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Why Most B2B Positioning Fails

The three most common reasons and the importance of disqualification for establishing a compelling POV.

Bad B2B marketing – which I'm defining as marketing that doesn’t drive revenue – is a symptom of a larger business issue, not a marketing one.

And bad marketing typically, not always, derives from failed positioning.

So why does B2B positioning fail so hard, so often? In my experience, there are three main reasons:

Reason 1: The company shouldn’t exist

This is true of most software companies, which are simply a solution in search of a problem. I’ve written extensively about this here and here.

Reason 2: The positioning wasn’t properly implemented

This is the least likely reason for failed positioning.

Why? Because a company that understands that the foundation of effective positioning will typically also understand the importance of alignment between departments.

The latter is a prerequisite for the former.

They understand that while marketing may “manage” the positioning, it must be owned and implemented across the entire go-to-market (GTM) team, which typically includes Marketing, Sales, Product, Customer Success.

So they instinctively involve other departments outside of Marketing when establishing their positioning to minimize the chances of any disconnects.

If you think your positioning is the issue, after checking the strength of your disqualification (see below), you should next examine the alignment and communication among your teams.

Which leaves us with the most common reason B2B positioning fails.

Reason 3: It was never established in the first place

Few companies have clear, established, actionable positioning.

They’ll tell you they do, then hand you a pretty “Brand Strategy” PDF.

One scratch deeper than the surface would reveal nothing more than a mess of assumption-backed, subjective, seemingly related but actually quite disparate descriptions of the company’s “brand” with no clear thread (i.e., POV) running through them, complete with a slew of “innovative” companies they aspire to be like but whose impact they will never match.

As mentioned, one of the keys to effective positioning is implementation across your GTM team.

It is impossible to do this if you do not have clear, tangible answers to questions that can be translated by way of critical thinking into responses to potential customers – either through the written word or verbally.

I’ve been handed these PDFs and still struggled immensely to do my job. Hand that to someone who doesn’t put food on the table matching language to ideas, who needs that information to effectively do their job, and your alleged positioning is dead in the Google Drive.

(If I am able to get the answers I need to do my job from Marketing, they’re often completely different once I ask Product the same questions. Again, back to the correlation between failed positioning and companies with siloed teams.)

Companies often think they need to reposition when they never actually established positioning in the first place.

What repositioning looks like to them is updating the H1 and subheadline of their website. In other words, to them, repositioning means tweaking their copy, not addressing the lack of POV and lack of clarity on who their product is, or isn’t, a fit for.

Any time I’ve been brought in to help “reposition” a company, they never really had positioning in the first place. Because if they did, they wouldn’t need my help.

They would know precisely where and how to adjust their messaging (i.e., the expression of their positioning), followed by their copy, based on feedback from their ICP because they would have done their due diligence and established a clear and compelling POV.

But most companies can't do that. Because they haven't established a compelling POV – the key ingredient to effective positioning and a prerequisite for sustainable, long-term differentiation.

Why do B2B companies fail at establishing a compelling POV?

I explain why a compelling POV is critical to positioning in a previous piece.

But I’m going to explain why companies fail so hard at establishing one right now.

The reason is that they refuse to answer Question 4 of “the facts,” one of three components of effective positioning. (Question 4 states: Who isn't our product/service a good fit for?)

In other words, they refuse to disqualify.

To make your face brighter on a Zoom call, rarely would you want to add more light. Turning on overhead lights won’t make you brighter, it just makes the background brighter.

Enter ring lights.

These are much smaller than a window. But a ring light in a dark room will light up its subject far more brightly than a window on a sunny day.

How? Contrast.

The smaller the light source, the harsher the light; its brightness is directly proportional to how much darkness there is.

In other words, a light source’s power is dictated by how much it disqualifies.

The same goes for your POV.

A company’s POV – and their overall positioning, which is held together by their POV – is only as strong as their willingness to say no.

Yet, it’s the one thing few B2B companies will actually do.

Whatever transpires from not disqualifying will typically then get diagnosed as a brand awareness issue when it’s really a brand relevance one.

As for why they refuse to disqualify, in my experience, there are four different scenarios that play out:

Scenario 1. An outright refusal to disqualify because they sold their investors on their total addressable market (TAM), not their ICP. A POV that risks disqualification literally won’t get approved by daddy VC.

Scenario 2. The CEO (and founder) changes the direction they want to take the company no less than three times per week so not only can they not disqualify, they change who they qualify.

Scenario 3. A lack of agreement on target audience, which leads to lack of agreement on who to disqualify.

Scenario 4. An inability to agree on who to disqualify, so they disqualify no one.

SmartWater and Charmin are genuinely more clear on who their product isn’t for than companies selling $30K/month software.

Smartwater disqualifies with their name. There are plenty of people who think it’s super dumb (myself included) as well as their price. Their price is part of their positioning. They’re automatically a premium brand because of it. Many people are not willing to pay $2.99+ for water when they can pay $0.99.

The same goes for Charmin, minus the name part. Plenty of people don’t care how soft their toilet paper is, they just want to make sure they don’t run out of it while simultaneously not breaking the bank.

But it’s not just your positioning that will suffer from not disqualifying, your business will too. A refusal to disqualify results in weak, irrelevant leads.

Weak leads seem harmless. But make no mistake, they're a very serious addiction that will destroy your bandwidth and build resentment from your sales team towards marketing.

Companies, even if your product was for everyone (though I can assure you it’s not), speaking to everyone results in speaking to no one.

To solve nearly any marketing issue – including your fake brand awareness issues, differentiation, positioning, messaging, copy, content engagement, and even your paid media troubles – start by looking at the strength and clarity of your audience disqualification.

*Messaging changes are required anytime your audience changes. Any time your product changes, your audience is changing too. But your audience can change without your product changing.

In other words, any time answers to Questions 3 or 4 under “the facts” change, your messaging must change. But answers to Questions 3 and 4 can change without the answers to Questions 1, 2, and 5 changing.

Messaging changes not supervised by an overarching POV will fail.


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Table of Contents

Reason 1: The company shouldn’t exist

Reason 2: The positioning wasn’t properly implemented

Reason 3: It was never established in the first place

Why do B2B companies fail at establishing a compelling POV?

Why Most B2B Positioning Fails

The three most common reasons and the importance of disqualification for establishing a compelling POV.

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