A few companies ago, I joined as CMO after the previous CMO had spent considerable time and effort developing personas and ICPs. There were ten cardboard cutouts in the office to help reinforce the personas.
These efforts were not out of the ordinary, and I was super impressed with the level of execution. There was just one problem – the personas didn’t stick. They didn’t stick with the marketing team or the sales team. New hires could barely remember the personas at all, even after training. The connection between theory and practice was broken.
If personas aren’t great, what do you use to help with positioning? This question led me to search for the best frameworks to incorporate parts of them into a positioning strategy that would work for me. My search led me to these five frameworks, plus some assorted other bits of wisdom on positioning. My favorites are:
- Jobs to Be Done (Christensen)
- Solution Selling (Miller – Heiman)
- Crossing the Chasm (Moore)
- Firebrick (Wright)
- Story Brand (Miller)
- An annual reading of “The Greatest Sales Deck I’ve Ever Seen” (Raskin)
This framework anchors positioning in my opinion. Prospects in a market are always looking for ways to improve their current “job,” as there is almost always some unmet need in their workflow. If you want to talk to a prospect, first show you understand the job they are doing, how they do it, and that you know there is some unmet need in their workflow. When I talk to companies, the first question I ask them is “How are people getting this task done today without you?” to learn how well the company understands product market fit.
With jobs to be done under our belts, it is time to go old school with some Miller-Heiman enterprise solution selling. There are four types of people in a B2B sales cycle: the end user, the technical buyer, the business buyer, and the champion. In PLG, you are likely dealing with the end user only, who is also expected to be the champion. But don’t think there isn’t a business decision-maker and a technical buyer lurking around your frictionless deal. There is. Ensure you can either message directly to these other players or provide your champion with suitable material. Using these definitions of other people in the sales cycle also keeps the focus on the actual customer of your product and not on different roles who might come into play, especially with more complex technical sales.
What positioning framework wouldn’t be right without a dose of “Crossing the Chasm” – another oldy but goody? Chasm provides a timeless roadmap for what your prospects need to do business with you. Chasm offers an excellent framework to weigh the time you spend positioning a specific item. For example, any worthwhile positioning statement will tell a prospect what the product does and how it differs from existing solutions and provide some social proof or validation. Now, look at this through the lens of early adopters vs. the late majority. Early adopters care so much about how something works, that bringing that front and center is critical. The more technical, the better. The early or late majority? It is all about safety and herd mentality. While understanding how you are doing something is essential, it is more important for these buyers to see that everyone is using your product and offer other safety indications. Knowing where you are on the adoption curve helps weigh your product positioning.
Firebrick and Story Brand
Firebrick and Storybrand are the next frameworks I like. As an operating partner, I can get invited to a portfolio company’s product positioning sessions with third-party consultants who are absolute pros in product positioning. I got to sit through StoryBrand once, but Firebrick multiple times. Anyone can publish a methodology or table (like I am doing), but the key is whether you can get a company to adopt the framework. Getting many disparate people on the same page is challenging for larger enterprises and is best left to the pros. Both firms are experts at getting this done.
Firebrick – is my favorite. You are golden if you can get them in to help you with your positioning. I have seen them take companies with many acquired products, competing interests, and personalities and mold them into a cohesive story. One of my favorite parts of Firebrick is naming the problem you are trying to solve. Marketing is so much about storytelling that creating a shorthand name for the problem your customers have is just powerful.
Storyboard is excellent in that it takes you through the fact that humans have told stories for ions as a way to digest information. Using story structure to tell the story of your product works. The book is a great read.
This deck has it all. An excellent problem setup and the concept of a wave that you need to either ride or you will get demolished.
There are a bunch of other items for positioning that either don’t come from frameworks or may just be items I picked up from other CMOs, CROs, and CEOs.
In no order:
- Sales death darts – If your problem is x, to solve it, you need to be able to do a,b,c. Hopefully, these requirements are unique to your product. Hence, in an enterprise sales cycle, you can create competitive barriers if the prospect agrees these are the requirements to solve the problem. Sometimes we call these death darts – if the prospect agrees this is a requirement and your competitor doesn’t have it, you win. Sales death darts are very enterprisey.
- Marketecture – you always need a marketecture that shows how a product works. You can draw it on a whiteboard, or perhaps have it printed at a tradeshow booth, or place it on the website. Without a marketecture, you are left with either words or demoing the product to show how it works. A good marketecture helps prospects see how the product works and the benefits.
- A compelling event for consideration – what will cause someone to wake up and even consider searching for your solution? What makes someone wake up and even consider changing their operations? Identifying this is critical to understand how much of your TAM is up for grabs or consideration each year.
- Pushers vs. blockers – In any sales cycle, there are “table stakes” where you satisfy the buyer’s criteria as long as you have something in that category. Being the best at table stake features doesn’t help you vs. the competition. Table stakes items are blockers. They are binary. Pushers are the items where being the best at them gives you an advantage vs. your competitor. Don’t confuse blockers with pushers in your positioning.
In the next blog post, I will describe a shortened table I use for product positioning. The table isn’t a substitute for a total positioning effort by some firms listed here. But, if you are on a budget, small enough, or just want to check if your positioning is good enough, filling out this table will get you to MVP status for a product.