What Would April Dunford Do?
An AMA with a positioning LEGEND
I have something awesome for you this week. Some might say … something Obviously Awesome… it’s a recap of an AMA we had in the Exit Five Community this week with April Dunford. She is the author of Obviously Awesome (2019) and her new book Sales Pitch and one of the best thinkers on B2B positioning.
There were questions about:
- Driving demand while creating a category
- How to get internal people to care about positioning
- Perfecting a sales pitch for the buying committee vs champion
- The complexity of selling a full platform
- Mentioning competitors in the sales pitch vs differentiating against them
Here are five excellent, broadly applicable takeaways IMO:
Q: We’re creating a category, and I’m having a hard time balancing getting leads today vs setting up the pipeline for tomorrow.
When creating a category, you can only run lead generation programs effectively at the part of the market that is already conscious of the pain (one challenge of creating a category).
In the short term, I would be looking at ways to segment the market into the portions that are "problem-aware" vs those that are not.
It’s more complicated in the long-term. Often, the category doesn't exist because customers don't realize they have the problem in the first place (if they did, a category of solutions to solve it would already exist). So all the marketing that you're doing around the problem will be how you warm up the market, and drive tomorrow's pipeline.
Q: How do I get people to care about positioning internally?
It was impossible for me to deliver as a VP Marketing if the positioning was broken - so it was essential for me to convince the team we needed to take it seriously and fix it.
The easiest way for me to demonstrate the damage the weak positioning was doing to the business was to point out how it was hurting us in sales.
If I could show that customers were confused on a first sales call, then I could get the CEOs attention. Customer confusion in a first sales call sounds like - "Hey back up and start over again - I think I missed something." Or customers compare you to competitors that you simply do not compete with.
First you need to get the sales leader on board, then you can convince the CEO. In general, the CEO doesn't care that much about marketing and our little metrics. It's much easier to get folks bought-in if you can bring it all the way back to revenue.
Q: How do you make your first sales pitch when you have a committee decision across different ICPs within an org? For example, your primary buyer is a CIO but you need to pitch to CFO/procurement as well.
I get this question a LOT. In a typical B2B purchase process there are between 5 and 7 stakeholders that need to agree in order for a purchase to happen.
One persona is "the champion." The champion drives the deal. Only the champion can make a deal happen. All of the other personas are potential deal-killers.
In positioning work, our focus has to be on hooking the champion. If we don't hook the champion, we don't even get the first call! The first sales calls are mainly focused on giving the champion what they need to keep a deal moving forward.
Only after that do we arm the champion to handle the potential objections of all of the other groups. We may pitch to them, but we take our cues from the champion.
So you'd never build a "pitch" for a group like procurement. Treat them instead like potential deal-killers and focus on objection handling. What are they checking for? How could they kill this deal? How do we arm the champion to handle their objections?
Q: My company is a platform, and we’re constantly adding more features. We try to talk about everything we do at once. How do we become more concise?
What you are describing is very, very common. The majority of SaaS businesses I work with are hitting prospects with a tidal wave of features.
The problem is, that answers a different question than the one the prospect is asking. The prospect is most likely doing research into solving their problem, and is considering multiple solutions. The sales pitch needs to answer the question "Why pick us over the alternatives?”
In order to win the deal, you need to:
- Provide enough value that it makes sense to switch from what they are doing today
- Demonstrate that you can deliver value over and above what the other solutions on the short list can deliver
Q: Should my company mention competitors in the sales pitch?
I talk a lot about differentiating solutions relative to the existing options in the market. Mentioning other competitors by name, however, is a different beast, and depends on your position in the market.
Market leaders should never mention competitors by name.
- First, mentioning the competitor legitimizes them in the mind of customers. Why would a big market leader care so much about another competitor if they weren't important?
- Second, we don't want to introduce a competitor that maybe your prospect hasn't researched yet. Doing so might send the prospect back into research mode, effectively delaying a deal.
In my opinion a much better strategy is to group the competitors into "approaches" and talk about them as a group. Help Scout refers to one group of competitors as "Help Desk Software" instead of naming.
However, if there is a clear market leader that everyone always looks at, and you are a small challenger, you can name the elephant in the room. Doing so builds trust with the buyer and hey, there's no downside since you already know the prospect has looked at them.