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At one prior company, we went through three repositioning projects in just two years.

Why, you ask?

The first time was legitimate; an acquisition meant the product offering had fundamentally changed.

The second and third times? Each time a new CEO started, fresh with ideas and forceful on expectations.

These were, obviously, bad ideas. Repositioning is fundamental change, and change is disruptive – it’s no small decision.

Many marketers will be part of repositioning projects, whether for a small product line or for the entire business. Sometimes, they’re justified with good, honest signals indicating a repositioning would be a strategic good decision. In other situations like my example above, repositioning projects can be frivolous – a waste of time, effort, money, and momentum.

Let’s take a look.

Warning signs to watch out for

The HIPPO’s ego

Your CEO struts in, pitches you the new position they’ve been thinking about, then drops the mic and leaves the room. In their wake, a trail of carnage follows. One rogue shower idea turns into a highly disruptive and expensive experiment, destined to fail.

Aside: one CMO wanted to reposition us as marketing software for the ‘everyWEAR consumer’, as a cringe-inducing portmanteau of both ‘everywhere’ (i.e. mobile-first, location-based) and ‘wearables’ (i.e. smartwatches). We had to fight surprisingly hard to prevent this monstrosity from seeing the light of day.

Competitor moves

Certain industries are just more attune to sheep syndrome. The Metaverse is a good example – suddenly, every big tech brand has a metaverse play.

Competitor repositioning is FOMO in action.

Do they know something you don’t? Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it in a big way – that means they’re confident in it – so let’s get in on the action too! We need to hedge our bets, right?

Except… you are not your competitor. You don’t have their business, their product, customers, financials, strategy – or lack of.

Broad sales execution challenges

When the pipeline is looking empty and the win rate isn’t looking good, it’s tempting to change course — often in a big way.

If only we talked about X, instead of Y… We’d be closing more opportunities, I just know it.

And then, you embark upon a treacherous journey: sailing into the unknown with no safe passage.

Especially in earlier-stage businesses, it’s SO TEMPTING to change the pitch for every prospect: spraying and praying that something sticks. While it might feel productive, it’s counter-intuitive – you won’t have a consistent foundation to evaluate your findings.

Repositioning — and the need to reposition — can sometimes be a smokescreen to cover for an (ineffective) tactic-led sales approach.

Reliable signals to keep in mind

Product offering has legitimately changed

If you’ve made an acquisition, added a new product line, or developed new capabilities that vastly change the outcomes your customers can achieve, maybe it’s time to review your positioning.

But not always – P3 or P4 nice-to-have features can sometimes get blown out of proportion in your internal echo chamber, when actually the customer impact is negligible. Sanity check whether new features can really have an impact before spending the time and effort to reposition.

New unique, unconventional wisdom unlocked

Unconventional wisdom is a great way to stand out from your competitors, re-educate your customers, and develop a strong sales and marketing narrative that drives urgency and demand.

When you discover or develop this unconventional wisdom new doors open. It’s broader than just product features – new approaches for sales, marketing, product, and the rest of the business start to click into place.

Obviously, test and validate your unique wisdom first – but it’s a great way to make noise, especially in crowded marketplaces, with an entirely new way of looking at the market.

Customer patterns and feedback

The literal definition of positioning is “to occupy a space in your customer’s mind”.

So as you win new accounts, your ‘best-fit customer’ will change.

As you continue to sell and market and support to them, you’ll learn much more about what’s going on in their minds – new hopes, dreams, and fears that can enable stronger positioning.

Customer feedback is often under-used as a source of market insight. David Cancel, CEO of Drift, once wrote about how customer questions that begin “how do I…” actually aren’t about product features, but highlight a product marketing issue. Their expectations are such, because of your positioning, messaging, and experience.

Specific sales funnel challenges

Above, I talked about how broad sales challenges are a poor signal: do not reposition ‘just because’.

However, specific sales funnel challenges can be really great indicators that you need to revisit the way you present your brand to the market.

When you’ve identified specific challenges – like poor discovery-to-opp conversion rates or low win-rates – you’ll be able to first evaluate the sales skills. Are the team well equipped, skilled, and knowledgeable enough that skill is not a barrier?

If you’ve reviewed the team and found no skill problems, you’ll find positioning issues as an aside. Start there!

Tip: always be proactive

Positioning is like an evolving fabric that connects your customers and the market to your product and sales/marketing experience.

There will always be holes and gaps. You won’t win every opportunity, or beat every competitor.

So long as you make proactive decisions, you can’t lose. Take the time to think about your positioning strategy and how you can grasp it by the horns to build momentum and avoid inertia.


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