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Late-Breaking: Speaking at the VP Sales Forum, March 10

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2014 is already off to a heady start. As our clients continue to push the envelope with their positioning work – they continually ask us about “market segmentation.”
Through our experience working with more than 250 B2B tech firms, we’ve observed that most tech executives only have a good hunch about where their revenue will come from.  Old school segmentation (by SIC code, number of employees, Fortune 500, SMB or personas) is too broad and not useful, and as a result, most tech executives struggle to generate the right kind of pipeline and target accounts for their sales teams to pursue.  They simply don’t have the right data. 
So we decided to do something about it.
We are offering a new data-driven “Propensity to Buy” service offering that answers three questions:
  • How do I find which companies are ready to buy…now?
  • How many are there? Are we in EVERY sales opportunity we can win? 
  • How do I engage these prospects? Am I wasting my sales and marketing spend on the wrong accounts? 
You can read about our approach, as well as about one of our clients that has seen great success with it, in this post. For those of you in Silicon Valley, I will be speaking about this topic at the VP Sales Forum on Monday, March 10th. I’d love to see you there. 
Are you worried about making your revenue number this year? We’d welcome the opportunity to explore this data-driven, analytic approach to sales targeting and market segmentation at your company. 
All the best,

How will you make your number this year? (Part 2)

A new data-driven approach to finding the highest propensity-to-buy customers

In our last post, we talked about the challenges B2B tech companies face in identifying the right sales cycles they need to be in to meet their revenue goals, and a new data-driven approach we’ve developed to help solve that dilemma. Today we’re going to talk about one of our clients putting this approach to the test – with great results.


One of our B2B SaaS clients recently made a strategic decision to pursue the high end of its market, companies with more than $4B revenue. We conducted a deep dive assessment of these top accounts to identify patterns, trigger events and the conditions that existed for these companies to “raise their hand” and make a significant investment in our client’s solution. By performing quantitative and qualitative analysis of internal and external data, we were able to profile these accounts and group them into four market segments: Consumer-Facing, Resource Grab, Culture Change, and Aging Competitor Replacement. 

By applying these four market segments to numerous private and public data sources (e.g., D&B, InsideView, etc.), we built a huge Fact-Base – the universe of potential accounts. We then ran this entire universe through our proprietary scoring model in order to prioritize the accounts. Ultimately, the model produced a list of 3,132 potential companies in the U.S., with a target list of 902 of these companies with the highest propensity-to-buy and highest revenue potential.

This target list was successfully used to determine the proper sales coverage model, focus the sales team on the right accounts, and help marketing focus its spend on engaging these specific customers. Marketing now runs campaigns designed for these specific segments and creates campaigns tailored to those buyers. Lead gen activities are now aligned with the segmentation scoring: higher priority accounts are touched more times. 

The results are still coming in – but our client blew out its number last quarter, and is expected to exceed its revenue goals again this quarter. The forecast is full of the right accounts. Best of all, we gave the model to our client at the end of our engagement, and they are now using the process to pinpoint their best prospects in Australia, Japan, UK, Germany, Brazil and France.

Are you worried about making your revenue number this year? Want to accelerate long sales cycles? Need to steer reps away from low-value deals?  If so, we would welcome the opportunity to explore this data-driven, analytic approach to sales targeting at your company.


How will you make your number this year? (Part 1)

A new data-driven approach to finding the highest propensity-to-buy customers

Recently I was talking to a CEO that was brought in by investors to scale-up a technology company in a hot new emerging category. He told me two issues were keeping him up at night:

“I know sales cycles are happening at this very moment that we want to be in, but aren’t.”

“My pipeline is filled with small deals. My reps are spending time on the wrong deals!”

For most B2B tech companies, this is the sobering reality. The satisfaction of making last year’s numbers has quickly given way to the challenge of making 2014 revenue goals.  It comes down to this:

  • How do I determine which companies are ready to buy, NOW?
  • How many opportunities are out there? Do I have the right coverage model? Are we in EVERY potential sales opportunity that we can win?
  • How do I engage these prospects? Am I wasting my marketing and sales $ on the wrong accounts?  

Slide05Customers ARE buying this year. Unfortunately, your sales team IS calling on the wrong accounts and your competition IS in sales cycles you don’t even know about.

The problem is that the old way of sales targeting and segmenting is outdated.  You don’t have the right data to intercept demand or find the highest propensity-to-buy accounts. Most tech executives have only a good hunch about where the revenue will come from this year, and struggle to generate the right kind of pipeline and target accounts for their sales and marketing teams to pursue.

We have developed a new data-driven model to help executives determine the accounts with the highest propensity-to-buy. Finding these sales opportunities requires an objective, third-party perspective, a different kind of data, and a more sophisticated way of segmenting the market. The result is the ability to break into existing sales cycles and find the buyers that are ready to buy, now – and the accounts you can win!

Why don’t companies have this data? It’s hard, takes time and requires expertise they may not have.  Plus an independent, objective analysis may not be possible using an internal team with a naturally biased viewpoint.

Tomorrow, we’re going to talk about one of our clients using this powerful data-driven approach to sales targeting, and the results they’ve seen. In the meantime, what’s your approach? Is it working? Why or why not?

Branding and Positioning Work Together: A New Framework

To cut through the brand-positioning confusion, we have developed a brand and positioning framework. This framework has been successfully used to educate our clients and help them clearly understand the distinctions between branding and positioning and how they play together.

In my last blog post, I discussed the distinction between brand and positioning. 

Strong positioning is the lifeblood for every B2B tech company, even the smallest start-up. Positioning is key to engaging and winning sales cycles and establishing a distinct, prominent corner of the room in the market category.

Not every B2B tech company needs a brand identity. However, a strong brand personality can be quite effective driving differentiation in commodity B2B markets or unifying a broad portfolio of different B2B products. Brand articulates the company personality and voice, expresses the ever-lasting experience the customer can expect and speaks to the buyers aspirations. Brand arises from successful product positioning.  

Brand v Positioning questions3

We have developed a brand and positioning framework to help our clients better understand the distinctions between branding and positioning and how they play together. IBM and SalesForce are two good examples of this interplay – though one could argue that NO SOFTWARE is closer to positioning than branding.  

As you can see, IBM uses SmartPlanet brand to unify thousands of products they have, which is also connected to their product positioning. Salesforce on the other hand has heavily leveraged it’s “No Software” mantra as a provocative viewpoint and rallying cry for the entire company. But it’s open enough to allow it’s positioning pillars to change over time to meet buyer needs.

How does your company stack up in our framework? Have you clearly articulated an answer for each level in the framework? Is it working?

Brand v Positioning2IBM and SalesForce are two good examples of this interplay –

IBM is a sophisticated, well-know example of using effectively using branding and positioning. The “Smart Planet” brand is used as an umbrella and rallying cry that brings together a large portfolio of different products and services. Of particular note: The positioning pillars (“we don’t make decisions on instinct” “you live in a social world, do you work in one?”, etc.) are very good examples of effective value statement headlines.

Brand v Positioning ibm

SalesForce, is another well-known example, though one could argue that NO SOFTWARE is closer to positioning than branding. Please note the way they have packaged their solutions into Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, etc. Simple, elegant, forward-thinking!Brand v Positioning Salesforce2

Positioning, Branding, or Both? Let’s Clear Up the Confusion.

Often we get calls from B2B tech companies looking for a brand strategy. Or we receive a desperate call by a tech executive to come in and clean up after an expensive branding effort that missed the mark. This got us thinking about a couple of questions that we hear time and time again:

  • What is the difference between Branding and Positioning?
  • Do companies need Branding, Positioning or both?
  • When is B2C branding helpful for a B2B company?

The terms “Branding” and “Positioning” are often used interchangeably. It is common for B2B tech executives to use the term Branding when they mean Positioning, and vice versa. But while both deal with placing something in your buyers’ minds, there is a BIG distinction, and here it is:

Brand v Positioning questions

Good positioning forces decisions about category, market segmentation and differentiators. It also articulates the competitive, differentiated value delivered by the company or product so that is resonates and is understandable by the target buyer.

These are the tangible, functional reasons for buying.

Good branding creates an ever-lasting experience in the buyer’s mind as articulated through images, voice, style and feelings. Branding speaks to the aspirations of the buyer. These are the intangible, emotional reasons for buying.

When Is Positioning the Deal?

Every B2B tech company, even the smallest start-up, needs strong positioning. Why? Positioning is key to selling, establishing a distinct “corner of the room” in the market category, influencing the buying criteria and engaging sales cycles. Positioning articulates the value proposition delivered by your product. And most importantly, positioning answers the key buyer questions every tech company must answer – “Why your company, now?” and “How are you different?”

Positioning starts with a product, service or solution. Positioning is the necessary foundation and the starting point for a Brand identity.

When Is Branding the Deal?

A great Brand arises from successful Positioning. Branding brings to life the personality of the company, its cultural identity. Branding gives voice to aspirational associations, and articulates the unique experience buyers can expect.  

Branding is particularly effective in commodity markets. Without unique IP, secret sauce or unique product differentiators, branding becomes the unique differentiation and justification for commanding a premium price. This is why branding is so important in most consumer markets.

Branding is also important for larger companies managing a sizeable portfolio of products. Brands provide a unifying identity across multiple products, while providing a singular, differentiated point of view to drive market awareness.

When Should I Do Both?

Brand becomes less important in B2B technology markets with products that have unique IP, or that are continually being disrupted by the next platform or wave of innovation. 

However, for some B2B companies and markets, the combination of a strong product positioning AND a memorable brand experience makes sense and can become a formidable competitive weapon.

This is particularly the case in markets that have “crossed the chasm and gone Main Street,” or for companies that need a unifying brand to pull together a disparate collection of different products. PeopleSoft effectively combined its “California Culture” brand with strong product positioning to carve out a distinct position in the ERP days. More recently, IBM’s SmartPlanet brand helps IBM rise above the noise and stand for something while providing a unifying value for its thousands of different product lines.

In summary: while branding’s not for everyone, and works best in specific situations, EVERY B2B tech company needs good positioning as the starting point. Where does your company stand in terms of capturing the heart and mind of your buyer?


Brand v Positioning

Firebrick Infographic: Sales Doesn’t Use Your Presentations

Sales thinks your marketing presentations are nice, but they don’t use them.

We recently conducted a survey of 50 technology industry sales leaders to find out if they use the presentation materials they get from marketing, and what their marketing partners could do to improve the quality and effectiveness of what they produced.

To read more, check out Firebrick’s most recent white paper.

Sales Doesn't Use Your Presentations Infographic

The Difference Between Winners and Losers




After working with almost 300 clients over the past several years, the difference between the winners and losers among technology companies has become clear.  The winners almost always share these four qualities:

  • They have a specialized focus (like social media management, big data analytics or IT operations).
  • They have unique IP or an original approach like distributed architecture.
  • They’re leveraging an inflection point in the market (like mobile marketing or IT-as-a-Service).  
  • And, they have a strong, engaging point of view that captures the imagination of the market.




An engaging point of view stems from a company’s positioning strategy.  Look at what successful companies like Box, Jive, RightNow,, SuccessFactors, Workday and Yammer all have in common.  In addition to impressive multiples, they all have powerful, differentiated positioning stories. 

Companies need to abandon the traditional product-centric approach to positioning that plagues most stories with me-too feature lists and vendor geek speak.  In its place, they should lead with more buyer-centric positioning that answers these three questions:

  1. Why your company, now?
  2. How are you different?
  3. How will my life be better?
Answering these questions is harder for most than they think it will be.  Try it out on your company to see if you have a powerful, differentiated story.

Tech Positioning for a New Era

Firebrick Consulting: Tech Positioning for a New Era from Firebrick Consulting on Vimeo.


What do successful companies of every size -- from Apple and Cisco to Riverbed and Workday -- all have in common?  

They have a compelling, differentiated story. In our work with over 200 companies, we find that very few companies are able to translate their product, service, or IP into a message that resonates with buyers, clearly differentiates from the competition and captures the imagination of the market. Check out Firebrick's new video and find out, in less than 3 minutes, how to create a breakthrough positioning story. 


Disruption: The Missing Ingredient

Sanfrancisco 2013 Techcrunch2

As TechCrunch DISRPUPT kicks off this week in San Francisco, I’m struck by how disruption in the tech industry still seems to be about new products and features. Every tech company aspires to be the next big thing, but the truth is that most will fail. They come out with a blast at launch, but their messages quickly fade into the noise of the market and the sameness of every other story echoed by every other tech company.  Nowhere is this clearer than in the B2B realm, where positioning mediocrity has become the norm.

The same old set of tired buzzwords are being thrown about at this year’s TechCrunch. Every tech company is talking about “crowd-sourcing, location platforms, social analytics, flexible API’s, cloud, real-time collaboration, etc.” with a sense of elevated importance and meaning. Meanwhile, in the audience, a glazed look sets in. Nobody is drinking the Kool-Aid. 

And yet, a new set of category leaders is usurping the traditional B2B tech leaders and changing the rules of the game. Companies such as Workday, Box, SuccessFactors, ZenDesk, Splunk, Zuora, Joyent and PLEX are changing the landscape forever. But what do all of these companies have in common? Not only have they all placed a big bet on recurring revenue streams – but their success goes beyond products, blended sales models and new consumption choices.  

Disruptive Positioning = Disruptive Success.

Every one of these companies has a compelling, differentiated positioning strategy. Storylines that bring their products alive in the minds of target customers. Messaging that captures the imagination of the market and moves beyond geek-speak and tired buzzwords.  WOW positioning clearly articulates the value of the technology to solve a big hairy buyer – and resonates with deep memorable impact. 

So, what is the secret recipe to DISRUPTIVE POSITIONING? What makes the difference? The answer is simple:

Every truly disruptive tech company successfully answers these THREE QUESTIONS for their buyers:


What is the compelling reason for your company’s existence? Why are you important today (not two or three years ago?) What is the new problem you solve for your buyers? And, why will your buyers lose their jobs if they don’t solve this problem? Create a sense of urgency.



Why can’t existing solutions (your competitors) solve today’s new buyer problem? Why are they limited? What “secret sauce” or IP of yours is necessary to solve this new buyer problem? 



That’s it. No need to spout off about all your great product features. No need to blast the world with geek-speak, or the reasons you are the next big thing. No need to tell the world how hip you are, about your company dog or your HTML5 document embedding.

The answers to these THREE questions are the essence to a memorable positioning and true disruption. This is the secret, and every successful tech company understands this.  Go for it.

Firebrick Positioning Scorecard

Positioning ScorecardToday more than ever, tech companies are moving a mile-a-minute and marketing executives are looking for quick ways to make a big splash in the market. But as you know, every successful tech company first needs the right foundation — and Step 1 is strong positioning that will engage and win sales cycles, while establishing a distinct, prominent "corner of the room" in the market category.

With that in mind, we've created this handy "Positioning Scorecard" as a fun way to gauge how effective your company's current positioning is. Your score will indicate whether or not your company would benefit from a positioning project or refresh. We hope you have fun with this, share it with your contacts to compare scores, and tell us what you think!
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