Creating a winning B2B marketing strategy is about having a competitive advantage and being able to communicate it. But how can you find your competitive position when there are so many competitors in the market? With the 'three circles' exercise, it's easier than you think.
Three circles is a simple but highly effective 1-page exercise you can run by yourself or with your team to map your competitive environment and look for new ideas and insights into how you can beat your competitors.
There is a circle each for you, your customer and your competitors. In these you’ll separately identify your strengths, the competitors' strengths and the key wants and needs of your customers. The three areas where the circles overlap is where the real gold is. Here you’ll uncover your areas of advantage within your B2B marketing strategy - (how you can win), your vulnerabilities (where your competitors can beat you) and your areas of parity (what you and your competitors need just to be in the game).
Step 1 - Who do you need to beat?
The first thing you need to to uncover you B2B marketing strategy is list your top 5 competitors. Why? Because you need to know who you need to beat to win your prospect's business, or to keep your clients and stop them from leaving. You’ll refer to this list of competitors continually during the exercise - after all, it comes down to making sure you’re a better choice than the alternatives.
Not sure how to list and rank your top competitors? Start by asking your own people - your salespeople, customer service people and front of house team. And why not ask your customers? Simple questions like "if you weren't working with us who would you be working with?" is a great start (shape the question to match your industry).
Step 2 - What are your top 4 strengths?
In the 'Your Company's Strengths' circle list 4 strengths of your organisation. (At this stage don’t worry about your competitors just focus on what you do well.) Don’t list more than 4, your job is to narrow it down to the top strengths (more than 4 gets too cumbersome).
If you want real insight get your team to do this exercise individually and then compare your answers with the group - you’ll often be surprised at what others see to be your main strengths.
Step 3 - Where are your competitors better than you?
Look at your list of competitors. In which areas are they better than you? What have they got that's valuable to customers? How are they different in a way that matters? Now list your competitors' top 4 strengths. It might take a bit longer to uncover your competitors' strengths than it did your own because we often don’t think about the collective strengths of our main competitors, but we need to know them if we're going to beat them with a better value proposition.
Step 4 - What do your clients want and need?
We tend to focus on what we have to sell - but forget about that for a minute and ask yourself "what do our customers want?"
Now note down the key customer wants and needs in your industry (or the industry that you're targeting) and narrow this down to a top 4. I’m sure you’ll be able to uncover way more than 4, but the job is to whittle down to the key needs and wants. By way of example - when working with Aged Care Providers in Australia their list of customer wants could look like this; 1) peace of mind, 2) value for money, 3) history of service, 4) industry awards and qualifications.
Advantages, Vulnerabilities & Table stakes
B2B marketing strategy ideas will appear when you start looking at the overlaps between the three circles.
The overlaps help you identify 1) your areas of advantage, 2) your vulnerabilities and 3) the things you need just to be in the game!
Step 5 - The 'table stakes' - where your circle and your competitors circle overlap
The table stakes is where your circle overlaps the competitors circle - in other words, your 'points of parity'. The table stakes are the things you both need to stay in the game. It is less about competitive advantage and more about making sure you've got the essentials to compete. Knowing the table stakes is really useful as it allows you to make sure that the key things that keep you in the business are at the optimal.
Your top table stakes will change depending on your industry but might include things like; 1) having a centrally located premises, 2) correct approvals and accreditation, 3) skilled staff, 4) up to date machinery, 5) licences, 6) parking, 7) the right technology, 8) online bookings...anything you need to keep you in the game. Getting clear on the points of competitive parity helps your team focus on the core things you need. This exercise focuses you on the critical things you need just to keep playing, something we often neglect as our focus is drawn in other directions.
Action: Focusing on table stakes in your competitive environment will help inform strategy decisions around core pillars - is our IT strategy right? Is our professional development program up to scratch? Does our corporate office need an upgrade - or do we need it at all? Is our on-line experience on par with our competitors or do we need to update?
Step 6 - Your vulnerabilities - where your competitors and customers circles overlap
Where your competitors' strengths circle and the customers wants and needs circle overlap is the area of your vulnerabilities. Work with your team to look carefully at the customers' key wants and needs vs what your competitors offer. Look for areas where your competitors can (and do) offer better value in meeting those customers needs. Try to look through the eyes of your customers and prospects - where are they better, how can they beat you? Select the top 4 areas in which you're most vulnerable.
Action: Look for strategies to overcome these vulnerabilities. Do you need to redevelop your website? Set up a satellite office on the east coast? Introduce new services? Get out of a market?
Step 7 - Your advantages - where your circle and the customers circle overlap
Your advantage (where you can beat your competitors) is where your circle overlaps the customer wants and needs circle - this is where your competitors can't touch you. Look at your strengths together with your customers' key wants and needs and see where you can meet those needs better than your competitors. What have you got that will help you win? Is it people, skills, brand, process, size, market share, flexibility, experience? ...What is it that gives you an advantage? Here you'll start to uncover the real meat to your B2B marketing strategy.
Using your insights into your company, your competitors and your customers to create a B2B marketing strategy
Once you've completed the three circles exercise, you have a basis for your B2B marketing strategy. Reflect and review it with your team (this is best done in workshop setting). Each of the circles and the overlaps should provide great insight into your competitive environment - this is a great way to generate ideas and insight on what you can do to develop a winning strategy. This could be focused on changes you need to make internally, in what you offer or in the way you communicate . You're sure to uncover a wide range of ideas and insights - but like the exercise itself the main idea is to focus on the key initiatives that will put you in a better winning position.
Try it out and let me know how you go.