Fighting Inertia: the toughest competitor of them all.

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Doug Kessler

29. 02. 2008 | 3 min read

Fighting Inertia: the toughest competitor of them all.

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Most B2B technology companies have a clear set of competitors they’re battling. But for some (usually early stage) tech companies, there are no other companies to fight: they’re inventing a market. The only competitor is the inertia of the target audience. At first glance, it sounds like a great position to be in. Never facing a head-to-head competitor. Being free from the never-ending features arms race. But in reality, these can be the toughest marketing challenges of them all…

Think about it: if ‘do nothing’ is even an option for the prospective buyer, you’ve probably got an uphill battle… and a sales cycle that could resemble Napoleon’s march into Russia.

Overcoming inertia means selling someone a problem before you can sell them a solution. Convincing them that the way they’re doing things now is doomed to failure. But no one I know is actually in the market for problems. We’ve all got enough, thanks.

It’s like walking into someone’s office and saying, “See that rock in that corner? Well, there are little monsters under that rock and they’re going to come out and get you one day. The good news is, I’m going to turn over that rock and kill those monsters.”

To which most sane people would reply, ‘Don’t touch that rock!’

The pioneering technology faces exactly this resistance. The prospect has been happily doing nothing for a long time, despite what you claim is a serious enough problem to demand attention now. That can only be because of one of a few reasons:

  • They recognise the pain but find it endurable
    Your need to show them that a pain-free life is easy to achieve
  • They recognise the pain but see it as someone else’s
    You need to find that other person.
  • They don’t feel it as pain at all
    You have to prove that it is pain, and that it’s a symptom of more serious risks.
  • They know that all their competitors have the same pain
    Your need to show that this is no longer true: their competitors are now gaining an advantage.
  • Their job depends on this pain existing and persisting
    You need to reach their boss.

Clearly, these are all difficult attitudes to overcome. In many ways, it’s easier to duke it out with a direct competitor.

Often, what the competitor-free pioneer is doing is aggregating low-level pains that attack different departments and job titles. If the pain were already in one place, there would probably be some competing solutions (direct competitors or viable substitutes) trying to solve it.

The choice is either to get those different influencers to think like a team so they can also aggregate some budget; or to find the person they all report to and show how all those little headaches are really one big headache and it’s their head.

Another strategy is to break down your solution into smaller apps suitable for the specific pain points, selling each for less but selling to one person at a time. That means faster sales cycles and more entry points to upsell the whole solution.

So inertia just might be the most formidable competitor you’ll ever meet. For market pioneers, traditional competition should be welcomed. It validates the market. It tells buyers that there really is something going on here. And it gives you something to position yourself against.

Thankfully, inertia works both ways. A body at rest may tend to stay at rest but a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Get the market moving and you could be riding a big snowball down an even bigger hill (at which point a host of new competitors will come running out to play).

Published in:

  • b2b

  • Brand

  • Competition

  • Inertia

  • marketing

  • sales

  • technology-marketing

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  1. John Gillett

    March 5th, 2008

    Working with both established tech companies and startups makes it very clear that the messaging strategy for these 2 groups is entirely different…as is the process of developing marketing messages and tactics.

    As you pointed out, the startups require a much different approach — they are typically trying to find a way to build their brand and create an identity in the market, while trying to educate prospects about their solution.

    Although the challenges of marketing for tech startups may be greater than for established tech companies, the opportunities to define startup identity and position their solutions is a great exercise.

    Who knows? You may be building the next great tech brand!

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