

Creating a Competitive Intelligence Practice in a Nascent Product Marketing Team

Competitive intelligence is a core part of any Product Marketing operation. For example, you can’t write a product positioning statement without explaining how your product is different to alternatives.

Larger organizations have specialists or entire teams dedicated to competitive intelligence, with cool names like “Competitive Intelligence and Analysis (CIA).” How do you handle competitive intelligence when you don’t have the people to dedicate even a single specialist?

Understand that competitive intelligence is happening in your company even if nobody has formalized it as a practice. Similar to product marketing’s positioning statements, other teams are collecting information or reacting to competitors as part of their work:

  • Your product team is assessing features and capabilities of competitors in building their own features.
  • Your sales reps are having to explain to their prospects why they need your product in addition to potential alternatives the prospect may already own.
  • Your field engineers are conducting proofs of concept and benchmarking against competitors.
  • Your sales executives and sales ops teams are having to forecast sales pipelines with competition in mind, as well as negotiate pricing and contract concessions when faced with competitive pressure.

Without a competitive intelligence practice in place, many of these individual efforts become one-off projects, and the opportunity to glean wisdom is lost. Your company doesn’t learn how to compete better.

An early CI practice you can build is essentially a crowd sourcing and curation process between all these teams. Here are 6 steps to develop such a practice.

Step #1 – Agree on a Curation and Reporting Strategy

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Normally I advise that the product marketing team should be the curation point for all competitive work and feedback. This can be a single person on the team (or if you are the single person). If a project comes up that any of the previously mentioned teams work on, your CI curator ideally is consulted as the project begins, and time allowing they might participate. Most importantly, the CI Curator should receive and review any deliverables.

Second, there needs to be clear responsibility for reporting competitive contacts. At a minimum, this should be your sales teams reporting whenever they hear about a competitor’s presence or evaluation in their account. Ideally this presence is recorded in your CRM system, such as You may need fields both for direct competition for opportunities, and an “ecosystem landscape”. For new, unique, or competitive situations they are unfamiliar with, sales teams should also report to the CI Curator to provide feedback, and for potential assistance.

Step #2 – Define Your Competitive Domain

Think of this as the universe of alternatives that your sales teams will encounter whether they are direct competitors, indirect competitors, or adjacent solutions that a confused customer won’t know the difference. This domain is the list of all competitors your CI discipline needs to track, and should also mirror the data choices that your sales teams should be reporting into the CRM system.

Obviously your curation efforts will be focused on more frequently seen competitors. This domain should include alternatives that your product can replace, alternatives that can replace your product, and adjacent products your product can work along side or interoperate with. Expect this domain to shift over time as new products enter the market, and as your product begins to serves additional markets.

Step #3 – Define Your Range of Competitive Deliverables

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Determine the kinds of deliverables your CI operation will be curating, who should be responsible for creating these, and the priority by which they be created. More curation and development effort should be focused more frequently seen competitors, particularly if these competitors represent large threats or sources of sales opportunities.

Here’s my shortlist of typical CI deliverables, their source, and prioritization:

Sales Enablement contentProduct MarketingAs needed with other sales enablement deliverables
Sales Rep Battle cards per competitorProduct MarketingPrioritize most frequent, biggest threats and opportunities
RFP / RFQ answersProduct Marketing or FEsAs needed
Feature comparisonsProduct team or FEsAs needed, or as can be poached
TCO comparisonsProduct team or FEsAs needed, or as can be poached
Technical FUD & antidotesProduct and FEsAs needed, or as found
Bake-off tacticsProduct team and FEsAs needed
Anti-competitor sales & marketing contentProduct MarketingAs sales & marketing strategy dictates

I’ll get into more detail about these deliverables later on. You might be thinking there’s a lot more deliverables I don’t have listed, and that so many of them are labeled “as needed”. Recall that we’re talking about a CI operation in people-limited circumstances. Also realize that we’re curating & crowdsourcing materials from other teams where CI is also not their primary job. Finally, it’s also easy to over invest into CI will little return, so choose projects carefully.

Once your CI contributors agree on the types of deliverables and the prioritization & cadence, its helpful to predefine what these formats might look like. This lets your contributors more quickly develop materials as the need or opportunity arises, and you get the content in a form that’s more reusable.

Here’s some more detail on different types of competitive materials:

Competitive Sales Enablement Content

A wide variety of different formats and deliverables fit into this category. Your sales enablement needs, and the time you can spend will dictate what these will be. At a minimum, assume you need general background material for your sales reps to know the domain of product categories they will encounter at their customers and in opportunities. A portal for this information also makes a great place to post competitor-specific information and deliverables as well.

Sales Rep Battle Cards

There’s many different formats for battle cards. I have my own specific opinion of what these should cover. Ideally the information in a battle card should be actionable and allow a rep to position a competitor in conversation with their prospect, determine potential threats and objections, uncover potential opportunities, and further qualify their opportunity.

RFP/RFQ Answers

Its common for an RFP or RFQ to include questions about competitors. As these arise, record them in your RFP question database and develop standard answers.

Feature Comparisons

These are frequently asked for by sales teams, and require a fair amount of research and maintenance to ensure they are accurate and up to date. In people-constrained circumstances, I recommend reusing findings from research projects in the R&D team as they come up, or having your FE team run such a study for a highly qualified opportunity when up against a frequent competitor. You can develop your own comparison grid that follows your messaging and shows product capabilities to your advantage. You, you can also input findings into relevant public product comparison sites. I generally consider it dangerous to distribute judgements about competitor’s features to a customer unless it can be backed up by third party sources. So use this kind of asset carefully.

TCO Comparisons

Similar to feature comparisons, these would be developed as needed. I break this out separately since the format of such a piece will be quite different from a feature list. Your points of comparison are ideally quantitative, but qualitative comparisons are also useful.

Technical FUD and Antidotes

I’m usually very careful about suggesting wide use of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, but sometimes its needed and it can be very effective when strategically used. Sales rep battle cards will typically include widely known FUD, be it at business or technical levels. There may be specific opportunities related to what the customer is trying to achieve where additional points of FUD can be tailored.

Of course, competitors will also use FUD against your company. If there is a widely known or effective question they can raise, expect to see it again and again. Antidotes should be created when a tactic is first seen from a competitor. You may even need to deploy the antidote ahead of an anticipated FUD tactic from a frequent competitor. Update a competitor’s use of FUD tactics and the antidote response into your competitive battle card.

Bakeoff Tactics

In an ideal world, a sales team is able to position other competitors out of consideration, allowing your product to try to win unopposed. However, sometimes you are late to an opportunity, or sometimes the value your customer needs doesn’t allow you to clearly differentiating your product vs. other alternatives. Then you find yourself in the bakeoff such as a benchmark or POC.

If your sales team can influence what this trial will be, ideally it showcases your product’s strengths, and puts competitors at a disadvantage. Descriptions of winning or failed bakeoffs vs. competitors should be curated by the CI team for the next time such a competitive trial arises.

Anti-Competitor Sales & Marketing Content

Your sales teams will always ask for a hard hitting piece of content that makes your product look great, and the competition look bad. Only provide such content as makes sense for your sales and marketing strategy. Many companies take the position that they don’t directly disparage competitors as it detracts from their own brand experience.

There are cases where you might make an exception. First, maybe your company is the new small fry against established competitors in an otherwise consolidated market. You want to make yourself known as a better alternative to established players, and be associated via SEO, direct marketing campaigns, and in your sales process. Second, There may be a well-known problem with in an established competitor that is causing their customers to look for alternatives. You may very well have a sales play organized around this competitive take-out.

As far as formats, you can create content that explains the problems with competitors in a generalized basis. For example, heaven-hell sales slides work well. Third party quotes and articles are especially effective when you can find them. Your CI curation operation should capture these as they are developed or discovered.

Step #4 – Communicate Competitive Intelligence Best Practices

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Here is my list of best practices I communicate to my CI contributors and consumers:

  1. Treat CI materials as company secret and perishable.
  2. Assume any anti-competitor content you provide to a customer will end up in the competitive sales team’s hands.
  3. Try to compete at the business level, and avoid technical bake-offs.
  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.
  5. Positioning competitors with truth is far more powerful than with falsehoods.
  6. Competitive replacements are much harder to win than adjacent opportunities.

Step #5 – Communicate Frequently

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Marketing Departments need to frequently market their progress to their own company. This is true of your competitive intelligence operation as well. Always re-communicate CI best practices to contributors and consumers, and drive awareness of new sales enablement and new CI assets available. Measure consumption of your materials to see how widely distributed they are. Communicate in monthly or quarterly newsletters, and try to guest star in product and sales team meetings at least quarterly.

Step # 6 – Know What’s “Good Enough”

Realize that your CI operation is always going to be starving when its a part time job dependent on opportunistically capturing and repurposing work from other teams. You have to carefully balance proactive and reactive work, and this work has to fit in with Product Marketing’s other priorities. CI assets are also usually perishable as competitors continually evolve and improve, so they need periodic updating.

A good “Minimum Viable Product” for a part-time CI practice is a complete sales enablement portal describing competitive categories and products, and creating battle cards for all frequently seen competitors, especially largest threats or sources of sales opportunities.

All other CI materials are developed and curated as they become available, or as need arises. They should be dated, and assumed to be potentially stale if they are more than a quarter old.

Of course, this standard for “Good Enough” will improve as you are able to better staff your CI operation.

Happy Competing!