April Dunford Shares How to Position for Growth

Episode 83 December 20, 2023 01:02:01
April Dunford Shares How to Position for Growth
The Breakout Growth Podcast
April Dunford Shares How to Position for Growth

Dec 20 2023 | 01:02:01


Show Notes

In this week’s episode of The Breakout Growth Podcast, Sean Ellis and Ethan Garr chat with positioning expert, April Dunford, author of the best-selling books, “Obviously Awesome” and “Sales Pitch.”


April had a successful career as a marketing and operations executive at companies including IBM and Nortel and it was in these roles that she developed her passion and approach to building effective positioning. Today she shares this passion and her knowledge as a consultant, speaker, and writer with companies around the world. 


In “Sales Pitch”, April lays out her hypothesis that marketers have been taught storytelling that doesn’t work for sales. She says 60% of deals that are started are never finished so it’s often indecisiveness and the status quo that sales teams must work to overcome. Even if you are not focused on sales, you will find a lot of value in this discussion.


Messaging and positioning are fundamental to growth and what we get to in this conversation is a deeper look into how businesses can differentiate themselves, help their audiences discover value, and ultimately break through the noise.


What makes this especially fun and useful is that April isn’t afraid to take contrary and non-obvious positions. As an example, she doesn’t like the concept of Product/Market Fit, and since we do, it made for some good back-and-forth!


So jump into this week’s episode of The Breakout Growth Podcast as we learn more about the art of effective positioning with April Dunford.


And thanks for listening to the Breakout Growth Podcast. Don’t forget, to watch us and subscribe on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-K_CY4-IrZ_auEIs0j97zA/featured

We discussed:

* April's story from executive to “Positioning is my jam!”(06:46)

* The problem with most sales pitches (09:44)

* Why it matters that 60% of started deals are never finished (22:04)

* Building and validating your sales Pitch (27:02)

* Positioning isn’t static; how to keep it fresh (52:44)

And much, much, more . . . 

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:08] Speaker A: Welcome to the Breakout Growth podcast, where Sean Ellis and Ethan Gar interview leaders from the world's fastest growing companies to get to the heart of what's really driving their growth. And now, here are your hosts, Sean Ellis and Ethan Gar. [00:00:25] Speaker B: All right, in this week's episode of the Breakout Growth podcast, Ethan Gar and I chat with April Dunford. She's the author of two best selling books, obviously awesome, and her latest book, sales Pitch. So we knew April was obviously awesome when she spoke at the Growth Hackers conference several years ago, and everyone instantly loved her. She was a very successful marketing and operations executive at companies like IBM and Nortel before she took her passion for positioning into her own consulting practice, where she helps companies around the world define their unique value of their products. So, Ethan, what were your big takeaways from this conversation? [00:01:03] Speaker C: Well, April made a really strong case that nobody really knows how to build a sales pitch. And essentially she says that marketers have been taught storytelling, that it's great and it works for marketing, but it's not right for sales. And her new book, appropriately titled Sales Pitch, digs into that and focuses on how companies can differentiate themselves specifically in that sales process, which I think is going to be super valuable for a lot of our audience. You and I, we both bring messaging and positioning into the work we do. I would say it's foundational to our coaching and advising work. Getting your message right matters. So I thought this was great for you and I because I think it challenged some of our own assumptions about how positioning is supposed to work. [00:01:52] Speaker B: Right? Yeah, we both have our own processes, and it's usually one of the first things that we're digging into, why do customers love these products? And how can we really tap into that with positioning and messaging? But again, April, a lot of the things that she says are not so obvious. And it's funny that she has a book called obviously awesome because she is awesome. But a lot of the things that she's tapping into aren't so obvious, and a lot of times they are even things that may not be popular to common beliefs. And so at one point, for example, I asked her about positioning and product market fit, and she basically said she doesn't like the concept of product market fit. [00:02:32] Speaker C: I know, and you're the product market fit guy. [00:02:34] Speaker B: Exactly. [00:02:35] Speaker D: I could have wounded me deeply. [00:02:36] Speaker B: But it's something that, when someone says something that seems not in line with my thinking, I a lot of times want to dig into that because there's going to be a fresh perspective there that hopefully will take my own thinking to the next level. So she wasn't just saying it to be controversial for controversy's sake. She really triggered, I thought, a spirited discussion that I think is going to be thought provoking for our audience as well. And that's one of the real goals of this podcast, is we want to treat it like we forget that we're actually recording a podcast, and instead it's like we're sitting around in a coffee shop with someone who's got a really interesting perspective and we're just digging into it to expand our own thinking. And I think we really nailed it on this one. [00:03:27] Speaker C: Yeah, I feel like when you and I are learning, we're having fun, and hopefully that's fun and translates into good conversation for our audience and really good takeaways. Look, in a world of competition and noise, positioning really does matter a lot. You have to stand out. And that same willingness to speak her mind and take somewhat contrary positions, I think is probably why April is so effective and why her approach is so effective. I loved when she explained how you need to be deliberate in who you position yourself against and how in sales, sometimes you're not losing to your direct competitor, you're losing to the indecisiveness and the status quo at the company you're pitching to. [00:04:09] Speaker B: Yeah, definitely. She mentioned a couple of times a statistic that's related to that, which was 60% of deals that are started just are never finished. And the reason the ball keeps kind of getting kicked down the field and it loses momentum is because of that indecisiveness. And if people don't know who they're competing against, then you're not going to be able to have the best sales pitch out there to get the deal done. And so there's a lot to think about and unpack in this conversation, for sure. [00:04:39] Speaker C: Yeah. And I think even if you're a PLG and you're not doing traditional sales, you'll actually learn a lot from just her thinking on this. So, yeah, I really enjoyed the conversation and I actually just started reading sales pitch. I know I should have read it before the interview, but I'm getting into it now. And to be honest with you, it's good. From the very first page, when April says, this isn't a book about selling, it's about helping customers buy, which I think is very aligned with the way you and I approach the world from a growth perspective. It's like, what is value for the end user? How do we tap into that and create something that we can drive growth. And so it was really cool. I love the conversation. [00:05:19] Speaker B: Yeah. I wish she had her books on audio, because last I checked, they weren't. And that's my preferred way to consume books. I spend enough time sitting and staring at a computer that when I'm consuming information, I like to go out on a walk, get a little exercise and some fresh air. But anyway, let's not give it all away in the introduction here. Let's get started. [00:05:40] Speaker C: Yeah, let's do it. [00:05:49] Speaker D: Hey, April. Welcome to the breakout Growth podcast. [00:05:52] Speaker E: Oh, it's so great to be here. Thanks for having me. [00:05:55] Speaker D: Yeah, we're excited to have you on. And I'm also joined by my co host, Ethan Gar. Hey, Ethan. [00:05:59] Speaker C: Hey, Sean. Hey, April. Let's get it going. [00:06:01] Speaker E: Hey, Ethan. [00:06:02] Speaker D: Yeah, so, as I was telling you guys before we got started, I did 21 hours of flying yesterday coming back from Egypt. And so I'm a little bit time zoned out, but this is the time of day when I tend to be in pretty good shape. By this afternoon, I'm going to be, I'm sure, way, way worse for the wear, but taking a. Yeah, exactly. But unfortunately, I think it's still good daylight hours in Egypt now. So I'm on that time zone probably more than anything, but we'll jump right into it. So, April, I've wanted to have you on the podcast for a long time because I remember we had you at the Growth Hackers conference a lot of years ago now. [00:06:45] Speaker E: A lot of years ago, yeah. [00:06:46] Speaker D: I didn't even know really too much what to expect when I invited you to the conference, but I remember just the audience loving it. And I think especially in a conference where you have a lot of people that are into data and testing that sometimes positioning, which was the topic you spoke on, may seem a little soft and less powerful as a lever of growth, but by the time you got done talking, I think people looked at it and said, wow, positioning is really important, and you gave them some good tools to get started. So maybe, unless you recall speaking on something a little different than positioning, and I'm just totally messed up in my head there. [00:07:30] Speaker E: Positioning is my jam. [00:07:31] Speaker D: You got exactly how do you actually define it? For anyone who's not familiar with positioning, how do you define positioning? [00:07:39] Speaker E: Yeah, I look at positioning this way. Positioning defines how your product is the best in the world at delivering something, some value that a well defined set of customers cares a lot about, like that. [00:07:54] Speaker D: So especially the well defined. I think in the startup world, we get caught up in the whole world is my customer, because especially if you're pitching so bad. Yeah, you're pitching venture capitalists and you want to define your market as eight zillion dollars and you don't want to kind of niche it down. [00:08:14] Speaker E: Well, you know what? This is actually one of the reasons I think venture backed companies really struggle with positioning, is that your positioning for venture capitalists is going to be different than your positioning for customers. And so if you spend a lot of time raising money, and then you turn around and you say, well, I've got this great pitch, and it worked really well with the vcs, I'm just going to use that pitch when I go talk to customers. That is generally not a good thing to do. The two audiences have completely different definitions of value. They have different time frames that they're thinking about. They're just really different things. [00:08:53] Speaker D: Yeah, I think that's an interesting topic to kind of come back to if we've got some time to this idea of, can you compartmentalize these things? Well, and how do you go from we're taking over the world to, here's why you should care about this thing. We've just built on a kind of one to one level. But Ethan, I want to bring you in on a conversation quickly. Go for it. [00:09:18] Speaker C: Yeah, April. So I believe I was actually in the audience at that growth hackers conference many years ago. So I think I also was one of the people who thought, wow, this is really interesting stuff. So we wanted to jump in with your new book. It's called sales pitch, and maybe you could start by telling us a little bit about the book, how maybe it's different from your first book you can tell us about, obviously awesome as well, and tell us what this book is about. [00:09:44] Speaker E: Sure. So my background is positioning. Like, positioning is my jam. I've been doing that forever, it feels like. And so the first book that I published was called obviously awesome, and it was very focused on how do we actually do positioning? So a lot has been written about positioning as a concept and something that you want to make sure you get right inside your company. But before I had written my book, I felt like there just wasn't anything out there that was designed to help companies actually do it. Like a step by step process to say, hey, this is how you do it. 12345. And so the book was really focused on that. I had transitioned from working in house as a vp marketing to working as a consultant, helping people with their positioning. And so the book also did double duty as a way for people to get their arms around what I do as a consultant. So I had been working with companies doing that, and one of the things that really struck me is that when we work through the component pieces of positioning, there's two things we want to do with it right away. So the first thing that everyone wants to do is they want to take the differentiated value that we defined in the positioning and turn that into messaging for the home page and all your marketing stuff that you're going to do. But the other thing is, if you're a b to b company and you have a sales team, you want to take that positioning and translate it into a story that the salespeople can use, especially in a first call where a qualified prospect comes in. They know a bit about what you do, but they don't know much. And you're giving them the big here's what we do and here's why you should care speech. So in the work I was doing with companies, after I had my book out, I felt like we really nailed working through the positioning part. But if I just went away and didn't help them with the sales pitch part, the marketing team was good. They could take the differentiated value from the positioning and go run with that. But the sales team would be in the positioning workshop and be like, yes, positioning. Get it? Yes, agree with. That's the differentiated value. That's who we're going after. This is the market we're going to win. Yes, agree with all of it. And then they would walk out, and then they get to their teams and they'd be like, well, how does that change my pitch? I'm not really sure. And so my assumption when I wrote the first book was that most companies, if you had a sales team and you were already doing a sales pitch, you had a structure that that sales pitch was built on. And it turned out that that is not true. In fact, that has not been true. I've worked with probably about 250 companies now, and I have only worked with one that had a sales pitch structure that they could actually explain to me and say, this is why the slides are organized in this way. This is how the story arc goes. This is why the demo looks like this. In fact, what most companies had was just kind of this pitch that had been around since, like, the year of the flood and nobody knows where it came from. And every time there was a new release, we'd add one slide or we take one out or we'd mess with it a little bit or they didn't have any slides at all. And what they're doing is straight product walkthrough, straight feature function. I got twelve drop down menus. I'm going to click on every single one of those twelve drop down menus and explain every single thing. And we're not doing any positioning whatsoever. So it occurred to me that the reason people didn't have a structure for a sales pitch is that there isn't an accepted structure for a sales pitch. And I had one that I've been using from back when I was a vp marketing. I used to do the positioning and then we'd turn it into a sales pitch. And interestingly, it came from some work I did with various companies, but IBM was one of them, and IBM is one of the few companies I've ever worked with that does have a structure for a sales pitch. So I borrowed some of those concepts and came up with my own structure. So the new book, sales pitch, is an attempt to solve that problem. Again, we have positioning. We're trying to translate it into a story that the sales team can use. That's the problem the book is trying to solve. [00:13:46] Speaker D: Got it? So go ahead, Ethan. [00:13:48] Speaker C: I was just going to ask. It makes sense that that's a challenge. But do you find that this underlying story already lives in the positioning that you were developing and obviously awesome. Is it more about translating that into storytelling, verbal storytelling, or is it something completely different from your perspective? [00:14:13] Speaker E: So here's what I think. I think that marketers in general have been taught storytelling structures that don't work for sales. So for the most part, the companies that I've worked with, marketing has been taught some kind of a flavor of hero's journey. And so if you understand hero's journey, or if you read that book, building a story brand, it's this idea that we have a hero, and the hero is the customer, and they go on a quest, an epic quest, and they encounter problems, and then they meet a guide, and the guide is you. And the guide is then going to show them how to get what they want and deliver them to the promised land and avoid them going someplace bad. And so there's this whole arc. I'm butchering it. This works really good for things like a customer case study, and you're trying to show, here was the customer before, and then these things happened, and this is what the customer looks after. Like, you know, this is Hollywood stories all follow this arc. But for sales, sales needs a whole bunch of other stuff. Like, this is not a story about entertainment. This is a story about. Look, customer, you have choices. There's lots of choices. And the customer is trying to figure out what are good choices or bad choices for me, what should I pay attention to? What should I not pay attention to? Why pick you over the other things that I could pick? That's a totally different story than Star wars. It's just not the same. So if we wanted to build a story specifically for sales, it would have a set of components that your average marketer is probably not thinking about. Like your average marketer is not thinking about, how do we do discovery in a first call? Your marketer is not thinking about necessarily, how do I paint a picture in the minds of customers about the whole market and where we fit? Most of the marketing and sales stuff I see out there with SaaS companies is all about us as a company. Here's us, here's the value we deliver. It's amazing. You should pick us. But a buyer is not trying to answer that question. A buyer is not trying to answer the question, what's so great about you? The buyer is trying to answer the question, why pick you over the other guys? And the sales pitch has to answer that. [00:16:40] Speaker D: And which one leads? You mentioned that you do workshops. For example, do you do a workshop where you're bringing in sales and marketing together to figure this out, or does marketing figure it out and then it's translated for sales or vice versa? [00:16:57] Speaker E: Well, I think marketing, figuring it out and having it translated to sales is what got us in this mess in the first place. Honestly, I think that's a bad idea. So I actually think the first thing we have to do is figure out the inputs to the sales pitch. The inputs to the sales pitch are, who's my competition? How are we different from them? What is the value we could deliver that no one else can? What is our definition of a really good fit customer? What is the market we intend to win? That's the component pieces of positioning. So in the work that I do, we have a cross functional team. We've got marketing, sales, product, the CEO, anybody else who we think is key together in a room. We're going to work through those component pieces of positioning. And then once we have that, then we can map those pieces to a sales pitch that works for the sales team. [00:17:46] Speaker D: Interesting. Yeah. It's so funny that you and I have both. Just for our conversation before this call kicked off, we were both talking about how important workshops are. And my reason of coming to workshops is exactly. Sounds like the same reason as yours is that you can teach people the tools individually. But when they come together and apply them in a way that hopefully is appropriate for the company and for the opportunity and driving results, a lot of times that's where it falls apart, is trying to bring people together with different perceptions. And in a workshop format, you can through hours or in my case, I do generally a full day together. You can actually make some of those key decisions and have that shared ownership because you're making those decisions together as opposed to one group making it and kind of dictating it to the other. [00:18:44] Speaker E: Totally, totally true. In my opinion, most weak positioning comes from the different parts of the organization having slightly different ideas about those component pieces, like the vast majority of software companies. When I walk in, if I ask product and sales, who do we compete with? I get totally different answers. And so how can we figure out how to position against our competition if we can't even agree on who we're actually positioning against? So I think the only way to solve that is cross functional stuff. Let's get everybody together. The trick is, if we're going to get everybody together, we can't just put them all together in a room and be like, okay, why does everybody love our stuff? I got to get everybody together, and there's got to be some kind of a process or a methodology to work through that to the best of our ability, takes the opinions out of it. And so my work is very focused on that. My core offering is a three day workshop, but it's kind of half days because people get really burnt out in these exercises because a whole day is a lot. But we spend two days on the positioning, and then we spend the last day translating the positioning into a sales pitch. So we walk out of there and everybody's in agreement and alignment. This is who we compete with. This is the value we can deliver. No one else can best fit customer looks like this. This is the market we're going to win. And here's how we tell the story. Now we're good. Now we can go run everything. [00:20:09] Speaker C: Obviously, this podcast is about growth as the breakout growth podcast. How do you see positioning relate to growth? Like, where does this fit in? [00:20:18] Speaker E: Well, so positioning, in my opinion, is kind of foundational to a whole bunch of stuff. Almost everything we do in marketing and sales and growth has positioning at the foundation. We can't really figure a lot of this stuff out before we all get in agreement on, well, who do we got to beat in order to win a deal, and how do we win a deal? What's the value we can deliver that no one else can. What's our secret sauce here? And then, oh, by the way, we're not a best fit for everybody. We're a best fit for certain kinds of buyers. So how does that work? How do we define that? We have to actually get agreement on all that stuff before we can then say, okay, now, what's the best way to acquire customers for this thing? It actually comes later. In my opinion, this is kind of foundational stuff. If the positioning is weak, then everything we do downstream is weak. I used to be repeat vice president of marketing, so I would get hired and everybody be like, okay, April, go out there and do that lead generation thing. And I'd be like, well, if we don't make sure the positioning is solid first, then I'm just doing a bunch of stuff on top of this foundation made out of sand, and how do I know any of it's going to be good? And so usually what I would do is I'd say, well, look, I'm going to spend a couple of weeks and I'm going to go hang out with sales because I'm always working at companies with sales. I'm going to go hang out with sales. I'm going to find out what's happening in sales. Now, if the positioning is weak, you hear it on first sales calls. It's actually kind of easy to identify. So you go in to elicit a whole bunch of first sales calls. If you start hearing these telltale signs of weak positioning, then you can work on getting the team convinced that maybe we should look at the positioning first. Let's do that first, and then we'll worry about all the other stuff later. [00:22:04] Speaker C: I just want to dive into know you bring up a good point that trying to be everything to everyone is kind of, that is not a good recipe for success. I recently worked with, actually a former colleague of Sean's from years ago. And one of the things we were working with a company that does enterprise sales, and one of the first things he said is like, guys, our goal here shouldn't be to close every deal. And I was thinking, well, that's probably something that you don't hear often, but he was saying, we can't be everything to everyone. We have to be the right things to someone. In your process, do you figure out who the right person or the right Persona is to sell to? Where does that come into the process? [00:22:49] Speaker E: Yeah. So this thinking that not everybody is the right fit for our stuff is better understood. The higher up you go in enterprise selling, like the bigger the deal. The more people understand that sales is a very precious resource and if it takes a year to close a deal, we shouldn't spend seven months on a deal that's never going to close. The more you go down, the more people start thinking, oh, we'll take our victim as we find them and we'll sell everybody and then it'll be great. So having spent the bulk of my career selling bigger enterprise stuff, I think that's just kind of in my dna to think that way, but I actually think it works for everybody. If you have a sales team, that team is very expensive and we lose a good proportion of deals. I mean if you look at the data of this 60% of the deals that we start we do not finish. That's not even counting wins and losses. So it's a game of numbers. So if I only have so much sales resources then I really want to have that sales resource applied to folks that I think are going to close. So that's one thing. So how do you actually figure out who's a good fit? In the work I do, I'm generally working with companies that are in market. They've already sold a bunch of stuff. I mean they're doing millions of revenue and the key to that is already there. We just need to unlock it. So the way I like to do it is we start with who do I have to position against. So that includes the status quo and anything else that lands on a short list against you. So if it's a reasonably big ticket b two b sales purchase process, they're not just going to buy you, they're going to look at a short list of things. So there's status quo, there's the shortlist. Then I say well what have we got that the competitors don't have? Capability wise of the product and capabilities of the company. So it's feature function of the product capabilities of the company. I can make a great big long list of this stuff and then I can go down that list and for every single capability we've got the question is so what? Why does a customer care? What is the value that capability enables for a customer's business? And as I'm working down that list, what you will naturally see is there are a set of themes that will emerge and so that's good. What we want to get to is not 9000 points of value. We want two or three value buckets or value themes. If we build it up that way what we end up with is differentiated value. So that is the value that I can deliver that none of those other competitors, including the status quo, can. So at the end of that step, I should be able to say, look, we're the only company on the planet that delivers a combination of this plus this plus this, and the features that enable that are tucked in underneath. Now once I have that, then I can say, okay, we're the only folks that can do that. The next question is, well, who cares a lot about that? And what are the characteristics of a target account that make them really, really care a lot about the value that only you can deliver? That's where we should be focusing our marketing and sales resources because that's the place where we can win. If they don't care much about the secret sauce that we've got, then we're likely going to lose that deal because somebody else has got some secret sauce that they care about more. So if we can tightly define that, then we can tightly focus. Here's where marketing and sales should spend their time. [00:26:23] Speaker D: Right? Yeah. You had said that you typically are focusing on businesses that are already generating, say, millions of dollars in revenue. Have you spent much time thinking about kind of brand new early stage businesses? The entire business is initially built off a set of guesses and maybe there's some validation for some of those guesses. But when you're starting to say who needs the value? What are we good at? Until you have it in people's hands, it's really hard to answer those questions. [00:26:57] Speaker E: Exactly. [00:26:58] Speaker D: It, yeah, I'm curious how you think this fits in on that type of a journey. [00:27:02] Speaker E: Yeah. So here's how I think about it before we've sold a bunch. So either the thing is still just an idea or we've launched it. We got a handful of customers. We don't really see any pattern in these customers. So we don't really know. In my opinion, what you have at that moment is a positioning thesis. So your thesis says, I think this is who I compete with. I think this is the capabilities I have that those competitors don't have. Therefore I believe this is my differentiated value. And these are the people that are going to care a lot about that value. Therefore this is the market I'm going to go in. But you don't know. It's just a thesis. And so if you've done your homework well and you've done customer discovery, which almost nobody does, but let's pretend that you did. So you did good customer discovery, you did all that stuff you were supposed to do, whatever, you got a thesis, but you still don't know. And having been like, when I was a VP marketing, I was involved in 16 different product launches across my seven startups that I worked at as an in house VP marketing. And not once was our thesis correct. Sometimes we were really far off. Sometimes we're just a little bit off. But for the most part, we were wrong about something. And so usually it was the value that we thought was going to be really interesting. These customers, it turned out slightly different, or the kind of customer we thought that was going to be really crazy for this thing. It turned out they're not quite that. It's somebody a little bit different. And so then you got to adjust it. So I think that first wave of customers is where you're validating that positioning thesis. Like, did the people that you think were going to love it love it, or was it something else? And so what I find is a lot of companies, they're not thinking about positioning at the beginning. But if you were and you wrote it down and said, this is the thesis for every deal that you're losing, that you thought, according to the thesis, you should have got it, it should have been great, you should be asking yourself, well, why not? There must be some kind of an assumption baked into this thing that isn't true. [00:29:05] Speaker D: Right. [00:29:05] Speaker E: We should figure that out. Yeah. [00:29:07] Speaker D: And then, so I think related to all of that, then at what point should they be thinking about investing significantly in building sort of brand recognition around some positioning that is likely to be wrong? Can you over invest in promoting some positioning up front? And what's the alternative if you don't overinvest? [00:29:32] Speaker E: Yeah, so I think the alternative is I think you need to really think about this first wave of customers as we're validating the positioning thesis. And then at some point you'll get to a point where it feels pretty validated and so you'll be able to say, you know what? We're pretty clear on what the definition of a best fit customer looks like, and we're pretty clear on what that differentiated value is that we can deliver. And so once we get to the point where we can say that, then that's a really good point for you to just tighten up the positioning and run right at it. If you think the universe of best fit customers is good enough to meet your financial obligations for the next year or two, tighten it up, run right at it. I've got a terrible analogy. I'm going to give it to you. So here's my terrible analogy. It's like, let's say you're a fisherman and you invented this fishing net. And so your thesis is I got this world's greatest tuna fishing net that is for tuna fishermen. It's got special features, and I'm going to make this tuna fishing net. It's going to be amazing. That's my positioning thesis. But if I launch it as a tuna fishing net, I don't know, man. Maybe it's going to work and maybe. [00:30:46] Speaker D: It doesn't going to work. [00:30:48] Speaker E: I don't know. So a better way to do it is to launch it and keep the positioning kind of loose and just say, you know what, man? It's a net for fish, all kinds of big fish. I don't know. And then you're going to run around and get your first wave of customers. And having loose positioning isn't going to stop you from doing that because you're still going to do a lot of one on one and getting your buddies to try it out and getting people on your board to introduce you to people and shaking the tree to get this first wave of customers. And then let's get all the fishermen using it. And then let's just see what they pull up. And maybe what happens is they pull it up and they go, ooh, you know what? This is full of grouper here. I never really thought about the grouper, but now that I know, I actually got the world's greatest grouper fishing net and now I can just zoom right in on that and go run at the grouper market. And yeah, maybe I get tuna next year or the year after, but right now I know I can get grouper. So I'm just going to go get grouper. [00:31:42] Speaker D: Or even it turns out to be a fashion statement and not something to catch fish. [00:31:47] Speaker E: Who knows? So I think the big thing here is people come to me and they're trying to hire me when they got, like, two customers and I'm like, this is a waste of money because all we're going to do is come up with a positioning thesis. We don't know. There's too many unknowns. And so could do is spend the next six months or however long it takes, get a whole bunch of customers. And when you start seeing the patterns and who loves your stuff and why, then that's a really good time. If you still don't know how to tighten up the positioning, then you could bring someone like me in or whatever and then spend some money launching it and taking a run at it. But before that, it's crazy town. Like, you don't actually want to spend a whole bunch of money doing acquisition because you don't know who you're going after. [00:32:31] Speaker D: Right. So in startup lingo, I think we're essentially saying product market fit there. Validate product market fit. [00:32:37] Speaker E: Yeah. [00:32:38] Speaker D: You don't like that. [00:32:40] Speaker E: Do you know why I hate it? Can I just go a little rant? So the reason I don't like product market fit as a thing is because nobody knows how to get it and nobody knows when they have it. And so it's such a nebulous concept. And I was always the vice president of marketing and everybody agrees what you do when you have it. When you have it, you go to vice president of marketing and say, smash your foot on the gas, lady. Let's go. Grow, grow. And so as the person that was on the receiving end of that, I was always thinking, well, what we're actually looking for is an actionable segmentation. Until I have an actionable segmentation, I can't smash my foot on the gas. So actionable segmentation is who exactly are we going after? And can we define that with enough specificity that I could build campaigns around it? Until we have that, then it doesn't matter if you have the product market fit feeling. I can't do anything with it. [00:33:34] Speaker D: Right. That's what I think when you said hypothesis. Go ahead, Ethan. [00:33:37] Speaker C: I feel like Sean may have come up with a question at some point that might help companies find whether they have product market fit or joking. I'm joking, but I am serious. So I think Sean's question, his now famous product market fit question, if this product were to go away tomorrow, would you be very disappointed, somewhat disappointed or not disappointed at all, really does get to the heart of that. But I do. [00:34:03] Speaker E: I don't know, sometimes companies game that question and they do bad things with that question. Like they have five customers and it's their cousins, and their cousins say, oh, yeah, I'd be really upset if it went away. People are not honest with themselves with that question. I think the question is good, but people use it badly. [00:34:27] Speaker D: That's where I tend to say, you want to have at least 30 responses on it. You want to have people who actually have used the core of the product and hopefully used it more than once. And yeah, if you're gaming it, then you're only doing yourself a disservice because you're giving yourself false validation and you're going to accelerate going out of business because you're trying to scale something that's built. [00:34:48] Speaker E: This is it. And even that 30 thing kind of depends on the size of the deal. So recently, I did some work with a company, and they have four customers, but every customer is a $10 million. [00:35:00] Speaker D: Deal, so it gets a little harder. [00:35:02] Speaker E: And they're very homogeneous, like, all four customers. Exact same use case, exact same thing. And because the sales cycles are so long, they've got 1520 in the pipeline that are way beyond a few months. So is that validated? Yeah, it is. [00:35:21] Speaker D: It's not a one size fits all, for sure. [00:35:23] Speaker E: Exactly. I don't know. Product market fit drives me crazy, because everybody comes and they're like, I know it because I got the feeling right. Oh, I don't care about your feelings. Sorry. [00:35:36] Speaker C: April 1. Of the things that I think you've pointed out a lot is that ultimately, positioning is about figuring out how you're differentiated and what's your unique value. Do you find that in working with clients, either they sometimes think that, oh, we're commoditized, so there is no differentiation or the opposite of that. They think they're highly differentiated on things that they're not so differentiated on. [00:35:59] Speaker E: Yeah, differentiation is really interesting. One, I've seen both of those. I would say what's really interesting to me is often I get companies that are doing 10 million revenue, 20 million revenue, and they'll come and say, we have no differentiation. We're exactly like everybody else. We're exactly the same. And that just kind of blows my mind. Like, every day, someone is picking them over the other guys, and what they're telling me is they don't know what the reason is. And what's interesting is that often when I get into it, there's all kinds of differentiation, which is the reason why customers are picking them. But because the differentiation doesn't feel techy enough or hard enough or big enough, that internally, the team is just saying, I don't know why they pick us. They must just like us. They must just like us as people. [00:36:59] Speaker D: Better salespeople. [00:37:00] Speaker E: Yeah. The salespeople will say, we're just so great at selling. And the marketers will say, well, we're just so great at marketing. Or the CEO will say, it's relationships and all this stuff. But then when you go to the customers, it's a totally different thing. What's interesting is when you go to sales, sales knows, but nobody talks to sales. So you go to sales, and they'll say, oh, yeah, it's three things. It's this, this. If I pitch that, we win, and you go, okay. And it's almost like the company doesn't like that answer, or they wish there was a different answer. I don't know what. And then what's funny is that because those three things, nobody thinks it's important. Those three things are buried in the marketing, they're buried in the sales pitch, and the customer almost has to go on an exploration to unearth it. And then they find it and go, oh, you guys have this thing. I wish Anna just told me that. So what we do in the positioning is we just pull it out, put it right in the middle of the positioning and say, hey, we're the only people that can give you ABC. And miracle of miracles, all the revenue goes up. [00:38:08] Speaker C: So if it's not so technical for companies, is it often the relationships and how they manage the relationships with customers? [00:38:15] Speaker E: It's very seldom that. It's very seldom that. And people will often say, it's our amazing customer support. But then when you look at the sales process, nobody gets exposed to the customer support until after they bought. So how could that be the reason you bought? And often it's not just features, but a particular combination of features. So the one feature on its own is differentiating from these two categories of competitor, but then there's another feature that's differentiating against this category of competitors, and then there's maybe a third thing. And so individually, the features don't seem like they're differentiated, but they're the only one that can provide the combination. So it's usually that sometimes. And people will say, yeah, but those features aren't that big of a deal. These guys have it, and those guys have the other one, and these guys have the other one. It's like, yeah, but nobody has all three. That's why they're picking you. Sometimes what you've got is something that's a combination of that plus different pricing model. So sometimes the company's done something kind of creative with the pricing model, or it'll be things like, you're the only one with professional services, and all the other companies don't have professional services. Or it's the opposite. You're the only one that doesn't require professional services, and everybody else does require professional services. And so the total cost of getting this thing deployed is often very differentiated. Some companies want the help, some companies don't want the help. And so you're fitting in the middle there somewhere. So a lot of times it's things like that, but it's almost never this kind of soft relationship. Customer support, all those things are important for retention, but they're not necessarily acquisition things that first place. [00:40:02] Speaker D: Yeah, that makes sense. So everything we've talked about up to this point has been this perfect world of proactivity between, it's a world between you and your customers, and you figure out why they love you and you position against those. And hopefully that's well differentiated against the competition. But what happens in a world where the competition is positioning you for you? And I think the great example there is in politics, and as much as I don't like politics, I'm fascinated by kind of watching it from the, yeah, I know you're from Canada, but here in the United States, we've had a former president who the world knows whether here in the United States or not, and he has a unique ability to position other candidates before they even position themselves. I'm talking about Donald Trump here and his own party, other parties like his other party positioning initially against Hillary Clinton, calling her crooked Hillary, which is kind of ironic considering where he stands today. But sleepy Joe Biden, but even within his own party, he comes up with nicknames. I think boring Jeb Bush was one of the first ones I remember in the primaries. And these candidates really have a hard time breaking out of that identity that he applies them because there's probably a little bit of truth to it in some degree, or there's a belief in it being truth in some circles that he's trying to influence. So I'm curious how you would recommend when someone else tries to position you, do you respond to that? Do you just have more strength in what your positioning is? Any thoughts there? [00:41:56] Speaker E: Well, I do have thoughts about this. The first thing is that most companies are not really deliberate about their own positioning. And so if you can be very deliberate about your own positioning, part of the act of positioning where you fit in the market is positioning everybody else. So a really good sales pitch paints a picture of the market for the customer and says, you know what? There's three or four ways you could get this job done. You could pick companies that look like this, and you throw a whole bunch of companies in that bucket, and you throw a bunch of companies in that bucket and a bunch of companies in that bucket, and then you're like, and, look, we're here, and this is why you should pick us. Now, if you are doing this well, in your initial sales pitch, you have the opportunity to position everybody else. And if your competitors refuse to position themselves, meaning all they do is talk about themselves, and all they do is say, here's why we're so great. But they never, ever compare themselves to the competition. They never, ever answer the question, why pick us over the other guys? Then you have an amazing advantage because you're painting this picture in the minds of customers, and you're laying all these little bombs for your competition everywhere else and say, oh, yeah, you're looking at IBM. That's legacy stuff. And, I mean, it's great. Don't get me wrong, it's great if you just want a thing that never breaks. Whatever. But are you going to get a lot of innovation out of this? No. Are you going to get whatever? No. Here's the trick on this, though. It has to be truthful, because if it's not truthful and the competitors get wind that you're saying something that's not truthful, then all they got to do is shine the light on that lie, and you've lost all credibility in the sales process. So if you can do it in a way that's truthful, you should do it. If you got to stretch the truth or lie on it, you should avoid this. Like, you should never, ever stretch the truth. It kills deals so fast. So if you have a competitor that's positioning you and the positioning is a lie, great. That's actually amazing for you. So all you have to do is go in and say, you know what? There are other vendors out there, and they're not always totally above board, and they say things like this. And here's why that's not true. And I got to teach you. Right, but I can teach you. Here's why it's not true. And if you go back to them and say that, they'll likely come back with this, I don't have to say their name. I could put them all in a bucket and say, any one of these guys might say this, but when they say that, what they mean is this. And so you, buyer beware. This is what actually means. So if your competitor is trying to do that, that's the thing. If your competitor is trying to put you in a bucket and you belong in the bucket, well, then you got to think about target markets. So I'll give you an example. So when I was at IBM, everybody put us in the legacy bucket, man. They were like, why would you. You want to do business with IBM? This is legacy stuff, blah, blah, blah. But what they didn't realize when I was at IBM is we're making almost 200 billion, or whatever it was back then, it's way smaller now. But back then when I was there, 200 billion revenue, and we're doing that on the back of like 95 accounts. We don't care. We don't care. [00:45:29] Speaker D: They're frying BB's at your tank. [00:45:30] Speaker E: Yeah. That you're trying to sell some 50 million revenue company by saying that we're legacy. We don't even care about those deals. We care about these deals over there and in our little pocket. Being legacy is awesome, b, and legacy is just what they want. It's safe, it's tested, it's one throat to choke. If something goes wrong, we're going to send an army of consultants in there to fix it. You're not going to get fired for picking us all this stuff. And so sometimes what you've got is a competitor that's making a lot of noise about you being something and you can just ignore it because it doesn't matter. It has nothing to do with you. It's just blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And you're like, whatever, buddy, that's fine. You have no idea what our business model is, how we go to market, who we're going after, any of this stuff, and you're literally trying to compete against the wrong person. [00:46:27] Speaker D: Yeah, so this is kind of a selfish line of questioning for me because I face this on a regular basis as the guy who coined growth hacking, that there are a lot of people from day one who didn't like the term, which is fine. That's one of the reasons it gets attention. If I had just said scientific method or process based growth, it would have been this kind of boring mouthful that no one would have remembered. So sort of shortcutting something that is a little bit of a knowing term on there, I think I can't have the good and the bad without expecting to piss a few people off. So that's fine. But what I have found over time is exactly the credibility issue question that you're saying is that most of the people, when they discredit it, they're basically saying growth hacking is about a bunch of tricks and doing x, y and z to get people to sign up for your product when they don't really want your product or it's lying in marketing. I think what I'm hearing there is that when people do that, it's a matter of just correct it. No, this is what it is and this is what it's for. And again, maybe if I didn't have a book called hacking growth that is a popular worldwide book, maybe I wouldn't care as much about kind of protecting the meaning of that phrase. But I have a lot personally invested in, in it. So I don't want people to redefine and reposition it for me. So I don't know if that's, I. [00:47:59] Speaker E: Think there's a couple of things you could think about with. So on the one hand, there's no such thing as having a popular concept without having a good number of detractors. Like it comes with being, you know, you can't be Taylor Swift without having Taylor Swift haters, but who cares about the haters? So there's that. I think there's a certain amount of pushback when concepts like this really catch on. One of the ways, you know, it's really catching on is that some people hate it. So I think that's okay. That's kind of one of the things that comes with being very successful is people are going to show up and say, no, that's stupid, that's bad. I don't like that for whatever reason. And some of it might be justified and a whole bunch of it won't be and there's going to be jealous haters. So that's a thing. The other thing that I think is kind of interesting that for you personally maybe I'm just going to throw this out, is that I was having a conversation with a really smart friend of mine who's a consultant and he was talking about the lifetime of ideas and he says, you know what happens? You get a really good idea, an idea comes and it's good for about ten years and then you got to do something with the idea to get it restarted. And so then he gave me all these examples, 9 million examples. I've been thinking about this ever since I had this conversation with him and I was trying to apply it to companies. So I was thinking about HubSpot, for example, invented the concept of inbound marketing. But if you look at HubSpot now. [00:49:38] Speaker D: Yeah, they don't use that very much anymore. [00:49:40] Speaker E: They've completely outgrown it. Why? Because inbound marketing is so successful that it's literally just turned into marketing. If you look at what HubSpot is doing, they're now doing the same thing that salesforce is doing. It's a customer platform and inbound marketing is part of that or piece of that, but they don't even talk about it anymore. They don't have to because it was so successful. So the interesting thing about you and growth hacking is I might actually lean back and say, am I the king of growth hacking or am I just the king of growth? Is anybody doing anything in growth that. [00:50:18] Speaker D: Doesn'T have your king and my grandfather. [00:50:24] Speaker E: People call me that for positioning. And I'm like, ease up. Ease up. But is there anything out there? And growth is such a hot topic still that doesn't have your fingerprints on it. And I would maybe say, no. Who's the king of growth if it's not you? It kind of is you. So why wouldn't you just grab the crown and run with it? [00:50:50] Speaker D: Embrace that. Yeah. As opposed to. [00:50:52] Speaker E: And so maybe it's time for a new book, is the thing, I would say. And maybe the positioning is we don't have to hack it anymore, buddy. It's now growth. It's an accepted term. We all get what growth is. There's 1000 people out there talking about it. There's 15 different flavors of growth. But you're still the guy. And so I might actually be all right with that if I was you. [00:51:18] Speaker D: And that's not going against the idea of niching where earlier what you've sort of said is differentiated, and now at a certain point, maybe you kind of grab the core a little bit more. [00:51:30] Speaker E: Well, again, if I look at HubSpot, this is kind of how this works with companies, right? They establish the market by slicing off an underserved piece of the market that the leader is not serving. And so usually it starts a really nichey thing. But once you're fully established in the niche, the objective is always to push the boundaries of the niche and make the niche bigger until eventually you're so big, you knock off the leader, and now you're the leader. Well, once you're the leader, the stuff you can do is different. And so, again, I don't know. I don't know whether that's the right thing for you to do, but I think you could. [00:52:12] Speaker D: Yeah, it's definitely something to consider. I like it. I appreciate food for thought there. Go ahead, Ethan. You want to jump in? [00:52:20] Speaker C: Yeah. So, April, I know we're running up against the clock here, and you've got, I think you said five podcasts to record today. [00:52:26] Speaker E: I'm on a podcast thing. Know, it's a book launch. This is how it. [00:52:32] Speaker C: We're. We're thrilled to hear it's going well. But one question we always ask our guests, and I think it'd be really super interesting. [00:52:38] Speaker D: Before we jump into the final question, I want to get one more question. [00:52:42] Speaker C: Before, because we started a little bit. [00:52:44] Speaker D: Late, what is the most common mistake that you see in positioning? [00:52:50] Speaker E: Two things. I'll give you two. The first one is you don't know what it is. You don't care. You fell into the positioning when your product was a baby and it was obvious what the positioning was, so you just picked it up and ran with it. And that worked really good until three copycat competitors piled into your space. And now you're like, oh, shit. And you have no idea what to do because you didn't do it deliberately in the first place. So I think not thinking about positioning deliberately is the most common mistake. And you don't know you've made it until your positioning breaks, which it inevitably does. Because most of the time, our positioning is not static. It is changing over time. So every successful software company has gone through iterations on their positioning, and so it might be good now. I can almost guarantee you five years from now, it'll be different. Ten years from now, it'll be different. So you need to be thinking about it and checking in on it. And then when you see that it's weak, you need to go fix it. So that's one thing. The second thing that I think is really common, and we kind of touched on it before, is this idea of not being clear on who you need to position against. So a lot of companies will. For example, if I ask sales who's our competition? Sales will give me the list of companies that land on a short list against them and often will overrotate on the companies that we lose to, even though maybe we should have never been chasing those deals in the first place, to be honest. But that's who they'll say the competition is. Even though the data tells us that 40% to 60% of b to b purchase processes end in. What? No decision? So who'd you lose to? Well, maybe you lost to status quo, but you didn't consider that competition. Or maybe you lost to the fact that the company was indecisive and you did a bad job of standing out from all the other alternatives. Company couldn't decide which one to pick, so they kicked a can down the road. It's 50, 51 or the other. So that's a problem. And then if you go over to product, product is thinking about the future of the product and the vision and where we're going to, what the roadmap is going and all that stuff. And so product is often tracking a long, long list of competitors that we never see in deals. And so if we tried to position against all of that, that would be a garbage mess and impossible to do. And we don't need to position against ghosts if it's not showing up on a customer shortlist, then we can basically say, well, customer doesn't consider it competition. And so when and if we start losing deals to those folks, we'll worry about positioning against them then. So that thing of figuring out exactly who do you need to position against is, I think, the second biggest mistake that companies make beyond just not thinking about positioning at all. [00:55:47] Speaker C: All right, I'll ask that final question, April, but I did want to ask one quick follow up. When you say being deliberate on positioning, I think that's great advice. How often do you think a company should be thinking about, have a positioning meeting or reviewing their positioning? Is this every quarter? Every year. [00:56:06] Speaker E: So when I was a vp marketing in house, I used to do it every six months. So we used to have a standing meeting every six months, but we would also call the emergency meeting if some stuff was going down. So I worked at a company once and we had this positioning that leaned very heavily on our relationship with MySQL. And then MySQl got acquired by sun, and then we had to call the emergency meeting. Oh, no, maybe we need to shift the positioning there. And so we did this new positioning, and that was all great for however long, what was it, six months, eight months or something? And then sun got acquired by Oracle. And not only did they get acquired by Oracle, but the first thing Oracle said was, yeah, I don't know what's going to happen with that MysQl thing. We're like, oh, no. Then we had to call the emergency positioning meeting again and go in and do it again. And so I think every quarter, if a lot of things are happening in your market, maybe every quarter. But I found every six months was more than enough. And what you wanted to do is every six months, get the gang together and just speed run it. We'll bring everybody together, we'll look at sales and say, are we seeing anybody different on the shortlist than we did six months ago? And if we are, who is it? And does that change our list of differentiated capabilities? The other question to ask is, we've had a new release. Does that substantially change our differentiated capabilities to the point where we actually deliver different value now than we could before and that opens up a section of customers we couldn't before. Well, then we need to go back and adjust the positioning. So it's new competitors coming into the market, it's shift in our own product. That could be something. Sometimes there's mergers and acquisitions, and then sometimes it's just general stuff going on in the economy like Covid hits. Maybe you need to get the gang together. Think about how that impacts what you're working on. Like, never have I been so busy in my life as I was in 2020. [00:58:03] Speaker C: Perfect. All right, so our final question. So what do you feel like you understand about growth or maybe positioning now that you didn't understand as well? [00:58:11] Speaker E: A couple of years ago, I think this whole intersection with sales, there was a bunch of things that I assumed happened with most companies in sales that I was just totally wrong about. So this idea that sales folks know how to build a pitch or somebody knows how to build a pitch has been very eye opening to me to discover that no one knows how to build a pitch. Like, if you go back and look at all the sales training that salespeople get, it's really interesting what they get trained on. They get trained on how to handle objections, how to negotiate a deal, how to build rapport with a client, how to do discovery, how to do qualification, how to move a deal along. Sales training is a big deal. They are very well trained people in sales in a way that people in marketing are not. But there is nothing in there related to the pitch. There's this assumption that a pitch just exists. So what you have is marketing assumes that marketing is like, well, we build them these pitches and we throw it over the wall and nobody uses it. And then you say, well, what are they doing? Well, they're just using their own pitch. Well, you go over to sales and they just say, well, marketing gave me this thing, but it doesn't meet any of my requirements. So I just butchered the crap out of it until I had something that kind of works. And I'm just using that. And you're like, what? That's what's happening over here. Oh. So I knew I had built sales pitches when I was internal in companies, but I don't know. I think I just assumed that other companies were better at this and other companies, there was some kind of sales pitch thing that I just hadn't heard about that existed. And so that was really surprising to me. If you had asked me five years ago, I said, april 5 years from now, you're going to write a book about how to build a sales pitch. I'd be like, what? That book already exists. Are you nuts? And then here's me literally trying to figure out a title for my book. I'm on Amazon, my book. People are like, what do you want to call it? And I said, well, I'd like to call it sales pitch, but I'm sure there's a book called that already. So I'm on Amazon, and there's no, like, how can there be no book like the first book? I would have called it positioning if someone hadn't have already written a book called positioning. But this one, I was like, wow, we've never attempted to tackle this problem anyway, so that's been a surprising journey for me. [01:00:43] Speaker D: Awesome. Obviously awesome name of the first book. So, yeah, thank you, April. Usually I like to do a wrap up of some of the key takeaways, but we'll do that in our introduction because I have a lot of them here, and we can't add another 15 minutes on here of my key takeaways. But super helpful conversation. And I hope our listeners are able to think about how important this can be as a tool to not just accelerate growth, but to actually build growth on a good foundation around what the real opportunity is in the business based on feedback from customers and how you uniquely solve some problems. And I think it's a really important part of growth. And hopefully the listeners will be able to make that connection. So if not, then we'll have you back and we'll rework on making that connection for them. So, April, thank you again so much. We really appreciate it. [01:01:36] Speaker E: Okay, well, thanks so much for having me. You. [01:01:43] Speaker A: Thanks for listening to the breakout growth podcast. Please take a moment to leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform, and while you're at it, subscribe so you never miss a show until next week.

Other Episodes

Episode 18

March 05, 2020 00:42:58
Episode Cover

Minna Technologies CMO, Christoffer Pettersson, Explains the Advantages of Starting B2C and then Pivoting to B2B

In this episode of The Breakout Growth Podcast, Sean Ellis interviews Christoffer Pettersson, CMO of Minna Technologies, a SaaS product for banks. The product...


Episode 6

November 21, 2019 00:49:57
Episode Cover

Freshly CMO, Mayur Gupta, shares how they've rapidly grown to over 1 million subscribers for their fresh and healthy meal delivery service

In this episode of The Breakout Growth Podcast, Sean Ellis interviews Mayur Gupta, CMO of Freshly, the number one direct-to-consumer, fully-prepared, meal delivery service...


Episode 35

November 12, 2020 00:49:11
Episode Cover

Skillshare's VP Growth Explains how They've Accelerated Growth by Sparking Creativity for Millions of Online Learners

In this episode of The Breakout Growth Podcast, Sean Ellis and Ethan Garr speak with Kyle Jansen, Vice President of Growth at Skillshare, an...