Product Positioning for B2B Companies — Who’s your competitor?

“So, who’s your competitor?, asked by every prospect during every sales call. As you read this, in some corner of the world there’s an anxious salesman right now who’s being asked this very same question.

If you’re expecting a customer to shell out anything to the north of USD 10,000 annually, then you bet that they are out there ensuring that your product is THE product. More than the capital, the opportunity cost of aligning their team members to migrate to your product, integrate their existing infrastructure to yours and acclimate to a new environment is truly expensive. And finding out that there’s an alternative out there which might be better than your solution doesn’t help seal the deal quick enough.

An incomplete comprehension of your alternatives makes your sales reps look like rookies and an absence of explicit comparison on your website or marketing collaterals urges your prospects to ‘bounce-off’ and do some digging of their own. Would you rather leave it to Google to make your case or tell the story yourself?

The way I see it, you need an audacious yet an adept tag-team duo of Sales and Marketing to showcase confidence, make a statement, and deconstruct competitive benchmarking as simple as possible. I present to you ‘The 4 Commandments’ that one must keep in mind when pitching their product against competitors.

(1) Know Thy Competitor!

Let me quickly get something out of the way first — everyone has a competitor. “Yeah, but there isn’t anyone like us in the market so…”, you could be in denial as much as you want to, but you’re only putting yourself in the harm’s way. Three quick pointers:

  • If you’re first to the market, then you’re either competing against a phenomenon or a notion. ie: Paypal (disruptor) vs checks/physical cash deposit/banking procedures
  • Sometimes, you may not find a competing product in your focussed geography but an alternative already exists elsewhere (imitation economics). Let your customers know that a similar model is working perfectly fine elsewhere
  • Stating that there’s no one like you insinuates that you’re a rollercoaster ride, both thrilling and scary at the same time. Not everyone likes rollercoasters and more often than not, there will always be this one non-evangelistic pragmatic stakeholder who will end up tanking your deal

(2) Study Thy Competitor!

You have a product which has some kickass features, great, but it ain’t the alpha product yet (or kudos, you earned yourself a congressional hearing). Hence, it becomes even more necessary to know all the good, the bad, and the ugly about your product alternative. Goes without saying that everyone in your organization, from an engineer to a sales rep, should be fully aware of what they are up against.

The Office (US)’s episode where Jim and Dwight go out on a sales call together and obliterate their rival paper company’s customer support — I am not asking you to go pull a similar move (if you ever have, leave a comment below and let us know how it went), but notice how they knew that their CS response time was far better than their competitors’?

(3) Acknowledge Thy Competitor!

Let’s stick to the basics and refer to the most influential structure of an elevator-pitch, Geoffrey Moore’s:

  • For (target customers)
  • Who are dissatisfied with (the current market alternative)
  • Our product is a (new product category)
  • That provides (key problem-solving capability).
  • Unlike (the product alternative),
  • Our product (describe the key product features).

Point 5 is what you should be focussing on, for now, your alternative. When an elevator pitch is meant to last for 30 seconds, dedicating 1/6th of your spotlight to your competitors might not make sense at first but those 5 seconds are going to transform your ‘good’ pitch into a ‘great’ pitch. Why? Because it’s important to confidently and unabashedly pit your product against your competitors’ while you emphasize why the prospect needs your product and how there’s no one who’s as good as you are in your niche.

It’s critical that your pitch doesn’t reflect pontification. You’re merely trying to display a consultative attitude so that you start establishing ‘trust’ with the prospect, not convert your pitch into a diss-track. The objective of Moore’s structure is to highlight both on the salient and veiled pain-points which consequentially means that you leave no room for vagueness, you’re aiming for the kill shot here. If your pitch happens to touch upon the right set of challenges that your prospect is dealing with, then you have just presented yourself as the knight in shining armor who’s going to solve all the problems — you’ve achieved what I call the ‘rep-prospect fit’ (kidding, but you get what I mean).

(4) Respect Thy Competitor! — Be HUMBLE (as Kendrick Lamar would say)

A few days ago I stumbled upon Mattermost’s funding news and ended up landing on their website. Their explicit comparison to Slack was refreshing and made me (a stumbler who could have possibly been a potential customer) understand their product offering loud and clear. No fluff, no cheap shot, and no over-kill in terms of drawing up comparisons; I immediately identified the target audience that Mattermost is targeting.

Not every rivalry has to be inspired by the ‘Apple vs Samsung’ or ‘Windows vs Mac’ advertisements (even though they are notoriously entertaining), products that are carving a market for themselves can very much leverage each other’s brand awareness as well — remember the whole ‘Uber for X’ model?

While this is a great example of a Marketing team doing an amazing job, your sales reps can offer the same courtesy during their sales calls as well. It’s imperative that reps succinctly contrast your product to your competitor’s, but it’s also important that they do so with confidence and humility as it will go a long way in carefully nurturing a persona which juxtaposes the stereotypical asinine salesman.

I end my post with the hope that either I have managed to share some interesting insights or helped dig out essentials that you knew anyway and if neither of the two, then at least I have encouraged you to go and watch The Office (US) :)

Another example where Hubspot calls out Marketo:

… and chooses to throw in rankings and accredited testimonials to legitimize their claim.

Disclaimer — my suggestions are purely targeted towards B2B companies but feel free to draw insights as you wish. This disclaimer also informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

Venture Growth @AngelList India | Partner @Cloud_Capital