Marketing Vision While Selling Product: The 3+1 Repositioning

This post was inspired by a recent beer with long-term colleague, friend, and fellow volleyball dad, Paul Albright, now chief revenue officer at Marketo.

The question we discussed was how can a company sell current product capabilities but also market vision at the same?  (For brevity’s sake I mean “product” to include either traditional software products or SaaS / cloud services.)

Most companies simply market their current product capabilities:  Here we are.  This is what we do.  Here are the benefits of using it.  Wanna buy one?

While this isn’t bad — particularly if you don’t forget step 3 (benefits) — you can do better.  How?  Say, for example, your competition sells an offering similar to yours and they sell using a current capabilities patter similar to the one above.  Now you show up selling something bigger:

 This is our current offering and it includes area 1 (which the other guy is pitching), but also areas 2 and 3, and the vision for our company is not just about having the best area 1, but instead to pursue a capstone vision that includes areas 1, 2, and 3.

Ceteris paribus, who do you think wins?  You do.  Why?  Because you completely enveloped the other guy’s message.    You neutralized him on area 1, you one-upped him in areas 2 and 3 (even if your current offering is anemic on an absolute basis), and then you made the customer feel both more aligned with and safer buying from your company because you are pursuing the bigger vision.

I call this a 3+1 repositioning.

I did my first 3+1 repositioning  back in about 1989 when I launched Ingres 6.3.  Prior versions Ingres were just for data management, but with release 6.3 we not only improved data management, but added knowledge management and object management capabilities and introduced the vision of an intelligent database system.  So area 1 = data management, area 2 = knowledge management, area 3 = object management, and the capstone vision was the intelligent database.  While it was a well-executed launch, it was a long time ago, Ingres had many other problems, and the ending wasn’t terribly happy.

So let’s look at some more recent examples.  SuccessFactors (where Albright was CMO and GM for several years) started out as a SaaS provider of performance reviews. How do you broaden that vision?  Well let’s look at what they say now:

Now let’s take a look at Marketo, a firm that I have traditionally thought of as about lead nurturing and incubation.

The magic of the 3+1 repositioning is:

  • It paints a broader vision, enveloping your competition
  • It provides a simple, memorable three-point message.  (Heck, I launched Ingres 6.3 more than 20 years ago and still remember the message!)
  • It lets you call higher, getting access to more power within the organization
  • It positions your company as a thought leader, someone defining the future of the market
  • It takes for granted your ability to neutralize any features du  jour in the core area.  (Oh, yes, we’re committed to having top-end lead management, but that’s just one part of the picture.)
  • It rallies your company, providing a North star towards which everyone can navigate.

The perils of a 3+1 repositioning are:

  • It can’t be done solely are a marketing exercise; it must be a company strategy and some resources must be invested in areas 2 and 3.
  • You can easily oversell areas 2 and 3, ending up with disappointed customers.  Remember the bear joke:  you just need to run faster than the other guy, so don’t overset expectations.
  • It can make your accountants nervous because there is a distinction between buying today’s product and buying into a (disclaimed) future vision and buying tomorrow’s product.  The latter tends to have negative revenue recognition issues.

In the end, I am a big fan of this 3+1 formula and encourage marketers everywhere to keep it in your toolbox.

5 responses to “Marketing Vision While Selling Product: The 3+1 Repositioning

  1. Pingback: How to Reposition brands in a Connected World « one % inspiration

  2. Great post and reminder. I’ve used this model as well. One other peril – have to be prepared to respond if a prospect says, “Well, I won’t buy today, I’ll wait for 2 and/or 3.”

    Also, minor typo above: “It can’t be done solely are a marketing exercise….” should be “…. as a marketing exercise…..”

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