April Dunford (@aprildunford) is a legend in the product marketing world. She’s an executive consultant, speaker, and author who helps tech companies make complicated products easy for customers to understand and love. She is a globally recognized expert in Positioning and Market strategy. She’s the author of the book “Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It,” which I highly recommend you read.
April’s expertise is built from 25 years as an executive in a series of 7 successful technology startups and 3 global tech giants. She’s launched 16 products as an executive and consulted on the launch of dozens more, accounting for many billions in revenue. In short, she’s seen it all.
In this conversation, we go deep on positioning for products and services, strategy, and market building. I particularly love two stories she shared about Seth Godin, and how one of her companies executed a positioning strategy that led to 40x revenue growth 18 months. If you have an offering that you are putting into the world, and in particular if you need to adjust your business positioning to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, you need to listen to this.
SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES
- April Dunford (@aprildunford)
- April’s book: Obviously Awesome & website
- Seth Godin
- Marty Cagan
- Steve Blank – 4 Steps to the Epiphany
- Bob Moesta – Jobs to Be Done
- Alexander Osterwalder
- Geoffrey Moore – Crossing the Chasm
- Positioning, by Ries & Trout
- The Challenger Sale
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Andrew 00:01:50 Let’s do this thing. Okay. So officially, April, welcome to the show. How are you doing today?
April 00:01:55 Great. It’s so good. Thanks for having me. Absolutely.
Andrew 00:02:00 So we’re, we’re recording this in April, 2020 in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. And we were just having, having a joke about like how you, how you know, how we prep for this. And you were just talking about how you set up your gym. And I was wondering, yeah, I know you’re a big runner. Um, how has that, like, how you, how are you finding Courtney? Like what, how is it shifting how you do what you do or like how’s life for you right now?
April 00:02:13 Well, you know, a bunch of things happen. So one thing was, I got sick right at the beginning of it with, I don’t know, but presumptive positive Kovats so first of all, I got the darn thing. Yeah. So I was super sick for four weeks and, uh, and it kind of settled into my lungs and I got sort of walking pneumonia, like not so bad that I had to go to the hospital. Thank goodness. Um, but first of all, I know. So, and so I, but I like it hit me in the lungs and I was really sick. And so I couldn’t run for a month and that has, that has been terrible. Like, I don’t even know how to describe it. Like there’s no other word it’s just sucks. And so, because haven’t run for a month, um, I’m having to be really careful about how I wrap my mileage back up. And then I got this thing that runners get with your feet. If you overtrain, uh, it’s called plantar fasciitis. If you’re a runner, you’ll know it.
Andrew 00:03:15 I used to do triathlons and I had this for like a year. I am so sorry.
April 00:03:19 It’s like an annoyance injury anyways. I’m trying to wrap my mom’s back up and I get this plantar fasciitis. And I’m like, Oh, this is so annoying. I haven’t run for a month. And now I got this stupid foot thing. And I talked to my doctor and you know what my doctor said, she said, that’s a working from home injury. I’m like, what the heck? And she’s like, you know what? You got planter. She’s like, you’ve got really high arches. And I bet you have more shoes for a month. And I’m like, yeah, you’re right. She’s like sock foot walking around your house, 24 seven, totally give you plantar fasciitis. And I’m like, Oh my God, I’ve got injury. And I haven’t run for a month. And I’m like, Oh, so now I’m literally walking around my house with my shoes on. It’s the stupidest thing.
Andrew 00:04:06 Are you sleeping with the boot?
April 00:04:07 Not, not, not, but it hasn’t gotten that bad. Oh my God.
Andrew 00:04:11 Okay, good. I hope, I hope it does not go there. That was the worst.
April 00:04:15 I’m icing it. I’m stretching it. I’m rolling. The tennis ball. I’m doing all that shit that you do. Plus I’m walking around the house in my shoes, but yeah, no that the change like, but like I’m used to doing a lot of flying around and working with clients one on one. So I switched everything to virtual and that’s actually been a smoother transition than I thought it was going to be. And I would say the biggest change. Like I feel sorry for my kids, they’re teenagers and this sucks for teenagers. Like you being a teenager and not being able to see your friends is pretty terrible. How old are they? Like 13 and 16.
Andrew 00:04:53 Oh yeah. That’s a tough time.
April 00:04:55 Well, the 13 year old, he’s kind of all on discord all day with his friends anyway. So I mean, they were used to kind of communicating virtually, but my 16 year old, she’s more bummed out about it, but so that’s a big change having the kids in the house all day, but otherwise, um, you know, once I got over being sick with the darn thing, uh, it hasn’t been like, we’re super fortunate. Like it hasn’t been a big deal thing here. It’s more just stressful worrying about people, you know, like you’re worried about your parents and you’re not entirely healthy family members and stuff like that is super stressful.
Andrew 00:05:35 Yeah, no, I hear you on that before we get into the main top of your work, which is positioning and we’ll, we’ll be talking a lot about that today. Um, I was hoping you could share a story with, it was a story you told about professional maturity in the, in the evolution you went through personally. And I’m curious, could you just share that story with our listeners and, and what that actually shows up like for you now, professional maturity.
April 00:05:58 I tell this story a lot because I’m the guy that I heard that phrase from. You know, we, we talk about it and laugh about it now, but, um, yeah, so early in my career, I, uh, I got this job. I had worked mainly at startups, but I was working for a startup. We got acquired. I ended up at IBM and, uh, and I was fixing to get a promotion actually. And so I was a hot shot in my group and we were doing a bunch of really cool stuff. And, uh, and I had this boss who was like long time IPM or like anybody senior at IBM has been there like a hundred years. So, you know, but I was in a hot shot and I didn’t know anything. His blood is blue that no, he actually he’s. He’s one of the few, I know that he was a rockstar and he ended up leaving and going to Google and ran Google Europe for a whole bunch of years.
April 00:06:51 But anyways, so he was a cool guy, but anyway, so he’s my boss and I was fixing for a promotion and I didn’t get it. And so the guy was giving me this big speech and I was like, well, I don’t get why I didn’t get, like, I worked so good. And I delivered on my things and you know, all my stuff is going really good. And I was having this big argument with him, which, you know, in itself shows it shows that I didn’t, I was doing the wrong thing. But anyway, so we had this big argument with him and his, his reasoning was, he said, he says, look, I don’t know how to explain this to you, but the reason you’re not getting promoted is you just lack a certain level of professional maturity. And that just pissed me off. Like I was so mad. I was like, what the heck is that? You can’t even explain it. Like w like, what does that mean professional maturity? And he’s like, it’s just a thing you get from experience. He says, I don’t think it has to do with your skill of doing the job. I think it has to do with your skill at managing all the people around you, including managing me. And I was like, that’s just stupid.
April 00:07:59 And then, and then, uh, and then later I D I did get a promotion. And in fact, I ended up leaving IBM and I went to another startup and, and we grew really fast and we got acquired or whatever. And then fast forward, I ended up at IBM again. And so my second and my second tour of duty at IBM, uh, I met headquarters and I got this fancy job. And, uh, and I’m sort of an executive second time around. And, uh, and anyways, I got this hot shot on my team and, and she’s really good. She’s amazing. She does amazing job at it, but she’s a bit of a loose cannon. And, and she’s kind of running around doing a bunch of stuff without sort of thinking about how does it impact things outside of our group. And everything’s really political at IBM. And so, you know, she’s not really thinking about this bigger picture. She’s just running around trying to do a quote unquote, good job. Right. Which is, and so it came time for her to do a review and she thought she was getting a promotion. I try to explain it. And there I was sitting there and I was like, Oh shit, she actually just lacks professional maturity,
Speaker 2 00:09:16 Playing with this thing is,
April 00:09:18 And so it’s funny how many conversations I’ve had about that since then. And that there is this thing that you get when you realize that being senior is not just about being good at the job. It’s about being good at working things in the company, which is a totally different thing. And, and I don’t know how to describe it without putting this thing on it. Professional maturity. Yeah. So that guy, you know, and then I went back to that guy cause he was still at IBM and I went back and I was like, Oh geez, let me tell you the story.
Speaker 2 00:09:57 He was laughing at me.
April 00:10:01 It did come full circle. And I was trying to explain to someone junior that they weren’t ready to get promoted. And, and part of the reason was that like this whole, this whole concept in startups, we don’t think about this much, but it is so relevant. Like nobody talks about it, but it’s so relevant. Like your ability to manage your boss is the difference between being junior and being the VP. And it’s, it’s almost more than your ability to manage, to assemble advantage the work on your team is being able to manage your boss yet. We never talk about that.
Speaker 2 00:10:35 Yeah. I’ve never heard anybody say more about that.
April 00:10:39 You know, as the vice president of marketing in particular, you, here’s how it works in a startup. First of all, you’re generally joining a team where there’s at least three people that have been there since the beginning of the company differently. A couple of co co founders, probably senior employee or two that’s been there right from the beginning, vice president of marketing. You don’t hire that right out of the gate, right? That’s a thing that you hire later when you’re getting ready to scale. So you show up, you’re the brand new vice president of marketing, and you’re looking around and you need to do a bunch of stuff. First of all, there isn’t a single person on the executive team that knows shit about what you do. Like they know nothing. That’s why they hired you. If they knew where they were doing, they wouldn’t have to hire you.
April 00:11:21 So they don’t know anything about marketing. You come in and you gotta do a bunch of stuff. Now, people marketing is this funny thing. People have been on the receiving end of marketing since they were babies. So they think because I’ve seen marketing and absorbed marketing, therefore I have the right to have an opinion about how marketing gets done. So one of the biggest skills you gotta have to be successful. VP of marketing is to come in and manage folks on the executive team and bring them along on a little journey that says, you know what, what’s the goal. Let’s all agree on the goal. So first we got to get agreement on this is the goal. Okay, good. Now, most people don’t even do that. If you would do, if you liked the mature professional maturity, you just be like, okay, I’m just going to go run at this thing.
April 00:12:12 And then later you’d find out, Oh geez, my idea of the goal and your idea of the goal, we’re actually slightly misaligned. Therefore I was never going to be successful. So first thing is, we’re going to get alignment on the goal or we all agreed on the goal. Let’s all agree on the goal. Okay, good. We agreed on the goal. Then it’s like, okay, we got different choices in terms of pathways to get to the goal. And here’s what the different pathways are. And here’s why I’m choosing one of those. And you do all this before you do anything pinky, right? And in order to be smart enough to have that conversation. And when there’s a whole bunch of stuff that needs to happen before that, like, but for me, I would usually do like 30, 40 customer interviews before I could even have that conversation.
April 00:13:00 But being able to manage that so that you don’t get this situation, which happens all the time where the CEO or the VP dev or somebody shows up and says, geez, I noticed Apple does this thing in their, in their, in their commercials that looks like this. Shouldn’t we be doing that? Or, Oh, gee, I noticed this other startup, like Uber, they do this thing. Why aren’t we doing that? Hey, I noticed everybody else has Facebook as what are we doing? Facebook ads. And so if you can explain the whole thought process and the framework that got you to your decision, well, then it’s just your opinion versus the other guy’s opinion. And he’s been there longer than you. So his opinion is better and you’re dead. Right? So this being able to manage all of that. Whereas when I was junior, I didn’t think that was the point.
April 00:13:48 I thought, well, I’m in marketing. I just gotta be really good at marketing, right? To know how to do email marketing, know how to do all this stuff. I just gotta be a hot shot at that, but that’s not the same skillset to be an executive, to be an executive. You’ve got to manage all this other stuff. Right. You’ve got to manage everybody’s expectations. You got to manage. Everybody’s got to understand. It’s not just about doing good work. It’s about everybody understands, why are you doing what you’re doing? Because if they lose confidence in your ability to make those decisions, they’re going to make them for you. And that sucks. Then you’re not the executive. Then you’re just junior again with someone with a different boss again.
Andrew 00:14:27 Okay. So let’s take a second and just lay a quick foundation, conceptually, for people who are not already familiar with your work, and then we’ll kind of get back into the deep waters and the nuance of this all. So I, you know, you’ve, you’ve been very clear that positioning is not branding. It’s not messaging, it’s not a whole bunch of other things. So for someone who’s not familiar with your work, what is positioning and why should they care?
April 00:14:49 Well, you know, positioning is super. And so most folks I think, think about positioning and they get it a little bit confused with things you do with positioning like messaging or a tagline or whatever. Um, so in my definition of positioning, I, I define it this way. So positioning defines how your product is uniquely qualified to be a leader at delivering something that a well-defined set of customers cares a lot about. And that’s a big mouthful because positioning consists of a lot of pieces. So you can think of it as basically the fundamental input to everything we do in marketing and sales. Like if I’m going to go run a campaign, the first thing I’m going to say is, well, who’s the target audience and what’s our value proposition? Who are we competing against? How do we beat them? It’s all that stuff together. And so these are kind of big strategic questions that we need to answer in order to be able to build a go to market plan in order to be able to, you know, build out sales programs, marketing programs, and make even strategic decisions about the product.
April 00:16:05 So where does that stuff come from? It’s kind of like, but it was, it was the big Mexican question. And I think I got down this path because, you know, I didn’t, I graduated with a degree in systems, design engineering, and I kind of ended up in marketing. And when I first started running marketing teams, you know, I kept coming across this concept of positioning. And I’m like, this is, this sounds pretty important. I was like, in fact, everything we do relies on this. So we shouldn’t be able to do a really, really good job at this. But every time I looked at well, how do we actually do it? Like, how do we know? Like if I have a product that could be positioned as breakfast or, you know, an accompaniment to my hamburger, how do I know which market category I’m in? And there didn’t seem to be an answer to that. So I spent a lot of time trying to figure that out. And so, and, and my work is really all around that. How do we do a methodology for positioning? So I’ve got some out in the market. I don’t know if it’s positioned properly. How do I know if it is, or it isn’t? And if I wanted to, if I decided it was not positioned properly, how do I go about actually fixing it? And that’s what, that’s what my stuff is all about.
Andrew 00:17:30 Absolutely. And for anyone who is not already, who does not already have a copy of April’s book, it’s great. Please go buy it, listen to it. Um, we won’t, we won’t burn all of our time in this conversation. Repeating was already in the book because that’s what the book’s for. So go read the book and then come back to this conversation. But now that we’ve got a bit of foundation here about what positioning is, it seems like, you know, as I was thinking about this last night, you just said that positioning is really like a core, it’s this core input to everything that we do in sales and marketing. And I would say even more broadly than that, right. If you’re thinking about it really seems like it’s actually a strategy level type question and that when we don’t get it right, everything else after that is kind of like lipstick on a pig, right? Like you can, you can make a pretty campaign or whatever, but if it’s wrong in the first place,
April 00:18:19 He’s garbage in, garbage out. Right. If they inputs and it doesn’t matter if you’re doing, you could be doing flawless marketing and sales execution, if you are, if you are mushy on who is my target market, how would you, how do we win against who then it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.
Andrew 00:18:40 Yeah, absolutely. So I’m curious. It seems like, especially for somebody like a founder at a startup, right, who’s got so much invested in something, you know, in your book, you talk about sort of the default positioning that we fall into often due to just our own historical context with the product. Right. You know, we’ve always thought of the product as email, but no, it’s not email it’s it’s team collaboration tools or something like that. Um, and it seems like repositioning is a really scary thing for people. Like I heard you and Jonathan star that you and Jonathan Stark talk about this in terms of, it almost feels like an identity level of threat because it’s so core to who we are. And I was hoping you could tell me a story about how you’ve either personally or helped when your clients work through that fear around repositioning. And it just feels like so core to who we are that it’s like changing everything about who we are.
April 00:19:30 It is. And not everybody successfully navigate it. Like sometimes the repositioning is, feels like a little fine tuning on a, on a positioning. And those ones tend to work really good. Sometimes the repositioning is like, we’re a whole different thing and it’s a whole different business. So the first time, the first time I ever was involved in a repositioning, like my very first job at a university, um, I worked for this company and they had, they had basically grown to the size they had had grown to by selling compilers. But the problem was the compiler business was about to go away. So Microsoft was moving into that business. It was about to wipe this company out. So they were looking for new products and they were experimenting with a bunch of things. One of the new products they had was this little database thing. And so up until then they had sold compilers.
April 00:20:28 So it was a standalone product. You bought it for a hundred bucks. Um, you know, this was so long ago. It was my first job out of university. We literally ship CDs in a box for a hundred bucks. Like we had a little warehouse digital, not long after I joined, but when I got there, there was still a little warehouse with boxes on the shelf was hilarious. Um, and so, you know, because of that, the products that they were experimenting with were like that like little things, techie, things that you sold for a hundred bucks. So this database was conceived as that too. Except the way we had thought about it was it was like personal productivity software. The idea was it was going to compete with Excel and it was Excel that you can run SQL queries because everybody really wants to run SQL queries here.
April 00:21:25 Right. We’re taking people. Right. And so, um, so we had this idea. So back then, if you wanted it like a database that ran SQL queries had to run on a server, it was like Oracle, you needed a team of people to even get the thing installed and set up and whatever, and, and you needed somebody to administer it. And we had the idea, this was going to be like that, except you could just put it on your PC. And it was three click install, and it was super easy. You could throw a whole bunch of data in there and do structured query language on it. So we just like Excel, except instead of all that, you know, just be all powerful. Cause I could use SQL and I could do inner and outer joins. Imagine the power.
April 00:22:12 That was our whole thing. Really. Everybody wants that. Right. So we built this thing and we put it out and again, we charge like a hundred bucks for it. And so we’re doing through distribution, right? We don’t have a sales team. You, you call us we’re order takers, you call us and we send it to you. You fill out the form, we send it to you that later on, you know, you could download it. But then that was the idea. And so we launched the thing and perhaps unsurprisingly, it was a bit of a flop, so it didn’t work. And we sold a couple hundred copies of it and that was it. And, uh, and so, and so I joined and I was junior kid on the marketing team. I was the first and only product marketer. So I’m fresh out of engineering school and they gave me this there, they gave me this shit job that basically they were like, look, um, we’re thinking we’re going to end a life, this product.
April 00:23:00 And your job is to go call all the people that have it and find out how mad they’re going to be when we shut it off. So, um, so they gave me a list of 200 companies and customers and I spent a month and I, and I talked to a hundred of them. So I didn’t do anything for a month. I just called cold call. Yeah. And so what I found out in that was, um, pretty much everybody hated the product. Like everybody hated the product. Like basically nobody was using it. I call up and say, Hey, I’m calling from this company Wacom, uh, you bought this thing. And they were like, no, I didn’t. I was like, yeah, you did. You did. You bought it on January 20th, you did it. And they’re like, Oh yeah, that thing. Yeah. He’s stupid. Yeah. And so, but then, uh, but then what happened was I made like call number 21.
April 00:23:51 I get a guy and he’s really excited. He’s like, I love that thing. Oh my gosh, I love it so much. And what he was doing was he had put it on a laptop and given it to his salespeople, he wrote the subtle program on top so that his salespeople could take orders out in the field, come back and sync it up with their big order database in the, that was Oracle in the office. And before that they’d have to do that on paper. And so, uh, so I was like, wow, that’s weird. That’s not what we built that thing for, but okay, weirdo, I’ve been doing that and I didn’t have the heart to tell them we were going to shut it off. So I didn’t. And then, uh, and then I called a whole bunch of people and I called a hundred people.
April 00:24:29 And five of them were happy out of a hundred. And, and all five of them were doing a similar thing where they had essentially put it on a laptop. Cause you could install it on a laptop. Cause it was really low footprint, wrote a little thing on top so that people could do something in the field, come back and sync it up with an Oracle database. And you, you couldn’t do this with any other, any other, any other way. The only reason you could do it is cause it had SQL. So you could capture transactions. So we ended up having a conversation about this internally, like, you know, it’s good news, bad news here, people, good news is potentially, if you want to shut this thing off, there’s only five guys out there that are going to be unhappy.
Speaker 3 00:25:13 Survey would show that most people won’t pay.
April 00:25:15 You did a survey. You would’ve just shut it off. But because we had done essentially customer discovery calls, what we found out was there was this other way to use this product. So this sparked the conversation. Now imagine if we’re going to sell this thing to people, to deploy to their sales teams, like that’s a completely different business. I am not going to sell that one at a time anymore. I’m going to sell a hundred at a time, maybe a thousand,
Speaker 3 00:25:44 The VP of sales and say, Hey, I’m gonna make your whole team better.
April 00:25:47 Right? And so I need a salesperson to do that. We never had salespeople. We never sold enterprise. We were touchless everything. We had never sold anything. We had never sold a deal that was more than 200 bucks. And these were going to be, I’m going to go in and sell your whole sales team. And let’s say it’s a hundred bucks a seat. And you’ve got a thousand people. That’s a big deal. We had never dealt with purchasing. We had never dealt with legal. Like this is a completely different business. So that conversation went on in the company and we were all a bit like, do we do we do this? And if we do, how do we do this? And so that company, I think, was very gutsy to give that a try. So they hired, they didn’t experiment. So they hired a sales person, uh, you know, ran a few little campaigns, worked it out.
April 00:26:39 And then when they established that, yeah, we could sell a lot. This thing, they just ran at it really hard. But that was a total shift in business strategy. Like not just a little thing, like a big, big thing. So how do you get companies to do that? Like some companies I think would just look at that and say, we don’t want to be in that business. We don’t want to have salespeople. We don’t want to, we don’t want to do that. And they might just walk from that and, and that might be an okay decision, but, but you walk away from potentially this really cool business. So I don’t know, like I’ve done other ones where, you know, we were more general purpose product and then we decided, no, we’re going to focus down really hard on one segment. And those feel hard too, because often your investors don’t like that focusing.
April 00:27:27 Um, because it, because VCs, for the most part, don’t understand how marketing works. And so they think that the broader the target market, even right out of the gate, the more money you’re going to make good. In fact, the opposite is true. The more narrow your market is at the beginning, the faster you can build traction. And the key is to expand your market, the target market, as you move along. Um, but you can’t go after the whole thing all at once. But you know, convincing a board to do that is often really hard. And, and even convincing the founders, there’ll be like, you know, the pushback I always get is like data at sounds too small. Like we’re just, we’re not going to make any money doing that. We’re not going to end up. It sounds like a lifestyle business. I hear that. And it’s like, will you know? And then, and then a lot of times these companies end up not selling anything because they can’t decide on how to sell something more targeted. So these are really hard decisions to make. This is not marketing. Doesn’t get to just cook this up and make the decision or product management. Doesn’t just get to decide, Hey, we’re going to position it like this. This is a thing that needs to happen with input and alignment across the entire executive team. Cause everybody’s gotta be on board cause we’re literally shifting the guts of the business.
Andrew 00:28:46 Yeah. Yeah. So that’s one of the things I was wondering because I could imagine a case where let’s take your, I want to come back to the strategy thing. You were just bringing up about the sort of the sequence of markets. Um, let’s come back to that in just a minute, but staying with this just a minute longer with the sort of the, how scary it is to do this repositioning. I was imagining a founder or someone who’s very, very invested in a product or a service, whatever I’m going through this and feeling like, wow, okay. I can see that this would work, but it feels like I can almost see them feeling like this is, this is this, isn’t our mission. This is what we set out to do this for. Right? Like if this feels is, as you said, it’s completely different. Um, what do you say to that person?
April 00:29:32 It’s a thing again, everybody’s got to got to buy into it and I don’t, I actually think it’s a gut check thing. Like recently did a workshop with a company and there were two founders in the workshop plus their whole executive team. And we’re working through, you know, here’s who loves your product. They compare you to this. Therefore, this is what you do. That’s really good. Therefore, these are the people that you can win business from. Therefore your position does this. And at the end of it, the one founder was really excited and the other founder was, he said, you know, I get, that’s what we are and I get fundamentally, that’s what we are and that’s, and that’s where we’re going to sell and whatever. But I got to tell you as a founder, I’m not excited about that business.
Speaker 2 00:30:26 I don’t know.
April 00:30:27 I think, you know, founders got to have some conversations. And the thing is is that if you like in the workshops, I do like the companies already have traction. They’re already on your way. Like in this case, they’re a few million revenue. And so you gotta make a decision. Like, are we going to attempt to be successful in this place where we know we can be successful, but I don’t like that business or do I say, you know what? I don’t like that business. So we’re not going to do that. We’re going to go do something else. Or maybe we’re going to split company. And the guy that does want to do it will continue to do it. And the guy that does it is going to go find something else. And it’s, it’s one of these things now on the team, sometimes what you’ll get.
April 00:31:11 And that’s a, that’s kind of a founder perspective. Now, sometimes what you’ll get on the team is a particular team member feels threatened by the new positioning. So for example, um, I did one where, um, we were having a conversation about again, where does the company win and not win? And it became apparent that the sales team, uh, was kinda selling all over the place, even though the product was really, really suited to big, big accounts. And when they got into smaller accounts, they had very strong competitors and they were much less likely to win a deal if they were in smaller accounts. But, and, and so I get asked the question, I’m like, why are you chasing all these little accounts? Like you win every time you go to a big account, you win. Why are you chasing all these little accounts? And the answer to that question was because that’s where my sales team is comfortable.
Speaker 2 00:32:13 You’re like,
April 00:32:17 As you do a shift in positioning and you don’t have the right skills on the team to go do the thing that needs to get done, and that’s a bummer, right? So then you’ve either got a, got to reevaluate skills on the team. Do I have the right people on the team? And can those people make the shift or not? And so sometimes you’ll have a thing where some, or all the team is just they’re, they’re not alone. Cause it’s just not, it’s not in their skill set or it’s not in their interest area.
Andrew 00:32:45 Yeah. It seems like it really, it’s not that not that it has to every time, but that it, that positioning or repositioning can trigger a full blown business pivot. I mean, like from almost from the ground up, like this is a whole new game, whole new ball game, um, to, you know, to reference back to Steve blank and all the lean startup stuff.
April 00:33:02 Not always like a lot of times what you end up with is it’s funny. A lot of the workshops I do, we get to the end and the team’s a bit like, well, yeah, that’s pretty much what we were doing before, but it isn’t right. It’s sneaky. It’s like any, you know, it is, it’s like 80% the same, but that 20% matters, right. It’s this tightening up on the definition of what customer are we going after tightening up on? You know, when you guys were talking about the value proposition, you were talking about 10 things, but it’s really just this one thing. And so sometimes what you’ve got is it doesn’t feel like a big shift in strategy. It feels more like a shift in how we execute on the strategy because we’re now a lot clearer on, we’re only going to go after these people. And when we do, we can hit them with just this thing and we’ll win.
Andrew 00:33:53 Yeah. It really reminds me of, um, uh, another, another book I’ve really enjoyed or thinker I’ve really enjoyed in the world of marketing and positioning, which is Seth Goden. And in his book, this is marketing. And if I was to boil that entire book down to one sentence, basically, I think it resonates a lot with what your work, which is basically getting a really good answer to who’s it for. And what’s right. And if you’ve got those, like that kind of is the, that’s the heart of everything like that. That’s your that’s market, that’s product, that’s sales, that’s, you know, et cetera,
April 00:34:24 You know what, this has nothing to do with this, but you said Seth Godin. And I really want to tell my Seth Godin story and I’ve never told it. So I want to tell it right now. This is, this is a Seth Goden is an amazing person story. So he is, so I met him a couple of times, but like way, way early in my career, like he totally wouldn’t remember me. Um, so, so, so we don’t know each other. That’s the preamble of this is being set though, know each other. And, um, and I was on a business trip a few months ago and I’m doing some work with a company that’s way out in the middle of nowhere and I’m, and I flew in the night before, cause we’re going to do this workshop and I’m sitting in the pub doing my email, drinking a beer. And so this is me. And so I’m doing my email and I get this I’m re in my inbox and I get this email from Seth Goden. And I’m like, what the what? And the subject line is on it is my Jack trout story. Now the background of this is, um, the Bible of positioning. If you learn to do positioning and marketing school, is this book called positioning the battle for your mind by Al Ries and Jack trout. And
Speaker 2 00:35:42 You’re like 1982,
April 00:35:43 82, like before the internet and no olden days. And it’s still kind of the Bible of positioning. Like, if you want to learn this, they still teach it in school. And the, but the thing that drives me crazy about it is it does this amazing job of talking about what positioning is. It gives a bunch of examples that these guys had worked on, where they repositioned something from one thing to another thing. And then they kind of dug into that in a case study, but they didn’t tell you how to do it. And so it was super frustrating to me. So in my book, I take a little bit of a shot at those guys. Not really, but I basically like, you know, you should read that book, but don’t expect that book to teach you anything about how to do it. Cause it is very deliberately structured not to like the idea is you’re supposed to call those guys. They’re going to do the positioning for you. And anyway, so I talk about that in the book. So I, so here I am, I’m at the pub. I get this email from Seth Goden and it says my Jack trout story, I’m like
Speaker 2 00:36:41 Gotta read that can’t not open that
April 00:36:44 Email and, and says, go says, you know, back in whatever year it was, I can’t remember when he put out his, his first big book, which was called permission marketing. That was the book that makes us famous. He said when I was, and he had done a couple of books before that, but that was the big one. And he says, when I was about to launch permission marketing, I, uh, reached out to Jack TRO to see if I could get him to give me a quote, like a reference quote for the book. Like, you know, you buy books and they have all these nice, we’ll have like pre read the book and say, Oh, this book is amazing, whatever. So he reached out to Jack trout and sent him a pre copy of the book and said, you know, would you like to endorse the book? And Jack trope sent him this email back that said, uh, this book was stupid and it would never work. And then he should. And that he should, he should go and find some other line of work.
Speaker 2 00:37:47 God, I love that. If anyone who doesn’t know that word, permission marketing, this is like a foundational gospel.
April 00:37:59 So Jillian, Billy had copies and he was like, that will never work that stupid, go find something else to do with your life. And so of course, you know, so and so, so he tells that story in this email he’s made, he writes me this story. And then he said, and, and you know, so of course I put the book out and it was wildly successful in whatever, whatever. And then he says, he says, so I wanted to write you this email because I read your book. And as the self-proclaimed actual person who knows what’s good. And what’s, I thought your book was very good.
April 00:38:41 That’s awesome. What a cool email, what a thing. So what a thing. So there was a guy arguably, the world’s most famous marketer, right? So, you know, it’s amazing, you know, somehow I got ahold of my book. I have no idea. The guy probably reads 9 million books a day, cause he’s a super genius, but okay. Somehow he gets a hold of my book and he reads it, but he sends me the email. Like he bothers to send me that email and he doesn’t know me from Adam. He sends me that email just to just be a good guy. There’s nothing in it for him to do that. Nothing. And not only that, it’s, it’s a classic example of positioning something. I’m going to work this into a talk, but what’s interesting is really good positioning positions. You, but it also positions your competition positioning does this, like, you sort of say, we’re experts at this and you know, the other guys, they’re just saying general purpose. All right. So, so you’re kind of doing this thing. And part of how you define yourself is how you define the competition. So interestingly, this story about set that Seth Goden tells about Jack trow. Like not only does it accomplish the goal of you’re just left with this idea, like Seth Godin is an awesome human being, but you’re also left with the idea like Jack trope
Andrew 00:40:09 So much, I’ve had the chance to interact with Seth. A few times I did his, uh, his alt MBA program. And, uh, I got to say he really is genuine awesome human being. He’s just a great human being, um, that a hell of a teacher. So, uh, anyone who’s interested in his work, I definitely check it out. And we’ll, we’ll link to all that stuff in the show notes. When you were telling that story, you’ve mentioned that, um, similarly you can reposition things, you know, it can feel like you’re going to too small of a market by, by sort of going more narrow. And there’s always this concern about like, is that too small or whatever. I’m curious if you could talk to me a little bit about how this positioning process impacts product strategy and in particular, maybe you could tell the story of the, the, uh, I think, I think you described it as the weirdly excited investment bankers and the bowling ball strategy.
April 00:41:03 Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Sarah, you know, it’s funny like people, when they think about repositioning, the first thing they think about is we’re going to shift the messaging and often, you know, a good way to test a new position is to shift the messaging and arm salespeople with it and see, does it work? Can I, can I sell stuff this way? But usually there is a big shift in, in product strategy, particularly over the longer term. So, uh, so this story is about, um, this company I worked for and, um, we were positioned in the enterprise CRM market. That was our positioning. And this was, was of course was around, but they were, they were still focused on SMB. And at the time there was this big, big company in the Valley called Siebel systems. They were the big giant in the enterprise CRM market.
April 00:41:54 And so not surprisingly, every time we had a conversation with a prospect, we’d say, hi, we do enterprise CRM. And they’re like, how are you better than Siebel? And the answer that question was we pretty much weren’t. So every way they were better than us, like they had 8,000 employees, I think it was employed 24, maybe they had a 2 billion revenue. We were doing just over a million. When I joined, they had 400 customers, we had five or six. And, um, but we had two things we thought were different. One was we had this feature that it gave you the ability to model a many, many relationship between people instead of companies which no CRM, even today lets you do this. Um, but, and we used to always show it in demos, but the problem was is we never really understood who cared about that.
April 00:42:50 And we never really understood what the value of it was. So we would go in and we’d show it in demos and we’d say, Hey, and it looked really good. Like say demo. Good. So we’d show in the demo and then the customer would say, Hey yeah, that looks really cool. So what do you use that for? And we’d be like, yeah, anything you want, you know, we have no idea, but it looks good. The demo. Um, so we weren’t doing very well. And what happened to get us out of this rut? This was, this was ages ago when I was pretty junior. Um, what happened to get us out of this rut, uh, was we hired a new sales rep and the reason we hired the sales rep was because the sales reps buddy was the head of investment banking at Goldman Sachs. Like that’s literally how he got like he came in and my CEO was like, give us one good reason to hire you.
April 00:43:45 And the guy said, because my buddy is the head of investment bank at Goldman Sachs, we’re going to get to a meeting. And we were like, okay, the meeting. And I did a ride along, which is kind of one of my favorite things to do as a VP marketing is to go along with the salespeople and see what happens in sales calls. And so I thought this will be a fun sales call. So I came and we go to the meeting and my rep does the demo. And he gets to this part where he shows this many to many relationship thing. And then, and the head of investment banking, Goldman Sachs just loses his mind. He’s like, Whoa, Whoa, are you telling me that if two people sit on board together, you can model that. We’re like, yeah. And he’s like, it’s so if two people like belong to the Harvard club, you could model that.
April 00:44:31 We’re like, yeah, yeah. We can’t. He’s like, Whoa. When he runs out, he literally leaves the meeting runs down. The hall gets three guys that work with him, brings them back and, and he’s like, show them that thing, show them that thing, show that thing. And so we show them the demo of this thing and the guys are the same thing, like their eyes pop out of their heads. And they’re like, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. So with two people used to work at a company together, but they don’t work at the company together anymore. They work at different companies. You can model that in your database. We’re like, yeah, yeah, we can. And they got so excited. These guys were all like literally in office, like for really senior investment banking guys in their suits and their fricking cufflinks jumping up and down like freaking out.
April 00:45:12 Me and the rep were over in the corner going, what the heck is going on? This is terrible. And so anyways, so we, we ended up closing the deal and what we eventually figured out was in the way in their sales process, they have a thing called reason to call. And so what it is is you go out and have a meeting with a super rich guy and talk to him about a bunch of things you want to sell. And then you go back to the office and you need a reason to call the next one. And this makes this really easy to do that. I can look up and say, Oh, this guy used to sit on a board with this other guy. I’m going to call him up and say, Hey John, don’t you? Oh yeah. Today we were talking about Tesla shares and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
April 00:45:56 We should go for lunch. It’s literally that excited because this gave them the, this solved, this fundamental thing in their sales thing. So then we started selling it to investment bankers. And every time we showed the thing to investment banker they’d freak out. So all of a sudden we go from selling nothing, basically to stuff in a pipeline full of investment banks. But the important thing was we, we took a step back and I kept making the argument like, look, we’re not enterprise CRM. That’s fundamentally not what we are because we only when an investment banking. So if we positioned ourselves as CRM for investment bankers, it might solve like our biggest problem was it’s really hard to get a meeting with the head of investment banking and investment bank, right? So if we position ourselves like this one, maybe they would call us. And two, it would make it more obvious how we were different than Siebel.
April 00:46:53 Cause we’re always in this competitive head to head against Siebel. And so we finally convinced ourselves that was a good idea, but the board hated it. So we took it forward and the investors were like, look, we didn’t write you a check to be some nichey little lifestyle business. How many of us in bags are there? And we’ll never make money doing this, blah, blah, blah. And we, at the time we were big Jeffrey Moore people at the time talking about influential books like Jay crossing, the chasm that was in this company, that was our Bible. We’re all crossing the chasm. So in crossing the chasm, Jeffrey Moore describes this thing called bowling pin strategy, which I still think if you’re selling enterprise B to B, this is the only way to win in the market. And basically the way he describes it is look, first, you got to define a lead pin and you, and you go after that first lead market.
April 00:47:48 And once you’re dominating that lead market, which is like your lead pin, then you go after the adjacent markets and then once you’re dominating those, then you go after the adjacent market. So I knocked down the lead pin. Then I get the pins beside that. Then I get the pins beside that. And the next thing you know, I got strike. So we went in and we literally drew the bowling pin thing on the way board for the board and said, this is what we’re going to do. Our lead pin is this department inside investment banking. And then after we get that, we’re going to knock over these other three departments in investment banking. And after we get that, we’re going to do retail banking. And after we win retail banking, then we can win insurance because there’s a lot of overlap between retail banking and insurance.
April 00:48:34 And if we do that, then we are a massive company and then we’re going to go take the fight to CBO and we’re going to beat them because we’ll be big enough to do it at that point. And that convinced the board that we should do the shift. And so we, um, in terms of product strategy, it was interesting. Like at the beginning we didn’t change much, but we changed a lot over the course of a year because we were now on this instead of trying to be feature function, comparable to everything that Siebel was doing, which we never could have been like, I mean, they had a head start on us.
April 00:49:17 We were instead trying to be with this vision of first banking and investment banking and retail banking, then whatever. So it was all within this lens of financial services. Our bankers going to love this are commercial banks going to love this are retail banks going to love this. Could we use this for insurance? And so our whole product roadmap got much more focused on these things that we could do that were really particular to those kinds of customers. And then, and then, um, on the marketing and sales side, we got really focused on investment banking. Like I tell people about how focus we got. We used to have we, if we had a new rep, we would train them on investment banker vocabulary. Here’s what a Chinese wall is, teach the reps to go in and like sprinkle this vocabulary throughout their sales pitch. Um, we had demo data that was very specific to investment banking.
April 00:50:15 And we did this very specific investment banking scenario in our demos where we, we did this reason to call thing like, okay, you’re doing a thing. And then you go out and then you go back and look at what you can see and all this stuff. And we then positioned Siebel as like this general purpose generic. So, you know, we’d go in and say, Hey, we’re CRM for investment banking. And the bankers would look at us kind of squinty eyes. I’d be like, so wait don’t you compete with CBO? And we’re like, Oh, Siebel, like before we would have never said, we come in, they’re all confident and go Siebel. We love those guys. They’re fantastic. Look at them. So big, so much revenue. So many customers, they’re just like the world’s greatest generic general purpose CRM for like call centers. I think they sell a lot of call centers and call centers in India and stuff.
April 00:51:13 They’ll use their stuff. They make a lot of money doing that. Not you Wolf of wall street. You need something for you. Let me show you the thing. And then we should, you know, and then we’d show them this demo. And then we would just get out of this complete head to head against those guys because we were positioning them as like, yeah, they’re big. Yeah. They’re successful for everywhere. Except you want to be, is your business like a call center? No, it ain’t. Your business is nothing like a call center. Um, and so anyways, and so then to that story is we grew really fast. Like we went from 2 million to about 80 million in a year and a half, like about 18. And then, um, we were starting to branch out in other parts of banking and whatever, and Siebel got all stressed out about us and they came and acquired us for 1.1 0.7, 1.7 Canadian, 1.3 billion us dollars and you know, big amount of money. In fact at the time, cause this was, you know, a long time ago. But at the time we were the largest, the largest acquisition of a Canadian software company ever at the time. And our board thought we weren’t going to make any money with that little nichey lifestyle business thing.
Andrew 00:52:38 What a good story that I have to say that is one of the best actual examples I’ve ever heard of product strategy. Uh, cause one of the best ways I’ve heard product strategy defined concisely, uh, is by, I think it’s from Marty Kagan and he talked about product strategy is basically the sequence of product market fits that you go down in order to fulfill your vision, right? It’s like, cool, we’re going to have a fit here. And then we’re going to do this one. And then this one, and maybe you do, maybe you do it vertically. Maybe you do a geographically, whatever, but it’s this sort of sequential way of thinking and that like, would you just describe that is the clearest example. I’ve actually heard of that. So thank you. I can only, I mean, what a ride to, I mean, 40 X revenue growth in less than a year and a half, that is more than hypergrowth in the book. There’s a point you make that and I’m going to get the words wrong, but something like the way you position and talk about the product, isn’t the product, right? It changed it shapes how you, how the products experience, but it’s sort of, it seems like that’s a way around the identity, the threatening feeling of positioning or it’s like, okay, cool. Yes. We’re going to take over all of enterprise CRM, but for right now we’re just going to talk about investment.
April 00:53:45 That’s right. It’s not the same vision.
Andrew 00:53:48 Exactly. So the positioning division are different. So my question is this, as you’re going down that sequence of, of verticals, right? You said you were going to do investment banks and then we’re going to do, you know, retail banks or whatever. Do you, are you reinventing the positioning at every step along the way? And do you have like, do you have to, as you add on more and more verticals, do you have to like have a new positioning that encompasses all of them or do you position it differently for each, each and every one of those verticals?
April 00:54:13 Yeah. So I, so the way it is the answer to that is it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. But, um, in that particular case, um, the idea was that the positioning was going to evolve over time for the entire, uh, company and the product specifically. So we did not intend to have different products for banking versus insurance versus whatever we were going to have different add on modules, never going to be some special things we could tell you, but the base product was going to be the same thing. And so the way we envisioned the positioning shifting was we were going to go from CRM for investment banks, to CRM, for banks, to CRM, for financial services. That was the idea. And so we were just going to widen the aperture as we widened the target market. And then once we got to that, then we were going to be CRM for enterprise.
April 00:55:08 We were going right back to where we started about how we raise money and the whole bit like we were going to get there. It’s just that for right now, it made it clear where we could win rate at that moment. Now there’s an interesting set of problems you get into where you’ll have companies that have, um, multiple products, for example. So let’s say I’m a startup and I only have one product, the positioning for the product and the company is generally the same. Cause I only have one thing. And so it’s the same. It’s kind of like if you think of, um, base camp, you know, base camp, the company base camp, the product, it’s the same thing there is. You’re like, I don’t differentiate between them, um, slacks a little bit like this, right? It’s Slack. It’s like they only have one thing.
April 00:55:53 Did you sell a new Slack? And that’s it. Um, but then you get this thing where you have multiple products and sometimes those products are really different. And so then you gotta decide, is it, um, if those products are different and they, they serve different purposes and sometimes they even have different audiences, how do you position the company and, and the, and the products within the company. And generally the way you want to do that is you have kind of an umbrella positioning that says we are the people that provide this and it’s, it’s, it’s everything underneath. And then you have this product by product positioning that fits underneath that. And so my example of this is when I worked at IBM, every product that we sold, if you built a sales deck, the sales deck would start with why buy something from IBM. And then so, so if you think about the product, last product I worked on at IBM was this little thing in the database division.
April 00:56:56 So it would be, you know, we’re IBM, we do hardware, software services. That’s why you want to buy from us and there’d be a shpeel about that. And then it’d be like, okay, let’s talk about software for my BM. Why do you care about middleware? We’re the leaders in middleware. We do this and this, this is why you care. Right. And then it was like, and then I was in the database division and then it was like, okay, now let’s talk about databases that IBM did, you know, we invented the relational database. Let’s talk about that. And then, and then we would say, and then we’re here to talk to you today about this thing that sits, you know, this is a product inside the database. And then I would position that. And, and that influenced my thinking on this a lot, because the, the, the way we thought about it at IBM was if that product, that product should be made stronger within that bigger company story, if it’s not, and the company story does not add any value to the product, that it’s easier to position it without positioning the company first. And why the heck is it part of the company we should sell it off, which I thought was good thinking. So the idea was is you exist underneath this bigger entity, the bigger entity should lend value to the product. So you should start with the bigger frame of reference, then the framework, and then go down to the product thing and see yoga. You know, we’re actually experts at this bigger thing. Okay. Now, within that context, we’ve built this product and it kicks out
Andrew 00:58:20 And here’s why it makes so much sense. That’s perfect. So let’s go back to the story you were just talking about with, with after Siebel acquired that company. Um, and, and, you know, the bubble pumped, right. And so, um, rough time and, and, you know, when we were getting ready for this conversation, obviously right now, we’re in a time, a very uncertain time for people, right? The, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted everything. And, you know, in the book you mentioned revisiting your positioning every six months or so, whenever anything major happens, that it will affect how customers perceive the market. Whether, so I’m curious about is first of all, besides a big economic downturn, like the one we’re in right now, um, what are, what are the other like common cases that are gonna trigger a repositioning? And then how should we think about that when we, when we’re in a situation like this?
April 00:59:06 Yeah. You know, it’s funny that it’s funny because I’m always talking about this, that you have to keep an eye on your positioning and you have to keep checking in on it every six months because things can change. And it’s funny, like it’s been so long since we founded like big economic downturn that I’d say to people, like sometimes you’ll have a big economic downturn, you know, and the 20 year olds, they’re all looking at me like what’s an economic downturn, grandma. I’m like, it ain’t fun. No doubt we have that. So, um, so there’s a handful of things that can really throw a wrench in your positioning, right? So one of them is we’re getting a crash course in it right now, right? Economic forces beyond your control have suddenly thrown all the cards up in the air. And most importantly, what it’s done is shifted the priorities of my customers and because their priorities have shifted, then potentially my competitors have shifted and my value needs to shift in relationship to that.
April 01:00:11 So that, and sometimes that economic downturn can do that. Um, sudden change in, um, in government regulations can do it. We saw it a little bit with GDPR. We certainly saw it in banking and insurance when we had things like basil too and HIPAA and things like that came in, I worked at a company that did mid-market ERP, and there were a bunch of regulations came in around how you did food handling and that through the ERP business of total rich. Um, so sometimes that happens if you’re smallish, uh, sometimes, sometimes what can happen is a big competitor makes it kinda surprised jump into your market. And that can often really upset, uh, of value proposition, um, and, and requires you to rethink, you know, where do we win and how, and so all these things can do. And so if we’re talking about an economic downturn, specifically, what we see
Speaker 4 01:01:12 Typically, and I’m talking about B2B, okay,
April 01:01:15 This is my background. So if, if you’re selling the businesses, the thing you got to check in on is has your have your customers’ priorities shifted? If so, how and how do we fit into that? And so what are the common things you’ll see? And this happened to be both times in economic downturn is the companies I was selling to. We were selling on a value proposition around growth. Like, you know, I talk about this sometimes, like when you sell stuff to businesses, you basically only have kind of two value propositions. If you abstract it all the way out, it’s like either our product helps you make money or our product helps you save money. Now, when times are good, you know, nobody’s worried about saving money, but everybody wants to grow. So everybody’s value proposition and their positioning is all around. You want to buy our stuff because we’re going to help you grow.
April 01:02:09 We’re going to help you get new customers. We’re going to help you expand. We’re going to grow, go, go revenue, revenue, revenue. So, but then you’ll get something like this happens, right? So all of a sudden, massive sudden economic downturn and not all customers, but some of your customers might actually be taken a step back and saying, Holy man, like we can’t grow right now. We literally can’t because we can’t get new business right now. There is no new business to be had. Like, we can’t grow it all. We cannot, therefore our priorities have all shifted to, we’re just going to try to retrain the revenue we’ve got. So they shift all their resources and their marketing budgets and sales budgets, and everything gets shifted to customer retention and cost control. So everybody does a lay off. Everybody’s trying to drive costs out of the business. Everybody’s trying to keep a hold of the customer. They’ve got customer loyalty becomes this really big thing. Some of the customers will have the opportunity to expansion in existing accounts, but Greenfield stuff tends to kind of go away. So here’s you, you’re a vendor to these companies and you were in there going grow, grow, grow. This thing is going to help you grow. And all of a sudden that is like, you’re relevant to their priorities right now, irrelevant. Cause they’re like girls isn’t even in my top 10 things, I’m going to do this year.
Andrew 01:03:34 They’re trying to survive.
April 01:03:35 You survive. And so you, you’re going to have to figure out, do I have a helps you survive value prop in my product for these people? And if not, you’re either going to have to find some people that you do have a value prop for, or you’re going to have to get a value prop for, you know, helps you survive.
Andrew 01:03:56 Let’s stick with that B2B case, right? Where you got like the growth, the, the growth value propositioning, and then the survival one. Do you advise people when they’re going through a positioning process, should you like prepare backup ones in advance or just be ready to adapt as needed?
April 01:04:11 We don’t usually do that because the idea is, you don’t know, you don’t know what’s going to shift and you don’t know how you’re going to react to it. And so the best thing to do is to just be keeping your pulse on it, right? Like, and then every six, six months or so you’re checking in and saying, is this still where we, when have our competitors changed? Like the weirdest thing about this economic downturn is the suddenness of it. Because previous economic downturns, you know, it took us a few quarters before we even admitted, like, yes, we’re in a recession.
Andrew 01:04:46 Yeah. Now it’s like three years.
April 01:04:48 This one was like, you know, starting the week we weren’t end of the week. We were like, Whoa, that nobody’s ever seen one go this fast. So I think if we always had ones like this, then yeah, we probably would want seminar backpack. But usually what happens is there’s this gradual things starts to happen and you start seeing a different competitor pop up, you start seeing your value proposition, just isn’t resonating the way it used to. You start getting this feedback from sales. Like, you know what we sell to these, we used to be able to close these deals really easily. And now we don’t, but these other ones seem to be easy. And these are all signs. Like we should check in on this and see where we’re at and do a positioning thing again. So we don’t normally get this like boom and a brick wall.
April 01:05:35 This one is so remarkable that way, like even 2008 financial crisis re like it really took us several quarters before. You know, a lot of us were forced to react that way. And the crazy thing about this one too, is we don’t know how it ends, like in a normal recession. You know, we were kind of gradually sliding into it. And then we gradually come out. What happens at the end of this one? Nobody knows. So I get a lot of people asking me, like, look, I could shift my value proposition and shift my positioning. But what if, what if I got a shift at all back in three months, because we all go back and my, my customer’s priorities will all shift back. And the answer to that is it doesn’t matter what you think it matters, what your customers think. So if you’re in there talking to your customers and they’re saying, look, um, we’ve shifted the priorities and the timeframe for that is, you know, 12 months, 18 months, then you got to shift, like you got to shift the fall of them in there, but there are lots of companies out there that are like, we’re shifting priorities, but it’s, you know, this is a 30, 60 day thing.
April 01:06:48 And then we’re going to wait and see, and then we’re going to check in, and then we’re going to side, do we shift the longer term thing? If your customers are talking like that, then you should act like that too. I would not go and rush and do a big repositioning because your customers aren’t there yet. So I think you got to follow your customer’s lead on this one in terms of how fast you want to adjust and what that time horizon looks like. And this one is so weird. Like we just don’t know how we’re going to come out. So you got to follow your customers, strategic planning on that.
Andrew 01:07:20 Yeah. Yeah. It’s a good point about the don’t, you know, if they’re not making that hard change right now, hold off on doing a full reproduce. Cause like you’ll, you’ll just also create whiplash for your own team. Like you’ll just drive everyone internally crazy. And they’re frankly, there are, everyone’s already stressed.
April 01:07:35 Exactly. And there’s lots of ways to run things, you know, to run a slight shift in value proposition as a campaign and not a repositioning. So, you know, you’ve got a short term value proposition that works for a certain kind of person in this moment. Right now you can run that like a campaign. You don’t have to actually say, okay, look, we’re reevaluating the whole strategy. We don’t go after these people and want to do whatever you can say, look, short term, the next 60 days, we’re going to run a little campaign. We’re going to throw a little bit of money, a little bit of resources on communicating this thing to these people. But our big chunky positioning does not change. The strategy is not changed. We’re just doing a little opportunistic campaigning here around this stuff. Um, and I’m seeing a lot of companies do that.
Andrew 01:08:24 One of these we’re seeing across a lot of, um, a lot of disciplines like in, in marketing, in product, uh, those two, those two, especially. Um, and I’m assuming beyond that, but is sort of a return to fundamentals. And so I’m curious, what do you, what are you seeing there? Like what are you noticing? And also I’m curious, like, do you think the principles and the fundamentals of positioning change, like will positioning be different in 20 years or we’ll just the way you do it be different? Yes. Any question? When we talk about something like positioning,
April 01:08:56 You know, I think the underpinning of that, like you need a customer segmentation, you need to understand value propositions. You need to understand competitive alternatives, that jobs to be done stuff. I don’t think that changes. I think that stays the same. How you get it done might, right? Like how I figure out what my best customers are doing and how I’ve figured out what my real competitive alternatives are. That changes shirt, this changes all the time, but the fundamental underpinnings on this stuff, I don’t think it changes. I think we’re seeing a little bit of return to basics right now because I feel like the previous five, six years, um, there was a lot of enthusiasm for, um, things that were really, really kind of growth at any cost. Like what I would call sort of growth hacking. Although, you know, there’s a lot of concepts in growth hacking that I think are actually really useful and good, but this idea that, uh, you know, I’m just trying to juice the numbers.
April 01:10:06 I think people have seen how insustainable that is that, you know, that lead quality is actually a thing. And sometimes you want fewer higher quality leads as opposed to just the biggest number of leads I can get. And the most amount of traffic I can get it. And they, I saw a 2000% increase in whatever, like people, you know, we’ve now been doing that long enough to see that those businesses don’t sustain and sustainable growth comes from taking a step back, really reevaluating. How do I get tight on this stuff? Not the opposite. And so, and that’s forcing everybody to go back and actually think about segmentation and targeting. Like, I make a lot of fun of the concept of product market fit because I think it’s total bullshit because of the way most people use it. Like I yesterday I’m on Twitter and some guy is tweeting. Do you think Slack has product market fit? Yes or no. That’s a survey and I’m like 300 million daily active users. You don’t think they have a fit with a market.
Andrew 01:11:21 They’re doing something right.
April 01:11:22 I ended up then the problem is with the concept of product market fit is nobody understands market, right? They don’t understand that there’s product market fit. You can have product market fit in multiple products in multiple markets at one time, what market. So I can make the argument that Slack has very good product market fit in some markets and they have terrible product market fit and others, do they have good product market fit for remote learning for your grade six kid? No, it’s terrible. I don’t know why they’re even trying to use that. Like, it is just a bad tool for that. There’s an ad product market fit for webinars, you know, maybe you, right. So the thing is, is if you, if you don’t say, if you just think of market, is this like a more fussy thing? Like then prime market fit is a concept is useless.
April 01:12:09 It’s useless. I don’t know how to drive towards it. If I don’t know what market is. And most of the time when people talk about product market fit, they would be better to think about something that they could action on. Like so, and so people will say, Oh, well, if you think it’s so stupid April, what’s your idea for an alternative. And I’m like, I’ll tell you what my idea of where the alternative is, what you want is an actionable customer segmentation, right? A customer segment that I can go build marketing plans on because if the whole point of product market fit is gee. When I know I have product market fit, that’s when I step on the gas and marketing and sales, listen, I’ve been the person at the gas pedal and market, right? That’s me. I’m the VP marketing. And if you come and tell me, yay, we have product market fit.
April 01:12:57 Thomas, step on the gas VP marketing. The first thing I’m going to say is what market who, and if you can’t answer that question in a way that’s actionable that I can build campaigns on. We ain’t there yet, buddy. I don’t care whether you think you’ve got product market fit or not. I can’t do anything with it. So, so I don’t think product market fit operationally is, is useful. But I do think if you said, figure out a segmentation that we can then go and attack from a marketing and sales perspective, there’s enough detail in it that I could make a list. I could go after these people. I can structure campaigns. Well, now I got some. Now I can put my foot on the gas. If you got that, then you got something I’m so proud of Morgan fit.
Andrew 01:13:40 Alright. So I want to, um, sort of shift into the last part of the conversation here with a couple of rapid fire questions. The questions are short. Your answers can don’t have to be, they can be however long you want to be. What’s a small change you’ve made in recent memory, and that could be, you know, a week, a year, whatever, what’s a small change you’ve made in recent memory. That’s had an outsized impact on how on your life, how you work, how you show up.
April 01:14:01 Uh, well, I’ll tell you, I, um, when I started consulting, um, I, I wanted to get really clear on what my goals were for the consulting business. And at the beginning I was, I was just trying to do good work and make some money. You know, I was, you know, at the beginning I was like, I’m just trying to build a business. And, um, and, and after doing it for about a year, I went on vacation. I was sitting on a beach and I was having this thought process of what does perfect work look like for April? You know, like I’m one of those things. And I was like, and I made some decisions about how late up until then I was a little bit focused on the money. Like I was like, I, you know, I’m trying to build a good business here and make some good money.
April 01:14:51 And the, one of the things I got really clear on was that the money was, you know, I, I want to get paid good money. I want to get paid fair money for my work. But the money is actually way down the list of things that were important. And it was like, I want to do good work where I feel like I’m making an impact with good people. So I started doing a lot more saying no to work because I didn’t like the people or I didn’t like what the people were doing. I just didn’t agree with it. So, um, and that is made a really big difference in my, uh, in everything actually like it like it, the immediate impact that it had was all my clients are lovely. Like they’re just lovely. Like everybody I work with is just, they’re just the most lovely people.
April 01:15:40 I would like to have a dinner party and have it be just my clients. They’re like the most lovely people in tech. I can’t get over how lovely they are. And, and then that’s really changed my enjoyment of doing what I do. And the interesting thing is the side benefit of that is you end up making way more money cause you, cause you only work with people that you’re all getting along. I filter really hard. Like we literally don’t do anything together unless unsure we’re gonna smash it. So then we smash it and then everybody’s like, Oh, April’s amazing. You get more of these people in your pipeline and it’s this virtuous cycle. And so I think my, um, my decision to sort of only work with people that I kind of want to hang out with and I think we’re going to do good work together has made a significant difference to my whole life. Basically.
Andrew 01:16:37 Good for you. Good for you. I love that. Okay. So who or what has had a big influence on you? Like shaped how you see things, how you think, how you show up?
April 01:16:48 You know, it’s funny, I get this question a lot about like, did I have any mentors when I was, um, you know, younger and it’s funny. I, I didn’t, um, and I don’t know why I didn’t have any mentors, but looking back, like I had some very good bosses, but I wouldn’t consider the mentors really. Like they were more just trying to make sure I didn’t their shit up. It’s like my guy saying, why aren’t you doing that stuff? You know, like he was just a good boss and maybe not a mentor. Um, but I spent a lot of time reading books about marketing and stuff, because at the beginning I was in marketing and running a marketing team and I literally didn’t know what I was doing. And so the big influential books I read, like, you know, we talked about four steps, you Tiffany, and we talked about crossing the chasm more recently, a challenger sale has really impacted my thinking about particularly relevant if it’s enterprise B2B go to market stuff.
April 01:17:47 And then more recently as a consultant again, because I’m really on this thing about, you know, what’s, April’s perfect work look like I’m looking at people that I think are ahead of me on that one. And I’m trying to figure out how to learn from them. So Bob Mesta, for example, is one of those people, you know, that I, that I, you know, I love talking to him because I think, I think Bob has figured this out. I think he’s doing his perfect work and, and he really enjoys it. He works with great people, the charges, fair money for it, you know, and I kind of look at Bob and I think, yeah, Bob’s got this figured out. Um, I met Alex Osterwalder at a, at a conference recently and he, I don’t know him as well, but I kind of feel the same thing, uh, uh, about him and his work.
April 01:18:37 You know, that he’s, his work is somewhat analogous to mine. Uh, cause he’s doing this more sort of strategy type stuff. And um, and I, I like what he’s doing. So I like looking at him. So right now I’m looking for people like that, people that do work like what I do, but seem to really care about the quality of what they do and the output of it and, you know, and seem to be good, happy people that, cause I’m, I’m going for this, you know, good, happy April in the future thing too. I like that.
Andrew 01:19:09 Well, April, first of all, thank you so much for coming and hanging out with me today and sharing your amazing wisdom and experience. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Well, just in closing, do you have any requests of the listener?
April 01:19:19 Cut yourself some Slack because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. And I don’t know if we will be when you read this, this has been my, this has been my I’ve all these people I mentor, you know, and all my calls have been like this. Like everybody’s like, I’m not working as hard as they should be and I’m not doing this. And I’m like, we’re literally in the middle of a life and death, global pandemic coupled with a global recession and people are really stressed out. And I think that if people think that everyone’s going to be a hundred percent productive right now, they’re not, we’re not. And I think we all just have to say, we’re not man, I’m going to be at least 15% of my brain power right now is going to be consumed with, you know, is my little, little mother going to make it through this thing. Because if she gets this, it’s not going to be good. You know? So I think we all need to cut ourselves Slack at this particular juncture. And you know, don’t worry if you’re not hitting it at 110% right now. Cause trust me, none of us are.
Andrew 01:20:16 I, I especially need to hear that. So thank you. I’ve been, I’ve been beating myself up about that one.
April 01:20:21 There you go. Take a day off, man. We deserve it.
Andrew 01:20:28 Awesome. Well, April again, thank you so much for being here. It’s been a lot of fun hanging out today and a real pleasure. Yeah.
April 01:20:33 Thanks. Thanks so much for having me.