We all want to be market leaders. There is no question about it. However, it is hard to achieve category supremacy for anyone — especially when selling to businesses. And startups face a particularly nasty uphill battle in establishing a foothold in any existing market. First of all, there is often an established category leader. Second, B2B buyers are a conservative bunch, and their bias is to buy from the established leader or do what they always have done. So how do product management and marketing leaders break through?
Creating a sustainable business often depends on how you are positioned in market and what customers think of you. Increasingly, it is also determined by what people say and write about you. This is because the capital required to break through in an enterprise market often arrives in time to amplify your existing momentum — and is not there from day one to generate it.
No one ever got fired for buying from IBM (or Cisco, or Google, or Symantec…). So why are they going to buy from you?
The good news is that if you take the right actions you have a chance to build something that’s meaningful. Buyers have become more independent as their users’ expectations for quality technology has advanced and this creates exciting opportunities for upstart B2B vendors. Combine this with the fact that there are low-cost ways to share information about your offering and you have the right combination to be loved.
You can use new techniques of inbound and content marketing to create presence and preference. The barriers to content creation and distribution have fallen dramatically, creating the possibility of breaking through. No longer do upstarts need to accept playing second fiddle.
The smart and savvy startups are creating market leadership from thought-provoking content generation and multiplying their own voices by tapping into flash mobs, parades, and movements.
Flash mobs are the viral path to market leadership. They bring together like-mided buyers who share a common job and set of challenges. Many product and marketing managers with the right mindset can build leadership from the bottom up, nurturing on viral end-user adoption, and creating community and evangelistic users. These individuals act as no-cost sales reps for your team, building a flashmob of demand, and creating fresh new evangelists that start the cycle of adoption all over again. Flash mobs turn buyers into advocates and help build product leadership fast.
Examples include: SolarWinds, Jive, Splunk.
More so than ever before, B2B buyers live in a tumultuous and ever changing world. New challenges and opportunities for both individuals and organizations come at a dizzying pace.
As Pogo (from the Pogo the Possum cartoon) once said, “If you want to be a leader, find a parade and get in front if it.”
Many of these changes are transformational and alter how we think about the world. They shift our context and way of thinking. There are a number of examples of these recent meta-context changes including the rapid adoption of cloud-based technologies, mobilization of just about everything, and the power of massive data capture and analysis. We are also seeing major shifts from issues like privacy, climate change, and universal healthcare create attention grabbing headlines and conversation streams. Vendors who “hook on” to one or more of these parades, and convincingly argue their own viewpoints, help create the future and customers and market share typically follows. These parade leaders grow quickly and gain share as category leaders.
Examples include SunPower, Zuora, and Cloudera.
Some parades and context changes are SO big, that they become generational movements. Movements have many strong and divergent leaders. Like the civil rights movement had leaders as varying as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, large market movements are made up of many related parades. And the leaders of each of these parades usually compete to consolidate the movements under their leadership. Salesforce has parlayed its no software, SaaS/CRM parade leadership to emerge as the leader of the entire sales and marketing automation movement. And FireEye, is in the process of trying to parlay their parade leadership in Advanced Network Threat protection into a new movement to re-invent IT security around their brand and technology.
Examples include Salesforce, Facebook, Twitter
As you think about your own long-term vision, you must think about how you fit in and are going to influence a group that is much more powerful than you are.
Within all of the groups described above, we see the constant bubbling up of new flash mobs, parades, and the spawning of new movements. Leaders find ways to create flash mobs, get in front of parades, and parlay their successes to participate in and build movements. Small vendors can emerge in ways that may seem unachievable at the outset from this process. If you understand the market currents swirling around you — you too can thrive in today’s hyper-competitive markets and become a product and market leader.
This is a guest post by Ken Rutsky. If you are looking to build products that matter and set brilliant market and positioning strategy — start a free trial of Aha! — the new way to create brilliant product strategy and visual roadmaps.
Ken Rutsky is a Strategic Product and Service Marketing Consultant, and has spent 20+ years in the industry, launching his first Internet services while at Netscape from 1995-99. Since then, he has been CMO at several start-ups and ran Network Security Marketing at McAfee. Today, he is laser-focused on helping organizations accelerate and optimize their go to market messaging strategies and tactics for their Cloud, Mobile and next generation solutions. Learn more about the work Ken does at www.kenrutsky.com
Follow Ken @jayrutz