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Practical Positioning That Accelerates Marketing and Sales

June 9, 202247:08

Is it time we said SEE YA LATER to the positioning statement? Globally recognized positioning consultant and author, April Dunford, says yes, yes it is. Join April (…and April) this week as they talk through the true meaning of positioning, how it differs from messaging and branding, and how to move beyond the old mad-lib style positioning statement we’ve all been using for far too long.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

AW:

Hey, it’s April Williams, your host of from Hello to Yes. Today’s guest wrote one of the most impactful marketing books I have ever read, Obviously Awesome by April Dunford. And yes, we talked about our shared names. Totally changed the way I approach positioning. I will never create a positioning statement again. April’s a consultant and author who helps companies make complicated products easy for customers to understand and love. She’s a globally recognized expert in positioning having launched 16 products across her 25 year career, running marketing, product and sales teams in a series of successful startups. April’s work changed how we do positioning at SalesAmp, and I know it has the power to change your product or services so customers get it, buy it and love it. Here’s my conversation with April. April, thank you so much for joining us today.

AD:

It’s so great to be here, April.

AW:

We’ll say this several times, it’s rare that you or I speak to another April. So it does sound a little funny with the rest of the world is probably quite used to this.

AD:

It’s pretty cool. Double Aprils. This is a rare occurrence. I think it’s pretty neat.

AW:

Me too. So, that is great. So I want to start with a question that we always open with, From Hello to Yes, we believe none of us is as smart as all of us in this world of marketing and sales that’s changing so fast, and we want to be a place where we come together and share ideas, but also a place for the next generation of marketing and sales folks. So I’m going to ask you, April, what advice today as a leader in the positioning space, would you give to your 20 year old version of yourself?

AD:

Oh, this is a good question. Well, when I started, I was really obsessed with tactics. In fact, I thought that’s all we did in marketing was tactics. So, if you were going to do email, there were the 9,000 tricks you had to learn about email and open rates and deliverability, and how to do a good subject line. There’s all this tactical stuff. Then the more experience I got, the more I realized that the tactical stuff is kind of commodity. You can learn that stuff. It’s actually not that hard. You can Google around on the internet. There’s people that do nothing but eat, sleep and drink email, and they can teach you how to do email perfectly, but what’s harder to figure out is the bigger picture strategy stuff.

I often think I didn’t do nearly enough thinking about markets versus marketing. So if I were to go back to my 20 year old self, I think I would’ve advised myself to pay a lot more attention to that bigger picture stuff. Why were we doing email in the first place? Did we really know what customers we were trying to go after? Was this the best place to meet them? Were we segmenting the market properly? Things like that. I think I would’ve got smarter faster if I had been paying attention to that stuff earlier.

AW:

It’s such a great answer, because it actually cues me up beautifully for the second question. I have been in marketing for 25 plus years. Your book is probably the single most perspective changing book I have ever read.

AD:

Cool.

AW:

It’s one of those books when I finished, I thought this makes so much sense. Why on earth did it take us so long to have someone figure it out. So kudos to you.

AD:

Thanks you.

AW:

Because of that, I really want to go back to the basics that you talk about because that’s where the light bulb started to happen for me. What in your definition is positioning and what is it not?

AD:

Yeah. So, as a positioning consultant, this is all I do now. It’s kind of a funny thing because I’m the positioning consultant and then everyone says, okay, so what do you mean by positioning? So generally, people that think they understand positioning, they’re often confusing it with things that I would call outputs and positioning or things that you do once your positioning is figured out. So a lot of people will think positioning is the same as messaging, and it’s not. Positioning is actually an input to messaging. I can’t do messaging until I have my positioning figured out.

The one that really bugs me is when people talk about brand positioning. That bugs me a lot because there is positioning and there is branding. Those two things are actually totally separate concepts. In my opinion, you can’t do branding until you know what your positioning is all about, because the branding is a reflection of the positioning. So my definition of positioning goes like this. So positioning defines how your product is the best in the world at delivering some value that a well defined set of customers cares a lot about, which is a mouthful, because I’m trying to incorporate a lot of different pieces of positioning in that definition.

But maybe the best way to think about it is like context setting for products. Context is kind of how we make sense of something when we first encounter it. So it answers the big questions, like what is this thing? Why should I pay attention to it? Is this for me? Positioning kind of answers that question for new prospects.

AW:

Well, you go on in your book to say, you should never create a positioning statement again. Those of us who create positioning statements or used to create them…talk to us about that strong belief of yours to never create a positioning statement and what’s wrong with them.

AD:

Yeah. So, here’s the thing. So here’s how this went for me. I didn’t graduate from marketing school. I have a degree in systems design engineering, but after I finished school, I got a job at a startup doing product marketing. We grew really quickly, we got acquired and I ended up being in charge of the marketing department and I thought, wow, I’ve got a lot to learn here now that I’m vice president of marketing and I have no idea even how to spell marketing. But one of the things that unlocked a lot of growth in the first company that I was at was we did a repositioning. But when we did it, we were kind of making it up as we went along. We kind of muddled our way through and we tried a bunch of things until we got something to work.

So when I went to the bigger company, I inherited a handful of products and their positioning looked pretty bad. So I thought, well, I’m going to have to fix this problem here, but there must be a marketing way to do this that I just don’t know because I didn’t go to marketing school. So I thought, well, I just got to go find out how to do it. So I read a bunch of books and I didn’t get anything. Then I took some classes. So I took this class and the guy gets up there and he says, okay, today we’re going to learn about positioning. I’m like great. Pencils out. He shows me this thing, the positioning statement, which I had come across before, but I hadn’t really done too much thinking about it.

The positioning statement, you know what it is. It’s like a mad libs fill in the blanks thing. We are a blank that does blank for blank, unlike blank. The blanks are things like, here’s my target segment. Here’s my market category. Here’s my competitors. This is what my value is. So I had already repositioned a couple of products and I’m looking at this statement, and the guy says, “Well, you just fill out this statement and then you write it down and that’s it.” And he’s moving on to the next thing.

I’m like, wait, wait, wait. Buddy, that can’t be it. So I put up my hand and I explained the last product I repositioned. I said, “Look, we had a thing, and we thought it was desktop productivity software. We repositioned it as an embeddable database for mobile devices. These are two very different market categories. So you’re saying there’s a blank there that says market category. But as far as I can tell, most products could be positioned in multiple different market categories. So how do I know what to put in that blank?”

The guy gave me this whole professor thing, where he put his glasses down and he squinted at me. I said, “How do I know, how do I know?” And he says, “Trust me, April. You’ll just know.”

AW:

Oh no.

AD:

I was like, no, we didn’t buddy. Well, we didn’t. That’s the wrong answer. That’s what you say when you don’t know yourself. At that point, I sort of had this epiphany like, wow, here we have this fundamental marketing concept. No one knows how to get it done. Wow. Wow. So me being … this is one thing you do get in engineering school is a great big ego. So I’m like, well, I don’t know. I positioned a couple of things now. How hard can it be? I could figure this out. That sort of sent me on this 10 year journey to sort of figure out, well, there must be a way to do this in a repeatable manner. We should be able to have a methodology to do it. So yeah, that’s where my desire to get that came from.

AW:

Well, I think in your book, Obviously Awesome, you talk about that story, which I loved. But you go on to say positioning statements, the mad lib fill in the blank that we all know, those of us who are in marketing. The first thing you say, I think, was the very first light bulb that went off. You said it assumes that you know the best way to fill in the blanks.

AD:

That’s right. That what the guy said. He says, trust me, he’ll just know. I’m like, what if we don’t? What if we don’t, buddy? We thought we knew when it was desktop productivity software and that product failed. Then we repositioned it as an embeddable database for mobile devices, and that one took off. We didn’t just know. I can tell you that. When thinking about the positioning statement, I actually think not only is it useless, worse than that, I think that exercise is harmful potentially because it tricks you into thinking that, well, if this is the exercise, first thing that pops into my head must be the right answer.

Nothing could be further from the truth. So there’s that. So I think it’s potentially harmful. I don’t even think it’s a good way to capture positioning. Some people say, well, once we’ve done the positioning, we need to write it down. So why wouldn’t we just write it down in this statement? I’m like, because this statement is stupid. It doesn’t contain enough information to actually give someone the background that they need to actually do something with positioning. So for example, there’s a blank there for value, and typically our value propositions, we have two or three of them and they’re not just a word, they’re a whole sentence.

So it doesn’t even make way for that. I can’t even put that in there. So if I wanted the marketing department to do something with my positioning, I wouldn’t just write down this stupid positioning statement and send it over them and say, yeah, figure out what I mean by this, would you? No.

AW:

And then do something with it. So I think it’s just … that’s what I say to you, I have gone back and read your book and keep just saying, how have we all been so deceived for so long that this was the way to do it?

AD:

Yeah.

AW:

But what I love is you don’t leave us there. You don’t just make the point, but you go on and talk about … you call it the five plus one components of effective marketing. Talk us through at least a couple of those, to get the point across of the type of things you want to understand and you want to know if you are in charge of positioning.

AD:

Yeah. Well, so this is how I got to the methodology in the first place. So after I figured out, okay, positioning statement, we’re not going to do it like that. Then I thought, well, how hard could this be? I’ll figure this out. So I thought, well, I took sort of an engineering approach to it. I said, “We’ll solve this like all problems in life. I’m going to break it into little pieces, solve for the pieces, smash the pieces back together, voila, good positioning.”

So the first thing I did was, well, can we agree on what the component pieces are? We kind of do. They’re more or less the blanks in the positioning statement. So if you read the literature on positioning, we do kind of agree on what it’s composed of. So there’s five pieces. I added an additional one, which is kind of optional. So the five are, the first one is competitive alternatives. So you’re positioning against something in the market. So what would the customer do if you didn’t exist? So that’s the first thing, competitive alternatives.

Second one is unique capabilities or features, if we’re talking about products. So that’s, what do you got that the competitor doesn’t have. Then we’ve got value. So why does a customer care? What does this product enable for customers in their business? Then we need customer segmentation. So that’s, I’m not trying to sell this to anybody. It’s who am I actually targeting? Then the fifth one is market category, which is a little bit more esoteric, but it’s kind of the answer to the question like, what’s the market you intend to win? Or what are you? Are you email or are you chat? Are you a database or are you a business intelligence tool?

So that’s market category. Then later, I added in a sixth one, which is totally optional, which is trends. So you could loop in a trend if you want to. But basic positioning has these five component pieces. So here’s where it got interesting for me is I broke it into pieces. That’s not too hard. So I thought, well, all I got to do is get the right answer for those five things and put it together and we’re good. But the first thing you notice when you do that is the component pieces all have a relationship to each other. They’re not actually independent. So, if I take anything, let’s take value. The differentiated value that my product enables for customers was completely dependent on what? I differentiated capabilities. It doesn’t come from anywhere else.

We don’t get to just make it up. It comes from that. So those two things are totally tied. I can’t figure out one without the other. Then when I think about differentiated capabilities, well, they’re only differentiated when I compare them to a competitor. So those things are tied. Then I think about, well, who’s my best fit customer. Well, my best fit customer are the people that really, really care a lot about the value I can deliver uniquely. So those two things are tied. Then market category is a little esoteric. But at the same time, if you think about it, my best market category, if I think about it like context, it’s the context I position my product in such that this value makes sense to these target customers I’m trying to go after.

So that was a big aha moment for me because the positioning statement gave you no clue about that either. You were just writing things down, but it didn’t actually give you this clue. Actually, it’s a circle. All these things relate to each other. At that moment I thought, gee, maybe this is why we don’t have a positioning methodology, because they all relate to each other. So where do I start? For two years I was stuck at that spot. I thought, well, this is why we don’t know how to do it because there’s no good starting point. So the best I could do is start with something that I know. So capabilities is usually an easy one, because we know that for products. Work my way around the wheel, value, target customer, market category, competitors.

I come up with candidate positioning. I go out in the market, I test it. If it works, great, I run with it. If it doesn’t, I got to come back and take another shot at going around the wheel. For two years, that’s what I did, because I thought this is the only way to do it. It sucked, really sucked for a lot of reasons. One, if you got it right on the first try, your life was golden. But if you didn’t get it right on the first try, then you spent two or three months monkeying around with this stuff and you’re the brand new VP marketing. Then you got to go back to your boss and say, oh yeah, I need another two, three months because that was just an experiment and it didn’t work. And now I got to go do another one.

You’re at a startup and two, three months is eternity. Whenever that happened, I was like, oh man, I’m going to get fired here while I’m monkeying around with this positioning that nobody even thinks is all that important except me.

AW:

Right.

AD:

But I eventually broke out of that. But yeah, it was a two year thing where I was stuck there and I thought, ah, this is why we don’t have methodology. Cause we don’t know how to crack this problem.

AW:

I think the simplicity of identifying some of these key statements, a couple of things stuck out to me, April. One of the first things you talk about is identifying who your best customers are.

AD:

Right.

AW:

And asking yourself and them, shocker, why they love your product or service.

AD:

Well, so this a tricky one, because you can actually go and say, Hey, why do you love my stuff? Because they’re tainted with your existing positioning for starters. You might have some actually super cool stuff that they just never really got what it was. It was never really sold to them and they aren’t using it, so they don’t know. So often existing customers, they’re not actually the best source of that, but you know a good fit customer versus a bad fit customer. This is an important distinction when we’re doing positioning work. Because especially if you’re selling B2B, we’ve all got bad fit customers.

They bought our stuff, but you know what? They shouldn’t have. They should’ve bought something else. In B2B, they’re often our biggest customer too. It’s like a big customer and they couldn’t find anything else to do what it was they needed to do. They bought your stuff, even though it wasn’t really a fit, and now they’re just a pain in the neck. They call you every week. They want a bunch of features that you’re never going to build because nobody else wants them. They’re not happy. They’re paying you. Yeah, they’re paying you, but they are the very definition of a bad fit customer.

So when we start this exercise to think about positioning, we have to remove these bad fit folks from our minds because we might say, well, look, I’ve got this big deal with Allstate and that pays half my revenue. So I can’t ignore them. Yes you can. The question to think about is I’m trying to get positioning that fills a pipeline full of folks that I’m happy are in the pipeline, and I wish I had a pipeline full of these people, and they just intuitively get my stuff. The light bulb comes on really early. They don’t ask me for a discount because they get the value. They close really quick. Once they’re in there, they love this stuff. They tell their friends. I want a pipeline full of those.

AW:

Yes.

AD:

So the first thing you gotta do is kind of separate out these bad fit people and say, for this exercise, this positioning thing, we want to just write them down on a board or something, draw a circle around them in an X amount. We’re not talking about them. Yes, we managed to sell them, but we shouldn’t have. We don’t want any more customers that look like this. So forget about those. For the rest of the exercise, I’m just going to think about these other ones because that’s what I’m trying to position for. So, that’s kind of a little mind trick we got to do at the beginning. Otherwise, we’ll end up trying a position for this one off weirdo client that we had that, yeah, they pay us a lot of money, but we actually don’t want to ever have another client like them again. So let’s not do that.

AW:

It’s so good. I think the other question that you had me ponder was, if we no longer existed as a company, what would our clients do to replace us?

AD:

Right. So this is how I got unstuck from thinking I could only just work the way around the wheel and that’s a candidate and whatever. How I got unstuck from that was I was reading Clayton Christensen and I was thinking about jobs to be done and jobs theory, and how does jobs theory interact with this stuff? So I was doing some deep thinking about that. There’s a story and jobs to be done. They call it the milkshake story. It’s about this company, a fast food company. They notice that they’re selling a lot of milkshakes in the morning in the drive through. So they were thinking about making a new milkshake and they thought we should figure out why these people buy milkshakes in the morning in the drive through.

What they found out was people were buying a milkshake for breakfast on a long commute because an egg McMuffin would drop on my lap and have crumbs. But I’m on a long commute and I’m bored and a milkshake is kind of thick and it lasts a long time and it relieves my boredom, and it’s got calories and things. So people were literally having it for breakfast. So what they did with that information was, to improve the product for that use, they made the milkshake thicker, and they made sure it was in a cup that could fit in your cup holder and stuff like this.

But I had this light bulb moment where I was like, oh, what it actually did? Was it clarified who your competitor was, because you thought you were competing against Coke or 7up or something, and in fact, you’re competing against a donut.

AW:

Right.

AD:

I thought, well, this is a missing piece. I actually have to start with competitive alternatives. If I don’t understand that, I don’t know what I’m positioning against. So that was my light bulb moment, which came from there. I was like, oh, so we got to start with competitive alternatives. Once I know that, then I can say, well, what do I got that they don’t have. That gets me to capabilities. I can take those capabilities and map them to value. That gets me to value. Once I got value, I can say, well, who cares a lot about this value? That’s how I can do my segmentation. Then once I have differentiated value and segmentation, I can figure out the market category. But it’s that first step of competitive alternatives was kind of the missing piece for me.

So part of that, the insight that I got from Christensen’s stuff, was we in inside the company often have a misconception about who our real competitors are, which is why this thought process of saying, well, if I didn’t exist, what would they do, is really good way to think about it. Because in the case of this milkshake, the answer was egg McMuffin. And you’re like, what? I thought I was competing with Coke here. Whereas when we look at, if we sell B2B software, a lot of the times we’re only considering software that looks just like us, but customers … maybe today they’re doing it in a spreadsheet or they’re doing it with an intern.

So I got to beat the spreadsheet and the intern, plus everybody else that lands on a short list when the customer decides they’re going to go do something else. So I have to consider the full competitive set, which also it’s not just competitors, it’s alternatives. One alternative way might be, we’ll just pen and paper this thing. So I got to convince you, my positioning’s got to convince you that my thing is better than pen and paper or hiring the intern or whatever.

AW:

See, that’s the, like…It was just-

AD:

Two years. It took me two years to figure that out.

AW:

It makes me feel better, April, because when I read it, I was like, what the heck. This just makes so much sense.

AD:

Right? Once you get it, you’re like, oh yeah, of course.

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AW:

So let’s take it a step further, because you take us down two paths in your book. You talk about how we can transition this positioning into a sales story.

AD:

Yeah.

AW:

Talk us through, because I think so often when we have these conversations, when we’re at Sales Amp and we’re working with marketing and sales teams, and you talk positioning, the sales people’s eyes start to glaze over and they think this is-

AD:

Yeah. Who cares?

AW:

Why are we talking about this? So talk to us about the sales story and what this does for that.

AD:

So I think this is super, super important. Someday I’m going to write a book about this because I didn’t have enough space in the book to get deep into how do we map positioning into a sales story. But I actually think it’s the most important output of a positioning exercise. Once you get that done, the first thing you want to do is figure out how to translate this into a sales story. You want to do that for a couple reasons. The first one is, so I do this positioning exercise, and I get the team aligned and in agreement on here’s what we compete with. Here’s how we’re different. This is the value we can deliver for customers no one else can. These are the kind of customers that really care a lot about that. This is the market we’re going to win.

Great. Then usually what happens is marketing can now take that and go write the copy on the webpage and run campaigns and do all this stuff. Sales looks at that and says, okay, that’s all nice intellectually, but how do I pitch it?

AW:

Exactly.

AD:

They just go back to pitching it the way they’re pitching it before, because we need to actually put this thing into a pitch and that’s not trivial. That actually requires a structure. I need to know how to map my components of positioning into a good story that works in a sales situation. Now the marketers mess this up in that marketers go to storytelling school, and it’s not the same as sales school. So, they go to storytelling school and they learn how to write a story like Star Wars, right?

There’s my hero and hero has a problem. Then they go on a quest, whatever. But the problem with the hero’s journey as a storytelling methodology, it works great if I’m doing a case study or something, but in a sales situation, particularly if it’s a complex sale where customers come in, they’ve got three other competing things on their short list and they want to know where you fit. They want to know, okay, here’s the whole market. How are you different than these three? Do you have a different approach? Where do you fit? Why should I pick you over what I’m doing now or any of these three things?

Marketing storytelling structures don’t include any of that. So what we really need to do is take this positioning and turn it into a sales story so that the sales people can operationalize where the rubber meets the road here, which is in a sales pitch. So, that’s one thing.

Second thing is it’s actually the best way to test your positioning. If it doesn’t work in a sales pitch, then what do we do in write messaging about it and everything else? Let’s go out and try it on some real live prospects and see whether it lands. So, I think this sales story thing is really, really important. So I spent a lot of time thinking about sales story structure and what that looks like. While I was doing deep thinking about this, I got a job at IBM. Before that, whenever we had built sales pitches, we were a little loosey goosey about it. Same way we did positioning. We were kind of loosey goosey. We would make something up with the sales team and the sales team would pitch it and we’d tune it until we got something that we thought worked. There wasn’t really a structure.

I went to IBM, and these are people that have a structure for everything. They have a structure for stuff that doesn’t need a structure. But anyways, I had to build a sales pitch and my boss comes in and he delivers the binder. The binder’s like seven inches deep and it goes thunk on my desk. I’m saying, I’m just trying to build the sales pitch. He’s like, yes, you must follow the 29 steps of building a sales pitch at IBM. I’m like, oh God, this sounds like a nightmare. It was for the first couple I built, but after a while I decided it was genius. That structure was based on a bunch of research that IBM had done with this company called the Corporate Executive Board, who are famous for writing this book called the Challenger Sale.

So after I had done a dozen or so pitches at IBM, I was totally sold on this structure, but then I left IBM and I went to a startup. My next startup, we had terrible, terrible sales pitches, and me and the VP sales, who I knew from a previous company, I was like, let’s fix the sales pitch deck. He says, yeah. And I said, “Hey, I got this binder that I stole from IBM.” So we took the binder and we tried to use it. There was a bunch of stuff in there that was overkill because the deals we were doing at IBM were so big. They were all $10 million deals, very, very competitive, very, very considered purchase. So we stripped some stuff out. We added a couple things in. We essentially start-upified challenger sale and I’ve been using that structure ever since. But that structure consists of like seven or eight steps, and each step maps directly into a piece of my positioning.

So if we have the positioning, we can build that sales narrative, no problem. In the work I do with clients right now, if we’re doing a positioning workshop, we’ll spend two thirds of the workshop figuring out positioning, but we don’t leave the room until we’ve got this sales story because otherwise nobody knows what to do with the positioning. I’ll tell you, that step of doing the sales story is the spot where everybody in the room that isn’t a marketer, the lights go on and they go, ah, now I get it. Oh, yeah, this is actually great. Particularly the sales people.

AW:

That’s the key that we see in SalesAmp, where everything from the top of the funnel all the way through, and it’s, how do you keep the sales people engaged? When you talk about playing off the positioning, you talk about starting with the definition of the problem. Then you talk about the story then moves to what the customers are attempting to do, sort of what we talked about in the positioning.

AD:

Right.

AW:

Then describing the features of your perfect solution, knowing what their current problem is, and then introduce the product or company into a relevant market. So you’re getting the sales people to think about all of these things that pulls into the value themes, and then also adding common objections, case studies and list of customers.

AD:

Yes.

AW:

It just was just a beautiful flow of not leaving positioning at the marketing gate and not taking it all the way through. It was brilliant.

AD:

That’s exactly it. The key to a good sales pitch, if you really want to express your positioning well, is first of all, you got to frame the problem in a way that makes sense for the way this company looks at the world. So that’s the first mistake a lot of folks make in a sales pitch is they either let the customer define the problem. They’ll go in and ask the customer, what are you struggling with? Whereas generally what we want to do is we want to look at our differentiated value and then frame the problem that way. So for example, I worked with a company that they do sales enablement software. So sales enablement is about getting your sales reps trained up so they could do a good job pitching.

Well, a lot of people would say, if you ask the customer, what’s the problem, they’ll say training. I just need to get my sales reps trained. But these folks, their differentiated value is they can actually map the results of that training to sales results with data. They can tell you did the training result in the sales rep getting a quota faster, or getting a first deal faster. So the problem isn’t training, in the mind of this company. So instead the company comes in and they say sales enablement is important. It’s important because every day your reps aren’t making quota costs you money. That’s the problem.

If I frame the problem that way, you are already pointed at my solution, because none of the other guys can do that. So the first thing is a deliberate framing of the problem. Then you got to kind of say, look, there’s lots of ways to solve this problem. Some of these ways are perfectly fine. If you just got a couple of reps, put some stuff on a shared drive, it’s fine. It’s free, it’s easy. You can go through those alternatives and say, look, there’s pluses and minuses, but look. For you customer, there’s a gap here. If you really wanted to solve this problem, you have a solution that meets these criteria. It’s having that.

It’s being able to have that conversation because, at that stage, if the customer says, yeah, yeah, you’re right. I never really thought about that before. Yeah, yeah. You’re right. Now I gotcha, cause all I got to do is prove that I do that thing, and I know I’m the only one on the planet that does. Then the rest of the sales pitch is kind of rolling down the hill. Well, that’s us. This is what we do. Here’s the value we deliver. Here’s how we get it done with our features. Here’s a whole bunch of customers that did it before you so we can prove we can do it. Sign up already.

So yeah, I think this idea of being able to build a structured sales pitch is actually is harder than I thought. I kind of assumed this was a previously solved problem, but I think what’s missing is the glue between positioning in the sales pitch. We’re usually developing those two things separately and we don’t actually stitch them together. That’s a giant mistake in my opinion.

AW:

Absolutely. I think it’s the other big perspective shift. It’s so often we’ve worked on positioning statements over the years, there isn’t a salesperson to be seen.

AD:

Right, right. Exactly. We didn’t even include them in the effort to get it done, which is a giant mistake.

AW:

Yes.

AD:

So when you think about that, think about the beginning of the methodology is like putting a stake in the ground with competitive alternatives. If we didn’t exist, what would the customer do? Who knows that better than anyone else in your organization?

AW:

Sales.

AD:

Sales. They’re actually the only people that know the reality of what’s on the ground. You go to product management, product management will say, well, I Googled this, and here’s my list of 59 companies that theoretically compete with us. But you get a couple of sales reps in the room and they’ll go, I never heard of 90% of these. Let me tell you who we compete with. We compete with Excel and we compete with Oracle, and that’s it all. That’s all I got to beat. If I could beat Excel and Oracle, we’re golden.

So that’s why we actually need sales people in the room and product management for that matter. When we’re building this positioning, we need everybody in the room because everybody’s got something to contribute and then everybody’s got to agree and buy into it so that they can go execute on it when we leave the room. So sales knows more about what’s happening on the ground in terms of competitive alternatives than anyone else in the organization. When we start talking about differentiating capabilities, well, often a product knows that more than anybody else, more than marketing does, more than sales does. There’s often a bunch of secret things that we never even talk about that we’re like, buddy, we didn’t even know we did that.

So let’s get them in the room so we know what we got. Then let’s figure out what the value is. Then we’re going to build a sales story, and this sales story is going to help even the product team or the customer success team go back and explain it to their team so that everybody in the whole company can be singing the same song about this thing.

AW:

Really good. I think even kind of tying off what you just said, everyone in the whole company, this is what you do and sell the importance of. We have folks on the call today, listening to the podcast today that are nodding and you’re blowing their mind. I know for sure. What words of wisdom would you give them to convince their sales team, their CEO, to spend the time and money doing this right?

AD:

Yeah. So, here’s kind of the way I look at it. Most companies have not done positioning deliberately. They have just kind of fallen into, we’re building a database. What else could it be? It’s a database. Then the market changes, their product changes, everything changes. And all of a sudden, maybe it’s not a database. Maybe it’s better positioned as a data warehouse. I don’t know. So what I used to do, if I was brand new in a company, this is how I would do this. So I’m brand new vice president of marketing, I don’t know nothing. Nobody respects me. I show up, I’m stupid. The first thing I would do is I would spend a couple of weeks hanging out with sales, going on sales calls, listening to sales calls.

I’d be looking for clues that maybe the positioning wasn’t so good. Those clues, you can spot them when you’re looking for them. It’ll be like a customer comes on the call, a sales rep comes on the call. I know my rep is good. My rep does a pitch and it sounds great, and the customer’s like, “Pitch it to me again. Could you just go back to that? I don’t really get what it is.” And they’re making this face, like I have no idea what you’re talking about. Then the other one you’ll get is where the customer goes, Yeah, yeah. Oh yeah, we get it. Yeah, we get it. You’re just like Salesforce. And you’re like, my God, we’re not even a CRM. What are you talking about?

So you’ll start hearing that. So then I would just start pointing it out to the sales people. I’d say, “Wow, do you ever get that? Where they confuse us with this other product that we’re nothing like?” Half the time the reps will be like, “Yeah, it happens all the time.” Then I go have lunch with the VP sales and say, you know what, I’m stupid. I’m new, whatever. But I’ve been spending a couple weeks with your folks and here’s what I’m hearing. Usually, when I point it out, the VP sales is like, “Yeah, you’re right. We actually do get that.” I’m like, “I don’t know for sure because I’m new here, but I suspect maybe this is a positioning thing. Have you guys ever done a formal positioning exercise or just a check in on your positioning?”

The answer is always no. Then I would go do the same thing with product. I’d go over to product. I’d say the same thing. I’d be like, “Hey, I was hanging out with sales, and I keep hearing this. Do you think we get confused with this? What do you think?” So I’d spend a few weeks kind of hanging around. Then I go to the CEO. I go to the CEO and I say, “Look, we want to go pour a bunch of money into marketing, but I’m worried that the positioning isn’t super tight. If we go pour money into marketing, the positioning’s not super tight, we’re going to waste a lot of cash. So what would be cool is if we could get little cross-functional team together. We’d check in on the positioning. I’m not saying it’s bad, but I got a suspicion it could be tighter.”

You know what the CEO says at this point. He always says the same thing. He’ll say, “Well, what does the VP of sales say about this?” I say, “Gosh, I don’t know, call him.” Then the CEO calls, and I’ve already primed the VP sales and the VP sales says, “Yeah. I’ve been thinking about it. Yeah, this would be a good idea.” Then they say, “Well, what does product think about this? I don’t know. You should call product.” Call product. But so you got to kind of sell it a little bit internally because if the positioning isn’t really a problem, it’s going to be hard to get everyone to hit pause and come in and look at it.

The other thing is I wouldn’t go into it with any preconceptions. Even if I suspect the positioning is off, I’d go into it saying maybe it’s fine. But then we’ll know. If we all get together, we’ll know, and then we’ll all agree, and we’ll all be in alignment and there’s value in that. That would just get everybody to the table, but then here’s the trick. If I get everybody to the table, then we can’t just all get together and say, okay, why does everybody love our stuff? Because that’s just going to be a war of opinions, and marketing never wins this, especially the brand new VP marketing does not win this.

Usually the CEO wins. Occasionally sales is forceful enough that they win, but it’s not necessarily the right answer. So what you want to do is we are going to get the gang together and we’re going to follow a process, and that process should, as much as we can, keep the opinions out of it. So that’s what my book is attempting to do, is to give you that blueprint of a process where, if you can convince everyone to come to the table and at least look at it, here’s the process you would use to actually go step by step and work your way through it. Then let’s just see where we get to.

AW:

Yeah. That just sums it up and just again, mind blowing again of the steps. We’ve heard it before, those of us in marketing and sales, that we’re better when we’re all at the table and it even goes all the way back. So yeah, I love that. April, our From Hello to Yes final question for you today. What has you stumped, and who, what and where are you going for answers?

AD:

Oh, this is a good question. Well, this sales narrative thing is preoccupying my brain right now because I’m spending a lot of time teaching companies how to do that. So I’ve been revisiting the sales classics because I’m going back to what are sales people learning when they get trained. So you should see my bookshelf right now. It’s hilarious. It’s all these 10 year old sales classics, like Strategic Selling, the New Strategic Selling, Spin Selling. I’ve probably reread Challenger Sale about nine times. That book continues to amaze me in that it is so dense. Every time I go back to it, I pull something else out of that book that I’m like, Ooh, never really thought about that.

Then I’m digging through kind of what is the state of the art of sales research, because there’s a lot of sales research stuff going on in universities and things. So I’m trying to look at what do we know about what works and doesn’t work in a sales pitch. What do we know about what works and doesn’t work with a sales person? So I’m deep into that right now because I think that’s really interesting.

AW:

Well, that’s really good. I hope we’ll have you back here to talk about what I predict will be your second book on just that, because I think it’s so needed. April, thank you so much for being here today. I want to ask you where our listeners can follow you and find you. I know clearly the book, Obviously Awesome.

AD:

Yeah, the book is Obviously Awesome.

AW:

Yeah. Talk about your website and where you are.

AD:

Yeah. So the website’s AprilDunford.com. It’s pretty easy to find me. There’s not that many Aprils around.

AW:

That’s true.

AD:

I think I’m probably the only April Dunford, although that’s not true. There used to be another April Dunford. If you Googled her, she was a dog breeder. For the longest time, people used to follow me on social, of the dog people. I was like, why are these dog breeders following me on Twitter? Then I found out there was another April Dunford.

AW:

Oh that’s great.

AD:

Unfortunately she died. She was a lot older than me and she died and now I’m the last April Dunford standing. So there’s that. But you can find me at aprildunford.com. The book is available anywhere you get books, but most people get it on Amazon these days, but there’s an audio book too. So if you prefer audio book, you can find that anywhere you buy an audio book. Then otherwise, I’m not that active on social because I find it kind of exhausting, except occasionally I get motivated and I tweet stuff. So I’m @AprilDunford on Twitter, and occasionally I’ll be thinking about something and you’ll get a nice tweet thread from me about once every two weeks.

AW:

Fabulous. On behalf of From Hello to Yes, April. Thank you again for joining us today. It was a mind blowing experience. I hope everyone will read your book.

AD:

Well, thanks so much for having me. This has been great.

AW:

I just love how April clarified the positioning needs to define how your product is the best in the world at delivering value to a certain group of buyers with a certain market category. She tells us to write that down, underline it, share it with your team and reference it again and again, because it’s what will actually set your product apart in a world of countless options. So if you are the one at your company responsible for positioning, you’re welcome. Make sure to get April’s book, Positively Awesome, and don’t forget all of the resources mentioned today can be found in our show notes on the salesamp.com podcast page, along with other episodes. So, that’s a wrap. Remember in this fast paced world of marketing and sales, we are better together. Thanks for joining us today on From Hello to Yes. Hope you’ll join us again soon until next time, have a good one.

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