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How To Create A Competitive Matrix
Creating a Competitive Matrix

How Do You Compare?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions from prospects and resellers, yet I often find a company that does NOT have a competitive analysis (or it is seriously out of date). In addition, we can't properly position a product and answer the question, "Why would I be a FOOL not to consider you?" without first understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the product. So, we have to make the matrix.  I usually prefer using an intern to do this, since it is easily teachable, but it can be time-consuming.  In fact, if you do not set a deadline and put your feet to the fire, you may take months getting it done (versus about 1 1/2 weeks (avg time)), plus a few tweaks.
The following are the detailed instructions I provide to interns (or anyone internally) to get this done.  We are using PROJECT MANAGEMENT as the example category - since it is one of the most competitive spaces with a lot of competitors and market segments--so anything else is easy.  NOTE: Do NOT skip any of the steps (or it can take longer since we usually have to backtrack).
Please PRINT this document so you can follow each step.

Start by watching the video on positioning
This video is one of the most powerful presentations showing why and how your product should to be positioned (one of the first things a resellers looks at)—but it also shows how the matrix is used as a critical part of the positioning and decision process and provides the motivation to go through these steps. It was created for and used by CompTIA as a guest speaker and received one of the highest viewer ratings of any presentation they gave (4.9 out of 5). They also made over $22,000 an hour charging companies to review this content.  It is 2nd video on this page:
Creating the Matrix
Welcome to the positioning team.  This is going to be FUN (actually, tedious, but we can have fun, knowing that the resultant information will be powerful and incredibly valuable).  Thanks in advance for your help.
Attached are some sample competitive matrix samples.  What we are really looking for are areas where we differ from the competition.  We will use the project management category as the primary SAMPLE because it is VERY competitive with about 200 competitors.  As such, it has a lot of examples and it is also all the more important to differentiate our product.  One of the ways is with a competitive matrix.  Following is a process I recommend (this uses Project Management as an example):
PHASE I - Secondary Research
We always want to look for existing information about the competition and the market before we do all the manual leg work--especially since some categories have matrixes almost completed and all we have to do is add our product. It would be a pity to spend a week digging up all the information from websites, forums and documentation--only to discover a site that has the matrix completed (see the affiliate-software-review PDF). I would spend a few hours just looking for existing research before creating your own matrix--2 hours versus 20 hours of boring research!
1.      Determine the different “types” of project management software.  We want to see if the market is split into segments--high-end needs, middle needs, or by the size of the company, etc. We do this so we can "de-position" an entire segment at once if we choose.  For example, in Data Storage the market is split into software only, enterprise, Linux only, open-source, consumer and cloud-based.  If someone is looking for cloud--we can eliminate all the segments at once (making our list of competitors much shorter.  Back to project management, do we have features that put us in a project management, a PPM or other areas?  If so, we need to know that.  A lot of times we can look at industry analyst reports (see Gartner report).
a.      Gartner is a major industry analyst company (about 1 billion in revenues).  They “position” different products as the leaders, etc. and also set up the categories.  This link shows the latest as of June 2009.
b.      This helps us see a macro view of the overall market and if it is divided by segments. We can put our own product in one of the existing categories and it narrows our search.
2.      Determine who the major players are in the industry.  The report above will also list the major players who are on the radar screen of the analyst.  Type in “review project management” or “reviews” or competition, etc. on Google and you will see a LOT of articles.  Here are a few samples:
a.  actual review of four different applications
b.  Shows several applications.  Note the “categories” that are being compared and the format.  This will help you to determine your own category.
3.      In many cases, the category is so big that there are companies that compile competitive matrix information for project management software (or our own type) and then ask for contact information to access it for free.  I would create a second e-mail address on, etc. and use that. 
a.      Following is one of those types of sites that compile competitor's information (look for more).
b.      I’ve included an attachment that has a grid from one of those types of companies (this one is for affiliate software—but the company that has this data may also have one for project management). 
c.      There are others.  Some allow you to pick your exact features, or category and produce a readymade matrix for you.  Search for these types of sites and bookmarks so you can come back to them.
4.      Determine who our primary competitors are (those top 5 you run into the most). If you have sold a product, you can select the top 5 you run into the most. If not, then you can consider from the analyst reports, from "" sites and from Google Searches (although a company that may be good with SEO may not be one of your potential top competitors). 
5.      STOP.  Meet with the team to confirm you have the right competitors in the right segment before you move on.
6.      Now, start to create our own matrix.  We will create two versions (usually different tabs in the same spreadsheet).  The first is for INTERNAL use only.  It will show our strengths and weakness.  It is just as critical to know where we are weak as strong--or we may go into a competitive product sales meeting with the Cisco Kid and find ourselves outgunned--our product may not be best for every segment and size and it may be better to "get out of Dodge" and target a segment we are better suited for.  When we have later finalized research, we can create a copy of our tab and turn off the areas we are weak in and that becomes our "public" version.  It will be used by us on our website, with the press in our reviewer’s guide, in presentations and by our resellers.
PHASE TWO - Create the matrix. 
You may be tempted, but do NOT jump to this section until you have completed the items above (it will slow down you down if you do not do this leg work first).
7.      Categories. Start by listing the category types (PPM, APM, etc.) that you see in most of the reviews. You can also get the categories from your product manager, CTO, etc.  If you were to compare CRM apps, these might include Pricing, SFA, Integration, Marketing Automation, or within Project Management: Collaboration, Resource Management, Project Management, Remote Access, Platforms, etc. Most product types will have standard categories (pricing, support, etc.) along with their own unique categories. The features will fall under these categories.  If you have to capture information from different sources (websites, competitors, etc.), then always use the TABS on the bottom of the spreadsheet (Gartner, Salesforce, Zoho) and dump your links and source information in these tabs (see the CRM Competitors.xlsx sample matrix for a good example).
8.      Features. Next, list the major features under each category that you see in most of the reviews.  Adding the categories and the features (underneath) gives you a general framework for your matrix.  Now, go to the competitor's websites (one by one—do NOT skip between companies (stay with each one until you have captured all their information) to add their features--company by company. Each one might add some new features under each similar category (some may even add new categories) so your matrix will look like an upside-down stair step. You will then go through all the competitors on a second pass to confirm if they have any features you may have picked up by their competitors (these will often be harder to confirm (see documentation, FAQ, web searches, etc.).
9.      Tip.  We don’t start by using just our own categorization since we may be later to the market and may not categorize the same (we may have to re-name our features to conform to industry standards we weren't aware of until we started).  We would then map our feature names and categories to the common names that others have already defined. 
10.  Fill in our information LAST (since it is easier for us to get our answers than competitors).
11.  Arrange the closest competitors next to us. The competitors we run into the most (or will) should be rearranged so they are closest to us.   
12.  Remember: If you find features from other software that we do not have, then add it to the spreadsheet--we may actually have it, or we may not (and it may or may not matter).
13.  The last thing you do (after hitting their website, reviews, FAQ, documentation, outside articles, and reviews) is called.  Your Persona:  You are a project management (or replace with your category) consultant (for now you are (how do you like your new title? J), or you work with a consultant (Chanimal) doing research on the latest updates.  NEVER LIE.  If they ask if you work for a competitor—say yes, the jig is up and they’ll hang up.  But most of the time they will not, so it is fair game.
14.  Review. Once you have some substance, then don’t hesitate to e-mail it to Chanimal (please copy your direct manager on your e-mails—but he won’t need to respond… just so he knows what we are working on) or set up a meeting review it. Sometimes you'll find some tips, or we can reduce the features saving you a lot of final leg work.
PHASE 3 - Hard-to-get information.
When you cannot find the information, put a question mark? in the grid (do not guess).  Then try one of these additional steps:
  1. Google the name and the feature.  One intern completed most of his part of a large matrix almost twice as fast as the other (very good) intern--by constantly Googling, rather than manually looking.
  2. When using Google, use the name (product name) and search terms like "reviews, compare, matrix" etc. You can also use the company name with the terms, “PDF,” "features," "guide," "manual," "datasheet," “reviewer’s guide,” etc. to see more detailed info. Don't just look on the website.  A Google search will check their forums, support, install, etc. sections. It will also find “loose” documents that may be sitting on their reseller’s websites.
  3. Review websites like Captera, G2Crowd, etc. may list features that fill in the holes.
  4. Go to their "live chat" and ask specific "pre-sales" questions.
  5. Call the companies--last (as mentioned previously). Start with support. Next call sales, etc. ONLY if they ask, tell them "I am an intern working on a project for an industry consultant who recommends products." (if this applies)
  6. Call their resellers and ask for the same information. Use a similar dialogue.
  7. Look for any publications, white papers or books.  If books, get it at the local store (don't wrinkle it), get your info and you may be able to return it--or get a pre-approved budget.
PHASE 4 - Formatting.
22.  Polish. When we are ALL done and have reviewed it and finalized it with the team, we’ll  create another copy and call it Public.  We'll give it a formatting polish so we can use this publicly.  We'll make sure the data is consistent. We will also re-word any possible negatives, or combine features (has both feature 1 and feature2) to see if we can switch it to Yes. 
a.      For example, "Uses External Email "might be NO.  Change to, "Does not use external email" and you will get a YES.  Convert all cells to YES or NO (do not put notes or qualifiers in the field). Change your feature descriptions if needed to produce a yes or no response. Save the spreadsheet with a new name, then either delete or hide all the NO's for your product. 
23.  Make sure you have the company name and the product name and the version or date on the top.
24.  Conditional Formatting.  Use this feature (Excel) to convert all NO's to RED (white text) and all YES's to Blue (black text). Do not use Red/Green like a traffic light--you'll get too may responses that it looks like a Christmas tree.
PHASE 5 - Distributing.
25.  WARNING: NEVER send this original matrix to anyone outside of the company/or not working with you as an Excel file--it also contains the internal weaknesses (flaws) and way too powerful for a competitor to have (several of my companies have made this mistake).  Convert the “public version” to a PDF first.  The easiest way to convert to a PDF that looks decent is the print to PDF, but chose "custom postscript" as the paper size--then keep adjusting the size so it has equal ½” borders.
26.  Outlets. I would post the matrix on the website (with some exceptions)--it puts all the competitors on defense, reduces the sales cycle (one-stop shop when they can validate their decision with your matrix), distribute to industry analyst, use it in your press kit reviewer's guide (it helps set the criteria for the entire review), incorporate it in your sales PowerPoint, and leverage it to tighten your product positioning (Multiple reasons why someone would be a fool not to consider your product).
  • Should I publish this? 
Yes--the public version.  It puts the competition in defense mode (they have to defend all their RED no's).  It also creates a stir--important to mix things up in a crowded space. It definitely helps prospects "see" your strengths and shortens the sale cycle (they feel like they have already done due diligence).
  • Should I list an unknown competitor? 
Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  If they are unknown, but you slaughter them in the matrix--it doesn't matter if you mention them in your matrix, the prospect usually won't bother looking (why when they are mainly "red").  You can also use, "alternative 1, 2" etc. 

If there is a major competitor that is well known--then I would definitely list them. 
  • Exceptions.
If you are the undisputed market leader--you may need to know the information within the matrix, but you may not need to publish it except in the reviewer's guides to press, analyst, etc.  You won't see MS Word publishing their matrix anymore (like they used to do against WordPerfect).  You also will NEVER want to even acknowledge a minor competitor when you dominate your market space--it will raise them up to your level.  MS Word would import WordPerfect files, but not Ami Pro (later Lotus WordPro) since they already won against their primary nemesis.  

If you are a minor competitor--then you ALWAYS want to compare yourself to the top player(s) to raise yourself to their level (and they would be a fool to acknowledge you and counter (which would allow you to "draft" their brand equity)--if they do, then keep it going and try to turn it into a two-way "Rocky vs the Champ" fight.  More details in the
Strategy content.

The following are some examples that are part of the Competitive Matrix Kit.
-         Acme comparative matrix.  Shows a generic matrix.
-         Affiliate software. Shows one of the sites that compare software for a living.  It is all in a database where you can pick the competitors and compare them.
-         IQ Reseller.  This sits on their home page.  Note the color—the competition is “de-positioned” in a sea of RED.
-         Sample Competitive Matrix.  Another sample.
Contact me anytime!
Ted Finch, CEO
Chanimal, Inc

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