Positioning for Solution Providers:

Positioning for Solution Providers


Positioning is a fundamental concept in business.  Excellent positioning is one of the foundational marketing practices that separate high-functioning, successful companies from the rest of the pack.  


A funny started happening to us recently, the more we talked with people in the IT channel about positioning, the more we realized how widely their definitions varied.  It turns out positioning is that perfect ubiquitous marketing concept that everyone knows about, but is different for everyone.  It’s not quite the elephant in the room, but it’s newsletter worthy.  


This is a look into positioning from a solution provider’s perspective, not from a marketers.  First we’ll define it.  Then we’ll look at the goal of positioning for solution providers.  Finally, we’ll leave you with micro, real-world success story. 


Positioning Defined:

Many believe positioning is a the perception of a company in the marketplace.  There is truth in that, but it frames what we feel should be an active business practice into a passive one.  There is a perception of your company in the market, you do have a position in the market, but this is not your positioning.  Blair Enns, consultant to marketing firms, defines positioning as Strategy Articulated.  We like this definition because it captures the key of positioning: Strategy.  There is a common misconception that positioning is mostly about language.  Poorly designed, ineffective, and misleading positioning puts language above strategy.  Why doesn’t it work?  Because customers are savvy and hollow positioning is easy to spot.  See for yourself (these are from actual solution provider websites):


“Solution Provider #1 is the Midwest's leader in professional computer support and knowledge-based Information Technology services offering expert solutions, managed services, and unsurpassed customer service.”


“Solution Provider #2 is north america’s leading independent provider of IT services and solutions.”

“Our Information Technology solutions are focused on helping companies of varying sizes deal with the demands of a rapidly changing marketplace. With solutions in 6 major disciplines and powerful products, our growing and innovative portfolio enables you to develop the competitive advantage you need.”

None of these positioning statements is compelling, or believable, enough to be effective.  The great work these companies may do is neutralized by this hollow, language-based positioning.  You can start getting it right by being honest.  Consider your positioning statement an answer to the question, “What do you do?”  It might be your elevator pitch, but by no means is it a sales pitch.  Whether you realize it or not, it reveals your company’s strategy.  Even though we love Strategy Articulated as a definition, it’s marketing-speak.  When we’re working with solution providers, we use this definition: Positioning is a declaration of expertise or specializationTake Solution Provider #1 from above as an example.  We meet the president of the company and ask him what he does.  Instead of reciting copy from their website, he says, 


“We’re an IT company.  We build networking solutions for professionals, mostly accountants and lawyers.  We also provide managed services for a growing number of these firms.”


Excellent positioning is composed of these elements:  

1.  Who you are:  An IT company

2.  Who your customers are:  Professionals, mostly accountants and lawyers.

3.  You Expertise or Specialization:  Networking and managed services.  

4.  Focused.  You want to be focused as you articulate the first three elements.  The most common solution provider positioning mistake is being too broad.  It’s logical, you want to cast a wider net to have the chance at more business - it’s just not effective.  The more watered down your positioning is, the less chance you have to make an impact. 


The Goal of Positioning for Solution Providers:


1.  Reduces or eliminates your competitionThis is done through being very focused in describing your customers and your expertise or specialization.  For example, If Solution Provider #1 is in competition for a large networking design and build for a law firm against another IT company with a broad positioning of “your total IT solution provider,” it’s clear to see they will have the advantage.


2.  Breaks down the IT language barrier.  One of the single greatest marketing challenges for solution providers is the how intimidating IT can be for your customers.  The first goal in positioning is to put what you do in terms, in language, that customers can easily absorb.  Who your customer are dictate how techy your positioning can be - if you mainly sell to very knowledgable CTOs, keep it complex for credibility.  If you maily sell to small business owners, remove the hurdle and speak in language they can understand.  


3.  Dovetails with your sales strategy.  Proper positioning is a sales tool.  If done right, your articulated strategy will makes sales decisions relatively easy.  

Target Market:  Lists can be culled and focused as you only target prospects in your declared area of expertise.  

Lead Generation:  With a focused target, lead generation tools returns better data which mean more prospects in your wheelhouse.  

Pre-Qualification of Leads:  By a only targeting prospects in your focused area of expertise, you know already know you can help them, they are pre-qualified simply by being on your list.  


Telemarketing Done Right

If you’re thinking, “OK, I see your point, but what does it mean in the real world?”  Here’s something to think about.  Just as we were wrapping up an internal alignment for a client (A solution provider in the Northwest) they were approached by a manufacturer endorsed telemarketing firm suggesting they use some MDF on telemarketing campaign.  They had done a few in the past with very limited success.  We changed two variables for the campaign: 


1.  We re-drafted the call script adding our client’s new positoining.

2.  We threw out over 50% of the companies on the list that were not in our client’s area of expertise. 


The telemarketing firm ran with our changes and the campaign returned three times more qualified leads than the previous - just by making these two small adjustments.