Beyond the Battle Card: Training Your Reps to Go Up Against a New Competitor

sales rep coaching

Your sales team is underskilled—especially when going up against the competition.

At least, that’s what the people training them say. According to a recent report from McKinsey, 55% of surveyed sales leaders said only half of their sales force has the required capabilities. 

It will take significant skill development to drive revenue, especially when facing new competitors.

A tried and true solution—the battle card—can be a helpful tool for training new employees. But it’s not enough when sending your sales team head-to-head against the new competition. 

It’s time to go beyond the battle card.

See what it takes to face off against the competition and win.

What’s wrong with the battle card?

First of all, they’re often outdated. At a time when industry trends change on a dime and new businesses pop up practically overnight, it’s hard for battle cards to keep up. 

But an even bigger problem is this: they’re often too high-level or lengthy for sales reps to stop and read when objections arise. In the heat of the objection moment, a rep who’s reading off a battle card will sound unconvincing. A rep who is well-practiced and has internalized their competitive objection handling will sound natural, confident, and convincing.

Battle cards provide a high-level overview of your competition, yes. They give your sales team a quick look at how you stack up—where you win, where your competitor is stronger, common customer objections, etc.

But while they’re great for onboarding new sales team members or as leave-behinds for prospects if they’re up-to-date, that’s really about the extent of what they can do.

Here’s the hot take: battle cards aren’t enough to help your sales team win deals.

How do you recognize when a competitor is at your heels?

Before developing a competitive strategy, you must know which companies are the biggest threat.

Whitney Sieck, Vice President of Enablement at Demandbase and a Top 20 Global Sales Enablement Influencer, knows the importance of balancing anecdotal information and research.

“So many times [sales reps] lose three or four deals in a row, and it just feels like they’re getting beat,” she said. “And then when we look at the data, that’s actually not the competitor that we need to be worried about.”

She knows you shouldn’t ignore your team’s feedback, but it’s critical to dive into the data and see what’s really going on in your competitive landscape.

If you don’t have a competitive analysis team on hand, here are some quick tips for keeping tabs on your top competitors:

  • Set up Google alerts: Remove some of the manual time suck, and tag long-time competitors and new ones you’ve heard customers mention. It’ll keep you apprised of their public movements and any big deals they score.
  • Tag conversations that mention competitors: Don’t let recorded sales calls fall into the abyss. Use conversational intelligence software to tag conversations that include the competitor to track customer perceptions and see how your business stacks up.
  • Follow up on lost deals: You can still gather vital intel from lost deals. Check in with former prospects and see which competitor they went to and why. If they’re unresponsive to the sales rep asking for feedback, they’ll often respond to direct outreach from an exec or sales leader.

Once you know who your competitors are, you can begin to build a strategy to beat them.

6 ways to understand your competition

Does this sound familiar? A few sales team members just lost deals to the same competitor—and they’re in panic mode. They ask for more resources, more information and a meeting on how the team should face this new threat. 

The problem? It’s all very reactive.

You may be able to put together a plan, but you’ll need to skimp on the research to roll it out quickly.

Instead, put together a strategy to understand your competitors before it becomes a fire drill.

  1. Make space to talk about the competitive landscape: Having a team of competitive analysts dedicated to research helps you stay proactive. If you don’t have the resources to carve out this team, set aside time for sales reps and leaders to meet regularly. 
  1. Create a programmatic way to collect information: Randomly collecting win/loss stories is helpful but not ideal. Build a systematic way to pull information from sales conversations through AI tools or prospect interviews.
  1. Conduct voice-of-customer research: Once you’ve collected customer conversations about the competitor, you can start to pull this data together and identify trends.
  1. Opt for a conversational intelligence tool: Conversational intelligence uses artificial intelligence to analyze conversations between sales agents and customers to pull out data-driven insights. So instead of reviewing calls and making inferences, you’re getting actual insights based on data. Not only will it save you time, but it’ll improve the quality of your information.
  1. Get specific: According to McKinsey, some businesses provide more account-level analytics to further sales conversations. For example, you can use analytics to track competitor movements in specific regions or industries, so reps can anticipate customer questions and prepare better, more targeted responses. 
  1. Utilize market research: Market research can be helpful for your team once you eliminate all the unnecessary information. But Sieck advises that you share market research with your sales team sparingly.

“You’ve got to be able to distill [market research] into something that’s usable and fits within the sellers’ day-to-day activity,” she said. “And the best way to do that is to hear it from the field or the customer themselves.”

Training your reps for higher win rates

Sieck follows the 70-20-10 learning model. She believes 70% of learning is done on the job, 20% socially through peer knowledge sharing, and 10% through formal training.

Here’s how you can split team learning using this model to get higher win rates.

On-the-job training 

Giving sales reps information and teaching them skills is only part of the magic. 

“You can teach some of those things, but to pull that all together in a really concise, succinct way, live on a call and in a high-pressure situation like that is the X factor,” Sieck said.

Instead of role-playing scenarios between reps and sales leaders (which everyone agrees doesn’t work), put them in simulated situations using AI. There, they can practice with realistic scenarios without any risk.

And once reps have worked on improving skills like objection handling, Amy Slater, Vice President, America’s Partner Sales at Genesys, suggests you offer peer shadowing or create junior apprentice roles. 

“Having [sales reps] in a shared or apprentice-type role can really help foster learning,” Slater said.

Social learning

Create a learning culture that includes sharing information between reps. Start a Slack channel where you can discuss unique experiences, techniques for converting customers from the competition, and anything helpful for the team. Product marketers or competitive analysts will also benefit from being a “fly on the wall” in this channel, as sales reps are often the first to uncover new competitive information.

An important part of social learning is also keeping experienced sales reps happy and preserving institutional knowledge. Senior sales reps with longevity at the organization have invaluable insights they can share with the team at large.  

Formal training 

Formal training involves traditional onboarding, virtual training, role-playing, or any type of more systemized learning.

The best way to make formal training successful is to individualize it as much as possible. Some reps will learn better through AI-simulated role-playing, while others may work well by watching videos or reading various scenarios. Ensure you pick the right training types per rep.

Skills to master competitive discussions

No matter how you deliver the training, you need to reinforce certain core skills to ensure your reps stay competitive.

Set reps up for success with these tips:

  • Build rep confidence early on: Practice objection handling in protected scenarios (such as peer-to-peer or AI-simulated role-playing) to help reps handle tough conversations.
  • Put the information in an easy-to-find place: Whether you stick with a formal battle card or have competitor-specific pages in your CRM, put new and relevant information somewhere easily accessible.
  • Lay out expectations: Let reps know which information they can look up and what they should know by memory. They should internalize common objections but can reference sales materials for more specific or technical questions. 
  • Practice framing: Knowing the information is one thing, but putting it into the right frame based on the customer is key. Teach reps the ins and outs of your personas, and share competitor information based on their individual interests. For example, the HR rep you’re selling the product to will have different competitor concerns than the CEO.

Is the competition beating your reps—or are they beating themselves? 

So you have the information on how you stack up with your competitors, and you’ve trained your agents on objection handling and framing the conversation, but something still isn’t working. Where’s the gap?

It might actually be a tie between your reps and your processes. Sieck sees a lot of companies skipping the step of building foundational, company-wide standards.

“Unless you’ve gone through and established core competencies and a repeatable sales process that the field is adhering to, it makes it so challenging to diagnose,” Sieck said.

Managers are busy coaching salespeople through individual deals, not necessarily building skills like objection handling. They don’t have time to review calls to see whether the problem really is that the competitor has a better product or service or if reps just need to upskill across the board.

A good way to diagnose rep-related problems is to assess their skills with conversational intelligence. Identify the gaps for each individual, then work with them through role-playing and sales coaching to take them to the next level.

Quantified AI helps teams rise above their competitors

Even when you go beyond your battle cards and arm your team with competitor intel, you won’t stand a chance if your sales reps lack the readiness to use the intel effectively. You need to start with the basics— with practice that turns the ideas on the battle card into live-seeming conversations.

Give your reps the information, practice, and confidence they need with Quantified AI. Set a baseline based on your top sellers and train sales reps on the foundational sales skills they need to succeed. Start with a demo to level up your team and beat your competitors.