Strategies for Category King Domination
So, you’ve decided on your Category. Congratulations!
You’ve mapped out the PAIN you’re solving, how you’re solving that pain DIFFERENTLY from anyone else in the market and have started to use this Category in all of your sales and content conversations.
So, what now? How the hell do we go from here to getting the rest of the market – customers, prospects, investors, press, partners, analysts etc. – to accept your view of this Category you’re creating with you as the Category King.
I think of this process as a flywheel, where every element of your efforts reinforces and strengthens every other effort. Until your flywheel is turning so fast and so hard that it will be impossible for any of your competitors to catch you up.
Here’s what the flywheel looks like:
Let’s take a look at each one of these in turn:
The first thing to remember about Category Design is that is never ever stops!
You have to articulate the PAIN you’re solving better than anyone else in the market and continue to be the expert in articulating this pain as you delve deeper and deeper into understanding your customer’s world. You need to unpeel the layers of your customers’ pain, problems, needs and opportunities as you learn more about them and how they affect your customers’ businesses.
And you have to be the best, and continue to be the best, at explaining how you’re solving this pain better than anyone else in the market. You need to explain, give examples, show case studies and continue to show how the way you’re solving this is DIFFERENT to anyone else in the market.
You need to define the Category Roadmap to show the market what they can expect over time to constantly condition the market to accept your vision of the Category. You have to provide regular updates to show how the Category is evolving, to show what benchmarks identify success in the Category, to show what milestones have been reached.
If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to get ‘independent’ research to validate your Category. I’m not talking about Gartner or Forrester (unless you have money to burn, in which case, well done you!). Find a small independent research firm and work with them to put together a white paper which validates your Category using the terminology and language that you use to define your Category. If you do it well, this asset can become a cornerstone of your Category (as well as your sales activities), bringing everyone on-board with your vision of your Category. If you do it really well, other people will start using this research to talk about the Category too.
Thought leadership is an events and content play. You need to be at the right events talking to the right audience about your Category and how the market is benefiting from adopting the solutions this Category offers. And you need to be producing content.
High quality content that speaks to the issues of the personas you are targeting is the key to good Thought Leadership. Someone needs to own this – if you leave it to separate individuals to create this content, I guarantee this will fail. Someone needs to be waking up every day thinking about what content is relevant to the different audiences you need to be on-board with your vision of the Category. This person doesn’t have to write all of the content, but you do need one person who’s responsible for owning and managing the process of creating it (it does help if they’re a good editor).
You need to need to be very clear about the purpose and relevance of this content. Who are the personas you’re selling to? What’s important to them? What issues are they thinking about in their industry that’s relevant to their day to day lives? What are they worrying about? What are they hoping for? What keeps them up at night?
How can you take a position on these issues that will be interesting, relevant or fun to the personas that you’re selling to? How can you help them with these issues? What perspective can you develop on these issues that will allow them to become a thought leader in their own company?
That’s the sort of Thought Leadership content that you need to be creating. Content that’s relevant to what they need, rather than what you find interesting.
And as you develop this further, you’ll find the content evolves differently for each sector that you’re selling into and you’ll find that the issues are different country by country, sometimes even region by region.
You’ll want to build a press and analyst campaign to start helping the relevant journalists and analysts understand how you’re changing the market. These folks will want to talk to customers to validate what you’re saying, so have these resources ready for them – and prepped to talk about the right issues.
Also take a look at what insights you can gain from your platform that could provide a unique view on the market. If you have a platform with a lot of data going through it, how can you use insights from this data to further promote your position as a thought leader in the market?
Take all of this data, all of this content, make sure your sales people are using it throughout their entire sales cycles and push it out through the social media platforms that your customers use. Engage with other influencers to provide them with value and get them sharing your content throughout their channels too.
‘No man is an island, entire of itself,’ wrote John Donne. ‘Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.’ And no Category can be created and won by just a single company.
Whatever market you’re in, whatever pain you’re solving for your customers, whatever Category you want to create and dominate, you will need an ecosystem for your Category to flourish.
The first step is to map out what the ecosystem will need to look like for your Category to be successful today and in the future. Work out which parts of the solution to your customers’ needs you’ll provide and which parts you’ll need help with to create your whole product solution. Work out what sales and marketing channels you can own, which ones you’ll need support with. Take an initial stab at working out which partners will be relevant to each of these needs.
In early stage markets, it’s very hard to get revenue generation partnerships to work – you’re going to have to go out and win that business yourself to get your Category off the ground. But it’s worth thinking about the partners you will want to work with once you get initial traction and start building those relationships early to get those partners conditioned to your view of the Category.
Having potential partners become customers is a great way of kicking off your ecosystem strategy. If you get them using your solution, getting value from your solution, your partnership discussions are going to be much easier – and this will further help validate your business and your Category.
Build these relationships to start blocking your competitors. Potential partners only have a limited bandwidth for high-quality conversations – start to take up that bandwidth, show the value you can provide, get your partners to start thinking about your Category using your language and your terminology. Block your competitors from getting mindshare. Again, having your partners as customers is a fantastic way of doing this.
As you start to build momentum with customers you’ll be able to do so much more with these partners. Start running events both for and with your partners, get them to sponsor your events, get involved with theirs. Produce content together, run webinars, attend their sales kick-offs and briefings, get their senior management to attend yours. Constantly assess and measure the value you’re providing each other with and make sure everyone knows it. The more value you can provide your partners with, the more they’ll want to work with you. The more mindshare you can build inside these partners, the more you’ll block your competitors from being able to work with them.
You’ll need to on-board, train and coach your sales teams to become Category Experts. They need to be the best people in your company at articulating your Category, the PAIN you’re solving for your customers, how you’re DIFFERENT to anything else in the market.
You’ll also want to engage your sales team to develop much deeper company expertise of your customers’ PAIN and how you’re solving this. Your sales folks are out with prospects and customers every day and part of their conversation with every single prospect and customer should be to understand the pain, problems and opportunities for every person that they meet.
You need to train your sales people to do this and you need to talk to your sales teams regularly to make sure this expertise on pain is brought back into the company and distributed throughout the organisation.
Focus on the sectors where your articulation of PAIN resonates most strongly. It’s so much easier to sell when your prospects understand the pain that they or their company has. Continue to experiment and iterate to find the points where this pain is understood and where projects, people and money can be found to solve this pain.
Create a sales playbook to ensure that best practice is applied at every stage of your sales cycles. Train, educate and coach your sales people to ensure that at every part of the sales cycle they know how to best articulate the PAIN you’re solving, and how DIFFERENT your solution is in providing real-world VALUE to your clients.
Use your playbook to gather the best practices that your top performing sales people are using and implement a coaching plan to ensure that every single person in your sales team is performing to their maximum potential at every stage of the sales cycle.
Only hire sales people who demonstrate a determination to be curious about your Category and to learn everything they can about how to sell the VALUE of your solution to the best of their ability. Put tests and challenges in your recruitment process to assess whether they have the right values to perform at this high level of coachability within your sales team.
Also make sure you’re using the Thought Leadership content throughout your sales cadences and across the entire sales cycles. Providing your customers and prospects with high quality, valuable content is one of the best ways to build relationships, even (perhaps especially) in cold outreach campaigns.
I’ve been a Monzo customer for a few years now (so long, in fact that my first card said Mondo rather than Monzo). I like Monzo, I really do, and yet I’ve always found it amusing when scrolling through my Twitter feed and seeing someone who’s taken a picture of their Monzo card in some exotic location and posted it on social media. I mean, for Christ’s sake, it’s just a pre-paid Mastercard (and now of course, a basic current account).
And yet. Monzo have done something rather extraordinary. That something as simple as a pre-paid Mastercard would generate this sort of passionate advocacy within their client base is quite remarkable. They, like many of the new internet banks, talk and act very differently to traditional banks. They try harder, for sure, but there’s also something about the way they build relationships with their customers that’s also very different. More transparency, more openness, more engagement, more value. People love Monzo. And people never love their banks.
So, what can you do to create this sort of feeling within your customer base? How can you make your customers feel part of your company’s extended family, how can you build relationships with them, give them more transparency, openness, engagement and value than they would expect from a software provider?
Can you get them more involved with your product development roadmap? Can you give them tools, data and resources that help them be more successful in their day to day jobs? Can you run events that allow them to network with people they wouldn’t otherwise be able to meet?
‘Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room,’ said Jeff Bezos.
How can you engage with your customers so they want to become advocates for your business, for the Category you’re trying to create, when you’re not in the room?
This is pretty straightforward. You’re developing your Category Roadmap and you’re starting to create your Lightning Strike roadmap (more on this in a moment). It’s critical that your development roadmap is synchronised with these two strategies.
You will always have more features to build and bugs to fix than you ever have time for in your development schedule. You have to ruthlessly prioritise those efforts that are needed to meet your Category needs and your Lightning Strike needs. If you’re planning a big launch event in May, the code for whatever’s new needs to be ready in April.
Lightning Strikes are one of the major ways that you will educate and condition the market to understanding your Category and positioning yourselves as the Category King.
Want a great example of a Lightning Strike? Look no further than Dreamforce. Dreamforce is Salesforce’s annual event when over 150,000 people descent on San Francisco to worship at the altar of Salesforce in general and Marc Benioff in particular. If you’ve never watched one of the keynote speeches from Dreamforce, take a look on YouTube at Benioff’s keynote address from 2017 – it is a wonder to behold.
Now, I was working at Oracle in the US when Marc Benioff was there (remember Project X anyone?), and there’s a lot you could say about Benioff, but one thing I know for sure is that he knows how to put on a good show. Anyone visiting Dreamforce is left in absolutely no doubt of who the King of that particular Category is.
Sure, a conference like Dreamforce is beyond your reach at the moment, but don’t forget, Salesforce had to start somewhere as well. What event could you organise, where you could corral your prospects, customers, partners, press, analysts, investors all around you, with your Category at the heart of the event?
You could run an industry event, or perhaps start with a Customer Advisory Council type event. Maybe you could get 50 people along, maybe you could get 100 or even 200. Get a couple of industry speakers and a couple of customers to talk about the challenges of the market and how this Category you’re creating is designed to solve it.
I’m also a big fan of demotainment. At the centre of your event, you could run a fun, interesting and informative demo showing a day in the life of one of your customers. You could have several people come up onto the stage, performing different roles in your customer’s day, highlighting how your solution delivers on the dream of the Category that you’re building for each of these different stakeholders. I’ve run lots of these demotainment sessions, they can be a lot of fun – if you want more ideas just let me know.
So, if this event could be (I’d personally advocate should be) one of your Lightning Strike events, what else can you do? I like to think of a heartbeat of lightning strikes, a minimum of twice a year. You could run an event in the Spring and then have another large announcement in the Autumn (or vice-versa). The other announcement could be a big partnership, a big new product release, opening offices into new countries, you could save up a bunch of new customer announcements and make them all on one day, an expansion of your Category into a completely new market, the announcement that you’ve hit a key milestone on your Category journey (e.g. £1B of transactions going through your platform).
You want to get this heartbeat running with regularity, eventually with smaller heartbeats every month, eventually with a heartneat of country specific lightning strikes. You want to be constantly conditioning the market to your view of your Category, putting the fear into your competitions, ensuring your entire ecosystem remains onside with your view of your Category.
Sounds like a lot of work? Damn right it is. But the rewards are huge. Category Kings typically take the majority of profits in any given market. Think about that. Imagine what that would mean for your company, if you can get your Category adopted by the market and get yourselves positioned as the King of your Category, your company will take the majority of the profits from that market, and other markets as you expand your Category.