How to become the obvious choice in your SaaS category?

To stand out from the crowd is one thing. Becoming the obvious choice in your SaaS category is next level.

When you stand out in a market, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the deal. But that said, you’re a lot closer to achieving that when you do.

When I work with B2B SaaS companies that struggle to stand out, the typical mistakes made are:

  1. Segmentation is far too wide
  2. Positioning is too generic
  3. The value proposition is too vague

These three components form the Traction Foundation for a SaaS business. Tuning them becomes a critical lever toward remarkable traction.

You’ll get noticed, heard, and understood – and become a magnet for the right prospects.

What fascinates me is this: Now that they found you because you’re hitting the right nerve with them – what does it take to move from a ‘relevant option’ to ‘the obvious choice?

Now – to address a big elephant in the room: I don’t mean with ‘obvious choice’ the ‘the safe bet.’

We’ve all heard the phrase: No one has ever got fired for choosing [name a big vendor].

It always gives me a shiver. Too often, I’ve seen prospects opting for the ”safe bet’ – not out of value, but out of fear. Fear to take a leap and be punished for it.

That’s not what I perceive as being the obvious choice. It could very well be that the obvious choice was a startup, but something or someone pulled the trigger to go the ‘safe’ route. What this indicates is a segmentation issue. There’s a mismatch in risk tolerance.

So back to becoming the obvious choice. Reflecting on my 30+ years of experience, B2B SaaS companies that become the obvious choice in their category  the following 7 levers make the difference…

  1. It all starts with Story
  2. Get & stay on their buyers’ radar
  3. Have a solution-oriented mindset
  4. Deliver the highest desirable value
  5. Stand out for their genuine humbleness
  6. Are you willing to leave their comfort zone
  7. Offer a great experience beyond the product itself

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

If you’d ask your last ten customers what made you the obvious choice for them – what would they say? Is it something you want to be known for?


 

And now on to the first lever.

Lever #1: It all starts with Story

Becoming the obvious one in your industry starts with one critical ingredient: Story

Story is the vehicle that’s been used for centuries to communicate ideas – and it has just gained in importance as the noise levels increase.

Just think about why you keep buying from one brand, and not from another.

It’s their story that brings you back – or possibly better, the story that you’ve formed in your head about them.

⁠In my book, The Remarkable Effect, one key trait I share is this one: Remarkable Software companies sell the idea, not the product.

That’s all about story. Stories are great for communicating an idea – and making it stick.

Your big idea is the critical connection between you and your sweet-spot market. So sharing that big idea becomes your force. The massive push in your back.

By owning the idea, you own the audience. This is about the fact that big ideas change perspectives. By owning the audience, you can convince them what to pay attention to, and with that, you define the marketplace.

And that’s exactly what helps you become ‘the obvious one.’

There are other benefits that story brings.

It enables us to turn something that’s hard to explain into something that’s easy to understand.

Storytelling helps us to make sense of the world.

With stories we can create a vivid picture in the minds of our ideal customers of what their life will actually feel like using our product.

That’s where the click is made, and desire is created.

Stores add meaning, make it memorable, and more importantly: shareable.

And that’s what we’re after: That our uniqueness is understood, talked about, and shared. You can’t have a large enough marketing budget to outperform the impact that’s created by the ripple effect your ideal customers put in motion for you.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

What story do you hope your ideal customers will share with their peers about your product? What if you give them that story?


Lever #2: Get & stay on your buyers’ radar.

Becoming ‘the one’ in your category starts by being visible to your ideal buyers. And let me nuance what I mean because I’ve experienced so much misconception around this topic throughout my career.

If the numbers weren’t as we’d forecasted for our ERP, it always sparked an avalanche of excuses like “No one knows us. We need more marketing budget. Corporate needs to run some big campaigns,” and so on.

Getting and staying on your ideal buyer’s radar is about being hyper-focused. You want to be noticed by the right people – not the entire nation. And this starts with carefully defining your ideal customer segmentation cocktail. That will give you unique characteristics to work within your communication.

From there, it’s about finding ways to reach them. And here’s a list of instruments that many SaaS businesses underutilized

  1. Establish a podcast channel where you interview the people you deliver the most value to. Let them share their story and their challenges. Start being connected to the problem – the rest follows.
  2. Leverage podcast guesting to get in front of your ideal buyers. Find the podcasts they listen to and ensure you add value there. Be seen as the authority.
  3. Get on stage. Your SaaS company is on a mission to create meaningful change – leverage someone else’s stage to inspire people to join the journey.
  4. Start a weekly, ideally daily, list. Not to promote and sell but to add genuine value. Inspire. Address their problems. Give them something to reflect upon. Become that email that people look forward to receiving.
  5. Write a book. Become ‘the author of….’ So many SaaS businesses have such a powerful vision and story – but what’s it worth if it isn’t heard?

Mind you – this doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It’s consistency that does the trick. Build a habit. A daily email can feed each page of your book. Your book could be the key to getting you on someone else’s stage or podcast. Your podcast could provide the ingredients for your daily mail. You just need to develop an eye for it.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

What could be the one thing your customers would love to get every day from you? What would be the most effortless mechanism to give it to them?


 

Lever #3: Have a Solution Oriented Mindset

You recognize them immediately – SaaS vendors that measure their success by the impact they help their customers create.

They’re not in there for their benefit – that’s always secondary.

Stupid? Not really. Because they’ve learned that if their customer gains value, the value will come their way in amounts they can’t even forecast for.

What’s behind this is a solution-oriented mindset.

And a solution-oriented mindset is the first critical ingredient to becoming the obvious choice in your category.

Here’s the thing

When you’re bringing about a solution-oriented mindset, conversations go differently.

You’re not ‘marketing.’ You’re not ‘Selling.’ Instead, you’re having helpful conversations.

And that’s noticed – instantly.

  • Customers notice it’s about them, not you.
  • They’ll notice it’s about figuring out the fit that will turn them into fans.
  • They’ll notice it’s about solving their most significant problems, not about the features you offer
  • They’ll notice genuine honesty if there’s no obvious problem-solution fit – and if not, they’ll be told so.

So for the customer, it can often feel like they’re doing an audition, not the other way around.

That creates the perfect foundation for a long-term relationship.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

What does your prospect notice when they’re meeting your sales team?

Does this help to be perceived as the obvious choice?


Lever #4: Deliver the highest relevant value

Not all value you deliver is relevant in the eyes of your customer. Vendors that nail delivering the value customers need, and blend that with the value they want, take control.

“Our SaaS solution will save them a minimum of $500k a year, but still, they won’t buy….”

I heard this again recently from a startup founder I work with, and it hits the nail on the head.

I understand the frustration from a sales perspective. But that doesn’t matter.

The way to find a solution is to look at the problem from the other end.

Here’s the thing

Value is subjective. For one company, $500K can mean a 5% boost in profit; for another, it’s a rounding error.

What matters is articulating how your solution creates differentiated value.

Let me explain

When I was at Unit4, IDC calculated our solution would save a customer on average $300K per year because they’d need a much smaller team to manage business change than with alternative ERP solutions.

Solid value. But no one cared.

What they did care about was what it meant to their business when they could avoid the adverse effects of rigid ERP systems…

  • the negative impact on customer satisfaction
  • constantly going dark on information
  • the frustrating drops in efficiency
  • delays in product launches
  • impact on stock valuation
  • And the list went on…..

For companies in a constant flux of change, avoiding this would save AND gain them 10s of millions and give them a clear advantage as a business.

As such, positioning this with the right type of customers sliced the length of our sales cycles (even in Government), increased our win rate from <20% to >80%, and the word discount magically disappeared from the conversations.

Key takeaway: Value alone doesn’t win deals – Differentiated value does.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

What value does your SaaS solution deliver beyond the obvious cost-saving? What if you led with that in your positioning?


Lever #5: Stand out for genuine humbleness

Customers don’t sign for value alone. There are more forces at play. Just think about the different agendas of different stakeholders. It’s especially true in enterprise SaaS sales.

Let me illustrate this with an example Rutger Teunissen gave me – founder of 24Sessions.

“It was probably 2017 or 2018, and we’ve been piloting with that bank for a long time. All the results were great; all advisors loved us. The next step would be to scale it up, which would have been a million-dollar deal for us.

I remember being in that sales meeting. It was the best we ever did. Everybody was excited. So, at the end of the session, I asked them (because I knew we had some opponents who preferred to use Skype): ‘Before the meeting, you told me our chances to win was 1%. So what are our chances now? And they said: ‘You’ve done so well; you answered everything. So your chances are now 3%.”

They were not even joking. It was a serious assessment. So I realized, as a small startup, especially when you want to deal with large enterprises, you can do everything right, but still, they might go for Microsoft or SAP.

So this could have been one of these moments where we said: ‘This is never going to work.’ But we saw something positive out of it. It took us six to nine more months, but in the end, they became our (then) largest customer and a lighthouse customer that gave the trust to all other organizations to follow.”

Here’s the thing

Becoming the obvious choice requires more than a great solution and remarkable value. Remember, you’re dealing with people – and people.

When I asked Rutger what made the deal happen, he answered: “Being extremely humble.”

Humbleness is not about giving in to everything a customer asks or says. On the contrary. It’s about:

  • Acknowledging that no matter how successful you are – it’s not about you.
  • Leveling with the other side instead of pretending you’re the smartest in the room.
  • Accepting the other side will always have strong preferences based on valid arguments.

Once we approach a deal with humbleness – doors open, not close.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

How many SaaS deals would you have won in the past year if you’d approached them more humbly?


Lever #6: Are you willing to leave your comfort zone

Another aspect of becoming ‘the one’ in your category is to stand out from the crowd by exceeding expectations. It requires a willingness to leave your comfort zone.

Here’s the thing

Working from your comfort zone obviously can give great confidence and value to a customer. You do what you’re best at. Risks are low. Things are in control.

But, as with many things, it’s a paradox: Too much certainty, and we won’t fulfill our need for growth and new experiences. But too much uncertainty can lead to anxiety and a lack of productivity.

But it doesn’t matter what we feel comfortable with when it comes to becoming ‘the one’ for our customers. It’s about what they feel comfortable with.

Remember, a customer has a choice – they can choose to bet on your SaaS business or that of a competitor.

So you can do everything correctly to still lose the preference because ‘the other’ left their comfort zone in a way that got positively noticed.

Remarkable examples I’ve noticed among SaaS companies that master leaving their comfort zone:

  • They’re taking action ahead of the ask
  • They have an unsatisfied appetite for learning and pushing boundaries
  • They dare to ask the uncomfortable but essential questions
  • They’re prepared to be vulnerable and showcase that they’ve got skin in the game
  • They are deliberately taking a different route to find a breakthrough for a problem
  • They’re setting boundaries and sticking to them – even if this means losing a big deal

It applies across all customer touchpoints: Marketing, Sales, Customer Success – everyone.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

How many deals have you lost in the past six months because your team stayed in their comfort zone – and the competition did not?


Lever #7: offer a great experience beyond the product itself

Too often, we believe what our customers buy is just our product.

They’re not – they buy the whole experience. It is about the sum of all the components that help them make the biggest possible difference.

That starts with your SaaS product, but it doesn’t end there.

Here’s the thing

You can assume a customer will get remarkable value from your SaaS product once the implementation team has left the provisioned environment – or you can take a proactive approach to keep surprising them with additional value.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

  • Strategize with your customers.
    SALESmanago, one of my customers, doesn’t only provide intelligence inside their product to help their customers maximize e-commerce revenue – they also blend in guidance from their experts – real people. It is what people rave about on G2.
  • Give them insights they can’t get on their own.
    Presspage, another customer, provides periodic insights to their customers on how they benchmark against peers, what opportunities they are missing, and what they can do to take things to the next level.
  • Take care of things for your customers so they don’t have to worry about it.
    Paddle is an excellent example of this. They go by2 holistic mission principles: Do things FOR you and Be the most helpful SaaS company on the planet. It drives all the decisions – across every department. Customers notice.
  • Connect customers with like-minded peers.
    I am using Mighty Networks as my community platform. With that, I am automatically enrolled into the Mighty Networks community – where I find my peers, people like me, with similar challenges.

Long story short: What customers remember and talk about is what stands out for them beyond the expected.

That’s a massive opportunity to be creative.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

Beyond your SaaS product, what would your customers miss if you took it away tomorrow? What deeper motivation is behind this? What if you’d market that?


In summary: Stand out amongst the crowd and become the Obvious Choice.

I wrote this blog intending to answer the big question: How to become the obvious one in your category?

What I see around me is that far too many SaaS companies struggle to stand out. And often, it has nothing to do with the fact they have a terrible product – contrary.

What’s holding them back is a weak traction foundation. Segmentation is far too broad. Positioning is too generic. Their value proposition is too vague.

Fix this – and you’ll get noticed and become very relevant in the eyes of your ideal buyers.

But there can still be a bridge to cross between being very relevant and ‘the obvious choice’ in the buying process. And that’s what this blog was all about.

Here’s the essence:

  1. Lever #1: It all starts with Story
    With stories, we can create a vivid picture in the minds of our ideal customers of what their life will feel like using our product. That’s where the click happens and desire starts.
  2. Lever #2: Get & stay on their buyers’ radar.
    Becoming ‘the one’ in your category starts by being visible to your ideal buyers. Getting and staying on your ideal buyer’s radar is about being hyper-focused. You want to be noticed by the right people – not the entire nation.
  3. Lever #3: Have a Solution Oriented Mindset
    When you’re bringing about a solution-oriented mindset, conversations go differently. You’re not ‘marketing.’ You’re not ‘Selling.’ Instead, you’re having helpful conversations.
  4. Lever #4: Deliver the highest relevant value.
    What matters is articulating how your solution creates differentiated value. Value alone doesn’t win deals. Differentiated value does
  5. Lever #5: Stand out for their genuine humbleness
    Remember, you’re dealing with people. So, the moment we approach a deal with humbleness – doors open, not close.
  6. .Lever #6: Are you willing to leave your comfort zone?
    Too much certainty, and we won’t fulfill our need for growth and new experiences. But it doesn’t matter what we feel comfortable with when it comes to becoming ‘the one’ for our customers. It’s about what they feel comfortable with.
  7. Lever #7: offer a great experience beyond the product itself.
    Customers remember and talk about what stands out for them beyond the expected.

In a nutshell:

Becoming the obvious choice is about more than clearly laying out benefits to your prospective customer. It’s about understanding the context in which they make their decision.

It’s about those things that help realize how easy it will be for them to multiply the value they get from their new solution by betting on you.

It’s about being seen as a business you WANT to do business with.

 


Question for you to reflect upon:

On a scale of 1-10, what rate do your ideal prospects give your SaaS business as a business they WANT to do MORE business with?


 

Additional resources to help you become the one in your category

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

Otherwise – here are three other options

 

A daily email for B2B SaaS CEOs who want to end unpredictable traction.

About the author

Sales Pitch

Ton Dobbe is a former B2B software product marketer who's on a mission to save mission-driven SaaS CEOs from the stress of 'not enough' traction. He's the author of The Remarkable Effect, the host of the Tech-Entrepreneur on a Mission podcast, and writes a daily newsletter on the secrets to mastering predictable traction.