The more competitive your market and industry, the more your firm needs a positioning strategy. If you have one, your firm will attract more attention, referrals, and profit.
But a good positioning strategy isn’t just a marketing exercise. It’s a fundamental strategy that touches all of the major parts of your firm: marketing, sales, product, and operations. A truly effective positioning strategy will increase the potency of your marketing, accelerate the sales process at your firm, and increase the value of your delivery.
Having a positioning strategy is a critical aspect of any professional services firm because it helps you clearly differentiate what you do, and for whom.
By the time you’re done reading this article, you’ll know:
- the definition of a positioning strategy
- some of the most common positioning strategies you can use
- what an example positioning statement looks like
- how to develop your own positioning strategy
- how to create a positioning statement
Definition of Positioning Strategy
A positioning strategy is your approach to helping clients and prospects understand how your products and services are unique from your competitors. A truly effective positioning strategy will result in your clients partially or completely eliminating other options as they decide if they want to work with you.
Common Positioning Strategies
Positioning strategies typically fall on one of three dimensions: how you deliver, what you deliver, or who it’s for. The strategies can be used together, or individually.
Philip Morgan has an excellent running list of specialization examples that further break down these dimensions into a few additional categories:
- Market vertical (i.e. Manufacturing or Travel)
- Product or service specialization (i.e. “Websites in a day” instead of “web design”, or “we write case studies” instead of “marketing agency”)
- Platform (i.e. Salesforce or Ruby on Rails)
- Horizontal (i.e. Social Media or IP Law)
- Specific audience (i.e. Car mechanic shop owners)
Starting from here, you can make your positioning strategy relatively simple. This tweet from David C. Baker sums it up nicely:
“Build a positioning statement by stating (1) what you do (2) for a specific type of client. That’s it. HOW you do that is not relevant to the first round. It’s only a secondary distinguisher. Most firms concentrate on the HOW instead of 1 + 2 and miss the boat.”
This is the format I follow. My positioning strategy for Serve Don’t Sell can be summed up as (1) online sales training and coaching (2) for professional services firms and independent consultants. The category “professional services firms” could be more specific, but it substantially narrows the product category.
This simple-but-effective strategy will help you easily stand apart from competition without having to build a McKinsey-esque Powerpoint with 50 slides and no action.
Example Positioning Statements
If you’ve ever searched Google for example positioning statements then you know how ridiculous they can be. The examples are often a paragraph of jargon-dense language that no human would ever memorize or dare repeat. Good positioning statements should be simpler than that. Here are a few examples. (NOTE: Hat tip once again to David C. Baker and Philip Morgan for these fantastic examples.)
“We deliver secure, scalable digital solutions for professional services firms.”
Notice they use the words “secure, scalable” to describe the types of “digital solutions” they provide, and for whom: professional services firms.
“We help medical device companies develop better performing products.”
“Medical device companies” is a narrow market, making this statement quite effective in terms of targeting, as well as the impacts on brand, lead generation, and sales activities. “Better performing products” could be more specific, but it’s definitely memorable and a conversation starter.
“Full service digital marketing for brands and mission-driven thought leaders to advance ideas that matter.”
This statement could use a bit more specificity, but it’s a good start. Upon further investigation, it looks like the firm works with authors and publishers, and including that information would make the positioning quite a bit stronger.
“We help alternative lenders scale up with custom Salesforce implementations.”
There’s a positioning statement with a punch! Notice how it includes a specific customer type and vertical – “alternative lenders” – along with a platform and service specialization – Salesforce implementations.
“We help midsized B2B manufacturers identify, attract, engage and drive sales opportunities with ideal-fit customers.”
Labeling themselves “The Industrial Marketing Agency,” Gorilla76 is a marketing agency with a specific focus. They get even more specific by telling you right upfront that their clients “sell customized solutions requiring a consultative sale” and “deal with an often-long and complex buying process.”
How to Develop Your Positioning Strategy
Now that you have a good handle on what a positioning strategy is and have seen some examples, let’s dive into how to create one. I often think about positioning as one of the most difficult things to do in business because it triggers so much loss aversion. As you endeavor to increase the attraction mechanism to some clients, you’ll naturally think about the clients who aren’t targeted by your more-specific messaging.
It’s fine. Honing your positioning doesn’t preclude you from working with anyone. In fact, your newfound specificity will make your marketing and sales strategies about 100x easier by adding focus to everything you do.
There are two perspectives you can use to develop your positioning statement: past and future.
Take stock of the most successful clients you’ve had, and the ones you’ve most enjoyed working with (or simply best served). Then write down everything they have in common, whether it’s industry, company size or maturity, the problems you solved for them, how they self-identify, or anything else that could make for a specific positioning statement.
If you have deep experience – say three or more years – this is often the fastest way to develop your positioning statement. Basing your positioning statement on past experience also means you’ll have examples, case studies, client work, and other artifacts that’ll help you prove your credibility in your new area of focus.
If you’re not one to dwell on the past, it’s coming up with something totally new is a viable strategy. This decision is usually based on identifying an underserved market, or marrying two ideas together for the first time. This is the approach I took with Serve Don’t Sell because I knew intimately that experts are often allergic to selling but require competence to thrive.
Writing Your Positioning Statement
After you choose an approach, sketch out a few ideas. Use the format proposed by David C. Baker above that includes what you do and who you do it for. Write it down ten different ways, then choose one.
Sit on it for a week, and decide if you still feel good about it. As you settle on a positioning strategy, you’ll begin to think about how it’ll change your marketing, selling, service/product lines, and operations. And that, after all, is the point!
If you find the exercise difficult, open up a spreadsheet with rows for each of the positioning options (i.e. vertical, horizontal, specialty, etc.) and write everything that comes to mind. Start pairing different statements about what you do and for whom, and you’ll find something compelling. This is often how I name things, and it works for positioning, too.
Developing a positioning strategy is one of the most powerful decisions you can make in your business. It’ll help you boost your marketing, sales, and delivery, driving profitability in your firm and making everything you do a whole lot simpler (but not easy).
Start looking around for examples of positioning that resonate with you, and identify what works about them. Use Philip Morgan’s guidance on dimensions of positioning to help identify ideas where you can start positioning your firm: market, product, platform, horizontal, audience.
And when you’re ready, think about your past clients, or available market opportunities, and draft out a few positioning ideas. It’ll be the best thing you’ve ever done for your business.