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April Dunford has had a long career as a startup executive going all the way back to a time before startups were cool. After graduating with a Systems Design Engineering degree she was hired by a startup as a  “technical evangelist” because she could stand on stage and make SQL queries seem interesting. Also her friend put in a good word for her. That startup was acquired by Sybase where she ran global marketing for SQL Anywhere, a product that would become Sybase’s fastest growing product line until they were acquired by Oracle for $6B.

April then worked as a VP Marketing at a series of successful startups that you have never heard of because Enterprise B2B products don’t matter to folks that don’t work at banks, insurance companies or manufacturers. One of those was Janna Systems which grew from $2M to $70M during her tenure and was acquired by Siebel for $1.7B (Canadian dollars, $1.3B in USD, or a crap-ton in any currency you prefer). More recently she was the COO of Tulip Retail, a mobile platform for retail sales associates which recently raised a $30M Series A from Kleiner Perkins.

April has launched 16 products into market and will tell you that every one of them succeeded for different reasons and in different ways. Except for the two total flops which failed like many products fail - quietly, quickly and completely. April has always been doing trackable, metrics-based marketing, and is suspicious of the value of branding for B2B companies. If you disagree, she will be happy to have a big fight with you about that.

April is a Mentor and Entrepreneur in Residence at too many startup accelerators. She teaches a regular class on Positioning at a bunch of them. She also is a board member, angel investor and advisor to dozens of startups.

As a consultant, April helps growth stage startups figure out how to position their products in a way that makes their core value obvious to the customers most likely to want to purchase them. She also teaches Positioning to larger companies that want to upgrade the skills of their Marketing and Product teams. She does a lot of public speaking. At the 2018 Growth Hacker Conference, Sean Ellis said: “One of the key takeaways is that April is really funny.” And it is, in fact, true because Sean Ellis said it.

April is based in Toronto where she is a slow half marathon runner and an enthusiastic craft beer drinker. April is very, very, slowly writing a book on Positioning that is going to be her super amazing gift to the world when she finally finishes writing it.

You can follow her on Twitter: @aprildunford

She will be live on May 1 starting at 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which she will answer as many questions as possible.

  • JF

    Jeff Fedor

    6 months ago #

    What's the best way for me to test new positioning? Do I try it on my existing customers first? new prospects?

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      Thanks for the question Jeff (World - meet my friend Jeff - he's a super smart product guy).
      Existing customers already know a lot about your product and have already been exposed to your old positioning. That combination makes them biased and lousy test subjects for new positioning.
      I like to try new positioning out on fresh prospects that haven’t had much exposure to my solution or marketing previously, and see how it lands on a blank slate. I usually translate the positioning into a short sales deck or script, pitch it, and then ask them to describe our solution back to me. I also like to ask questions like “Based on what you heard, who do you think we compete with?” and “Based on what you heard, how much would you expect this solution to cost? Why?” You want to see what market prospects position you in and does it match what you were hoping for.

      Also - when I do this, I pick prospects that fall squarely into my target segment. I don’t care too much what other buyers think.

      4 Share
  • JQ

    Jason Quey

    6 months ago #

    1. What are the best blogs you've found on positioning and/or branding?
    2. What do most marketers/founders you've met over look when focusing on positioning, and what should they do instead?

    6 Share
    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      The biggest mistake I think founders make when they are thinking about Positioning is they mistake it for messaging when it is really a business strategy decision. If you say you are going to win in a certain market, that impacts much more than just marketing and sales. It impacts product roadmap, partnerships, pricing, and customer success. You can’t doing positioning halfway, you need to be all-in. For example if you repositioned your email solution as chat then you really have to BE chat. There shouldn’t be an inbox, you should be doing notifications and contact discovery and threading in a completely different way. Your pricing is different. The support expectations are different. You can't just say it, you have to embody the new positioning in everything the customer experiences about your solution. That takes discipline and consistency and the whole company has to be on board.

      8 Share
    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      The original concept of Positioning was developed by Al Ries and Jack Trout who published a book called “Positioning, the Battle for Your Mind”. It was first published in 1982 (before the internet!) but in my opinion, it’s still the thing you should read first when you are trying to understand what Positioning is all about. The frustrating part of that book (aside from the seriously outdated case studies) is that they do a great job of telling you WHAT positioning is, but then they don’t give you any clues HOW to do it. I suspect what they wanted you to do was hire them.
      I’ve spend the better part of the last 5 years trying to find a way to teach people how to do it and I think I have something that works for many companies. I’ve written a lot about my positioning process on my blog and I’m (very slowly) writing a book that does a deeper dive on it. I also had a really fun conversation on the SaaS Revolution Podcast recently and you can find that here

  • JP

    John Phamvan

    6 months ago #

    Hi April,

    Your talk at #GHConf18 was a real highlight!

    When dealing with the kind of B2B products you have, what is your process for figuring out its how to position it? Take us inside your thinking - the research, the people etc please?

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      Thanks John - I really loved the conference this year.
      Positioning as a concept isn't new, nor is it particularly complicated to understand. The tricky part about positioning is actually DOING it. I've spent a lot of time thinking about that and thinking about how I could teach people to do it.
      At a super high level the process goes something like this:
      1) Look at your happiest customers. If they didn't use you, what would they do. These are your real competitive alternatives.
      2) Those customers chose you because you have a set of unique features that the alternatives do not. List those.
      3) Those features together enable value for customers. What is that value? Do the points of value cluster in themes? They usually do
      4) So if that's the value you deliver, who are the customers that care the most about that value? What is it about them that makes they care more? This is hard to figure out but should form the basis of your segmentation. This is how you determine who your "low hanging fruit" customers are
      5) Lastly, now that you know what your unique value is, and who you need to go after, what is the market category that makes that value obvious to those customers?

      It sounds simple but it isn't. I've gotten to the point where I can work through this in a workshop with a startup in a couple of days but I still really want to be able to point folks at a book that dives deep on this.

  • JO

    John OConnor

    6 months ago #

    Hi April, I am a keen follower of your work. Are the principles and approaches you outline for B2B positioning applicable to a B2C startup? Or are there other resources, information, principles etc. that a B2C should take into account? I’m in the B2C startup space with very limited funding at the mo.!

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      Thanks for being brave enough to ask the first question John. Your prize is a super-long answer!

      My background is deeply B2B and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my career is that I shouldn’t give advice on B2C. Buuuuuut, since you asked I will give you my opinion (so take it with a giant grain of salt).

      Most of what I learned about Positioning in the early parts of my career from taking marketing classes at places like Northwestern and NYU was very focused on B2C. One of the most frustrating things for me as a B2B person was the way they thought about segmentation. In B2C I often see folks do what I would call “Segmenting by message and channel”. Meaning they have very high level segments (i.e. this toothpaste appeals to affluent men in their 20s in the United States that care about their appearance), they would tailor those messages to those segments (Do you even brush, bro?), attempt to pick some channels those segments engage with (i.e. popular dude bro YouTubers, sports programs, etc) and put those messages and channels together to make campaigns. The response rates were super low, but that didn’t seem to matter - folks that were a good fit responded, everyone else ignored it and that was good enough.

      In B2B, typically you need to go way beyond demographic or firmographic (size of company, industry) targeting to get a fine-tuned segmentation. In a startup with very little money, it’s even more important because you need to spend your very limited time and money on folks that are most likely to love your stuff.

      For example, I worked with a company in the Content Marketing Tools space. Their initial segmentation was “marketing teams at mid-sized companies” This is not nearly targeted enough. The vast majority of mid-sized companies don’t do content marketing. They narrowed it to folks with active blogs - that was still way too broad. Eventually they narrowed it all the way down to mid-sized companies that had recently made an investment in Eloqua or Marketo. This made way more sense - those platforms run on content and those companies are willing to invest in it. It’s also easy to find these companies. The campaigns became way more efficient - get a booth at the Marketo user conference, pre-screen a call list by looking at their landing pages to see if they use Eloqua, etc. The effectiveness of their campaigns went WAY up with the same headcount and budget.

      So coming back to your question - how is my process different for B2C? In my process I’m really concerned with getting laser focused on who’s most likely to buy so I have high campaign efficiency and high lead quality. It’s possible in B2C you can get away with a bit looser segmentation and do a bit more “Spray and Pray” with the hopes that your customers self-segment. That said, I personally believe that the folks in B2C would also so benefit from tighter segmentation.

      My super long answer here is this - I don’t think it changes one bit. (But it also wouldn’t surprise me if April’s B2C evil twin showed up here to tell me I’m wrong)

      3 Share
  • DH

    Dani Hart

    6 months ago #

    Hi April!

    Thrilled to have you here. I know you have a lot to share with our audience.

    I'd love to start with what inspired you to write a book on positioning? It seems like a well known topic, but maybe overlooked? Would love your take.

    Any unexpected growth tactics you've seen be successful? Why do you think they were successful?

    Also, just noticed you run half marathons & drink craft beer. Two of my favorite things. :) What has running long distance taught you about business? If anything.

    Looking forward to hearing your answers and don't be surprised if I come up with more.

    Cheers!
    Dani

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      Ok this is a long story best told over beers but I am going to attempt it here. Here's my best unexpected growth tactic story.
      In B2B the best ideas for growth come from deep customer insight. Here’s an example:
      I ran marketing for a startup that sold ERP solutions to mid-sized manufacturers (they were called Solarsoft - eventually acquired by Epicor systems). I had a half-dozen folks on my team and our best tactics relied heavily on email, events and content marketing. We had a great opted-in mailing list with over 100K names, mainly business owners, (our target buyer). We were Marketo power users.

      I had my market segmented by the type of manufacturing: aerospace, auto parts, food, electronics, etc. and I could see from my data that I had a sub-segment in auto parts that never responded to anything we did. They never opened our email, they never engaged with our content, never attended an event. There were a cluster of these companies in Michigan and while I was on a trip there for a conference, I decided to roadtrip around to talk to these folks and figure out why they didn’t dig any of my marketing tactics.

      So I drive around Michigan for a couple of days and every one of these owners was exactly the same. They are 65 years old and don’t have a computer in their office. They have an admin that handles email for them who and deletes everything that sniffs of marketing. I ask them how they hear about new stuff. They tell me they don’t go to trade shows, don’t subscribe to newsletters, don’t attend webinars. They talk to other owners who are just like them. It’s clear I could get a meeting if I sent a rep to meet with them but my LTV wasn’t high enough to acquire them that way.

      I decided these folks were a hopeless. New software wasn’t going into these businesses until these guys retired.

      But, then I caught a break.

      In my last meeting, while I’m chatting with the owner in his office, we hear a noise. It sounds like a fan. We both stop talking and he gets up and walks over to an old fax machine buried under files in the corner of the office. Out comes a fax, and he starts laughing and he says, clearly delighted, “I haven’t got one of these in years!!” And I say to myself - Oh I’ve got you now!!

      So I go back to the office and announce to my crack team of digital marketers that we are going to run a fax campaign. My Marketo admin says, “Awesome!.....What’s a fax?” We found one in a closet and it was like finding the lost ark. We spent a day trying to figure out how to work it. I was too embarrassed to tell my CEO we were faxing people so I called it “The F Experiment” in my lead reports. We were all laughing our heads off every time we sent a round of faxes and I think the whole team was convinced the only thing this campaign was going to produce was one of those “What were we thinking!?” stories you tell at the bar years later.

      But, hilariously our little F Experiment was a smashing success. That campaign was my best new customer acquisition channel for the next 2 quarters. I drove $10M revenue with another $30M in the pipe when I left 3 months later.

      The point of this story is that we often focus too much on trending channels and not enough on customer insight. People ask me all the time if I recommend they do Facebook ads or Content Marketing, and I always say It doesn’t matter what channels I’m comfortable with, it matters what channels your customers are comfortable with.

      8 Share
    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      Thanks Dani - and thanks for having me here today!
      First I will tackle the book question. In my career I've re-positioned a lot of products (16 to be exact - I added them up once) and I couldn't believe that there didn't seem to be a methodology for actually doing Positioning. Later, when I started doing a lot of startup coaching, I got asked to talk about positioning a lot and I discovered that even though I thought I knew a lot about it, it was really hard to teach. Eventually I settled in on a methodology that seems to work with startups and it was more complicated than I could explain in a blog post so I decided a book would be helpful.

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    6 months ago #

    Hey April - so cool to finally have you on!

    So what month were you born in? :D

    But seriously...
    I want to hear more about your suspicion of the value of branding for B2B companies. Why is that? And what's the alternative?

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      I have worked with a bunch of very, very successful B2B companies where we spent zero time on branding and that’s why I suspect it isn’t all that important. In particular, in Enterprise B2B the sales cycles are long and multiple people are involved in a purchase decision. They aren’t looking at your site and saying to themselves “Gee, that color of blue really makes me feel like I can trust this company” or “If only they had used a serif font on their homepage, I would be more willing to write them a $200K check”
      Now, I’m not saying that your logo can look like it just came back in a time capsule from 1988 with no impact on your business. But I am saying that you can get away with doing the bare minimum and doing more isn't worth the investment.
      It is my opinion that your branding just needs to get out of the way in B2B. It should be good enough that customers mainly ignore it and move on with your messaging and content. I believe that poor branding can hurt you but I don’t believe that great branding can help you much.
      Branding people hate me, for obvious reasons.

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      Anuj is asking me this because I told him that was the question I get asked the most often. Hilariously the answer is no. My folks had the name picked out already but I was born late and missed April by 3 hours and was born on the 1st of May.
      SHUT THE BARN DOOR TODAY IS MY BIRTHDAY!!!!

  • JF

    Javier Feldman

    6 months ago #

    Hola April,

    Tell us about the two flops you mentioned.
    Why did they flop? What were the biggest lessons for you from those experiences?

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      Ah the flops.
      Here’s one - one hundred million years ago I worked at a company that made developer widgets for Sun Solaris developers (yes, we did stuff like that back in the olden days). I was hired to launch a new product line for Windows developers. The product was cool and had a great set of features that no other competitor had. I took the job thinking I could make something out of it. But once I got on board, I realized I had two very big problems. First of all, the price points for Windows widgets were awful - I was going to have to sell loads of them and there was no way for me to position them out of the market in a way where I could raise prices. Secondly, the price pressure was even worse because most folks bought the products through channel partners who absolutely gouged us. We had to give up 30-50% margin when we sold through them. Again, there was no way to get around this.
      I did a few fancy things - I negotiated a few deals with larger channel partners where I effectively blocked my competitors from selling through those channels (for a while I was the only widget you could buy though a channel for most of the countries in Europe). That got me some serious volume but it still didn’t make up for the lousy margins. The market simply wasn’t enough to support the business plan.
      I recommended to the CEO that we sell the product line off so we could re-invest the money in our Java line (which went on to be a big success) and I quit because there was already a marketing lead for that Java stuff. The end. Sniff

      The second one wasn’t a total flop, it was more what we would call “a limper” - it didn’t completely fail, it just didn’t grow fast enough for the investors and eventually got sold in a fire sale. That one failed for a bunch of reasons but mainly because again, the target market was too small to support the goals of the business (and the investors) and the CEO didn’t support repositioning it into a better market (which in my opinion we could have done). That one would have been a fine business had the team not decided to raise money. It survived for years as a nice profitable business with a loyal user base. But it was a flop for investors because it never produced a decent return on their investment. And again, the CEO had no stomach for a re-positioning which could have been really interesting.

  • DO

    Danielle Olivas

    6 months ago #

    Hi April!
    I think its fair to say that your bio reflects your personality to a T.
    Its so rare to see humor - and humor used well in B2B.
    Why do you think that is? Are people just scared that being funny (or corny) will turn people off (vs being staid and "propah")?
    How can we know when we can (and should) use humor and also where the line is?

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      First of all on a personal level I wasn’t always funny (at least in public or at work). For most of my career I was way too stressed out to be funny. Most of the time I was fighting hard not to get fired, and very busy making sure everyone was taking me seriously. I was always quite serious as a result.

      Now I’m older and more established and in the “I don’t give a crap what you think” phase of my career. I want to have some fun while I’m working. I feel privileged to have reached the point where I don’t have to worry if folks don’t think I’m smart because I’m making a poop joke. I will make a poop joke if I want to make a poop joke and you’re still going to call me when your Positioning is busted because there isn’t anyone else that knows this stuff better than I do. I wish the same for all of you so we can all sit around the bar together telling marketing stories and poop jokes when we’re retired.

      On a professional level, humour is really, really hard to use in B2B marketing and I see plenty of examples where it is used badly. In B2B I think you can show personality in the brand, but you should never let it get in the way of helping customers do what they need to do. If they are on your site to research a product, or learn about a solution or make a purchase, save me the cutsey wootsey stuff and just give me the goods.

      The exception to this is where you have an immature market and your buyers don’t know they have a problem and your marketing is attempting to convince them that they do. In this case, providing a little entertainment can go a long way toward getting their attention long enough to teach them something they didn’t know they needed to learn. But even here, use caution. What you think is funny can easily be offensive or off-putting to folks that aren’t like you so you need to seriously test your stuff and be aware that there are big risks associated with entertaining prospects. The other caveat is that some sectors lend themselves toward humour more than others. I don’t want a bunch of clowns running security for my bank. I want dour, serious, PhD’s who read regulatory compliance updates for fun.

  • RG

    Rahul Guharoy

    6 months ago #

    Hi April,

    Thanks for doing this AMA.

    What are the tactics you would use to test your messages and positioning? What are the 3 most important questions that you would ask the client to test your messages?

    Regards
    Rahul

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      I touched on this a little in an earlier reply but I really like to do trial pitches with new prospects in my target segment to get a read on what they understand and what they don't, based on my new positioning.
      There are a bunch of questions I like to ask:
      1) Based on what I described, how would you describe what we do in your own words?
      2) Who do you think we compete with? Would we replace any solutions you currently have? Which ones?
      3) How much do you think a solution like this would cost? Why?

      I'm trying to get at what market they are mentally positioning me in by seeing who they think my competition is and what they think my value is. The pricing question is often very enlightening - sometimes they will say things like "You seem like a sales add-on so you shouldn't cost more than what I'm paying for Salesforce" or "This would integrate with my accounting system so it can't cost more than that" These are all clues about how well your positioning works (or doesn't) based on their understanding of it.

  • RT

    Rob Tyrie

    6 months ago #

    Hi April, what do you think of positioning statements ? How should we focus our effort on this?

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      World - meet my friend Rob. We've been in a bunch of startups together and have the battle scars to prove it :)
      I hate positioning statements. I hate them a lot. If you are unfamiliar, the positioning statement is a sort of Mad Libs type of exercise where you fill in the blanks. It usually goes like this "We are a blank (solution) for blank (target buyers) that does blank (value), unlike blank (competitors).
      It is a bad idea to do one of these for several reasons:
      a) The exercise assumes you know how to fill in the blanks but doesn't give you any clue how to do it! How do I know the best market to position my solution in?
      b) The exercise assumes there is only one correct answer for each blank. This is never true!
      c) It assumes that your Positioning is obvious. It isn't. The assumption that it is can kill your business.

    • RT

      Rob Tyrie

      6 months ago #

      Bonus question - are there any particularly bad positioning statement you can talk about? Good ones? Any focus on beer is welcome ;)

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    6 months ago #

    Thanks for doing this AMA with us April. What are the 3 most important things you look for when taking on a new consulting client?

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      Hey Sean - thanks so much for having me here today!!
      I work with 2 types of companies:
      1) B2B Startups with some good early traction and a clear positioning problem I think I can help with. I don't do B2C because I just don't feel comfortable there. I can usually do an early screening call and figure out if the problem is a positioning problem or something else. I also screen startups based on how much I just dig what they are doing. I'm pretty busy so I like to save my time for the interesting ones :) For these companies we usually end up doing a workshop.
      2) Big B2B Companies that either want to upgrade the skills of their product/marketing teams or are launching something new and need positioning help. I do a lot of classes for larger companies that want to learn more about positioning so the team can then figure out how to apply it to their own internal processes. Sometimes bigger companies are launching something and we will do an engagement where I help them through that.

      So the most important things I am looking for revolve around making sure that they have a problem that my specialized expertise can help with.

      2 Share
  • MD

    Mark Anthony de Jesus

    6 months ago #

    Hey April,

    You've clearly been involved with some complex products where you can't really get to an "aha moment" quickly like you can with many consumer products.
    What have you learned about what it takes when you have products that need multiple interactions, over days, possibly with multiple people, to get them to see the light?

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      I think in B2B we get really excited about a long list of features and we try to sell everything like it’s equally important. In my opinion, most B2B product have one or two things that makes companies want to buy them. The other features are all “table stakes”, or things that if you didn’t have them, they would stop you from getting the deal, but having them doesn’t get you the deal. You need to stay very focused in your marketing and sales efforts on those key differentiated things. The other stuff is there and you can make sure customers know about them later. But you need to stay really, really disciplined in making sure that the main thing remains the main thing, in the minds of prospects.
      Where we mess this up is we release a little new feature and we want to highlight that. And then we update a little table stakes thing and we want to highlight that. We get bored of our own marketing and start thinking “Oh everyone knows we do XYZ.” Then the next thing you know, new prospects can’t see the forest for the trees and your key differentiators have been completely buried under a bunch of insignificant nice to have, me-too features.
      Keep it simple and focus on the one or two things that make you special and valuable and consistently hammer on those. Keep doing it even when you are bored of it. Keep doing it even when you think everyone already knows. They don’t.
      Lastly on this point - you need to really understand the friction points in your sales process in order to speed it up. Sometimes deals get stuck because they seem risky to folks or difficult to deploy or to expensive. There are always ways to reduce this friction. Sometimes you need to break a bigger deal up into pieces because the smaller pieces will move faster than one large deal, sometimes you need to move to a proof of concept quickly to address risk factors, sometimes you can offer guarantees to help move folks along. Every market is different, so you need to spend a lot of time talking to people to figure out why the deal is taking time.

  • TN

    Tri Nguyen

    6 months ago #

    Hi April

    Piggybacking of Mark's question on complex products - can you really have a, say, 30 day trial for such products and still have high odds of conversions or is there a different approach that might work better here?

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      If folks can self-trial your product then I think a trial is ideal and 30 days might be way too long. If the product is simple enough that a user could run a trial on their own, you just need to make sure you teach them how to trial. Meaning, if this is a solution they have likely never bought before, you should teach them how to buy. I like producing a buyers guide in these cases - that gives me a chance to teach them what the most important features are and which they can spend less time on (because all solutions have them).
      For really complex solutions you might have to do a Proof of Concept. These are sometimes great (it get folks moving along, you get your stuff in the door) and sometimes awful (you have cost to set it up, they take time). The key to a good proof of concept is you need to manage the process for the customer. Define success criteria up front, put a time limit on it, and start negotiating the deal with the assumption that the POC will be a success.

  • GH

    Glen Harper

    6 months ago #

    Thank you for joining us today, April.

    1. What strategies have you seen work best for inducing a sense of urgency among free users of a freemium product to upgrade/make the purchase?

    2. On a related note, we understand that there needs to be some sort of quid pro quo with free users so that they "pay" by spreading the word about the product. Any examples you can share here where the tradeoff doesn't come across as spammy (eg I will auto-tweet on your behalf that you're using my product)?

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      Hi Glen!
      I hate Freemium in B2B mainly because you are starting with a massive positioning handicap. You have defined your market category in a way that there is a basic level of functionality that has zero value. Now I need to come back and convince you that there are additional add-on things that DO have value. Note that this would be completely different if I had said “This product regularly costs X but I’m going to give it to you for free for a few months” or “Our regular price is Y but you get it for free because we are still in Beta” In these cases you are establishing a value right up front and making it clear that “free” is an exception. Freemium is literally the opposite - free is the default and paying is the exception. It’s not impossible to make money on freemium models but it’s just so much easier to give people something free in other ways. The best strategy I’ve seen is to just stop doing Freemium and charge folks a little bit for the free thing. That way, you remove all the folks that are never, ever going to pay for any solution.

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      On the second point - I feel gross asking folks to pretend to like something they don’t. Instead of asking free folk to Tweet in exchange for something, I would just ask my super happy customers to help me out. We don’t ask our customers to help us nearly enough imo and they are often more than willing to help spread the word if they are happy - all we have to do it ask them. We are seeing new tools to help us enable this sort of thing (Influitive is a platform to harness existing customers in this way). I like the idea of rewarding happy customers for voluntarily helping me out. You see Hubspot doing this at their conference with a “VIP area” that only their active advocates get to use. That feels more genuine to me than saying “Tweet or we cut you off.”
      Of course if you can’t find any happy customers, you have problems that marketing can’t fix :)

  • JD

    James Dunn

    6 months ago #

    Hi April,

    1. What is the most common thing about positioning that people either get wrong or just misunderstand?

    2. What's your opinion on what it takes to make freemium work as a business model?

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      Hi James!
      I think folks confuse Positioning with Messaging and that gets them in trouble. Positioning is really more about getting your arms around your complete market strategy - what is our unique value, who are we targeting, what market do we intend to win. If you just focus on messaging, that isn't going to be enough - the entire company including marketing, sales, product, success, has to be aligned with the positioning.

  • SK

    S Kodial

    6 months ago #

    Hey April,

    Got any suggestions for a resource to learn SQL from scratch? Lord knows there's a few marketers (present company included) that could benefit from this.
    Also, is there any other skill that you think is table stakes for modern marketers (and why)?

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      I graduated with a degree in engineering so I knew SQL better than I knew marketing in the early days of my career. Later when I was building teams, I often hired people that looked like me - engineers that didn't want to do engineering. My thinking was that I could teach them anything they needed to know and the engineers were generally fast learners. One thing I did screen for was writing skills. It's really hard to teach someone with bad grammar and no flair for copy how to write. Not all jobs require it of course but it was always a handy skill to have on the team. Technical skills on the other hand, seemed easy to each folks (but that could be because i was hiring technical folks in the first place).

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    6 months ago #

    Thanks @aprildunford for an awesome AMA. One last question if you get the time. How often do you think startups confuse a positioning problem with a product/market fit problem and vice versa?

    • AD

      April Dunford

      6 months ago #

      Oh this is a good question!
      In my opinion startups really lack an understanding of the "market" side of the equation. I meet a lot of startups that tell me they think they have product/market fit when what they really have is just a handful of really happy customers. When I ask them what market they intend to win, they have a hard time putting a boundary around it because they don't really know what market their product fits with. They just know that some customers can't live without it. But "some customers" isn't a market.
      In my opinion a "market" is defined by a group of customers with a common set of characteristics that I can identify and target. If you have product/market fit, you should be able to tell me what customers are most likely to love your offering and why.
      One of the reasons I don't work with really early stage companies is because they need to have enough happy customers for us to look at why they are happy and how we might position the product to make their value more obvious to a particular market. We need to see patterns. But it is entirely possible to have some super happy customers and pass the typical product/market fit test and yet still have really weak positioning. That weak positioning will slowly kill you by causing friction across your complete customer acquisition funnel. Sure, you will still have super happy customers coming out the back end of that (because once they get over their confusion about what you are and why they should care, it turns out your product is awesome) but you can go out of business waiting for them to figure you out.

  • CC

    Chris Castillo

    6 months ago #

    Hi April,

    For a new business owner in the digital marketing space, and loads of competition, are there any positioning strategies would you recommend other than "niching down"?

  • KT

    Kirk Tavener

    6 months ago #

    Hi April,

    We have a Saas mobile App that has been focused on B to C and now we have added features that have attracted Enterprise customers, we want to reach out to more Enterprise customers. The issue is that we solve an issue for almost every type of company that has some type of field sales, that saves time and money, but on a smaller scale than most enterprise solutions. We can show cost saving, high ROI, and low acquisition cost, but the issue is that we are finding is that there is usually no one type of business decision maker we can focus on. We are trying to build an outbound strategy, but finding the person that would champion the solution has been difficult. Any thoughts how to build a outbound strategy ti promote a product that can sell itself if we can find the right decision maker and educate them on the value.

  • SC

    Samuel C

    6 months ago #

    Hey April!

    I've built a chatbot for my company Academy Xi.

    I am providing people with basic information about our 10 week User Experience Design Course.

    I am not completely sure how to collate the information about our past students from Close.io in order to create a data driven user experience.

    m.me/academyxi

    Thank you for reading. :)

  • KS

    Klemen Struc

    5 months ago #

    Hi April :) Thank you so much for being here and taking your time to be answering our questions. So much appreciated.

    How should we approach Positioning when we still haven't found our Product/Market fit, we don't yet have a winning product strategy and our product could be described in at least 3 totally different ways?

    Some more context: When I took over the company I'm leading today, I knew the product (subscription where members get access to a library of 2 hrs trainings + one new training every month) was nothing special or exceptionally good that our customers would rave about, share, recommend, etc. It was just "ok". You could even find similar content from the same teachers for free on the internet. I've been spending eons of time on the phone with our customers doing interviews to better understand their needs, wants, habits, likes, dislikes, etc. We've also been experimenting a lot and we're now getting closer and closer to finding that winning product for which people are already giving us glowing feedback. We're close. But still, we could describe our subscription product (membership) in at least 3 totally different ways. We could be a "school", "a community", "group meditation app", etc. We'll be doing more experiment and will eventually find that "thing", but advice and ideas from expext like you always come handy :)

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