Why Positioning Fails in Sales

I had a conversation with April Dunford recently to discuss her brand new talk for BoS USA 2023 and the question of why positioning fails in sales came up a lot.

April’s obviously awesome by the way. And yes, that is a new speaker announcement!

She had some super insightful things to share about why positioning fails in sales – and what to do about it.

I’m summarizing some key points below on why positioning fails to make the leap to sales and more important, what you can do about it.

Why Positioning Fails in Sales

A hotshot vice president of marketing, working inside companies for 25-30 years, may have positioned something four or five times in their career. April has done it over 200 times and before she became the positioning lady, she’s been responsible for both sales and marketing at some seriously impressive enterprise software companies. What she’s learnt from doing this rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, is really interesting. You start seeing the patterns in a way you never would have, if you were a CEO your whole career. How many times would you reposition something once, twice, three times, maybe?

April’s observed a weird experience, across little early-stage companies, mid-stage companies, and a bunch of really big companies. She’s seen what it looked like before, what they worked on, what stuck and what didn’t stick.

In her experience, one of the biggest problems comes from taking that positioning that you have worked on so carefully and having it survive crossing the membrane from marketing to sales.

At first, April seriously underestimated how hard that is. In the companies where she worked in house, she drove the whole process. However, in the majority of companies she works with, she’s working with their head of marketing. Often, they doesn’t work with sales all that well. So, if we do the positioning thing, even if it we do it really well, but we don’t really nail the sales story on this, it doesn’t have a hope in hell of surviving inside the company.

When Doesn’t Positioning Stick?

There’s two big reasons.

  • Firstly, everybody gets so interested in positioning they can’t, ‘pick it and stick it’.
  • Secondly, the positioning didn’t survive the leap over to sales.

Pick It and Stick It

The first thing starts in the marketing team but runs across the company. People often feel they need to be iterating on positioning all the time and as they are always iterating, it just never sticks.

People internally get sick of it, right when it’s starting to work. When it’s starting to stick, people internally say, “We’ve been saying it for a whole year, oh my god”. It is easy to forget that the story you have told 1,000 times is one that most people outside your org have never heard.

It’s just starting to stick externally, but internally, the marketing team is bored. They’re jealous of other marketers doing different things and working on category creation or something and they want to be doing that. They want to go do something new. You end up with change for changes sake.

Why Positioning Fails in the Leap to Sales

It’s one thing to get the positioning right, but it’s only really tangible once you get the story right. What is this and how do we actually tell people about it? This is usually why positioning fails in sales. It’s the story that makes the positioning real.

This is super important for the sales team, but also for the rest of the company.

Product management need to know the story so they can go back and talk to their customers and teams. Marketing, trying to figure out how to do content creation and stuff they’re going to do. Everyone needs to understand how this thing comes together into some kind of a story. As much as we like to talk about storytelling and storytelling structures, and there’s 9,000 books on storytelling out there, there’s very little out there about how to build stories for business and for sales.

In a nutshell, here’s how you do it

  • Your first step is market insight.
  • Your second step is communicating that insight effectively.

Market Insight

Every company, every startup, has that insight, they’re just not conscious of what it is. Defining the problem does not give you a differentiated starting point – you’re defining the problem the same way as your competitors. Everybody’s got the same problem. The problem is not your differentiation.

Your differentiating thing is your insight – why did we build it the way we built it?

It’s the problem inside the problem. You find out the root cause of the problem is another thing. Your insight is your customers actually have to tackle this other thing. You’ve got to go back to the positioning, figure out what makes you different and special.

What’s your differentiated value? What’s the value only your company can deliver?

Communicating Your Insight Effectively

Once you have that, you can ask the question, “What does a customer need to know to understand why that value is super important to them?”

  • That’s where you want to start the sales pitch.
  • None of your competitors can start it there.
  • That’s actually a giant big deal idea.

Your features don’t win deals. Your ability to negotiate pricing does not win you deals. What wins deals is being really clear about why customers pick you over the other guys. How can your sales team make your differentiated value obvious to the right people? Your differentiating value will allow the champion of the deal at a prospect to sell that to everybody else. The better your story, the better the story travels around the world.

That’s what wins deals.

BoS Conference USA 2023 2-4 October

At BoS Conference USA 2023, we’re digging into a few of the things that April raises here.

April Dunford will talk about why she thinks determining your differentiated value and making it real for customers are the two fundamental questions that help you build an effective sales story. She’ll share terrible and terrific examples that reveal why most sales pitches get it wrong. You’ll be walked through her approach to building a sales pitch that demonstrates your unique value and closes deals. You will learn how you can develop a sales pitch that sells.

Jamie Woolf and Dr Chris Bell will discuss the Pixar approach to storytelling and how you can create stories that help you, your team and the world connect with what you do. What separates the best leaders from the rest is positive processing.

Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. The middle is where the hero/protagonist/you is at their lowest point. When you hit a bump, how can you springboard out of that as a leader to look at the future. How do you create stories that makes sense of what you do, where you want to go and how do you want to get there?

In the Autobooks case study, we’ll look at what happens when some of these ideas are put into practice. Autobooks retooled their sales processes around their positioning and radically simplified their sales pitches. The results have been remarkable! Join us to find out more.

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