At the start of my sales career I worked at a boutique investment company. During our onboarding, we went through an extensive product positioning course. The trainer stood before the room. “We are volatility managers. We don’t manage money, we manage risk.”


I memorized the talk track; it made sense. Then I paid attention to the investment ads during the U.S. Open that weekend. “Manage risk” and “Reduce volatility” were narrated and pasted across my screen in big block letters. Every company sounded like ours. We had a product positioning problem.


As 2015 came to a close, many companies missed the number. Shortsighted CEOs immediately assumed this was a sales execution issue. They canned the sales leader and moved on. But better CEOs investigated the root cause. That year, one of the core reasons why many companies missed their number was different: poor product positioning.


How do you determine whether your product positioning needs an overhaul? Get outside of your company. Begin your investigation with the following three core techniques.


Win-loss interviews. Identify key wins and losses throughout the year. Set up time to speak with the key economic buyers and technical evaluators. Ask them how they decided on the final solution. Have them outline the benefits and drawbacks of each solution. Red flags: “We bought on price.” “They looked the same.” “It seemed a lot like the legacy solution.”


Prospect-customer surveys. Create a list of candidates. Offer a substantial carrot for their participation. Then create a short, impactful survey that asks core questions about your product and its competition in the same space. Some topics: Is your product perceived as different? Do the unique features or benefits of your solution actually matter to target customers? Are competitors fast following your unique solutions?


Mystery shops. Go to your competitions’ websites. Click through their product page and see how they are positioning it. Is the message the same? If not, what are they communicating? Now fill out a form and engage with their business development team. Tell them you are looking at several competitors and ask what the difference is. Strong product positioning takes time, but generates results. If your product sounds the same, or pitches features that don’t matter, you’ll compete on price. Invest the time. Create a message that is differentiated and relevant.

10 Best Companies to Sell for in 2016

The key to sales greatness is a well-aligned strategy that simplifies the buying and selling process. It’s why “A-Players” love their employers and almost never leave. Turn to page 37 to learn more.