Strategy #1: Head to head: winning with superior experiences
This strategy makes sense in large, mature markets where market leaders stay on top despite poor customer experiences. Think banking or telecommunications, where, as Bain puts it “Experience is the new product”.
We all know of examples like Uber or Revolut where the superior experiences were enabled by tech innovations that ended up being new categories in their own right.
But there are also B2B tech and service categories where this strategy makes sense.
B2B Tech Example with Insider Tips
Nextiva is an all-in-one cloud communications platform that supports any channel (virtual phone system, text, video, email, and instant messaging) and any related workflow through a set of customer service, sales, and team collaboration tools.
Since virtually any business needs a communication tool like Nextiva, the market is huge and ripe with competition. The “all in one” positioning is not unique either.
And yet, Nextiva managed to grow from $70M to $200M in revenue over the last 2.5 years without external investments.
The way Nextiva differentiates is by providing a superior customer experience. The company was founded based on the idea of having the best customer service ever.
But Nextiva takes superior experience beyond the Amazon-style customer service, to provide unmatched reliability (they are the only provider in the industry that hasn’t had outages in more than three years) and a frictionless implementation process.
Tune in to listen to insider tips from Nextiva’s director of growth marketing Gaetano Di Nardi.
Strategy #2: Change the battlefield: pivot to an adjacent category
What we often don’t realize is that the choices we made early about our product category can box us in unfavorable ways.
The good news is, categories today are much more “fluid”, the borders between different categories are not always clear, and categories and are evolving faster than ever before.
So you might still choose an adjacent category.
B2B Tech Example
In “Obviously awesome”, Dunford gives an example of her own startup that started as a “database”. But by being positioned in the database category, their prospects expected their product to have everything that Oracle’s database had, but better. They could never win head to head against Oracle.
By focusing on their main differentiator (fast analytics of large amounts of data), they discovered a market category without a clear leader at the time: the data warehouse market.
This shift in positioning got them out of competing with Oracle and is aligned with their strengths. It also allowed them to raise prices because they shifted away from the database (a commodity) to a data warehouse, which commanded premium pricing due to a smaller amount of offerings on the market.
Strategy #3: Vertical positioning: “Big fish, small pond”
Your goal is to win in a well-defined segment of the market.
You do this by targeting buyers in a subsegment of the broader market who have different requirements that are not being met by the current overall market leader.
2 B2B tech examples:
Cumul.io’s founders decided to build a solution in a bloody red ocean of analytics tools, dominated by incumbents like Tableau and Microsoft (Power BI).
Focus on SaaS companies looking to add analytics and dashboards to their own applications or platforms.
While Tableau and Power BI deliver powerful business analytics tools and dashboards, they miss key puzzle pieces necessary to integrate stunning, interactive dashboards right in their application with just a few lines of code.
The results? With pricing starting at four figures, they managed to acquire 200+ customers in 30 countries — without any outbound sales or marketing. For insider tips, check out the interview with Cumul.io’s CEO Karel Callens.
In another example, our client leveraged this strategy to grow their average deal size by a factor of 10, while their competition was a fraction of what they faced before.
Their survey technology was innovative, provide better response rates, and had a few corporate clients. But it remained a struggle to build traction in the ‘usual suspect’ markets like employee engagement.
After a veteran CEO joined their team, they decided to take a step back and review their existing customers. The most promising use-cases seemed to be in the healthcare market.
The team embarked on a difficult journey that resulted in a unique competitive advantage:
- The first step was to find an early adopter. After speaking to many healthcare providers, they managed to sign a pilot project with an innovative hospital.
- The startup then parlayed that first success into a few more projects with other hospitals.
- Finally, they were ready to go after their real target: pharmaceutical companies. Again, through a pilot with an ‘innovator’, they slowly started signing bigger deals.
- They still had to overcome all other barriers to entry, like getting required certifications and corporate approvals.
- In addition, they had to invest even more in building specific features to increase the value of their offering and transform “an app” into a solution.
But once they were in, the rewards were great too. Like I mentioned above, their average deal size grew by a factor of 10, while their competition was a fraction of what they faced before.
Strategy #4: Niche down
This strategy is for B2B business in a highly competitive category with hundreds or thousands of competitors and developed subcategories.
You are choosing both a target segment (e.g. one or two verticals you want to focus on) and your specialty or unique features (or expertise area for professional services).
For most service-based businesses — this strategy is a must. We’ll dive into more details about marketing positioning for service-based companies below.
But this strategy can help B2B tech companies too, especially if they’re active in categories with hundreds of competitors.
B2B Tech Example
That’s why Salesflare, competing against 600+ companies in the CRM space, is so clear about both their best fit market segments (marketing agencies and tech startups), and their product differentiation (quick to deploy & easy to use, thanks to their unique automation features).
Learn more about their strategy in an interview with SalesFlare’s CEO Jeroen Corthout:
Strategy #5: Positioning for B2B services
Most service providers — especially professional service providers — tend to jump on most requests from potential clients, and sometimes take on projects they have no deep expertise in.
This is often driven by the fear of missing out. If I say no, I’ll miss out on this project, the thinking goes.
Unfortunately, this is a road to mediocrity.
Because such a mindset leads them to become a “jack of all trades, but master of none.” Which is the exact opposite of carefully selecting an expertise area and becoming a go-to expert in your niche.
||Jack of all trades
||Go-to expert in a niche
||Broad: knows quite a bit about different topics (and can “talk your ear off” about them); mainly tactical knowledge, some of it without hands-on experience in a context like yours
||Develops deep expertise around a narrow topic. Often, a topic that is of strategic importance to their ideal clients. Quickly recognizes patterns and can diagnose root causes of problems. Recommends specific solutions proven to generate the desired results with other similar clients
||Does what the client asks, much like a waiter in a restaurant, “takes orders”
||Much like a medical doctor, diagnoses the problem, prescribes the steps, and guides the clients through a proven process
||Work gets done. Sometimes, the client learns a lot. Efficiency improvements, some results (rarely long-term strategic impact)
||Transformative has a significant impact on the client’s strategic business goals. Exceptional results for a well-defined type of client under a well-understood set of criteria
||Clients perceive them as “one of many” “Ah, so you are a software development company? If I need one I know how to find them…
||Clients perceive them as a top expert with a unique approach; uniquely positioned to solve their specific problem
||Average pricing in the industry; gives discounts or accepts unusual payment practices; often based on “time for money”
||Commands premium, value-based pricing, above the market average. Builds IP and overtime monetizes it through other means than “time for money”
||Creates custom project proposals and plans, figures things out on the go, has little control of their own agenda
||Has standardized proposals and an efficient process refined through repetition. Controls own agenda and leaves a minimum of 30% of their time for deepening of their expertise and developing the business
||Ends up in situations where they’re in over their head. Sometimes relies on “fake it till you make it” while feeling insecure, inappropriate, and having to learn on the customer’s dime
||Feels confident in their knowledge and ability to create an impact for their clients. Feels congruent with own values, fulfilled with a sense of purpose, and driven by the desire to build something bigger than themselves
B2B service example #1 with insider tips:
Sweet Fish Media is a great example of a very tight positioning, both vertical (focused on B2B SaaS companies with 50-5000 employees) and horizontal (they’re a podcast agency for B2B brands).
Tune in to the interview with the founder, James Carbary to learn how they pivoted into this narrow positioning, and how it helped them achieve 50-100% growth, year over year.
James is a big inspiration for us in running our own podcast, and the author of a best-selling book Content-Based Networking: How to Instantly Connect With Anyone You Want to Know
B2B service example #2 with insider tips:
FullFunnel.io’s marketing positioning is full-funnel marketing (horizontal) for B2B tech and service businesses with complex and long sales cycles (vertical). While we could also help other types of B2B businesses, we focus solely on this niche.
In one of the most competitive markets out there — marketing consulting — FullFunnel.io doubled their revenue during the “lockdown quarter” compared with the same quarter the year before.
We also rarely have to compete when submitting proposals, and this unique positioning allowed us to build considerable IP, and launch a unique Full-Funnel B2B Marketing Academy.
For insider tips, tune in to this short interview with the founder, Andrei Zinkevich:
B2B service example #3 with insider tips:
iNostix won bids for enterprise projects against the big 4 consulting companies on a regular basis — and got acquisition inquiries from 3 out of 4 of these companies (iNostix was acquired by Deloitte in 2016).
Their positioning was sharp, and they invested heavily in communicating their positioning with their market. Their founder and CEO Luk Smeyers published 200+ articles, and spoke on 100+ conferences — and all of it around their narrow specialization.
Tune in below to listen to Luk’s insider tips, who went on to start The Visible Authority — where he now teaches other consultants strategies to grow their revenue by transforming them into visible authorities:
Strategy #6: Challenge the status quo by going all-in on unique features
It’s important to realize that this strategy is NOT about adding more features than your competitors.
It is about:
- Understanding what matters to your best customers that is not well-supported in the market
- Going further than anyone in the market to develop specific, often unique features or combination of features
- Communicating about it
B2B tech examples with insider tips
These are the two examples I used in the intro — but now I want you to draw your attention to specific steps they took to make this strategy work (and share insider tips from one of them).
The first example was Instapage, positioned as a landing page tool with unique post-click optimization and experimentation features for Google and Facebook advertisers.
Note the latter part of the sentence. Instapage focused on their best customers — first Google advertisers — to provide them something no other landing page tool provides. When running Google Ads, it’s extremely important to align the landing page with the search term and the ad copy used to send the traffic to this landing page. Previously, no other tool had support for this.
The second example was lemlist, who went beyond any other cold emailing tool in helping their customers better response rates. Note all the actions they took to implement their positioning strategy:
- Implemented a unique set of personalization features such as personalized images, video thumbnails, and landing pages
- Implemented unique deliverability features such as lemwarm (automatic warm-up of email accounts)
- Went way beyond other providers in educating their market on how to get higher response rates (e.g. lemlister of the week, their community, etc)
Check out the interview with Vuk Vukasinovic, lemlist’s head of growth where he shares other insider tips:
Strategy #7: Challenge the status quo by addressing a common objection
This strategy also relies on a deep understanding of your best customers. What are their most common objections and how can you address them?
The best-known examples of a company that made it big by addressing common objections are in B2C (but I will provide a B2B example below):
- CarMax became America’s largest used-car retailer by understanding that customers don’t want to haggle over price or risk buying a lemon. The price on the car is the price you’ll pay, their salespeople aren’t compensated on commission and have a strict quality certification and inspection process that ensures every car they sell is reliable
- Domino’s pizza understood that people don’t like waiting too long for their food to be delivered. So they pioneered a guarantee: you’ll get a hot, fresh pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes — or it’s free.
B2B tech example with insider tips
If you listen to Expandi’s story below, you’ll notice how much effort their co-founder and CEO Stefan Smulders spent understanding the common problems and objections of their ideal customers in the market of LinkedIn automation tools — and how he used this knowledge to carefully develop a unique positioning for his product:
- LinkedIn was cracking down on automation tools, and many customers were concerned about their LinkedIn accounts being suspended. Expandi offers the safest tool for LinkedIn automation
- Lead generation agencies struggle to manage multiple clients in a single tool. Expandi offers a unique set of agency features that make it easy to manage multiple LinkedIn accounts
- Acceptance and response rates on LinkedIn are going down – and LinkedIn penalizes people who do many connection requests that people refuse. Expandi offers advanced personalization and list building features that allow you to implement personalized, trigger-based outreach campaigns.
Note also how well Expandi executes their positioning strategy in both product and all customer-facing activities: from a unique brand voice, through a content strategy unique in their category, to their approach to serving their customers that none of their competitors have.
Strategy #8: All-in-one or one-stop-shop
This strategy can be applied when a specific segment of your market needs various, often fragmented, and poorly integrated tools or services to manage (an aspect of) their business.
The first two examples below illustrate the importance of focusing on a specific segment of the market to succeed at this strategy.
3 B2B tech examples with insider tips
As small businesses use more and more of digital tools, they struggle with disconnected systems, information, logins – while the monthly subscription bills keep piling up.
The Zoho Corporation recognized this problem in 2017, when they launched Zoho One, with 40+ integrated apps on one account, with all-in unbeatable pricing.
Now, it took Zoho a bit more than 20 years of building different products to be in a position to launch such a unique offering.
But this is not to say that the all-in-one strategy is not accessible to companies without such a legacy.
As part of a positioning exercise, one of our clients, IDRONECT, decided to focus on their most profitable segment of drone-based service companies. After completing a set of interviews, they realized that with a small modification of their product, IDRONECT could replace more than 10 different apps their clients use to manage their business.
Within 2 months it took them to complete the exercise and release the product update, they grew the deal-close rate, shortened the sales cycle and 5X the deal size, and closed a new investment round.
One more example of an all-in-one positioning strategy taken from the start is Zaplify, which is an all-in-one sales outreach tool. In an interview with their founder and CEO Oscar Collins, I learned that while all-in-one positioning can be a powerful differentiation strategy — it can be challenging to communicate.
Being used to individual tools and their categories, prospects may try to box you in into one of those categories: “so, are you now a prospecting tool, or an outreach tool?”.
Tune in to listen to the full interview below:
Strategy #9: Head to head: redefine an emerging category
Operating in an emerging category (a category that your prospects may not be fully aware of) is both a blessing and a curse: it requires you to invest in awareness creation and demand generation — but it’s also an opportunity to influence your prospect’s purchase criteria.
And the best way to do it is using what Andy Raskin calls “name the new game”. Instead of merely attacking the problem (as most B2B brands do) — Raskin says — you attack the status quo, the “old game”. You are effectively naming the reason your competitors are becoming obsolete AND introducing a sense of urgency. “
To survive in the newly emerging world”, you say, “what you’re doing today (and what the competitors offer) is not enough. The winning company plays a new game, here is what that is. And our solution is designed ground-up to help you win the new game.”
B2B tech examples
When Hubspot set out to win in the competitive market of marketing and software tools back in 2006, they did something different from most of the other tech companies.
They’ve invested most of their marketing efforts in promoting their methodology (Inbound Marketing) instead of promoting their product directly.
Hubspot did not create the marketing automation category. They just found a new way of talking about it, that helped them create much wider awareness of the need for marketing automation (and their product).
Drift did something similar. Drift wasn’t the first chatbot on the market, but they did a far better job than anyone else in creating a compelling story around chatbots. Instead of talking about chatbots, they attacked a solution marketers were aware of: lead generation forms. Leadgen forms were their “old game”.
In a world of texting and Slack, they said, your customers are not willing to submit long forms and wait for a rep to contact them a day later — they want instant response.
They called their “new game” Conversational Marketing.
Strategy #10. Create a new category
This is the hardest and the most expensive choice you can make, but the rewards can be huge.
This strategy is usually made possible by a perfect storm of an enabling new technology emerging together with a shift in consumer preferences and a supporting ecosystem.
The work in creating a new category requires a lot of teaching because unlike with other positioning strategies, you cannot rely on what people already know about the category.
You need time, patience, and often, deep pockets.
2 B2B tech examples with insider tips
Eloqua grew from around $12 million in revenue in 2006 when they created the “marketing automation” category, to $96 million in 2012 when they went public and were shortly after acquired by Oracle for $870 million.
The second example is Esoptra, disrupting the world of high-value goods & services by creating a category they call “Product-Led Communication” (adding a branded digital experience to your physical product to turn it into your best customer communication channel).
In an interview for our podcast, the CEO shared:
- How do you come up with a new category?
- The problem with a new category is that your prospects are not aware of it. How to educate your market about the new category and create demand for your product?
- Educating your customers takes time. How do you shorten your sales cycle?
- How do you find early adopters?
Strategy #11. The power-up add-on
With this strategy, you position your product as an add-on to other products — or you use the add-on strategy as a part of your go-to-market mix.
Clearbit offers lead enrichment as a power-up to your CRM or marketing automation tools. Popular platforms such as WordPress, Microsoft Office, or JIRA all have marketplaces full of add-on applications. However, many of the add-on categories have become market categories in their own right (think popup add-ons for websites like sumo.com) and require you to position your solution with respect to the other add-ons in the category.
Integration companies (service companies specialized in specific platform implementations and customizations) can create add-ons as a part of their go-to-market mix (a way to come in contact with qualified prospects when they download their add-on).
Sometimes, however, the add-on could be a viable positioning strategy.
B2B Tech Example
When image personalization became popular through providers such as lemlist using it as differentiation features, some companies spotted an opportunity to offer similar personalization as an add-on to other marketing tools and channels.
One such example is Hyperise, enabling you to use personalized images in email, website, video, ads, chatbots, direct mail and social outreach and offer integrations with numerous marketing tools. Tune in to hear the interview with their founder and CEO Ian Naylor:
Step 5. Develop a Unique Value Proposition: be different in a way that matters
As explained above, the value proposition is a key marketing message that communicates why you are different and worth buying. Essentially, it communicates why your positioning matters to your ideal customers.
Note the two elements: differentiation, and relevance to your ideal clients.
Quadrant 2 on the diagram above is where most brands and products live. They meet their customers’ needs but are not differentiated. Quadrant 4 contains brands that are different for sake of being different. The difference they make is not relevant to the customers.
The goal of positioning is to move to quadrant 3.
And the role of the value proposition is to capture this in one compelling statement.
Step 5.1: List your unique attributes
You’re looking for what your company and your product do best — compared to your competitive alternatives.
The best place to start is running customer interviews. During Ideal Customer Interviews, ask: what specific feature of our product did you like the best and why? And also: when evaluating a solution like ours, what do you find important? And of course: why did you choose us?
Look through the interview results and list all attributes, capabilities, and features that you have that the identified alternatives don’t.
Remember: you are looking for those that create value for your customers AND are a source of differentiation.
For example, ‘easy to use’ may not be the best unique attribute — unless it creates a “provable” value. E.g. do your competitors’ products require training and your product doesn’t? Can you quantify how long it takes to become proficient with your product versus alternative products?
Note that unique attributes are not only the features of your product.
You may have a unique approach to serving your customers, a different business model, a better guarantee, unique methodology, faster payback (time to ROI) than other solutions…
Ask yourself: what are our unique “TASKS”: talents, attitudes, skills, knowledge, and style? What do you do better than anyone in the industry? Do you have a different set of beliefs (in a way that benefits your client), or have you figured out a more effective mindset? Do you have a different style and approach your clients differently than your competitors?
Ask yourself deeper questions too.
Like, why do we exist, besides making money? What inspires us to come to work each day? What would our business be like if we were leading a movement instead of running a business? If our people were volunteers instead of employees, what would they be volunteering for?
These will come in handy as you work on your positioning story and could help connect to your clients more deeply.
Step 5.2: Map your unique attributes to value
In the previous step, we’ve identified what makes us unique. We’ve essentially moved rightwards on the graph above.
Now we want to go upwards, by mapping our unique attributes to the value we create for our ideal clients.
- The unique attribute is something your company or your product does or has (that your competitive alternatives don’t)
- The benefit is what the attribute enables for your clients
- The value is how it maps to an important goal your client is trying to achieve
While such a list can be long, you want to end up with a few ‘value themes’ that matter most to your clients by combining or removing options.
Step 5.3: Craft several value proposition statements
Now take the selected value themes and turn them into value proposition statements.
A unique value proposition is a succinct statement that describes the benefit of your offer, how you solve your customer’s needs and what distinguishes you from the competition.
While there are many excellent guides and suggested value proposition ‘formulas’, there is nothing magic in the way that you put your statement together.
You’re simply trying to hit the elements of an effective value proposition:
- Relevance — who is it for and what problem is solves
- Value — what goal or result does it help clients achieve
- Differentiation — how is it different in a way that’s meaningful to clients, and that’s provable
- What is it — from the value proposition, it should be clear what your product is or does, without any room for misinterpretation
Feel free to use the extended “headline + subhead” format to precisely nail your value proposition.
Here are a few examples.
Step 5.4: Validate your value proposition
Once you’ve crafted a few versions of your value proposition statements, you can validate them with your (ideal) clients.
Create a validation survey with multiple options for your value proposition like this and ask your best clients to rate the different statements.
Step 6. Update your marketing message with a new positioning
The last step is updating the marketing message with a new positioning to influence the perception of your customers.
At a bare minimum, you should update the key marketing and sales materials:
- Your homepage, about us page, and product/services pages
- Your company’s social media profiles, and LinkedIn profiles of your founders, sales and marketing people
- Your sales presentation and proposals
But changing the way the company thinks about itself, brings about a new sense of purpose and creates a new momentum and energy.
You’ll likely get inspiration for your product roadmap, the way you service your clients, and sometimes also on the business model.
We operate in a world of exponentially growing competition, a flood of desperate marketing attempts causing content blindness, and the slow death of cold outreach.
There is little room left for undifferentiated, me-too businesses.
In this guide, you learned a proven step-by-step framework to update your positioning so you stand out and become a natural choice for your best clients.
Here are some more steps for you if you want to learn more, have any questions, or need any help: