Did Your Partner Turn Into A Competitor? Ask These 7 Questions: B2B Market Research podcast

Episode #95 of the B2B Market Research Podcast – Did Your Partner Turn Into A Competitor? Ask These 7 Questions…

We cover:

  • Why the scenario of embrace, extend and extinguish doesn’t have to come as a surprise.
  • Why you don’t have to live with a “sick” client base that’s infected with your competitor.
  • 7 questions to ask if you’re wondering if a partner is turning into a competitor.

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Sean Campbell – CEO of Cascade Insights

[Modified Transcript]

In this podcast, we’re going to be talking about seven competitive intelligence questions that you need to ask when a partner of yours becomes a competitor.

This podcast is brought to you by Cascade Insights. Cascade Insights specializes in competitive intelligence services for B2B technology companies. Our specialization in the B2B technology sector helps us to deliver detailed competitive intelligence insights that generalist firms simply can’t match. You can also check out our free resources and sign up for our newsletter.

When can your greatest friend turn into your an enemy?

Sometimes the market dynamic isn’t very clear-cut. In fact, at times your greatest friend is gearing up to become your greatest enemy. Examples of this abound, even in the geopolitical sphere. For example we were once partners with Russia during World War II, and then we weren’t.

Partnerships also go bad in business. At one point Microsoft gave Apple $150 million back in 1997, and we all know how that turned out. Partnerships to this day start, age, and go sour. Take a look at the news around the VCE partnership that was originally a joint venture between organizations like Cisco and EMC, and you can see this trend playing out today.

Of course, partnership isn’t all bad. The book Co-Opetition, which has been with us for 15 or 20 years now at this point, talked about scenarios where multiple companies go out to the marketplace and offer a joint solution to meet customer needs.

But the fact is, sometimes your partner in one of those co-opetition relationships is planning to embrace you, extend around your solution, and eventually extinguish your solution. And these things don’t have to come as a surprise. In fact, organizations pilot their efforts first. That partner of yours is piloting an effort to extend around you and eventually extinguish you. They do recon over your own territory. They’ll talk to your customers. They’ll talk to your partners and they’ll do product development in advance of launching any of these initiatives. Or, at a minimum, they’ll drive very specific programs to interact with your current customers.

What can you do? How can you know this is about to happen?

You need to ask your own customers a set of questions that you might be uncomfortable asking, but it’s better to be the doctor than to be the patient and to have to live with a sick client base that’s infected with your competitor’s product.

First, you need to ask your own customers a set of questions that you might be uncomfortable asking, but it’s better to be the doctor than to be the patient and to have to live with a sick client base that’s infected with your competitor’s product.

Before we get into those seven questions it’s worth noting that you’re also going to want to talk to competitor sellers. Those individuals can be a treasure trove of information. I’m not going to get into the detailed questions we’d use there, but I’ll do that on a subsequent podcast.

So what are the questions that you need to ask as a competitive intelligence team?

Question #1: What’s the current level of investment?

The first question you want to ask as a competitive intelligence team is, what is the current level of investment in the partner’s solution? In sum for your current accounts, how invested are they in the partner’s solution? You don’t want to pre-judge this question. You may have last asked something like this a year ago, when your first engaged with the account, and maybe during that time frame your partner has been very diligent about extending their reach inside that same account.

This question can also uncover examples where your partner has a very large install base of a certain type of software or solution that isn’t even aligned with your partnership, but this base gives them a logical opportunity to extend their relationship with your account over yours. This may even be the kind of the solution that you ignore on a regular basis because it doesn’t really conflict with anything you offer to the market, but again, it may give your partner an ever-expanding beachhead in the account and a way to grow their own relationship.

Question #2: How did your account base become aware of the partner’s solution?

The next question is, how did they become aware of the partner’s solution? If they primarily become aware of the partner’s solution through joint selling activities, that’s probably the best scenario you could think of. You’re both talking to your account base. You’re both engaging with the account base and you’re able to message how your solution pairs well with your partner.

But what if you find, as competitive intelligence team, somewhat to your discomfort, that the partner’s been doing a lot of active selling, developing marketing campaigns, and driving general awareness that doesn’t involve you — and in fact, almost acts like you don’t exist? Now this can be a different kind of problem to deal with and solve.

Question #3: What is your client’s opinion of your partner’s solution?

Next, let’s talk about our third question. What is your client’s opinion of your partner’s solution? Again, you don’t want to pre-judge this question, because their opinion of your partner may encompass a variety of products that your partner sells, some of which again might be giving them a bigger beachhead than you’re willing to consider. Make sure you ask this question in a way that you get the whole answer.

Question #4: How could your company be displaced?

For your fourth question, you need to ask what would that partner of yours need to do to displace you?  This can be one of the toughest questions to ask, but you have to ask it. You have to ask your current customer if there is some way that this partnership could change – such that you’re no longer considered a viable solution to solve their problems, and that your partner could essentially could solve all of them.

Question #5: According to your client, what are your/your partners’ unique strengths?

Next, assuming you have to live with your partner being in the building with you (the classic example of co-opetition and partnership) ask what the customer sees you doing the best at and what do they see the other organization doing the best at?

Question #6: What are your client’s integration expectations?

Next, for our sixth question, you need to ask what type of integration that your client looking for? Because if you’re both going to be in the building, what is the level of integration the customer expects between your solution and your partner’s? Because sometimes you can win and maintain your relationship with the account by simply providing effective integration between two different software solutions.

Question #7: How is your partner extending their reach?

Finally, who are the partners your partner is bringing into the account? Who are these partners in terms of the software products and solutions they offer, that your partner is essentially using to extend their reach? Perhaps these are organizations you should connect with, or at a minimum, they’re organizations that you should be aware of.

With that, I want to wrap up this episode of the podcast. In sum, there are seven key questions you need to consider, because in the end you don’t want to be the patient — as it’s much better to be the doctor. Thanks for listening. Hope to have you along on the next podcast.

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