3Cs research is the key to successful positioning

Positioning shouldn’t be left to chance. But unless you do your research – I call it the 3Cs of successful positioning – your message to the market has almost no chance of hitting the mark. In this blog, originally written for MarketingProfs’ daily newsletter, I explain why you need to know the 3Cs – your customer, channel and competition – as well as you know your B2B product, service, solution or company.

A much more detailed 3Cs “How to” guide is available on MarketingProfs’ web site. After each section, a series of steps and questions guide you through the 3Cs research process. “The Three Cs of Successful Positioning” is free for PRO members, and $49 for non-members.

One reason companies fail to thoroughly research the 3Cs is that they don’t have time to do it. It can take several weeks, and one way to speed up the process is to start with your channel – how you sell either direct or through partners or both.

Jump start your 3Cs research with channel feedback

If channel research is all that time allows, at least the intelligence is coming directly from the battle front. Your channel is one of the best sources of information about the other two Cs – your customer and competition. It’s your first avenue of interaction with what you hope will become your customer. And it’s the battleground for the ongoing war with your competitors.

From your channel, you can gather most of the information you need to position effectively including:

  • Customer problems
  • Competitive intelligence
  • Ideal customer profile
  • The purchase process
  • Why you win and lose

The channel helps you identify challenges in the sales cycle that may impact your message strategy. Channel intelligence also helps you zero in on competitive strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge helps ensure that you focus your message strategy on what you do well—and steer clear of what you don’t.

Learn what’s really happening in the channel, and you gain insights into the details of purchase processes, demographics, psychographics, sales strategies, and customer concerns.

The channel can also provide valuable feedback on the viability of your message strategy. Ongoing communication with your channel will improve the relationship and, as a result, the flow of honest information and battlefield intelligence vital for your positioning strategies. Read my blog about the importance of involving your channel in the positioning process.

Buyers will listen when you demonstrate an understanding of their problem

Many B2B marketers and product marketers are too inwardly focused on their product or their company. Chest-beating and proclaiming “we’re No. 1” doesn’t get the job done in B2B marketing. One way to test a positioning statement is to ask “so what?” Usually, there’s a higher level benefit when you test “we’re No. 1” claims by asking “so what?”

A better approach is to focus like a laser beam on the customer, and what’s keeping the target customer awake at night. Therefore, your ability to identify and rank customer problems is a critical success factor in creating a compelling positioning statement. Your positioning statement should state a benefit that addresses your target audience’s No. 1 problem. By doing so, your target audience will listen to your message. That’s because today prospects are overwhelmed by marketing messages. They get so many – somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 per day – that they have become experts at filtering them out.

You can get through the filter, but only with a benefit statement that addresses your target audience’s primary concern. Buyers will listen to your message when you demonstrate an understanding of their problem, and clearly communicate the benefit your product offers to solve the problem.

Pay close attention to how your competitors are positioned

There are two critical questions you need to answer when you come up with a possible positioning statement: 1) is it important? Does it state a benefit that addresses the target audience’s No. 1 problem? See previous section. 2) Is it unique? Only you are making the claim. If you answer “yes” to both questions, you’re on your way to successfully positioning your B2B product, service, company or solution.

Unfortunately, many companies ignore how their competitors are positioned and make identical claims. I call it “me too” positioning. In every B2B software market I follow, there are at least two companies making the same claim. In the Business Intelligence market (see perceptual map below), no less than seven vendors are claiming “insight.” Three are claiming “better decisions.”

Ironically, it’s pretty easy to figure out how your competitors are positioned because they do it in public. Pay close attention to what your competitors are saying on their web sites and in their marketing communications such as webinar promotions, press releases, e-mail blasts, blogs, etc.  A positioning statement frequently appears in a prominent place on the home page of a web site, in a press release or a brochure. A good one should be a focused benefit idea or concept. For each competitor, analyze as much of their marketing material as possible.

Once you have determined your competitors’ positioning statements, you can use an application we developed in Excel to create a perceptual map like this one for the enterprise Business Intelligence (BI) market:


Failure to differentiate creates market confusion that inevitably leads to longer sales cycles, a problem that’s all too familiar in B2B technology and software. You’ll be one step ahead of the competition by using perceptual mapping to know that you are making a unique claim, one that sets you apart from the competition.


Just as positioning is the foundation for everything you do in marketing, your 3Cs research is the foundation for your positioning statement and message strategy. If you don’t know how to do the research necessary to position effectively, “The Three Cs of Successful Positioning” will teach you everything you need to know. You can also learn more about the 3Cs on my Messages that Matter web site which includes several blogs on the topic as well as this content page.

About the Author:

For 15+ years, Lawson Abinanti has been helping mid-market and enterprise software companies stand out with messages that matter to B2B buyers. Now, in his free eBook, “Positioning: How to Talk So the Market Will Listen,” Lawson shares his proven business process for positioning which he has taught to hundreds of marketers and product marketers. See how this eBook can help you tell a better story about your B2B technology or software product, service or company:


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