I recently managed a repositioning process for a local company. This successful, growing technology company is making the transition from offering “a piece of hardware that fits particular niche” to “a solution that benefits the enterprise.” Moving from product selling to solution selling is a big deal. It is made all the more challenging when the technology itself is new. In order for current and prospective customers to understand what the new solution is and how it will benefit them, your messaging needs to be carefully managed.
Is your company ready to scale?
A time-tested approach to positioning can be found in Goeffrey A. Moore’s classic, Crossing the Chasm. The name comes from Moore’s belief that technology companies that fail often do so because they aren’t able to move from selling to so-called “early adopters” to selling to the “early majority.”
A few years ago, I helped a San Francisco-based company “cross the chasm.” The company had been selling a piece of software positioned as a “personal productivity tool.” As the company’s positioning suggests, it was selling to individuals – and that can be a very slow way to grow. Even in this age of social media, trying to sell products one at a time can still require a major investment in marketing resources.
This software company wanted to “scale” – it wanted to grow big and fast. Instead of selling one item at a time, it wanted orders for 100, 500 or 1,000. It wanted to sell to “the enterprise” – to companies large enough to be ready to purchase at this scale.
A persistent problem companies like this face is that prospective clients either haven’t heard of them at all, or, if they have, they know the company as one who solves a different, maybe more “personal” problem. If either of these are your company’s situation, then you need to convince current customers that it now can solve larger, more enterprise-sized problems. And you also need to show those who have never heard of your company that it’s capable of solving their problems, too.
Repositioning is about much more than words
To reach this “early majority” requires much more than simply changing your messaging. What you are offering to the market has to change, too – usually significantly. In the case of the San Francisco company, it had to hook many new services and features into its product to make it a viable solution. For this particular company, that meant creating an online environment in which individuals could now come together and collaborate.
The early majority consists of purchasers (the much larger group of purchasers who sit so tantalizingly on the other side of the chasm) who need proof that you can do what you claim. And that’s kind of a problem, because the solution is new. There is no real proof. Not yet. So you need to find ways to successfully leverage every shred of information and insight you’ve gained from your “early adopter” customers.
Three quick tips
Here are three quick tips to help you cross the chasm.
1. Talk to your salespeople: Too many times, positioning and repositioning are left to the marketing departments and executive management. Hopefully, your company is structured so that the sales and sales engineering staff have constant input into your product, solution or service. These are the people who know what customers are looking for and the words customers use to describe the challenges they face and the kinds of solutions they’re looking for. This information is critical to communicating your “cross the chasm” messaging.
2. It’s about evolution, not revolution: Many companies make the mistake of offering people “an entirely new way to work!” As a rule, people don’t like entirely new anything. They get used to doing things a certain way. It’s better to connect your solution either to what your previous offering was (a product, for example) or to some other process that people are used to doing. This helps them understand how to relate to the new thing you’re offering them.
3. Don’t burn your bridges: You might be tempted to turn your attention away from your “old” customers and focus on your target market. But your legacy customers are the ones who got you where you are today. Let them know you still care. And give them an opportunity to help you succeed. They can serve as very potent brand ambassadors. And you’d be surprised at how many want to see you succeed.
Hobart Swan runs vocalizePR LLC, a Boise-based agency that creates a wide range of content to help companies communicate clearly with customers. He can be contacted at hobart@vocalizePR.com and (208) 331-2861. Visit vocalizepr.com for more information.