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Great Positioning Requires Giving Something Up – Or Does It?

by Hank Barnes  |  July 22, 2014  |  1 Comment

This week, I was talking with a client about positioning and segmentation.  They have a product that operates in a well established traditional market, but are introducing some very cool and innovative visualization capabilities.   It is yet another example of the consumerization of IT as visual tools that we see in clothing e-commerce sites are extended to B2B applications.

During the discussion, we spent some time talking about the potential risk of focusing heavily on these visualization capabilities to the detriment of buyers that don’t need or are not ready for visualization.  Since visualization is but one of their capabilities, it could a significant risk for them.

My initial reaction was one of my mantras–great positioning requires giving something up.  By focusing on capabilities that set them apart from the competition the benefits will be much greater than a watered down story that makes them just another provider in the crowd.  Like in chess, sometimes sacrifice leads to a stronger strategic outcome.

sacrificed chess pieces

But as I thought about it more, that may not always be true.

Even though I advise against it, I was sucked in by a very cool feature (caveat–we did spend a lot of time talking about the value of the feature).  Making a feature the core of your positioning and differentiation is rarely sustainable in today’s market.  Features are quickly copied.

But when I looked back on the value of the feature, I realized they had a better opportunity.

Their real story, and a position that can continue to drive and focus innovation for them, is that they deliver an incredible user experience.  A user experience that translates into less errors in orders, user excitement and confidence, and the possibility of guiding toward higher value (and cost) purchases.

With that story, visualization is only a part of it–a major part, but just a part.   The real story is the entirety of the experience.   Someone adding a visualization feature will not kill their differentiation (unless the experience they deliver is even better).   It also links to other aspects of their solution that provide value to the experience.

As they evolve, all of their decisions about product evolution should be geared toward “How does this help us continue to deliver the best user experience in the industry?”  They can also expand this to a total customer experience focus and how they help their customers (manufacturers and their distributors) do the same.

And, with that positioning, they may not be giving anything up–they are only giving up those customers that don’t care about a great experience (and frankly, I’m not sure they need them).      They will still target buyers where visualization is critical or high value, but for other customers that find them, they still have a story to tell.

The key insight here—when you focus on value, you might be sacrificing less opportunity than if you focus on a single feature area.  You still need to segment and target, but the story has a longer life and broader applicability.

Is your positioning focused on a unique product feature or on the overall value that that feature (and others) provide?

Additional Resources

Category: future-of-sales  go-to-market  

Tags: customer-experience  positioning  user-experience  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers. His research efforts focus on understanding the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. He then applies that research to explore the implications on vendor strategies, supporting the efforts of product marketing, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and CEOs. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Great Positioning Requires Giving Something Up – Or Does It?


  1. […] Hank Barnes‘ reminds us that however glamorous we view our own product, what matters most is the customer experience. All the bells and whistles in the world won’t do a bit of good unless the buyer feels 1) peace of mind that their order is accurate; 2) the CPQ solution is user-friendly, versatile, and secure; 3) and the overall ordering experience is satisfying. When all of these attributes are met, you’ve gained their trust and loyaly. […]



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