How much time do you spend on competitive intelligence? Does your CS team pressure you into building features because your competitors have them? Is your roadmap dictated by those competitive analysis landing pages that everyone has now?

These are questions that keep many product managers up at night. Competitive intelligence is difficult to gather and challenging to balance with the many responsibilities of the PM. Once you do have it, it’s tough to decide to what extent it should affect your decision-making processes.

In our poll, 64% thought that competitive intelligence steers PMs wrong, but our debaters are fiercely divided on this issue. There is some strong language in this debate that we’ve not seen before.

Yes

Sadly, Competitive Intelligence typically comes to product in the form of feature requests - sales and marketing and execs want you to get in a feature war, but feature wars are a great way to kill innovation. Plus, looking at competitors is a bad shortcut to the real work of product management: figuring out what customers actually need.

Sam Boonin

VP Product Strategy, Zendesk

No

In a nutshell, I think it will only steer bad PMs wrong. Knowing your competitors' product, actively talking to your competitors' users, and understanding what they like and dislike about the competitors' product is essential information in defining what you are about to do. Bad product managers can and will use this as an excuse to pile up features (my competitors have this and this and this- so should I) - but do bad PMs need an excuse to pile up features? Good products take the essentials, use the competitors' product as a benchmark, or do something totally different - but ignoring this piece of info? Isn't it pure stupidity?

David Schwartz

VP Product, Wix

Yes

I am not sure why, but we seem to have an unnatural fixation on what the competition is doing when we build our products without ever stopping to think about whether or not they know what they are doing or, perhaps, they are going after an entirely different market. I want to keep an eye on the competition, for sure, but their activities are only one data point that should be leveraged when deciding what to build. I should also juxtapose that information against my vision, as well as my target market’s buying and using criteria, so I don’t end of up reacting to the competition in a way that detracts from my market and goals.

Kristen Butzow

Product Coach, Pragmatic Marketing