A positioning process that builds consensus

One of the most important goals of the positioning process I teach is to foster buy-in and consensus to the message strategy you create. You can achieve buy-in and consensus by involving as many stakeholders as is practical throughout the process and getting management approval at the end.

The best way to converge on the ideal message strategy is through an iterative process that results in thorough consideration of all options, opinions and ideas. An inclusive approach to the positioning process fosters consensus and buy-in necessary to get everyone to embrace and use the final message strategy in all external communications. Instead of winging it like sales and management usually do, they will use the message strategy because they had a say in it.

Lack of consensus a big problem

Lack of consensus about the marketing message is one of the most common problems in B2B software and technology. Here’s a typical scenario I’ve encountered when working for B2B software companies in a marketing capacity and as a consultant:

A president will tell you his or her sales and marketing teams just don’t get it. If only they’d listen to the president’s story and use it. Ask the VP of Sales and the VP of Marketing why someone should care about the company’s products or services, and you’ll get two different stories.

The top sales person has another great pitch, and so it goes. Sales and marketing efforts are diluted, and far less effective than they could be. That’s why getting organizational buy-in to your message strategies is a key contributor to successful positioning.

What is positioning?

Positioning is the mental space in your target audience’s mind that you can own with an idea that has compelling meaning to the recipient. It’s in this mental space where your solution to the target audience’s most pressing problem meet, and form a meaningful relationship.

The only way to claim a position is to consistently execute your positioning statement in all marketing communications over an extended period of time, and repeat it over and over. That’s why you want everyone in your organization telling the same story, and especially sales and management.

You start the positioning process by doing the research that I call the 3Cs of successful positioning. This blog explains that to position effectively, you need a thorough understanding of customer problems, competitors’ positioning and channel issues and challenges. Once you’ve documented your research in a rationale document, start by brainstorming positioning statement options.

A positioning statement expresses a benefit that solves your target audience’s most pressing problem. A stack-ranked list of customer problems helps everyone involved in providing input and feedback to focus on proposing positioning statement options that solve the No. 1 problem.

Get as much input and feedback from stakeholders as possible

Stakeholders will likely suggest positioning statement options that don’t meet a simple criterion – reject those that fail to differentiate or state a benefit that solves the target’s No. 1 problem. However, some suggested positioning statements options may have a place in the story that you’ll outline in your message strategy.

In addition to your positioning statement, your message strategy includes three to four support points that explain the benefit claim expressed in the positioning statement. The reaction you want to your positioning statement is “that’s interesting. Tell me more. How do you do it?” Support points substantiate or prove the claim made in your positioning statement.

Your message strategy can be extremely detailed. Some of my clients’ message strategies are so detailed that they drill down all the way to a product demonstration.

Get sales involved early and often

A comprehensive message strategy that ties to a demo means it could be used by sales for their conversations with prospects. But not if sales or your channel has no say in the creation of the message strategy.

That’s why you should think of the positioning process as a consensus building exercise to bring the whole organization – especially the channel (how you sell either direct or indirect) – behind the position you eventually converge upon.

Your positioning process should include informal and formal feedback loops with stakeholders in sales, analyst relations, public relations, product management, support and management. Make everyone aware of the process and let it be known that you are seeking input and feedback from start to finish.

Provide stakeholders with the rationale document and a list of possible positioning statement options. Start with important stakeholders, and finish by getting management approval. Take the time to listen to and consider valid input from as many stakeholders as possible. The inclusive nature of the process should break down internal resistance some people have to any work other than their own.

Get management approval

Once you’ve got stakeholder buy-in to your message strategy, it’s time to get management approval.

Members of the management team communicate regularly with customers, prospects and important market influencers such as financial analysts, industry analysts and media, all of whom need to hear the same coherent message – a concise, compelling reason why they should invest, recommend or write about your company, its products and services.

By gaining management’s buy-in, you will overcome an obstacle in successfully positioning your product, service and company – getting management to actually use your message strategies. Management will be primed to deliver the approved message strategies instead of inventing their own. Everyone will stay on message for maximum marketing and sales effectiveness – as well as for consensus, direction and peace within the company.

As you might expect, getting company-wide buy-in to your message strategy can take time and patience. But if you are like most marketing organizations, it takes way too much time to create every piece of marketing content because too many people have a say in its creation.

Take the time to get consensus and buy-in to your message strategy, and eliminate hours of debate about your message every time you create a new marketing piece for years to come.

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