Product Managers and Competitive Intelligence

In his blog-post → Nuts to negative solidarity, Tom Grant from Forrester writes about competitioncompetitive orientation of Product Management, and ‚Kill-The-Competitor-Campaigns‘.

His post, and the one, he takes as inspiration, present several interesting thoughts. I recommend you to read them.

Role of Competition

I see the following statements especially important, and want to quickly add my view to them:

  • Competitors can distract from the problems with your own strategy. Any reasonably clever simian can craft a product strategy based on matching the competition step by step. However, that approach makes two courageous and often dangerous assumptions: (1) The competition is following an intelligent product strategy; (2) However good or bad that strategy is, it works for your company.
  • Excessive competitive focus undermines PM’s ability to say no. For PMs to craft product strategy, they need to be able to veto ideas that don’t contribute to that strategy. When the company gets too fixated on competitors, PMs get into a situation that resembles an argument with a Roomba over the finer points of cleaning your living room: It’s programmed to respond to particular cues, impervious to whatever logic you try to apply.“ – says Tom Grant

Focus of a PM

I am with Tom in thinking that Product Managers should be informed about the competition, and their positioning or products. In other words, to be able to react, you and your company should not ignore competitors.

However, if you express the arguments differently, he warn us for the following reasons to build innovation solely on the competitive view:

  • This can lead our products into a me-too position,
  • This orientation might focus us to the wrong problems.

Do not look to closely to the competion

If you think about innovation, these two arguments make clear why it could be a strategic error, if you too closely stick to competition. In my experience, innovation requires the following:

  • A deep understanding of personas, their situation and needs,
  • A critical view to the true requirement (this is the requirement, the persona really has, but does not express),
  • An understanding of the driving forces of the market, as this allows you to detect developments, which you do not currently have on your radar screen,
  • A good understanding of technological capabilities, as this allows you to detect potential disruptive innovation,
  • A product, which exceeds the expectations in the dimensions that really matter.

Neglecting the real sources for innovation

With the pure competitive focus, it is too easy to neglect all these innovation drivers. I think, it is also not easy, to create products with the needed uniqueness. Here an example from arts:

  • The beginner uses a draw-by-numbers-approach, while the artist develops his own ideas, taking his complete domain knowledge into consideration.
  • The beginner lacks several technological capabilities, and needs assistance, while the artist understands his tools, and can use them with perfection in his own way.
  • The beginner creates exchangeable art, while the artist offers his own unique view.

More in Contra

Further arguments in contra of a too narrow view to competition are as follows:

  • To not (unwontedly) violate intellectual property rights, it is helpful to not focus too much on domains, which you do not own.
  • The most sustainable innovation emerges from your own strategy, and view to the world.

I have not explicitly written about. However, in my view, a too simplistic customer focus can be dangerous for similar reasons. If your product consists of too many requirements of type ‚who-cries-the-loudest-wins‚, it might be as unspecific as a product is, which just reacts on competition.


If you are in search of excellent products, I recommend you to concentrate on the real innovation drivers (customers, capabilities, technologies, strategy). You should make sure not to be too closely involved in the competitive view.

In any case, try to delegate the collection of competitive intelligence to a specialist.

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