Leaders and losers and competitive checklists

Robin the product manager has yet another request from Kevin, the world's worst sales person:

"I can't sell your product without a competitive checklist showing how we're better than bigsoftware.com"

He attached something that he's been using:

  • More developers than Oracle
  • More marketing spend than Microsoft
  • Better implementation assistance than SAP
  • SaaS-ier than Salesforce.com
  • More carpeted areas than our leading competitor

Poor Robin. How does she deal with this request? She knows that checklists are the sales tool for followers and losers. Only the leader can win at the checklist game, and the smart leaders don't even play. Nobody wants to see the leader thump their chests and no buyers believe the followers' claims that they're better than the leader. Great competitive strategy lies in positioning, not in feature lists.

What's a product manager to do?

Robin should do a competitive assessment of her product compared to each major competitor. Then analyze the key strengths of her product and the distinctive competence of her company. Finally, she should position her product around the established positions of her competitors.

Competitor A is great--if you want your data hosted and managed by a vendor

Competitor B is great--if you have a small installation

Competitor C is great--if you're always connected to the internet

Don't play the leaders game; play your own game. What strengths do you bring to the equation? What do you offer that is truly unique? And are those strengths valued by your potential clients?

Unique is how you start a sales cycle; better is how you win. You can't just claim to be better in every area than the leader. (Well, you can claim it but you won't be believed.)

Play to your strengths; don't play the leader's game.

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.

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