HomeThought leadershipApril Dunford: Using Strategic Positioning to Unlock Growth in Noisy Markets

April Dunford: Using Strategic Positioning to Unlock Growth in Noisy Markets

If you attended April Dunford’s keynote at the opening of SaaSiest 2023, then you’ll know that April and her first book have something in common. Both are “Obviously Awesome.” And she was as entertaining as she was insightful.


  • Positioning is the foundation of your sales and marketing, and it has to come first.
  • Positioning defines how your product is the best in the world at delivering a value your customers care about.
  • If you set the right context for your product, it sets off a powerful set of assumptions in the minds of your buyers, making sales and marketing much easier.
  • To determine the right positioning for your product, break it down into its five components: competitive alternatives, unique capabilities, differentiated value, target segment, and market category.
  • Beware of common missteps in positioning, especially not truly understanding who you’re competing against and failing to translate your capabilities and features into differentiated value when talking to buyers.

Positioning is the foundation of your strategy

Positioning is a deeply misunderstood concept. Though the term is sometimes used interchangeably (and erroneously so) with messaging, branding, tag lines, GTM strategy, vision, and more, those things aren’t positioning. Rather, they all come from positioning. 

So, what is it then? Positioning defines how your product is the best in the world at delivering some value that a well-defined set of customers cares a lot about. 

And it needs to come first as positioning is the foundation for our marketing and sales.

Think about it like context-setting for products. Context matters a lot because it’s how we figure out things we have never encountered before (like new products).

Setting the right context for your product makes everything easier

A shift in context can completely change the way we think about a product as it sets off a powerful set of assumptions in the minds of buyers pertaining to what you’re all about.

We have lots of ways to set context for a product. Market categories (macro and micro) are one way that buyers make sense of a very crowded market. It helps define what you do in the mind of the buyer. Without telling them explicitly, buyers already have a sense of your competitors, features, target audience, and even price based on familiarity with a market category. It also narrows down the choices for buyers. Instead of having to pay attention to potentially thousands of product options – many of which are irrelevant to their current need – it can help your buyer zero in on a few products that do what they’re looking for. And it makes it easier for marketing and sales to do their jobs.

Let’s take an example, one of many nuggets of insight April provides as she sprinkles real-life, relevant stories and examples throughout her talk. (Seriously, watch the video on SaaSiest TV to learn while being entertained. You’ll hear about Crocs, Intern Joey, robots named Otto, and more.) 

Someone tells you they have a revolutionary advanced CRM product. Immediately you think, who’s the competition? Probably Salesforce. They’re the gorilla in that market. You can also think of at least three or four features you’d expect a CRM product to have. And you know they’re probably selling to the head of sales. What’s the price of the CRM? You deduce that if the product competes with Salesforce, the undisputed leader, they’re not going to charge more than Salesforce, right? So you have a sense of the price.

Good positioning = true assumptions = makes your life easier

If you do a good job and position your product in a market category such that it sets off a set of assumptions about the product that are true, you just saved your marketing and sales teams a lot of effort. You don’t have to tell prospects who you compete with and you don’t have to list every single feature of your product.

Bad positioning = untrue assumptions = makes your life harder

Unfortunately, it works the same if you do a terrible job of positioning. Bad positioning sets off a set of assumptions about your product that are not true. As a result, marketing and sales have an uphill battle undoing the damage this positioning has caused.

How to position your product

So now we understand why good positioning is so important. But knowing and doing are two different things. So how do we do positioning right?

First, let’s break positioning into the component pieces, which are completely intertwined. 

  1. Competitive alternatives. Who do you have to position against? 
  2. Unique attributes. What capabilities do you have that the competition does not?
  3. Differentiated value. What can your features do for your buyers’ business?
  4. Target customer segments. Who is your best-fit customer to sell to?
  5. Market category. What is the context for your product?

Start with competitive alternatives. If you didn’t exist, what would a customer do? This is what you have to beat to win a deal. 

Figure out your unique capabilities. Now ask yourself, What do we have that’s different? What do we have capabilities-wise that the other alternatives don’t?

Find your differentiated value. Fill a whiteboard with features. That’s the easy part. Now for the hard part. Go down that list of features and for every feature, ask yourself, So what? Why does a customer care? What is the value that this feature delivers? As you go down the list, you will see a set of value themes emerge. 

Define your best-fit customers. You can sell to anyone, but that’s not efficient or effective. What are the characteristics of a target account that make them really care a lot about the value that only you can deliver? 

Decide on the best market category. You want to find a category that represents the right context so you’re positioning the product in such a way that this value makes a lot of sense to your best-fit customers.

Beware the pitfalls

There are a thousand ways to get positioning wrong. Here are two of the most common mistakes.

Know (like, for real) who you’re competing against

The most common error is getting the competitive alternatives wrong. Are you really competing with a long list of companies in your space? Or could it be something deeper, like fighting the status quo (many deals end with doing nothing), competing with internal resources (hello, Intern Joey!), or something else? Dig deep to understand who your competitors really are.

Don’t assume your buyer can translate features into value

The second most common issue is focusing on capabilities and features and assuming the buyer understands how to translate them into value. If you don’t articulate the value of the product, your buyer won’t understand why they should care about it, and they won’t buy.

Go forth and position! Positioning is important for your business to succeed, and you should do it with a methodology. If you want a methodology to do it with, you could read April’s “Obviously Awesome” book or grab her positioning templates here.

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