Competitive intelligence can help you position your solution on higher ground if used properly, but if your are an idiot, it can be accelerate to a quick departure.
The best way to start this story is from the end. We hired a sales rep, Steve, who had recently worked at a competitor, "Blue Spot Technologies". After his hiring, the rep shared how, at his old company, he competed against us once at an account that was one of the most bizarre and easiest wins for him and his company. He barely put forth any effort and was sure that he had lost when he received a phone call asking for contracts and the client's desire to be implemented as quickly as possible.
Now, as we rewind a little, the situation was that "Horizons Corporation" was evaluating solutions and had narrowed the finalist down to us and Blue Spot.
As part of their due diligence Horizons decided to have an PoC or "Proof of Concept" exercise. A PoC is where a vendor comes on-site and installs a reasonable representation of the proposed solution and has the technical teams and client users perform scripted exercises. As a vendor I despise these things, but if I were recommending how to evaluate solutions, this would be it.
So we schedule the PoC with Horizons with Don (Remember Don?) as the Sales Rep and "DJ" as the Sales Engineer, the guy who would have to do the majority of the work.
As always seems to be the case, Horizons was located a good distance away from a major airport and our team had to drive several hours to reach their location. Because of scheduling conflicts DJ and Don had to travel separately.
DJ arrived early morning the first day and spent the better part of the day installing, configuring, and finally setting up our PoC system.
One of the issues that we were battling was that Blue Spot's user interface was perceived as superior and our team's job was to educate the prospect that the effectiveness of a user interface is relative to the task at hand.
While Blue Spot's interface was great for editing content that was already posted on a website, it was poorly designed for creating a multi-page document, one of our strengths. After numerous hours, DJ's attention to detail and thorough alignment of our solution with their challenges was yielding us some leverage in the evaluation.
With two hours left in the day, Don showed up.
Don enters the office, makes a brief exchange of handshakes and asks for a private office where he "could make some calls". Nothing like putting the prospect first.
After some time Don emerges and declares" Who want steaks!!!? Tell me your best steakhouse in town and we are going!!!!!" The legend continues that he finished this off with some neanderthal "booyaaa", but those reports cant be confirmed.
Two poor saps, who didn't really want to go, but felt awkward in not accepting this sudden display of generosity, raised their hands.
On a side note here, our marketing team was responsible for maintaining a library of intelligence on our competitors. The challenge is this endeavor is that your competition doesn't inform you of updates, so it was our understanding that we used this information only to help establish our position, not as a fodder for a full frontal assault. In fact at that time our intelligence on Blue Spot was pushing 18 months old. Don was given explicit instructions, DO NOT SHARE THIS WITH A PROSPECT!!!
So after some very expensive steaks, Don whips out the document and starts going down point by point. "Blue Spot cant do this, so that's bad" to which the prospect replies "No actually they do that, in fact, come to think of it, they do it better than you do".
At this point DJ, not one to enjoy witnessing career suicide, picks up his drink and goes to play Golden Tee.
15 minutes later, DJ returns to the table to witness the prospect actually defending Blue Spot, with a fervor and zeal that exceeded the pitch that they received from the Blue Spot Sales Rep the previous week.
Don, unfazed by the omnipresent sense of failure, continues on to the second page of the out-dated intelligence document. The prospects respond with a stunned silence that was on line with what you would hear if someone quite loudly broke wind in church.
The after dinner coffees are finished and the members of the Horizons team bolt out the restaurant like greyhounds.
Don decides to debrief DJ over a few beers.
Don: "Man, that went great. It is ours to lose".
DJ: "No......No...I don't think so"
DJ then points out that at one point Don threw this gem out there ""OK requirement one... interface. So our interface is... you know what, I'm just going to give that one to Blue Spot, lets take that off the table, ok?"
DJ was so enraged that he unconsciously snapped his pen while having the discussion. It was metal.
We lost the deal. Steve got his blue-bird phone call. DJ was reassigned away from Don. Don was arrested the following week on his way to a demo.