The Book for your input…in pieces…

Being a marketer through and through, I’m always interested in market feedback and input. So I’m going to start publishing pieces of my book on the blog for your comments and input. Below are a draft synopsis and table of contents. The bullseye audience for the book is executives responsible for the profitable growth of certain types of companies – those that are prone to commoditization, because customers can’t easily see, touch or experience the offering’s points of differentiation prior to the sale. These include B2B professional or technology services, technology-based products, innovative offerings, or intangible offerings rooted in expertise (e.g., professional services, educational services). Technology entrepreneurs will find it very useful. There are lots of other audience categories the book applies to – if you aren’t the prime target but are trying to stand out in a crowded field and avoid competing on price, read on in case you can relate and benefit from the insights.

Draft Synopsis

Why are seemingly excellent products or services forced to compete on price as me-too commodities, while other offerings have strong brand equity, command premium prices, and stand out as the Go-To in their markets – the first name that comes to mind for customers as the superior option? They leverage the four pillars of differentiation to uniquely brand themselves and delivery superior value. Through extensive research and 25 years of personal experience working with both Go-Tos and Me-Toos as a practitioner and consultant, the author has noticed a pattern of what the Go-Tos do differently, particularly when a company’s offerings are rooted in technology, innovation, or intellectual expertise. She lays out these four pillars as a step-by-step strategic marketing framework called the Apollo Method for Market Dominance, named for the Apollo Space Program, the ultimate against-all-odds success story under circumstances paralleling those of competitive markets.  Sharing numerous examples and practical how-to tips, the author says that nearly every company can use the four pillars of differentiation to call its own “moon shot” and dominate its chosen markets for huge profits and sustainable growth.

Did it grab you at all? Did it make you want to read more? Why? Why not? What would make it better?

Table of Contents

Part I: Why You Have a Problem

Introduction: How In the World is that Person Making $30,000 a Day?

        Chapter 1: Commoditization is Enemy #1

Part II: What to Do About It

Chapter 2: Be the Go-To for the Solution to a Business Problem

Part III: How to Do It: The Apollo Method for Market Dominance

Chapter 3: Overview

Chapter 4: Launch Phase

Chapter 5: Ignite Phase

Chapter 6: Navigate Phase

Chapter 7: Accelerate Phase

Part IV: Getting Started

Chapter 8: Your One-Page Plan

I realize it’s hard to comment without seeing more, but at a glance, does the table of contents look enticing and logical? (Note: Yes, Ignite comes after Launch. You’ll see why when we get to that.)

Thanks in advance for your suggestions!

Having Trouble Telling Your Story?

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How to Make Your Story Compelling

I encourage you to take ‘this free, online crash course on pitching. Spend as little or much time with it as you want. Get the basics in 10-15 minutes or spend a few days honing your story. It’s available through Stanford’s new, online crash course platform.

http://ecorner.stanford.edu/modules/16/pitching_101_how_to_make_your_story_compelling

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.

The “I’ll Be Damned!” Test

I was once the chief marketing officer for a company whose CEO who was both incredibly tough and incredibly brilliant. We were developing a type of technology offering that was very new in the market and in what the Lean Startup gang and my Stanford colleague and serial entrepreneur, Steve Blank, would call that sloppy, iterative “customer development phase” of evolution. This is that point at which there are lots of possible ways to position the offering in lots of possible markets, and you’re trying to figure out which will get you the most traction the most quickly.

The CEO told me, “I want our customers to hear about this and get so excited, they say to themselves, “Well, I’ll be damned! We have to have one of those!”

And I thought, “Yes!” That’s a brilliant acid test for whether you have something you’ll be able to sell, even before you get out there and start testing it with prospective customers. And certainly, once you do start taking it around, that’s the reaction you want or else you know you have more work to do. The closer you are to an “I’ll be damned!” reaction, the easier it’s going to be to make your numbers each quarter. More importantly, your margins will be higher, because business impact will matter more to the buyer than cost.

So ask yourself: What would it take to get my customers to react with a “Well, I’ll be damned!…”?

Want to User Test Stanford Material and Improve Your Pitching?

Want to try out a new Stanford crash course on pitching? I’ve created a multi-media crash course of my Stanford pitching workshop for a new online platform we’re creating there. Fill out and send the form below if you’d like to participate in user testing of the material and give feedback – I’ll forward to the person coordinating it. Free eBooklet to the first 10 people who conduct testing. Takes 20 min to a couple of hours (your choice). You’ll learn: “Pitching 101: How to Make Your Story Compelling.” Improve your pitch for any audience, duration, situation. Student testers are ideal, but others are ok too!

[If you’ve been wondering why the radio silence lately with my blog, this is the reason. I’ve been knee deep in helping to develop a bunch of these online crash courses. They’re called JOLTs – Just-in-time online learning tools. More details to come soon when we roll out the platform in a month or two. Very exciting stuff!)

A Quick Brainteaser: Can You Tell the Difference? (Bonus Round: The Cupcake Challenge)

Let’s start with a picture of this child. Take a close look.

Differentiation Brainteaser 1We’ll be coming back to him in a moment. But first, we’re going to play a little game called the Cupcake Differentiation Challenge. Feast your eyes on these tempting cupcakes.

B2B Differentiation Brainteaser: Cupcake ChallengeThey are all red velvet cupcakes, but each is made from a different recipe containing different ingredients and flavors. The game is this: You must pick the most delicious tasting of the bunch. If you succeed, you win $100,000. If you don’t, you owe $50,000. You can’t sample them in advance. You have to pick based on just looking at them. How would you do it? (This is all hypothetical, of course. Don’t send an attorney to collect your winnings.)

What’s that, you say? They all look the same? You can’t know which is best without trying them first? Yes, it does feel like a high-stakes crapshoot. A little stressful, eh?

Gee, I wonder who else goes through this. Oh, that’s right…It’s your buyers every time they are choosing between you and the multitude of other offerings exactly like yours.

Now let’s go to a different shot of that little boy you saw above.

B2B Differentiation Brainteaser 2 Oops, that’s not the same little boy. It’s his identical twin. Without scrolling up and cheating, can you discern what makes this little boy different from the other one?

 (Jeopardy music playing in the background)

How long did it take? Or did you give it a try and quickly give up? Did you simply find it impossible? (If you’re still looking, scroll down for a side by side comparison.)

The differences in many identical twins are so subtle that you have to have intimate knowledge of them and be around them quite a bit in order to pick up on what makes one different from the other. In fact, often they, their parents and perhaps their closest friends are the only ones who can discern the differences.

If your offerings and/or company aren’t clearly and obviously unique at a glance, your customer will see you and your competition as identical twins. Even if there are differences, your prospect has neither the time nor the inclination to do a detailed exam and comparison to discover them.  The prospect is going to take a quick look, decide that you are identical to one another, and buy based on price. They are not going to invest the effort to actively seek out the differences. Or they will find irrelevant, arbitrary differences that influence them – your competitor shares the buyer’s favorite hobby or alma mater, or some other arcane factor. Your odds of winning business become a game of price and random chance – not a good basis for achieving sustainable growth.  Not a basis at all for growing margins. You are merely another face in the crowd, another me-too.

On the other hand, if you pop out – if you’re truly unique in your ability to solve a particular and pressing customer problem — you will get the buyer’s attention. More importantly, you will get the broader market’s attention, and buyers will start seeking you out. In a crowded market, this is an important first step toward sustainable growth and margins.

I’ll talk more about how to clearly differentiate yourself in upcoming posts.

B2B Differentiation Brainteaser side by side

Is this what your prospect sees when looking at you and your competitor?

Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Moats (yes, the castle kind)

There is so much to say about this LinkedIn blog post by Bill Gates that I don’t know where to start. First, the humility of it is marvelous. He’s essentially self-made and at a very young age, at that – an entrepreneur. On and off, he’s been the richest person on the planet. His foundation is so effective that Warren Buffet decided to hand his wealth over to it rather than start another. And yet, Bill Gates decides to use his first official blog post on LinkedIn to talk about what he’s learned from someone else – Warren Buffet. Beautiful.

I also love the nuggets he picked out. One is the moat metaphor. Warren Buffet taught him to think of a company’s competitive advantage as a protective moat and to look at whether the moat is shrinking or growing. He talks about it through the eyes of an investor, but we should all be doing it for our own companies. Are we adequately differentiated? How sustainable is it? How quickly are other companies catching up? How is the market changing and what will that do to our moat?

Another interesting aspect of this post is that it demonstrates LinkedIn’s strategy of providing useful content to increase engagement. Judging from the number of views, likes, comments, etc. on this post already, I’d say the strategy is working. LinkedIn wants to be more than just a tool you use while job hunting. It wants to draw users in on a daily (or more) basis. It was a coup getting Bill Gates and similarly high-profile people to agree to participate. IMHO, LinkedIn has only begun to scratch the surface of its full potential, particilarly as a B2B sales and marketing tool. That will come with time, esp. once they break out of the recruiting mentality and really open up their thinking. I can see a day when it replaces Salesforce.com. But I digress…

Back to Bill Gates. One more observation, and then I’ll make myself stop: The hook is great. He gives you a two-fer – Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. The post is almost impossible to resist. And the title promises big value: Three Things I’ve Learned From Warren Buffet.

It’s a quick and easy read. But you’ll get more out of it if you take a few moments to really think about how you could apply each of his three tips to your business, job and life. Enjoy.