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The Most Basic Rule of Product Positioning – It’s Easy

product positioning

I learned a lot about product positioning long before I ever stepped into a product marketing role. For the first four years of my software career, I was a pre-sales solution consultant, a.k.a. demo guy!

I think of demos as verbal product positioning. The difference is demos are a two-way dialogue with buyers whereas product positioning in a pure marketing sense is typically a one-way monologue where potential customers are reading, viewing or listening to something you’ve published.

The Product Positioning School of Hard Knocks

Early in my pre-sales demo career, I had some demos where my audience was totally engaged and it felt like I hit it out of the park. Then there were others where I just couldn’t get buyers fully engaged. 

When your demo ends with buyers saying nothing more than, “thank you for the informative demo,” you know the deal is in trouble!

In my young naivete, I just figured some people liked my products and some didn’t. Little did I know, the difference in the level of engagement was a direct result of how I delivered my product positioning. 

Here’s what I finally figured out. When I was doing demos for healthcare providers, buyers were totally engaged. My demos for other vertical industries weren’t nearly as engaging. Not horrible but not great either. Relative to my healthcare success rate, there were too many deals in other verticals ending with no-decision or a loss.

The light bulb finally went on! I stepped into my pre-sales role as a former customer coming from healthcare administration in a large hospital system. My demos for hospitals naturally took me into a completely different conversation than my demos for banks, manufacturers and other industries.  

That’s when the number one rule of product positioning hit me right between the eyes.

Product Positioning and Your Buyer’s Comfort Zone

My demos for hospitals weren’t really demos, per se. They were more of a conversation about the industry landscape in healthcare and how it was affecting the various areas of the business where my products were relevant. 

A lot of discussions during the demo were about how we did things in the hospital system where I used to work. I was showing features more as proof points to the conversation versus explaining how the products worked.

That’s where I figured out the number one rule of product positioning. It was an aha moment.

BE RELATABLE! Meet Your Target Customers in Their Comfort Zone. Don’t Try to Bring Them Into Yours!

I was unconsciously following this rule when doing demos to hospitals.  That’s why my audiences were so engaged. Not so much in other verticals. 

I knew I had some homework to do.

I became obsessed with reading, researching and learning 50,000-foot industry dynamics across our key verticals, their impact on parts of the customer organization we were targeting, and how to connect the dots into a meaningful conversation.

That’s when my demos in other industries really started to hit the mark, just like they had been in healthcare. Luckily, I figured it out early on in my pre-sales career!

Applying the Product Positioning Rule to Product Marketing

My software career path took me from pre-sales to a corporate product marketing role where we supported our worldwide salesforce in a 5000-person company. My pre-sales experience would prove to be invaluable.

Having come directly out of field sales, I felt like I had a really good idea of things we could differently do to make our products easier to market and sell. 

Sure, we were still going to create marketing materials, sales tools, demand generation activities, feed content to corporate marketing and do a lot of product positioning training in the field. But the dialog we would wrap around our products would be completely different than problems-features-benefits. That formula just made us sound like everyone else.

Luckily for me, a few of my other pre-sales colleagues from other regions were joining the corporate product marketing team around the same time. Many of them coming from practitioner roles too.

It didn’t take us long to agree that our product positioning needed an overhaul. One that would place more emphasis on talking to prospective customers (via our positioning and demos) about things they do, things they already know about, and things they agree with. Then we’d just tie our product capabilities to those scenarios.

The Basics of Product Positioning Haven’t Changed

Our approach covered all the bases of product positioning best practices we still use today. Empathy, storytelling, emotional engagement, etc.

Even though we never thought about it as “meeting customers in their comfort zone,” my product marketing colleagues and I just brought the presentation and demonstration skills that made us successful in the field into product marketing, and then rolled it out worldwide in the form of positioning and starter demos for every product update and new product launch.

We had a blast every step of the way. It clicked with our salespeople and just as well with their prospects. 

Winning is fun! And it’s a lot easier to do when we meet customers in their comfort zone instead of trying to bring them into ours.

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by John Mansour on January 10, 2024.