Here's something quick and fun you can do with your field sales team. Try it separately with your field engineers, client services reps, or any homogeneous group.
1. Hand out sticky pads until everyone has one. This is an important first step worth getting right. It would be helpful if you had different colored pads, but it is not essential.
2. Ask for a participant who can mark off three minutes.
3. Announce the following: For the next three minutes, you are going to write down - one per sticky note - a competitor you've heard a prospect or customer mention in your territory. Not a competitor you've read about, or think might be a competitor, or would like to be a competitor. And it doesn't have to be a commercial competitor.
4. On each of your sheets, jot your initials on the lower right corner. This is another step worth getting right, for reasons I shall explain. If you have reps with the same initials, ask them to write their first name and last initial. If you get duplication there, ask for full names. If you have duplicate names, use snarky nicknames like "Kevin the Hat".
5. Once you are sure everyone understands what they are expected to do, say go.
6. Leave the room. Use the next three minutes to enjoy a tasty beverage.
7. Reappear magically after three minutes.
8. On a nearby white board, write the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 horizontally across the top, with plenty of space between them. Use the whole board. Go ahead, your participants will appreciate the elbow room.
9. Now using the scale of "1 is a competitor that someone mentioned in passing but was never considered as a credible or desirable alternative" through "5 is a competitor who is actively, and perhaps successfully, working to take food from your children, impugn your good name and destroy shareholder value for our fine firm, leading you to feel that we need to deal with them in an urgent way", ask the participants to take their sticky notes and place them under a number from one through five. This exercise is not timed, and it should only take a few minutes.
10. Once they are done, make sure that no one has been clever by placing a note half-way between two numbers. No fractions.
11. Using a handy dry-erase pen, mark a number 1 on each sticky note found under the number 1 on the board. Take them off the board in a nice sticky stack. Repeat for those notes found under numbers 2 through 5.
12. Thank the attendees, and tell them that you will be summarizing what they've reported to you in a follow-up email.
13. Leave, taking the sticky notes with you. Don't comment on what anyone has written, or suggest any conclusions from ad hoc groupings that may have emerged. Smile and wave.
Now this is where the fun starts.
Using your favorite spreadsheet program, record the three data points found on each sticky note:
1. Reported Severity
2. Name of Competitor
3. Name of the Rep
Using your Mad Spreadsheet Skillz, derive the following:
1. The number of competitors reported by rep. You're going to add up the slips that have the same initials on them.
2. The average threat reported by each rep. Exampli gratia: if a rep reported four competitors having a threat level of 1, 2, 2 and 3, add these up (8) then divide by the total number of reported competitors (4) to get the average threat level (2).
3. A ranking of the competition, by rep.
4. A ranking of competitors by number of times reported.
5. A ranking of the average reported threat for each competitor.
I'm not going to come right out and tell you what this information will tell you. I'm curious what you think of the approach. Especially when you compare "the real world" to what your own product management view of the competition.