What is positioning for B2B tech?
An introduction to positioning for B2B technology companies and the people who want to help them grow
What is positioning?
Here’s a simple way to think about it:
Positioning is actively defining the people you want to serve — and the problem you solve for them.
And creating a path that leads them from a problem that holds them back to an answer that moves them forward.
To position your company is to craft the role you play in your customers’ lives.
That role could be as practical as helping teams find insights in massive datasets — or creating a new way for CIOs to bring automation to the enterprise.
To something bigger, more personal, how you change their world.
But with that bold idea —
You intentionally create themes and messages that speak to them.
You intentionally build your identity around them.
Do positioning right, and it will direct your efforts in branding, demand gen, customer experience, and sales.
Without it — you not only risk wasting marketing efforts. You may be building products for the wrong people and the wrong reasons. Or building great products that people never find.
Let’s take a step back.
Positioning is not a new word. The concept was originally focused on helping marketers compete in established categories. It was especially helpful in selling commoditized consumer products like soda and dish soap.
One early goal of positioning was to try to be the number one or two position in someone’s mind for when they think of a product.
And if you can’t own those top positions in an established category, create a narrower position in the mind that you could.
The classic marketing example is Volvo. Maybe Volvo can’t be the number one car. But they can be the number one car people think of when they think of safety. If surviving a serious car accident is something you value, then you’ll think Volvo first.
The beauty of this concept: It reminded marketers that they weren’t competing purely on features. You are trying to claim a place in your customer’s mind.
If you didn’t have a “safety” in your market, you could actually create it.
You could find that bold idea by deeply understanding your customers and what they value.
That’s still true today.
But now let’s talk about what has changed.
And how the work of positioning is a fundamentally new challenge for companies competing in B2B technology.
Here are two key reasons why:
1. Today’s B2B tech companies compete in a place of rapid multiplication and unlimited possibility.
SaaS companies spin up new services all the time. Features change fast.
And new competitors can enter the market easier than ever. It is vastly cheaper, faster, and easier to launch a tech startup than it was a generation ago.
That means competitive advantage based on technology features won’t last.
You can’t just build great technology and expect customers to find it, or trust it in their business, or that it can stand up to alternatives over time.
2. The nature of competition itself has changed.
B2B SaaS companies are rarely competing head-to-head with another company in a defined market.
Customers want tools that work together. And companies that work together.
So companies can be competing and collaborating at the same time. The best platforms thrive.
If you’re really successful, you’ll create an ecosystem. Competing in an ecosystem doesn’t even look like competition. This is the classic “embrace and extend” strategy.
But it basically means: Either position or be positioned.
Positioning is about new and narrower ways of defining an answer to a problem.
The more you understand your customer and the problem they want to solve — the journey you help them take — the more you build your products around them.
Customers will see you building your products for them. Even with them.
You’ll speak their language. You’ll talk about their problems. And how your features make their jobs easier.
You’ll look the part, too, in your visual identity. It will send the right signals of being a modern technology company built for the people it serves.
When it directs everything you do —
That’s the ultimate role of positioning.
What are the basic building blocks of positioning?
+ A person. A clearly and sometimes narrowly defined customer. We serve people. We sell to people. Business-to-business is still human-to-human.
+ A problem. A clearly defined problem that this customer wants you to solve. What does this customer want to do? What stands in their way? How can you help them overcome it?
+ A better way. What makes your answer to this problem different and better than any alternative? How will you offer them a new way that not only solves their problem, but helps them reach a new place in their careers, in their lives?
With some of these answers in place —
Now you craft the bold ideas to build around it.