This lessons learned series is part of our live SaaS resource list we're building while launching a new product.
See the live SaaS resource list
We found positioning to be one of the most important things to understand for SaaS companies at any stage and especially when building and marketing a new product.
In the simplest way possible explain what positioning is?
When a real potential customer comes to your website you want them to understand the problem you fix for them and why you're the best solution provider for the job.
This is especially difficult with a new novel product.
If you've built a database to store customer data. You could position it as "The future of CRM for any business", "A CRM for banks", "A CRM for small business", "The SIMPLE database for customer data". In the early stages it could easily be updated and changed to fit any one of those, so which do you choose? Which niche? What size organisation? Incorrect positioning could mean the difference between growing at 10% per year or 200%.
What one sentence on positioning was most important and why?
"Start by focusing on your best customers".
To figure out correct positioning it's tempting to consider problems of customers who didn't buy and are asking for features we don't have. That's a mistake we've made many times.
Focusing on our best customers means we get to focus on best features and expand on that niche. It means marketing, development and sales is simpler in those early days to get the growth we need to consider building the other features.
What scares us most about positioning?
How important it could be.
Imagine we duplicated our team. The same duplicate team with the same skills and with identical product features could grow 10X faster than us by nailing the positioning for the market they want to win.
That's a huge startup headache so it's great when there is a proven method for positioning as set out by April Dunford (listed in the resource section).
What dumb assumptions did we make about positioning at the very start of our SaaS journey?
That was the problem.
We didn't know positioning existed.
We may have read a lot about marketing and headlines and copywriting and messaging but none of those are "market positioning".
One of the many headlines we tried in the very early days was "CCTV for your website".
We came up with CCTV for your website after a couple of people used it as some sort of UX monitoring tool or security monitoring tool.
If next week a customer had said they use it for onboarding we'd have changed that title again. We did not know how to evaluate the product's value and place it in the correct market.
We had no idea what positioning, go to market or even focusing on a market niche truly meant.
What did we waste the most time on which we regret?
We wasted time re-writing headlines and text for each feature, choosing which feature to put up on the front page, and what to write in onboarding emails.
Writing it based on some gut instinct which changed each day leading to yet a new 'epiphany' and a new change was dumb.
A/B testing was largely useless as we did not have the numbers to do a real test.
Ideally we should have gone with the simplest description of the product and features which non-tech people would understand and then got on with talking to customers and following the positioning process.
What's the most worthwhile thing we did after this?
We created our own road map based on our own view of the market.
In a market where more competitors appear daily we realised it's important to have our own long term view which we believed in. This itself is a positioning method where we state our belief in where the market is going and how we're equipped to help companies adapt to that coming change.
We're a co-browsing service at present but we'll become a full context solution for super agents globally in the coming years.
What would we advise someone to do if they were starting from scratch?
Talk to customers again and again. Talk to your best ones. PAY THEM to talk to you. Give them Amazon vouchers, discounts or whatever it takes. It's their time so it's worth paying them for it.
We realised that our instinct was based on very little data. As the data came in, our perspective changed and adapted. Startups require ground up work in talking to customers to really understand their core needs. College educated top down logical reasoning is dangerous because it's too shallow. It's why every experienced founder is saying "Talk to your customers". Elon Musk is literally right now still saying "talk to your customers".
As you gather that customer feedback go through April Dunford's positioning book and follow the steps. See what you come out with. For early stage SaaS startups, correct positioning can save you actual YEARS by putting you on the right path faster.
If we had a magic wand how would we use it to improve our positioning?
We'd conjure up a huge list of all the software where customers struggle to navigate that software and support agents struggle to support them during that navigation.
It would be broken down into key industries and by company size.
Then we'd magically extract the key phrases going through the support team manager's mind when thinking about this exact navigation problem.
That would give us an understanding of the market and the basis for our ad, email, blog and landing page narrative. Then we'd start by just emailing them all using those phrases and test each channel to see what works.
How will we use our experience for our new product?
We'll keep in mind the key problems we believe it solves but we won't fixate on any single market. Instead we'll first use the product to solve problems we ourselves have.
After launching the initial product we'll get feedback and measure usage to figure out what the strongest use cases are.
We'll then build the initial positioning when we have sufficient feedback.
Why is it great? It's a ground up example of achieving product market fit and positioning all in one.
The key quote? "Ask your users how they’d feel if they could no longer use your product. The group that answers ‘very disappointed’ will unlock product/market fit."
We like this quote because it reinforces the idea of asking your best customers what they think and focusing on them in the early days, rather than being distracted by those who don't like it.
This is Upscope's own blog post setting out 10 examples of positioning.
One of the oddest mind bending examples is number five in the list where an entrepreneur explains why positioning around saving money can mean you charge 8 times less than you could.
Besides that, one of the key lessons is Upscope's own lesson on sending emails which is number 2 in the list. If you're not precisely pinpointing their pain straight away then they don't read the email. The attention span is low but the "consideration" span is just a few seconds. If you can get them to consider it by naming their exact pain point then you've got more of their attention.
We found this tweet thread to be essential for understanding the separation between the underlying vision of the company and how you sell the product to the clients. We've made the mistake of mixing the two before and it's not great. The client may care about the vision but their priority is what the product does for them today.
Here are the simplest examples of why it's important: SpaceX aims to make humanity multi-planetary but clients are purchasing payload to space. Upscope aims to help develop 1 million super agents but clients are purchasing co-browsing services that help guide non-tech customers through their website.
Is a sales narrative the same thing as positioning? There's an ongoing argument about it and we're not qualified to give you anything but our perspective.
Here's our take. We wish we had read the book on positioning in the early days of our SaaS journey and it's still important now as we expand into double digit employee numbers.
So when do we need the sales narrative? We can see the need to focus on a sales narrative now as our sales team grows. It provides a single story line which a sales team can use but one which the company as a whole aligns on.