Mastering the art of B2B Positioning

And why getting this right underpins the growth potential of a B2B SaaS business

Mastering the art of B2B Positioning And why getting this right underpins the growth potential of a B2B SaaS business

Over the past 30 years, I’ve come to experience how powerful positioning is – and how critical the topic is to excel in the B2B software world.

What I do see, however, is that it’s often done away with as ‘that’s marketing fluff,’ or ‘our positioning is clear enough: We’re the only unified [name your] platform that unifies and analyses [name your] data,’ – which, honestly, makes me cringe.

And that’s why I decided to outline what B2B positioning is, why B2B positioning is important, and how to go about creating a positioning strategy that underpins predictable traction and growth of your SaaS startup. Let’s start with a definition of B2B positioning:

What is B2B positioning?

B2B positioning connects your product to a specific desire or problem that a specific niche in the market struggles to achieve or solve – in a way that makes you incomparable to their alternatives.

And let me drill into the essential elements:

  • Specific desire or problem: it should be about something your ideal customers instantly recognize and deeply care about. Nothing should get lost in translation.
  • Specific niche in the market: you’ll achieve better traction the moment you go beyond demographics and zoom into their worldviews. Not every organization is created equal. Understanding this drives success.
  • Makes you incomparable: This is about daring to take position. Doing so works like a magnet for attracting the right customer profile.

Now that we understand what B2B positioning is – let’s look at why this is so important in B2B marketing.

What’s the role of positioning in B2B marketing?

My opinion: It’s the foundation for everything. If you’re off in your positioning, you’ll experience some or all of the following challenges:

  • Poor quality leads – because they perceive you as something you’re not
  • Long sales cycles – the value isn’t instantly clear, and hence you’ll struggle to accelerate the deal
  • Poor win rates – what you’ll win are the leftovers in the market
  • high discounts – you have to drop the prices to make people buy
  • Dreaded implementation – you’ll attract too many of the wrong type of customers where it ‘just doesn’t fit’
  • Higher than average churn – because too many companies are not the right fit
  • Roadmap bloat – customers with poor fit will overload your department with feature requests that should be out of scope
  • Decreasing quality of new releases, slowing down adoption
  • Profitability issues

Let me stop here – you get the deal. B2B positioning is critical to avoid exactly this. To turn it around. B2B Positioning is the foundation to:

  • make you stand out – become incomparable to the alternatives your customers have
  • become a magnet for exactly the right customers (and credibly detract the wrong ones)
  • align every aspect of your SaaS business to create velocity
  • become extremely resourceful as a business to do the things that matter
  • create a business that can grow fast and sustainably.
  • make funding a choice, not a set option

Embracing this will create a shift in the way you approach things from now on.

So, now the key question comes – how to go about B2B positioning? And the good thing is, there are many routes you can choose. Here are the four that I have seen working best.

What are the 4 types of B2B positioning strategies?

A quick search online quickly gives you a number of different types of positioning:

  • Customer Service-Based Positioning. …
  • Quality-Based Positioning. …
  • Price-Based Positioning. …
  • Differentiation-Based Positioning.

In theory, they’re valid, but I believe they’re a dangerous way to look at positioning. Why? Because it makes you start with an inside-out perspective. It’s about you, not your customer.

That might be good to talk to an industry analyst like Gartner, IDC, or Forrester – but not the right way to position yourself toward your ideal customers.

Stating it bluntly: In a B2B market, customers don’t care about you. They care about themselves. They have a problem to solve or an aspiration to reach – and they’re looking for a B2B SaaS vendor that will help them achieve in a way that fits them best.

So the four ways I recommend looking at your B2B positioning are these:

  1. Position yourself around what your ideal customers stand for
  2. Position around what your ideal customers secretly want
  3. Position around the essence of the most valuable problem your customer wants to be solved
  4. Position around the values your customer embraces to stand out

Here’s why: In a dense market with dozens of competitors, it’s key to understand you don’t have the best solution for every problem. And that’s OK. But if your customers are struggling with ‘this’ or aspiring ‘that’ – there’s no alternative. What you do is make a firm choice. That’s taking position. And with that, you can become incomparable in your own category. (See this long-form blog for a deepdive on these 4 ways to approach segmentation)

Now let’s take this to the next stage: How can you leverage the way you position your SaaS solution in a way it drives growth? To address that, there’s a lot to learn from the B2C space. There are big differences – but also critical areas where B2B and B2C are equal. Understanding that gives you an advantage.

How’s B2B positioning different than B2C positioning?

Let’s start with this question: Why do so many B2B SaaS businesses struggle to fill the top of the funnel?

One consistent conversation I have with B2B SaaS CEOs is about this: How can we generate more top-of-the-funnel leads? The challenge has two components: More volume and, more importantly, the need for more quality.

So, the question that intrigues me is: What can we learn from the B2C space to solve this challenge? Cause B2C is all about volume and high-quality leads.

When I compare B2B and B2C at a 30000 ft level, I see this:

  • B2B is more about education and efficiency. B2C is more about entertainment and convenience
  • B2B is about building personal relationships. B2C is about building transactional relationships.
  • B2B is about convincing a committee. B2C is about convincing an individual
  • B2B is about logic and features. B2C is more about desires and benefits
  • B2B is about satisfying long-term goals. B2C is about satisfying short-term goals

How’s B2B positioning the same as B2C positioning?

One thing where B2B and B2C are equal is: The buyer is always a consumer.

No matter if the business we sell to employs 2, 200 or 2000 people, one person makes the final decision – and that person is the same person that buys that Christmas present for their partner later today.

So why don’t we leverage the things that position B2C brands so strongly in our minds to position the B2B business we own or run?

  •  Make our promises more entertaining to stand out.
  •  Focus more on convenience to provide peace of mind
  •  Inject emotion to hit the right nerve and create an intense desire
  •  Address the valuable and urgent needs to get in and spark momentum

We’re thinking too abstractly about B2B. We create too much distance from our target market. And with that, we’re missing ample opportunity.

What if we’d address our ideal buyers (personas) with more empathy? Wouldn’t they feel more heard and understood? Doing so will turn you into a magnet for your target audience, and they’ll find you in volumes.

Stop creating distance – start building an emotional connection around their specific need.

Your buyers are still consumers. So be as clear as humanly possible.

Question for you to reflect upon

How would you position your SaaS business differently if you’d imagine targeting a company of 1?

What are the 4 steps in the B2B positioning process?

A common mistake I see is that we simply think grabbing a framework from the Internet will do the trick. Just Google for a B2B positioning formula, and you’ll find many (more on that below).

But there’s a risk in using them. In theory, they’ll get you started and help you arrive at something that will make it easier for your ideal customer to get what you do.

The downside: they don’t help you get to the essence. I mean, how difficult can it be to fill in the blanks in a framework? You can do that on the back of a napkin, right?

Wrong. To arrive at a one-liner that actually helps you become a magnet for the right customers and predictably helps you grow your SaaS business (that’s what we want, right?), there’s homework to be done.

To achieve that, here are the 5 steps to do a deep dive on:

  1. Who? Be crystal clear who you’re ideally for, not for (segmentation)
  2. Why? Deeply understand what wakes your ideal people up at night.
  3. Why now? Narrow that list down by answering three questions for each challenge (formula: 1*2):
    1. How valuable it is for your ideal customer (1-10)
    2. How critical it is for your ideal customer (1-10)
  4. How? Deeply understand which of the challenges on the narrowed list you can exceed expectations on (scale 1-10) and what are the magic concepts inside your SaaS solution that allow you to do so
  5. Impact: Articulate what transformational effect your customer will experience as a consequence i.e. what they will become using your solution

Once you got this clear – now you have the ingredients to create a positioning statement that will resonate with decision-makers inside the companies you target.

How to write a remarkable B2B positioning statement?

As said, there are many ‘formulas’ available online to create a positioning statement. The most common is: “We do _______ for _______.”

Geoffrey Moore published this formula in his book Crossing the Chasm: For [target customer], who [statement of need or opportunity], our [product/service] is the [product category] that [statement of benefit].

But from my own experience, they give the impression this is something we can do over a cup of coffee. I have seen too many companies fail on that – so I won’t recommend going that route.

Why do I say this? What makes a B2B positioning statement remarkable is exactly in the last word: It stands out. It’s worth making a remark about.

A remarkable B2B positioning statement does is three things to stand out:

  1. It’s simple
  2. It ruffles some feathers.
  3. It triggers a Rolodex moment.

The goal is to make it work for you even with people who are not your ideal customer. Cause they might know people who are your ideal customer.

This is why it’s important to create something where nothing gets lost in translation. It’s about incorporating unexpectedness and emotion. And with that, it makes it memorable.

Here’s a list of questions I always ask myself when I’m helping my clients to establish their positioning statement (which is part of my Traction Foundation service)

  1. Does it paint a picture directly?
  2. Is it memorable?
  3. Is it addressing the expensive problem?
  4. What rule are you breaking?
  5. Are you ruffling some feathers?
  6. Does it express clearly who’s it for and what you want to be known for?

Remarkable B2B Brand positioning examples

Let me give an example of a project I recently did with SALESmanago, an international B2B SaaS vendor headquartered in Poland.

Their promise: Maximize eCommerce revenue growth… the lean way

The 20-word positioning statement: A Customer Engagement Platform designed for impact-hungry eCommerce marketing teams that aspire to maximize revenue growth…the lean way.

Let’s assess their positioning statement against the six questions above

  1. Does it paint a picture directly? Yes – the magic happens in the constraint by which we formulated the promise. Every competitor could make a promise that eCommerce revenue growth would be maximized. Hardly anyone can promise to do this ‘the Lean way.’ Most systems were not designed with this in mind.
  2. Is it memorable? Yes – because it’s short, crystal clear, and adds an element of unexpectedness (Maximizing revenue and Lean usually are not mentioned in the same context)
  3. Is it addressing the expensive problem? Absolutely. Every eCommerce business is fighting for the same dollars. Maximizing this the lean way is a) highly valuable and b) critical in every layer of the market – from small, to medium, to large B2C eCommerce brands. No eCommerce marketer will ever say they have enough budget – but they always have to live up to higher expectations.
  4. What rule are you breaking? Maximizing eCommerce revenue growth is possible by applying an ultra-lean approach.
  5. Are you ruffling some feathers? Yes, for the same reason above. It’s intriguing. The moment you see it, the question comes up, ‘Really! How?
  6. Does it express clearly who’s it for and what you want to be known for? Absolutely – SALESmanago is deliberately taking position by bringing together a big aspiration and real constraint (that many eCommerce businesses feel they have to deal with: being lean). It’s precisely this combo they want to own and be known for.
    SALESmanago is uniquely positioned and equipped to live up to that like no other vendor. It’s all in how the platform was designed from the ground up. Their DNA enables them to help customers make a meaningful difference.

 

How to start fixing unpredictable traction in your SaaS business?

The easiest way. Simply book a free call to explore if there’s a fit to do this together.

Otherwise – here are five other options