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  • Writer's pictureChris Holscher

Get your positioning right

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

Getting management basics wrong can break any great idea. But get them right and chances are you'll be way ahead of the pack. Industry Analysts (IAs) hear a lot about strategic positioning every day. The SSIA survey showed that 79% of IAs speak with startups specifically to identify innovative vendors they can recommend to their buyer-side clients. If you want IAs on your side, you better get your positioning right.

Here's how.

I've seen this misunderstanding so often. Not just in startups but even with established vendors. When Industry Analysts ask companies to explain their positioning, the default reflex of spokespeople is to talk about how their company is so much better than the competition in every way possible... A leader here and an innovator there...

Which is - sadly the answer to a different question.

With IAs you want to demonstrate competence and quality.

The question about your positioning is about which strategic choices you've made - and why.

Positioning means saying "No" to many totally reasonable options in order to make room for saying " Yes" to a few that you believe will turn out great together.

Positioning is not about how you're "better" than others - but about the choices you've made and why.

There is no wrong or right positioning. But there is strategic or accidental positioning, informed or uninformed, or ambitious or moderate positioning. You may choose broad coverage over specialism, choose a prestigious price point over affordability, or choose high speed over flexibility. You may even surprise IAs by choosing two seemingly contradicting extremes at the same time - if you've figured out a way to make that happen e.g. through technical-, process- or commercial innovation. This would be a dramatically new positioning that would definitely draw attention.

(Note: The technical way of "making that happen" is no longer part of your actual positioning, it's already the next level of the conversation.)

So how can you get to a good positioning?

  1. Observe the world around you. What (new) information is impacting the business context of your target customers? Does it square with data? Are there early meaningful examples, did you get honest frustrations, concerns or enthusiasm from key decision-makers that consistently support your observation?

  2. Think ahead. How will the market likely respond to this change overall - and what specifically will be the driving factors?

  3. Can you derive reasonable scenarios? Is this solid enough to bet the company on it? (This is precisely the point where 90+x out of 100 reasonable options drop out and the remaining x will still be a tough choice to make.)

  4. Boil it down. Based on observations X (...), we believe Y is going to happen, creating an opportunity Z.

  5. Decide. In order to be best positioned to seize this opportunity we make the following choices: ... And then you work through your business (model canvas) to identify what it takes to serve the opportunity best. One way to do this is to lay out a nightmare competitor in all detail - and then copy that blueprint for yourself.

You see this is hard work. It is not a question for an ad hoc response. Especially not an ad hoc response that you give to an Industry Analyst who will form an opinion of your company including the quality of its leadership.

The good thing: Getting your positioning right is a hugely powerful exercise and drives value from your industry analyst relations programme long before you appear in an analyst publication. In fact, I believe it provides you with the essential basis for even being regarded a viable candidate for any mentions in analyst publications - be it a blog or a report inclusion.

Even better: You can leverage analyst engagement to sharpen your positioning. You can use analysts as an extension to your team. It's one example of how a well-managed analyst relations programme can amplify the value of your best people, products, projects and programmes.

Great quality briefings stimulate analysts' best questions, which require framing, which automatically opens up insightful discussions - inspiring both sides of the table.

It is also great fun to work this out (at least in my geeky mind).

To close the loop with the beginning of this post: I've seen the "positioning" question go wrong all too often. BUT I've also helped to get it right and seen it go right. And in these cases, it can catapult the relationship of even an early-stage startup with a top influential Industry Analyst from zero to "reach out to me any time" - and more.

No wonder, repeat entrepreneurs in b2b tech make strategic IAR investment an early priority.


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