How-To-Beat Analysis Made Easy

This blog post in brief:

  • How-To-Beat Analysis is a condensed competitor analysis with recommendations to the sales force on how to win.
  • It improves a company’s competitiveness by realizing its unique selling proposition.
  • Following a process when creating a How-To-Beat Analysis will ensure a better end-result:

Suggested How-To-Beat Analysis process:

  1. Identify the specific customer need
  2. Analyze the competitor
  3. Compare with the company’s own capabilities
  4. Generate conclusions
  5. Create the report
  6. Publish and adapt

How-to-beat analysis


What is How-To-Beat analysis

Battlecards. Kill sheets. How-To-Beat analysis, or HTB for short.

These are all different names for the same thing; a condensed competitor analysis with recommendations to the sales force on how to win in a particular sales situation.

What a dream for a sales guy!? To-the-point instructions on which arguments to use and what to do to kill the competition and getting the sale and the bonus…

Of course there is more to it.

The customer has to be studied and understood. As always. Business is won by focusing on customer pain points, not on competitor strengths and weaknesses.

“The customer’s perception is your reality.”

-Kate Zabriskie, CEO at Business Training Works, Inc.

How-To-Beat analysis is a great market intelligence tool. Correctly done it helps in differentiating away from a competitor and towards the customer.


Why HBT analysis

In many ways it is much easier being a customer today. Digitalization and the Internet has made it easier to find, to compare, to order, to pay for and to receive products and services.

At the same time, most companies feel competition has increased the last couple of years.

As I wrote in an earlier blog, the competitive landscape is changing. According to PWC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, 56% of the +1300 interviewed CEO’s, believe that cross-sector competition is increasing.

And 72% of senior executives believed in 2016 (i.e. a while ago) that their organizations would face more competition within three years due to digitalization, according the Harvard Business Review.

So, more companies are positioning themselves to compete for the same customers’ budgets.  At the same time, digitalization is fueling new business models and companies find themselves in new constellations depending on the project. In short, today a competitor is a partner is a customer.

Being perceived as providing unique value to a customer is key and more important now than ever before. And here HTB analysis can help a lot. It is a great way for any company to realize its key strengths vis-á-vis a specific competitor.

  • Sales team entering into conversations with a potential customer will be able to argue why the own company is uniquely positioned to help.
  • It also helps creating consistency in market messages when sales and marketing teams are working together.
  • And new employees can get up to speed faster by reading HTBs.


A good HBT analysis is based on thorough competitor analysis.

A HTB depicts a certain competitor’s strengths and weaknesses and compares them with the own organization’s strengths and weaknesses.

Recommendations are made so that they focus on the specific customer need, highlighting the own company’s uniqueness while leveraging on the competitor’s weaknesses. To deposition the competitor without mentioning the company directly requires thorough analysis and creativity.

For example, say that an existing customer needs to expand its IT infrastructure. A new competitor contacts the customer with the intent to replace you as supplier.. The competitor is offering aggressive prices, high quality products and has signed multiple partnerships to ensure timely delivery and support services. A serious threat.

And say that the customer’s key buying criteria is ‘Ease of management’. The customer does not want any unpleaseant delays or production down time due to supplier activities.

A sales recommendation could be to pitch the value of efficient delivery. ‘No production down time since all processes are already established´. Integration becomes seamless due to existing installed base.

HTB Analysis

Creating a HBT Analysis

A HTB can be done in many different ways. It is not rocket science.

Still, following a simple process will make sure nothing is forgotten and the end result better.

Here is one suggested process for creating it:

  1. Identify the specific customer need
  2. Analyze the competitor
  3. Compare with the company’s own capabilities
  4. Generate conclusions
  5. Create the report
  6. Publish and adapt


1.     Identify the specific customer need

It is impossible to create a HTB that takes everything into account. Instead, customize the analysis to support sales for a specific sales situation.

Consider the following when identifying and framing the specific customer need:

  • Who is the customer?
    • Are we talking about an existing or a potential customer?
    • What is our history and experience with the customer?
    • What do we know about the involved contacts?
    • Who has the decision power and the budget?
    • Or is it a third party that is handling the procurement process?
  • What is the deal about?
    • How does the customer perceive the need? Has the need been identified and accepted by the customer?
    • How did the opportunity come about?
    • Can the need be specified, e.g ‘Need to build out manufacturing capacity at factory in Madrid by 25% before end of year. Knowledge transfer to lower support issues a key aspect.´?
    • How is the need linked to to us?
    • Or is the need due to external factors, like ‘need to expand to new market to address increased customer attention´ or ‘need to automate business processes to increase efficiency´?
    • Has the customer submitted an RFQ or an RFI? Or are we maybe thinking of presenting an unsolicited proposal?
  • Who do we compete against?
    • Do we compete against a company that has a relationship with the customer or not?
    • What is our history and experience from competing with this company?
    • Or do we compete with a unit within the customer?

Setting the scope before starting to collect data means efficiency. The end result will also be more focused on the actual need.

HTB Analysis


2.     Analyze the competitor

Exactly how the competitor analysis is done depends on the scope of the HTB.

If the competitor is new, a more thorough analysis is needed. Consider creating a Competitor Profile.

A Competitor Profile is a document that contains a lot of information related to the company’s organization and strategy. Lika a Wiki, sort of. Focus is on collecting traceable facts and figures, that will eventually be used for analysis. The data is found by scanning the web and other public sources for company information, business news, financial reports and analysis presented by external research companies.

A Competitor Profile can be done in many ways and typically covers areas such as:

  • Organizational overview
  • Communicated strategy and ambition
  • Key people/Leadership
  • Financial performance
  • Innovation and Portfolio
  • Go-To-Market model including key partnerships
  • Key customers
  • Key challenges

With the broader and more generic competitor knowledge in place, competitor data related to the specific opportunity is collected. This secondary, targeted search has the purpose of finding input that can answer questions on how well suited the competitor is to satisfy the customer’s specific need.

  • Does the competitor have reference projects?
    • How many?
    • When did they happen and what was the outcome?
    • Is it possible to determine set backs and why they happened?
    • Or did they do innovative things that paid off for them in delivery and customer relations?
  • What assets (strengths) does the competitor have related to satisfying the customer’s particular need? For example:
    • Portfolio contents?
    • Ongoing R&D? Patents?
    • Partners?
    • Supplier relations?
  • What specific weaknesses does the competitor have when it comes to the particular need? For example lack of deliverables, partners and supplier relations.


3.     Compare with the company’s own capabilities

Now it is time to compare the competitor with our own capabilities. Key is to segment and focus on what is important.

For instance, a company might have the best global, end-to-end transportation solution. Maybe it offers secure and timely shipping by air, land and sea.

But what happens if the customer’s particular need is related to lowering local distribution costs? Maybe the issue is related to too high transportation costs from the factory to the outlets in the same city?

Here the company must analyze its capabilities related to local distribution, and compare with the competitor’s related strengths and weaknesses.

Keep in mind that it is extremely difficult to objectively analyze one’s own capabilities. We lack information to correctly assess our own strengths and weaknesses. Feedback is often biased, especially when it comes from peers or collegaues from within the same organization.

Add objectivity to the self-analysis by working with tangible data, like financial reports and customer satisfaction surveys. If possible, purchase industry benchmark reports from external companies. Another tip is to try to look at the own business from a customer’s or a competitor’s point of view.

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”

–Benjamin Franklin

If the opportunity is a must-win, i.e if lots of money is at stake or if the deal is of strategic importance, it might be worthwhile conducting a value-chain analysis. The VCA, short for Value-Chain Analysis, is a method to identify how a competitor is creating business value differentely than the own company. Correctly done it explains why one company’s profit is higher than the competitor’s. Maybe one company has a considerable cost advantage due to differencies in the manufacturing set up? Or maybe it creates business value through extreme differentiation. Or both!? Like Swedish furniture store IKEA, which offers self-assemble furniture of high quality at very competitive prices.

How-to-beat analysis

When comparing capabilities, be as concrete as possible. Split generic comments such as ‘the competitor has strong local presence and provides a lot of engineers onsite during delivery’ into ‘strong local presence’ and ‘a lot of engineers onsite during delivery’. Then scrutinize each capability from the competitor’s view and from your own view.

‘Strong local presence’ might mean the competitor has the HQ close to customer premises but what about the resources needed for the particular opportunity? Maybe the own company isn’t as large as the competitor but has more relevant resources (for the particular need) onsite!? That is an important distinction to make.

And ‘a lot of engineers onsite during delivery’ might mean that the own company has less engineers onsite but the ones we have are more skilled and capable. Maybe the solution is designed so that less people are needed? Maybe most of the integration work can be done remotely?


4. Generate conclusions

The comparison of capabilities should result in a long list of reflections on weaknesses and strengths. The reflections are used to create conclusions, where own strengths should be matched against competitor weaknesses for the specific customer need. This is the key aspect of any HTB analysis.

There are basically two types of conclusions to share with the sales force; sales arguments (what to say) and recommendations (what to do).

The HTB is based on qualitative analysis and subjective reflections. It is therefore important to back the conclusions with facts and sources as much as possible.

Remember to pitch own strengths that align with customer pain points while indirectly depositioning the competitor, like in the example above where an established customer relationship was used to pitch the value of no down time and seamless integration.


5. Create the report

Each company should have a template to guide the production of the HTB analysis.

  • In its simplest form it is a one-pager that lists the competitor’s perceived strengths and weaknesess and the how-to-beat conslusions.
  • A more elaborated HTB would provide the competitor analysis and how-to-beat conclusions, high-level industry analysis and market conditions, customer need analysis and specific propositions, own solution’s key features, list of success stories and projects and suggestions on how to handle customer objections. For the specific need.

Here is one example of what a HTB output template can look like:

HTB Analysis Template

To increase quality of the final product, if possible, present it to some ‘friendly users’ within the sales force to get feedback on content and wordings before publishing the HTB.


6. Publish and adapt

Each HTB is unique. But a lot of the work can be re-used and adapted to new sales situations.

The interaction with the sales force is important. Publish the Ask how the HTB worked. What did not work? The sales persons probably have sales arguments they feel are key.


Good luck with creating your HTBs.

Please feel free to contact me with questions and comments on this subject.

Saludos / Ingemar


This blog post was written by Ingemar Svensson, Senior Advisor at Comintelli. You can read more about Ingemar and his services here!