In March 2021, B2B tech consultant April Dunford spoke with MaRS about product positioning. This article results from that conversation and is the second of a two-part series.
MaRS: How do you move away from feature- and benefit-based positioning? How do you convey all your product can do without getting bogged down in details while still attracting the interest of customers?
April Dunford: What customers want to know is the value you can deliver to their business. In general, customers don’t care how you deliver that value — they just want to know what the value is. If you think about it that way, what you really have are features that enable value for the customer.
The best way to take a whole bunch of features and contextualize them for your customer is to first understand your two or three value themes. Then organize your features so you highlight only the ones that enable that value. This way your positioning can revolve around a short list of maybe two or three values.
Frame it as, “This is how we enable that” and “This is why we can deliver this value and no one else can, because we have these features.” The idea is to place the emphasis on what’s in it for your customer, not in terms of how you do it.
The problem with talking too much about features is that it ends up putting all the work on the customer to make the translation between features and value. They mostly want to know what’s in it for them in their business — and if we don’t make that part explicit, the customer often can’t make that translation on their own.
MaRS: In a world without conferences, what are some key strategies to sell innovative technology products to a niche market?
April Dunford: The lack of conferences has been challenging for those companies that knew conferences were a really good channel for them. Online conferences are different by nature. They work for some audiences and not for others, and they certainly work differently than a face-to-face conference.
There’s no exact answer to this question, particularly when we’re talking about niche audiences. But what you can do is get really, really close to your audience and understand deeply where they go for information. Find out where they cluster and where they hang out. Then you can start to figure out how you can intercept them there.
Do this knowing your audience will always change where it hangs out. For example, two years ago, it might have been conferences, and this year it might be newsletters or podcasts or Clubhouse. Depending on your audience, it could be almost anywhere — and for founders, this can be hard, because you know what channels work for you. But what works best for you is irrelevant. What matters is where your audience hangs out and what they like. That’s where you need to be.
MaRS: How do you differentiate in a highly competitive market without being the lowest-priced solution?
April Dunford: To my mind, when we’re selling to businesses, price is almost the least interesting thing. This can be hard to believe because we tend to think price matters a lot. And it generally does when you’re selling consumer products, because people have lots of choices. But if we’re selling to businesses, what matters a lot is picking the right thing and not getting fired because you picked the wrong thing.
Businesses are often willing to pay a premium price for something they know is going to work.
They want to be sure they won’t have to rip it out and replace it in two years, and that it won’t be a failed project that reflects poorly on them and possibly costs them a promotion.
Overall, I think we focus too much on price and don’t think enough about value. What really matters is what we can do for customers that no other solution can offer.
If you can articulate that in such a way that customers can put a number on it and see that investing in your product will make, or save, them that much money, then all of a sudden, your price looks cheap. But you need to convince them of the value you’re providing before they will even care how much your stuff costs at all.
Sometimes people tell me they can’t close deals because customers are so price-sensitive. My response is generally that it means your value isn’t resonating and your customers don’t believe your stuff is worth what you’re charging. That’s a different way to look at it. You need to make sure you’re nailing your value, because if you’re having a conversation about price, you’ll know you aren’t.
Everyone faces a highly competitive market, and the only way to win is to clearly lay out your product’s unique value that customers can’t get anywhere else. The kinds of customers who care deeply about that are the ones you’ll close deals with.
Product positioning: Further resources