“I’m Begging You…Make It Stop!”

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Are prospects begging you to solve their problem asap? If not, consider this…

Your primary positioning goal should be to establish your company as the Go-To in your chosen market, so that you can eventually name your price and increase margins as opposed to watching prices and margins shrink under competitive pressure. This is the intent behind the Apollo Method for Market Dominance (TM).

If you’re currently in the position of trying to figure out what you’re going to offer the market, there are two keys to the equation.  The first you’ll hear often: Focus your offerings on large, common critical market problems. Yes, that’s essential, but it’s not enough. People will buy…eventually…and at some price. Just maybe not the price you want. Especially if they have competitive alternatives.

Here’s the common missing piece:  Focus on urgent common, critical problems. The more urgent it is, the more quickly the customer will buy and the more the customer will pay to stop the pain.

So ask yourself: “How urgent is the problem we’re solving?

Market Selection Tip: Finding the Pot of Gold

If you want to ultimately become a Go-To for higher margins and growth, it helps to pick the right markets and positioning from the get go.

One of my clients is the Go-To in a particular dimension of the telecommunications industry, but you don’t have to look very far on the horizon to see that this market will mature soon. It’s time to pivot. So we are in the midst of a market analysis to figure out where to play next. Here is a simple diagram that’s guiding our efforts. On one hand, it seems really obvious. On the other hand, you’d be surprised at how few people use these three simple criteria as a way to evaluate potential market opportunities. The intersection of all three is, of course, the sweet spot – where you’ll find the pot of gold.

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Your Strengths

Always start with what the company is good at, especially what it’s uniquely good at. Go ahead and do your usual SWOT analysis, but put a special emphasis on strengths that differentiate you and will give you competitive advantage. These will give you a running start and help you smoothly migrate from your current markets and offerings to the new ones you choose. They also help to keep you honest as you get tempted to jump into exciting emerging markets that just don’t make sense for your company.

Growth Markets With Active Spending

I could write a book on this topic alone, and many people have, but here is the two-paragraph version: Look past fads and analyze emerging, enduring trends. Look at growth markets related to the market you currently play in. What’s happening in those markets? What are their business imperatives and problems? What will help them succeed? Imagine the market segments as a map of countries and pick ones that share a border with your current market. Eliminate those that don’t value your areas of strength. Look for markets and opportunities where the barriers to entry are reasonably high, especially for companies without your particular strengths.

Be sure to zero in on ones where companies are actively spending, or at least will be spending by the time you are ready to go to market. This is key. It doesn’t matter how great your offering is if companies aren’t allocating budgets in that area. You’re just setting yourself up for a major uphill battle. (I’ve made this mistake myself and have the scars to prove it.) In fact, as you go out to the market to have conversations and bounce your strategy and prospective offerings off of potential customers, ask them outright if this is something they would have budget for during this fiscal year (or whenever you’d get to market). Where are the intersections between business needs/problems in these growth markets and your company’s strengths?

Competitive White Space

Now look at the competitive landscape. Where is no one else is playing? Which business problems in these markets is no one else addressing? Where are the gaps? Which companies out there are good complements to your company and potential offerings – who are the good potential partners?

Find the Intersection

Now look at where all three circles come together – a growth market with active spending and healthy barriers to entry that plays to your strengths and where there is little or no competition. That’s where you are going to find a nice pot of gold waiting for you. All you have to do now is craft products, solutions or other offerings that solve specific business problems and have a strong value/cost ratio.

Sharpen the Saw with a Market Assessment

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Once upon a time, a strong, hard-working, woodsman was trying to saw down a very large tree.  After several hours he had not gotten far when a wise farmer looking on made an observation. “You’re not getting anywhere, because the blade of your saw is pretty dull from all the sawing. Why don’t you stop for a few minutes and sharpen the saw?” The farmer angrily replied, ” I don’t have time to stop and sharpen the saw!!  I’m in a hurry to get this done!”

When it comes to launching a new business unit or product/service offering, most enterprise technology companies are like the woodsman in this story popularized by Steven Covey in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. They don’t want to stop and do a market assessment. They just want to jump on in, put the business/go-to-market/product development plan together, and get going. What they don’t seem to realize is that the market assessment is the sharpener. Rather than slow the process down, it ultimately speeds it up. I’m dealing with a “woodsman” client as we speak.

I recently put together a market assessment project charter and work plan for a client that wants to create a SaaS version of its successful enterprise software product.  We haven’t had a chance to sit down and go through it together yet, but in looking at the anticipated work effort, I’m envisioning the conversation. I know what’s going to happen. I’ve been in his shoes as the client executive taking a big gulp at the projected timing and cost of market assessment/research work.  He’ll say what I’ve said:  “No way. We don’t have time. That’s a preposterous amount of money. We’re immersed in the market. We know enough. Let’s skip this and start executing. We’ll tweak as we go.”  So I’ve been trying to figure out how to convince him we need to do this.

Backing up a step, this is further complicated by the fact that a market assessment wasn’t even on his radar screen. He initially called me in to help him create a business and go-to-market plan and then eventually help launch this new offering.  It’s even further complicated by the fact that he is a fabulously let’s-get-it-done kind of guy. (I love people like that.) His ideal launch date is yesterday, and anything that extends the time line feels like an obstacle.

Beyond using the woodsman story, I had been stumped with how to get the importance of a market assessment across to him until recently when I read a wonderful profile in the San Francisco Chronicle on my dear friend and colleague, Stanford Professor Tina Seelig. In there, she mentions this quote attributed to Einstein: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, and five minutes thinking about solutions.”

That captures the importance of market assessment work. When done thoroughly, the answers present themselves: which markets to pursue, how to position, what to offer, which functions and features are/aren’t necessary, how to differentiate, what the messaging should be, etc.  Always start by looking at the market, talking to customers and prospective customers, talking to people who study the trends and have a bird’s eye view, talking to people in the trenches, and talking to market influencers. Read secondary research, articles and blogs. Look for patterns and themes. You don’t need to spend years on this. It may take a few months, maybe weeks, perhaps even just days in some cases. My rule of thumb is to stop once I am no longer hearing new information. If I’m digging around among a bunch of different sources, and the same themes keep bubbling up, I know I’m set. In addition to capturing the findings, keep a list of the key influencers and powerbrokers you’ve run across who seem to call the shots in that market. You’ll need those when you’re ready to go to market.

The benefits of the market assessment work extend beyond giving you input for the product or business rollout. It’s the gift that keeps giving. Here are some examples:

  • The team that did all of the digging now possesses deep subject matter expertise that will come in handy during product/service offering development, selling activity, marketing content and other downstream activities.
  • You now know who the market influencers and powerbrokers are in your target market – who’s talking about it, who follows it, who is expert in it – these people, publications, companies, events, etc. may later become sales or marketing channels for you.
  • A lot of people in the market place now know you intend to play in that sandbox and are primed for when you come back with an update on what you have – these could become evangelists for you in the market.
  • You’ve gained a lot of pre-sales customer intelligence from these conversations – now you know who might be interested in the offering, profiles of companies that are ready, what their pain points are, etc.

In other words, you’ve just created accelerators for your product/service offering development, sales and marketing activity.

So before you even get started, sharpen that saw – go talk to the market.