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Where to Start – Positioning and a Story

by Hank Barnes  |  August 25, 2015  |  Submit a Comment

I often speak to clients looking for help addressing the sales and marketing challenges they are facing.   They all understand there is no secret weapon–no single thing–that  will make everything magically better, but are looking for where to focus for biggest impact.

My answer rarely changes.


It is not inbound marketing. Or content marketing. Or digital marketing. Or social selling.  Or even advocacy marketing.  Or even understanding the buying cycle.

It is positioning—and then developing an authentic story around it.

Positioning is fundamental and seemingly well understood.  But, it is rarely done completely (or well).   I spend the vast majority of my inquiries helping clients with this core fundamental.   If you don’t understand your positioning, it is hard for me to see how you can market or sell effectively.

Remember what good positioning (as defined in Crossing the Chasm) reflects:

  • Who your target customer is
  • What they need (and want–our adiditon to reflect the importance of emotion and experience in buying)
  • What you offer
  • What category that is in (so buyers know what they are buying)
  • The compelling reason to buy (obvious)
  • The competitive alternative
  • Differentiation

That list is so fundamental many might say “of course we know all that”, but I invite you to test yourself now.  Can you define it for your business?   Most of the people I work with can’t.   They describe their customers broadly.  The need vaguely.  Their compelling reason to buy simply isn’t.   And differentiation is rarely expressed in terms of competition.

That’s the bad news.   The good news is that with some discussion–and it usually doesn’t take much time–it becomes clear that they do know all of these things.   They should–it’s why they started their business.  Sure, some areas could be refined, but it is there.  It is  usually hidden by them trying to be broader and more general in describing what they do.

That is not good enough.  It has to be clear. It has to be compelling.  And that is ALWAYS where to start.  Step 1a.

But there is a Step 1b.   And that is developing the story. Positioning guides the story, but it is not the story.

They story creates the connection.  It describes the world without you and the impact (negative) that has on your target customer.  It gets them (your customer) in the same frame of mind as you.  It gets them thinking (wow, these guys know my world).   Then you can tell them about the better place you are going to put them in.  You can talk about your differentiation–in the context of helping them get value.  And you can talk about the positive impact you’ll help them see.   The story must also be authentic—something you can deliver on.

Once you have positioning and a story, you can put into action with a mix of marketing and sales activities.  The mix may be different–a combination of the ideas I listed above (advocacy marketing, digital marketing, etc) and more .   But it all starts from positioning and a story.

Don’t spend money on other things if you don’t have that foundation, otherwise it is probably money that is largely going down the drain.

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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: positioning  storytelling  

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

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

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