Many business leaders approach questions of growth, revenue opportunities, and customer acquisition from the perspective of “Why would customers not choose us?”. Many product managers plan their offerings by reducing reasons why customers might not choose their product or service.

While those are important aspects of successful products to consider, this model is upside down. Successful businesses look at their brand and products with the intention of giving their customers, and prospective customers, reasons to pick their product over all alternatives.

Alternatives Extend Beyond Direct Competitors

Alternatives include competitors, as well as other ways customers can solve their problems. For an example, a not-for-profit technology company that provides a donor-management system to help manage fundraising campaigns needs to view alternatives as both not-for-profit solution providers offering similar products, as well as other ways to drive cause marketing and fundraising such as Facebook Deals. Executive at this software company need strong answers to this question. Why would a not-for-profit organization select you over the full spectrum of alternatives?

This critical “guilty until proven innocent” approach causes executives to ask the hard questions and not overlook details that are important to their market.  In turn,  they lead their teams to continuously refine their offering until there is no reason for their product not to “sell like iPhones in June” in its target market.

Identifying reasons why customers would not chose your product should not cast blame on anyone for designing a product a certain way, interjecting an idea, or chasing the wrong segment. Your organization’s culture should support this customer-focused, fail-fast mentality. However, if your product is brought to market without having fixed, or at least having short-term plans to adjust, the product so that it is bubbling over with compelling reason why customers should choose you, there is plenty of blame to be shared between the product management and marketing executives for the slow adoption and under performing sales.

In Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow, he describes how remarkable products and marketing can be successful in even the most mundane or established markets.

“The essence of the Purple Cow — the reason it would shine among a crowd of perfectly competent, even undeniably excellent cows — is that it would be remarkable. Something remarkable is worth talking about, worth paying attention to. Boring stuff quickly becomes invisible.”

Positioning Your Against All Alternatives

Here are three questions you can bring up with your team to help refine your products and marketing toward becoming “remarkable.” Put yourself in the role of a highly critical, busy prospective customer and have your team explain why you should choose them over an alternative. Treat this as a collaborative and constructive exercise, but don’t let up until your positioning and product are head and shoulders above the alternatives.

What is the compelling reason a customer would select your product?
Why would a middle-class man in his 40s pay for your lawn service rather than paying a neighborhood kid to do it and just doing it himself? When Google launched Gmail in 2004, they focused on providing the solutions in areas that email users would switch systems in order to solve such as more storage. Rather than promoting a better way to attach documents or the most emoticons, Google understood that providing 1GB of email storage in market where most competitors set the limit at 10% of that would offer a compelling reason for customers to adopt their service. How do you solve your target market’s problems better, easier, faster than the alternatives?

How important are these reasons to customers?
Your product or service can solve many problems for your customers. Are these the problems that your customers care about? Does your product solve the problems that your target market is willing to pay to have solved? Imagine you sell screw drivers with a flashlight in the handle for $12, when a screwdriver without a flashlight costs $4. You solved the problem of handy people not needing to carry both a screwdriver and a flashlight when working in low-light environments. However, is this a problem that your target market is willing to pay $8 to have solved, when the alternative is simply carrying around both a screwdriver and a flashlight?

With all of the alternatives available, why would customers select you and not them?
Be very critical in asking this question. Assume the alternatives have elements that are attractive or they would not be in the market. When I led product management and marketing for a SaaS CRM provider, I would sit in on the weekly sales meeting to gleam nuggets of market data through the comments and questions of account executives. To end each meeting, the sales engineering team would give an update or overview of a competitor in the space. I was amazed at the disservice they were providing the sales team when they exclusively presented competitors as having inferior, awful products. They covered the negatives of these alternatives, but never the strengths. This left the sales team to learn about the good qualities of competitive products on their own, often in the middle of a real sales pitch or negotiation.

Don’t shy away from being brutally honest about the strengths of alternatives and the weakness of your solution. Push your team to develop very solid reasons why your product would be chosen over alternatives by not allowing executives, nor your team, to gloss over the weaknesses in your product, misalignment of your positioning, or strong points of alternatives.

You can be a positive and assertive leader while remaining humble and acknowledging the weaknesses in your business. Understanding product weaknesses means that you understand the opportunity created by addressing those weaknesses.

Does your organization take a “Why wouldn’t customers choose us?” approach or a “Why should customer choose us over all alternatives?” approach to marketing and product management?

If these tough questions discourage your team, stymie your fellow senior managers, or madden your CEO, don’t despair. The answer is not to ignore the realities of your product strategy and plow forward into slow- or no- growth. There are several strategies for understanding how your product needs to change or how your target segment and positioning could be modified to drive your enterprise toward unbridled success.

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