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How to use positioning to make your product obviously awesome – with April Dunford

June 30, 2022

There’s a wildly powerful tool at every startup’s disposal to make sales and marketing simple. It helps customers to see how obviously awesome your product is. It doesn’t need a big budget. And you can get started with it right now. 

This tool is positioning, and the world’s leading expert on this, April Dunford, is going to show you the concrete steps you need to learn the ropes and craft a story that sells at Turing Fest 2022.

Before April joins us on stage in July, we caught up with her to get a preview of what she’ll be sharing in her talk, as well as some tips to get started with now. 

April has worked with over 200 fast-growing technology companies to accelerate their growth through clear, compelling positioning, and has previously run marketing and product teams at seven successful tech startups. 

She is also a board member, investor, and advisor to dozens of high-growth businesses and is the author of the bestselling book Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get it, Buy it, Love it

Grab your notebook and get ready to make some notes: there are plenty of great insights from April to put into practice.

What is positioning?

Positioning defines how your product is different and better than alternatives for a particular set of customers. 

When you get positioning right, everything else becomes simpler. Customers finally get what you’re selling. You stop selling to bad-fit clients. You also have a much easier time aligning your sales, marketing and product teams, because everyone is telling the same story.

On the other hand, there are a few ways to tell that you have a positioning problem:

  • Prospects have a difficult time understanding exactly what you do

  • Your leads compare you to competitors that you don’t actually compete with 

  • Your leads don’t see the value of what you’re selling

  • You’re attracting bad-fit customers that churn

  • The CEO can sell every time, but your salespeople struggle to articulate your product’s value

You can fix this with April’s positioning methodology, which starts with identifying competitive alternatives and goes on to identify where you thrive, deliver, and win.

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The startup’s DIY guide to positioning

To give you a headstart before Turing Fest, here are some of the best tips April shared with us to help you craft the strongest positioning for your product.

Make your positioning project a team effort

Positioning is powerful, but its value is often in its simplicity. The smallest and most nimble team will often have an advantage here, no matter their budget.

If you have a Sales team, April believes you probably already know more than you think. You already have those conversations going on with customers.

If you don’t have salespeople – or you’re not getting the right information – it’s time to start talking with customers and asking the questions we introduced above. 

It’s tempting to assume that marketing can do positioing on their own,give this job to one person to run with, but it really needs to be a collective effort.

“Positioning This is not something that you can do just in the marketing department,” says April. “I really think that you need sales, product, customer success, the executive team. Because everyone sees the customer at a different part of their journey.”

Once you get everyone in the same room, the work starts. But as April reiterates, you can’t let it become the wild west. You need a methodology or process to help you figure out the component pieces of positioning. That’s where April steps in.

Understand what your customers would do if your product didn’t exist

If you remember one thing about positioning, make it this. Many companies are lacking a “why buy our product right now?” story, and this has a clear impact on sales, marketing, and attracting the right customers. April explains:

“If you have raised money, founders are great at telling a story about the vision and the ‘why invest in us’ story. But this is very different from the story we need to tell in marketing and sales. We need a ‘why pick us over other alternatives, right now’ story.”?”

These are the key questions that April advises asking customers so you can create crystal clear positioning:

  • What were you doing before using our product?

  • What made you decide to switch? 

  • When you did decide to switch, how did you make a shortlist and who was on it?

  • Then, why did you pick us?

With answers to those questions, you start understanding the real value of your product and how it stands apart from alternatives. This is the first step to crafting great positioning, and great positioning is the input we need to craft a great sales story.  

“If we don’t teach Sales how to tell a story that is centred on our differentiated value, what they’re going to do is a feature walkthrough,” says April. Demonstrating the features your product has, doesn’t help customers understand where your product fits in the whole market, the value that only you can deliver and why that matters for prospects. Some companies will fall back on using a version of the VC pitch in sales meetings, but if we oversell our vision, we are only giving customers a reason to delay a purchase.   

“Customers do not exchange today’s dollars for tomorrow’s solution. What they want to know is: ‘Look, I have lots of other ways to solve this problem. Why pick you over everyone else right now? Not next week, not next month, not next year – right now. Prospects don’t care about your vision as much as they care about what they are going to get today.. They need to understand why they should pick your product versus the other choices they have right now.”

Translate your positioning to a story that sells

Once you have your positioning nailed down, you’re ready to translate it into a story that your sales and marketing teams can use. 

value to that, but April has a much more effective suggestion of who to focus on instead…

Convince ‘The Champion’

When businesses buy, there are often multiple personas involved in the deal. There could be users, IT, Security, the economic buyer (that holds the budget) and a person that is leading the effort to evaluate alternative solutions. For positioning work, there’s mainly one person that your company really needs to convince. April calls this person The Champion, and they’re worth their weight in gold at each company you want to sell to.

Take the example of buying accounting software. The CEO chooses someone to find the best-fit software, and it’s this person we call The Champion. They’re going to do the initial research and make the shortlist. That’s their job. It’s this person who must be convinced of the value of your product.

“If we’re an accounting software and our positioning doesn’t resonate for The Champion, we don’t even get to talk to end users, or the boss with the budget, or the head of IT that might have a say in whether or not we get the deal. In the early stages of the deal, our positioning needs to resonate for the champion, or we don’t even make it on the short list.,” explains April.

“Our job as vendors is to aid The Champion. Our positioning first needs to resonate with The Champion so that we make it on the short list. 

Once the deal is happening, then our job is to arm The Champion to help them get concensus across the other personas. To show them: here’s how you convince IT. Here’s how you convince end users. Here’s how you convince your boss.”

“We can’t treat all these personas like they’re equal. They’re not. The champion is x1000 more important than everybody else.”

Realise that your customers don’t know everything

Even though it’s essential to communicate with customers, April explains that we can’t over-rely on their input.

“We can’t necessarily learn from customers what they love most about us. Because they’re terrible at explaining that and they are deeply impacted by your current positioning.

I’ve seen companies with excellent, excellent functionality that never gets pitched properly by the sales team. Therefore the customer doesn’t understand it, therefore it doesn’t get used. Therefore, when you go and ask them, what’s your favourite thing, it’ll never come up on that list. Because it never had a chance.

So I think that sometimes we go a little bit bananas with the idea that the customer is going to tell us everything. The customers are experts on pain. We are experts on solutions. We should not expect the customer to be expert on any solution, including ours.”

Often prospects have never purchased software like ours before, so they don’t know much about the vendors in the market, what’s possible with current solutions or what their purchase criteria should be. Before prospects can narrow down a short list of vendors to look at, they have to understand the entire market, explains April:

“Customers want help making choices. They want information about trade-offs. And this makes perfect sense if you think about it, particularly if you’re a B2B buyer.”

Mapping positioning to a sales narrative

Once we have our positioning, we can start to think about how to map that positioning to a narrative that communicates it. 

“A good sales narrative starts with giving The Champion a way to think about the entire market. We need to start by showing the major alternatives that the customer has for solving their problem and the trade-offs a customer would make in each case. If we do this well, we can illustrate the gap in the market that our product was designed to fill. Our goal is to help prospects understand what their purchase criteria should be, then we can show how our product meets them.”

A great narrative for marketing and sales starts with great positioning. Our positioning defines why we are different and better than other alternatives. Our sales narrative is the story that brings that to life for prospects.

April’s recommended reading on positioning

To learn more about positioning, April’s book, Obviously Awesome, is a great place to start. But she also recommends these books:

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout. “That’s the foundational text on positioning,” says April. “I think anybody that wants to get in deep in positioning should read thisfirst. My book is the ‘how do you do it?’ book. I think thetwo books taken together will teach you a lot about positioning.”

The Challenger Sale. “I love the research and the thinking in this book if you are a B2B company. My only complaint is that If you’re a startup, you have to put your startup glasses on and ignore the big company stuff in this book. But if you can do that, I think this book is full of genius. Their research on how customers buy and how sales reps behave is super interesting and really foundational for what we want to do in B2B sales.”

The Challenger Customer. This is a follow-up to The Challenger Sale, which April describes as “an entire book-length treatise on how you figure out who The Champion is in an account and how you work with them to move deals along to close..”

“They have a whole bunch of research to back up their thinking. In my opinion, teams waste a lot of time, energy and effort on persona work that never gets used. . So I recommend this and The Challenger Customer a lot.”

Build. Grow. Lead. Grab your ticket for 27-28 July 2022 in Edinburgh and learn from April Dunford and 40+ other speakers how to build better startups. From product to marketing, growth, scaling, and culture, it’ll be two days of learning and connecting with the best in tech.

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