The Enterprise B2B Category Tap Dance: When You’ve Picked the Wrong Market

“We don’t support real-time – exactly…”

“It’s on our roadmap for the coming quarter…”

“We’re prioritizing things with more impact for our customers.”

It’s real. And it’s brutal.

It happens when you’ve picked a category (or a market) that’s not a perfect fit. You spend most of your time on the defense – trying to educate buyers and convince them that the thing they think they want… isn’t actually the thing they want. Many founders are natural at this. But once you start hiring salespeople, the wheels come off the bus.

You end up with massive objection handling docs. Carefully-scripted talk tracks on “our approach to XYZ.” CS folks pulled into sales conversations to talk through how to “solution” around straightforward things the customer wants.

Here’s why this happens – and how to avoid it.

Common reasons you may find yourself tap-dancing:

  • You try to fit your specific product to match a wider market. Imagine developing a CRM specifically tailored for investment banks, only to find yourself entangled in deals with customers from entirely different segments with diverse needs and expectations. Misalignment can dilute your product’s value proposition and stretch your resources thin when trying to cater to everyone.
  • You choose your category based on the wrong things, like growth rate, volume of analyst coverage, “hotness” from a funding perspective – without considering the buyer assumptions that come with that category. These assumptions shape expectations around what your product should offer, potentially leading to a mismatch between what you deliver and what the market anticipates.
  • You’re fighting against vendor consolidation but don’t yet have a complete solution that can credibly “do it all.” In a market where vendor consolidation is prevalent, offering a solution that doesn’t fully meet the end-to-end needs of your customers can be a significant disadvantage. (E.g., no one wants an add-on that improves the performance of their vacuum cleaner – they just want to buy a better vacuum cleaner.)

Once you start tap-dancing it can feel impossible to stop

Here are three things you can do to get out of the endless cycle of frustrating sales convos – today:

  • Realize the signs of trouble. Early recognition of positioning missteps is crucial. This can manifest in various ways, such as increased reliance on objection handling documentation or heightened customer support involvement to clarify product capabilities. Being attuned to these signals can guide the necessary course corrections.
  • Recognize the work that your category is doing. Whether you anticipated it or not, the category you have chosen is triggering a specific set of assumptions from your target audience about what your product should be able to do. These can either be “wind in your sails” (they save you time having to explain to prospects!), or challenging headwinds (you have to explain to prospects why your product doesn’t actually do X,Y, Z.)
    For a great explanation of the role of category, check out April Dunford’s Obviously Awesome. For a contrasting view (which I passionately disagree with) about the idea of categories, check out Play Bigger.
  • Master the art of saying no. One of the most powerful tools in your positioning strategy is the ability to say ‘no.’ This includes declining opportunities that don’t align with your core value proposition or marketing segment. By focusing on deals and customer segments that resonate with your product’s strengths, you cultivate a more coherent and compelling position in the market.

The bottom line

Picking the right category and buyer is just as important as building the right product. No amount of sales finesse can compensate for a misaligned target market. Focus on what only you can do, and pick a category and a target market that make your uniqueness shine.

The alternative? Lots of joyless quarters of playing catch-up on commoditized features – while you tap dance for your life.

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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