Why customers don't get, buy and love your product.

Published 6th September 2019 by Caroline Brown

“Positioning is the cough medicine talk. You only go because it’s good for you.” So began April Dunford’s prescription at the Cambridge, UK launch of her first book, Obviously Awesome, hosted by Business of Software.

So somewhat ironically, ‘positioning’ itself has a positioning problem. But how do you know whether your product – or indeed company – has nailed it or nosedived into a viper pit of a positioning? And why does it matter? Isn’t growth hacking where it’s all at, anyway?

In short, no. April’s 25 years as an exec in successful tech start-ups and global tech giants has taught her that when you fail at foundational positioning, you fail at marketing and sales (and then, at business). And you’ll typically know this is happening because your sales teams will return from meetings not with bags of new sales, but with the baggage of old frustrations.

Why do prospective customers insist on comparing you to people who aren’t really your competitors? Why do they say they like your special sauce, but then tell you they don’t know how they’ll use it? The sales cycle is long, or peters out mid funnel. Your positioning is off.

Positioning aims to answer the customer questions ‘What is this thing?’ and ‘Why should I care?’. Customers use what they know to make sense of what they don’t (you), whether you’re new to an existing market or trying to create a whole new one. Your positioning is the box you suggest they put you into. When you pick the wrong one, you trigger unhelpful assumptions and a losing battle. “It feels like running uphill.”

Notice you ‘pick’ your positioning. It is a deliberate act. There’s a process to follow – one that April sets out very clearly in the book, having refined it over the course of repositioning at least 16 products. There are no short cuts. The default – the most obvious, top-of-mind position – is usually the wrong one and a super-easy trap to fall into at the start. So alarm bells should definitely start ringing about now if you’re floundering in the ‘founder’s position’.

The good news is that you can shift your positioning with dramatic effects, as April’s experience shows. The ‘email for lawyers’ that couldn’t compete with gmail gained traction as a ‘secure file sharing system’ for team collaboration. The ‘robot’ unhelpfully associated with anything from a mechanical arm to a Roomba vacuum took off as a Tesla-esque ‘autonomous vehicle for industrial use’. And finally the ‘Enterprise CRM’ with unique many-to-many mapping but few customers, and endlessly described as ‘crappy Siebel’, respositioned so effectively as ‘CRM for investment banks’ that Siebel had to buy it – for $1.7bn

Obviously Awesome sets out a clear nine-step positioning process, starting with understanding your happiest customers, if you have them, or deliberately adopting a loose positioning in a test and learn approach, if you don’t. “People are usually very happy to accept what you say about your positioning” says April, so start now.

April is the best kind of speaker: warm, witty and charmingly irreverent. Catch her if you can at BoS USA. If you can’t, do yourself a favour and find Obviously Awesome a prime position on your desk.

This post first appeared on the Business of Software website.