In Office Hours today we returned to the subject of positioning; how a company is viewed with respect to competitors in the marketplace. Not unsurprisingly marketing and selling are a frequent subject of our discussions. What we learned is that while your market position is important, just as important is how the customers see their position
This week the discussion was led by one of our members who is in the process of a rather extensive and impressive process of determining what, precisely, are the features, functionality and differentiating factors of his product. He is doing this not only with respect to other offers in the marketplace, but also in terms of the needs and desires of the various people and roles in the customers’ organisations. The intention is to communicate better with those potential customers and end users and move them, of course, towards a sale.
Much of the analysis involved taking a deep dive into customer organisations to understand their needs, expectations, and assumptions. What emerged was that for complex technical products that there are many people involved in a buying decision and the proposition will be passed around inside an organisation with many opportunities for veto. When you are selling you need to be sure that you are fulfilling the needs and expectations of everybody in the information chain if one link in that chain is unsatisfied by your commercial offering there is a chance the deal will not close. It pays to be meticulous and thorough in understanding the needs expectations and requirements the customers’ organisation.
There are some very interesting lessons and takeaways emerging from his detailed analysis. After all the analysis does need to inform specific actions you can take as a manager. For example, in managing day-to -day sales conversations a useful approach in position you are offering is to begin by establishing the position of your customer. To place yourself in an advantageous position in their minds you need to know how they see themselves.
By establishing, with them, where they are now you create a common understanding of value propositions and a reference frame for your product. That understanding is a stable base on which you can build the rest of the conversation. What are the differentiating features of their product, who are their competitors and what are the trends in the marketplace? After all, if they tell you where they are and why they are special it’s very difficult for them to move away from that position.
This is in contrast to the classic engineering sell “come look at by shiny new box with all the bells and whistles. ” Too many people try to sell technology and expect admiration of its features and the brilliant engineering. But that is not the point and if you go into an organisation with that sort of attitude, they may appreciate the engineering but will not necessarily translate into sales. If your offer does not fit into their world view and value proposition, they will look at features as expensive embellishments rather than benefits.
The quicker you can establish a common set of understanding the better. Then from that place of commonality you can start to build the argument about why your product fills their expectations and requirements and it is clearly differentiated from your competitors.