Suitcase or zipper? How to make sure you’re fixing the right problem with your enterprise B2B positioning

Most B2B SaaS company founders just… know when something’s not clicking.

Prospects get (but don’t seem excited) by what you do. Closing them takes lots of time and superhuman effort. Your customers see the value of your technology but aren’t shouting about you from the rooftops.

Founders often assume it’s something major: their category, differentiation, or buyer persona are off the mark. (And sometimes they’re right.) But sometimes it’s something less obvious. All their fundamentals are solid – and they just need to sharpen their message.

Here’s how to know what type of problem you have…and how to fix it.

Suitcase or zipper issue?

Confession: I once bought a new suitcase because my old one had a broken zipper. (Lazy, but true.)

It can feel easier to start from scratch than to retool something, even something small. And of course, the smell of a new suitcase is pretty unbeatable. There’s a parallel here with go-to-market challenges.

Sometimes you have a suitcase issue: your fundamentals need reworking. For example, we recently worked with a tech scaleup that achieved impressive growth through a product-led growth (PLG) motion, focused on developers. But now it needed to couple that with a top-down, enterprise sale – and it needed to adapt its positioning accordingly. That’s a serious, core brand identity challenge. 

But sometimes you have a zipper issue. You have a great suitcase – a solid point of view on who you’re for and why they should choose you. You just need to fix how you communicate it to prospects.

Here are some telltale signs of a zipper issue:

  • You have great bottom-of-funnel performance (e.g., close rate) – but are struggling to create new leads and opportunities.
  • You have stellar customer retention – but few customer champions who rave about you to their networks or pressure you to create a customer advisory board, community, or summit.
  • You’re able to hire great talent, but your key hires don’t feel (or act) like evangelists for a new way of doing business.
  • You spend more time than you should admiring your competitors’ “mojo” (cool LI campaigns, great PR).

What to do when you have a zipper problem

The good news is that it’s typically much faster and easier to fix “zipper” than “suitcase” challenges. 

Suitcase replacements (changes to your fundamental positioning) are long and painful. If you’ve always sold to Fortune 500 CFOs – and you decide to pivot and sell to mid-market COOs – you’ve got a long, painful road ahead. Brand updates, changes to your marketing strategy, and retraining of your entire market-facing org… it’s a slog. 

But let’s say you keep focusing on your Fortune 500 CFO persona. What are some things you can do to fix the zipper? 

  • Better align with industry trends
  • Freshen your message
  • Up the cool factor
TacticWhat it involvesExample
Better align with industry trendsPosition your product within the context of use cases or concerns that are taking up increasing prospect mindshare (things they’re reading about on LinkedIn, hearing about at conferences, talking with peers about).A customer data platform (CDP) promoting the use of first-party customer data as a way to navigate the deprecation of third-party cookies for advertising.
Freshen your messageMake sure you’re centering the unique value of your product for your target audience in actual human terms – no reliance on weasel words (looking at you, “transform,” “revolutionize,” “unlock”).An AI-powered sales automation platform shifts its messaging from “grow revenue fearlessly” (generic and meaningless) to “get out of Salesforce – and into more deals” (provocative and specific). 
Up the cool factorThe coolest people don’t tell you they’re cool… others do that for them. Enlist your customers, advisors, and partners to bring your brand story to life – and echo your unique value –  from multiple angles.A cybersecurity company creates a thought leadership series interviewing security industry pioneers and iconoclasts.  

The bottom line

Understanding whether you have a “suitcase” or “zipper” problem is a critical first step in solving your go-to-market challenges. And fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to massively improve your messaging without wholesale repositioning. Sometimes all it takes is a shiny new zipper to get you back on the road.

Further reading

Jordan is a Managing Director at Blue Seedling. You can find him reading medieval literature, running, or helping B2B startups with go-to-market strategy.

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