SaaS Positioning 101 – How to stay on top of competitors with help from your army of spies

Positioning is the backbone of your marketing efforts. Nail it and never worry about conversions again. Miss it and people won’t even bother to try your product.

We do everything for a reason, and this applies to picking a product as well. You have to present it in a way that makes people click the “Sign-up” button without even thinking about it.

This is a 4 parts guide on how to position your SaaS by listening to your customers, understanding your competitors and uncovering what motivates people to choose you instead of anyone else.

Let’s start with the basics.

Ask your customers what other SaaS would they been using if you were not there

Your existing customers are the best market analysts in the world (for your product). They picked you over everyone else, and you have to understand why.

This technique is somehow like reverse engineering. Instead of asking people why they picked your product, you have to ask them where they would go if you weren’t around.

Based on their responses, you can get a shortlist of closely related competitors that you can analyze. 

You might have anywhere between tens to thousands of businesses competing for a slice of the pie. Because of that, it’s virtually impossible to pick only five and truly understand what they are doing better than you.

Here’s an example:

Say you decided to build an email marketing SaaS. It has all the basic functionalities: a visual email editor, ability to schedule emails, contacts tagging, lists etc.

The market is full of these kinds of platforms. So which 5 would you compare yours to? Is it Mailchimp? Maybe ActiveCampaign?

That’s the worst decision you could ever make!

These platforms have a specific target audience and market positioning. You can’t just presume they are your competition.

Position your SaaS based on its own niche, not on its category, and your conversion rate will thank you.

It’s important to discover who the 5 most important competitors in your niche are. This makes it easier for you to focus and study their features and messaging.

Now this might sound like something quite hard to do, but I got you covered with an email template. Of course, this will only work if you already have your customers’ emails.

Template:

Hey <First name>,

You’ve been using <your product> for quite some time and I really need your help to make it even better.

I have a really simple question and I would really appreciate if you take 30 seconds of your busy day to answer.

Say <your product> vanished tomorrow. What other SaaS would you switch to?

No need to explain your decision if you don’t want to.

This will point me in the right direction to make <your product> the best platform in the <your niche> space.

Thanks for your time reading this!

<your signature>

P.S. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you get the most out of <your product>.

A few observations:

  • If you don’t have the name of your users, just go with something more generic, like “Hey there”
  • Change <your product> with the name of your product and <your niche> with your niche.

Add the responses in a Google Sheet. In 2 to 3 days you should have a shortlist of up to 5 competitors that you can start to study.

Now that you know who your real competitors are, it’s time to discover what makes them a viable option for your prospects.

Find out what makes people go to your competitors

It’s possible to do your own competitors’ analysis, but your users have already done it.

The number one differentiator that makes a business succeed is efficiency. You have to spend your time on what you do best. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Especially when you are trying to do something completely new, like nailing your positioning.

Communicating with your users falls into this category. Not only will you build a better relationship with them, but they will gladly help to make your product better. After all, the better the product, the happier they will be. It’s a win-win.

The point is to truly understand why people would switch from you to somebody else. This knowledge is extremely valuable and will help you position yourself as the best go-to product on the market.

Let’s presume your product does 4 things. Your main competitor is doing exactly the same.

By understanding why users considered your competitors in the first place, you will be able to present exactly the thing that made them choose you.

Positioning is about presenting your product based on its perceived value. 

You might be thinking that a specific feature is the deal closer. After all, you’ve worked really hard on pushing it to the market. But that might not always be the case. 

Asking is 100% more accurate than presuming. Don’t be afraid to ask.

The number of answers and their accuracy depends on the question. You already have some replies from the previous email. With a bit of luck, some people have also explained why they would pick someone else.

If they didn’t, you have just hit them with a reply to their reply:

Thank you for your reply! This is an interesting choice.

If it’s not too much to ask, could you please tell me why you picked <the product they picked>? 

Based on your feedback we can make <your product> even better.

Best!

<your signature>
To incentivize responses and win hearts you can also throw in a 10% – 20% discount code. Or go all the way up to give a free month for free.

This whole process can take anywhere from a few days to a week. 

After you get 20 to 30 responses (10 being the minimum if you don’t have a lot of users) make sure to put everything in the same Google Sheet you already created.

Hopefully by this point you get an idea of what your users like about your competitors. 

Use this information to change the copy of your website. Make sure you clearly present why your product is doing a better job than the competitors, by focusing on the previously identified features.

Example:

Going back to the email marketing software example. Say most of your users tell you that they would choose Mailchimp because it’s easy to integrate with other platforms.

If your product also integrates with most platforms (even via Zapier) make sure to show it as high on the page as possible.

What’s the best feature your competitors have but you don’t

What do you do when you discover that your users would switch to a competitor because of a feature you don’t have, but they do?

First, that’s not too big of a problem, as no SaaS can cover everything for everyone and be easy to use at the same time. Remember, don’t try to capture a market. Start with a segment and grow over time.

Second, be upfront about your shortcomings. It’s better to illustrate it with an example:

Say your email marketing software provides some type of analytics (like open rates, emails delivered, bounces etc.) and you just discovered that analytics are very important to most of your users.

But your product just doesn’t go in depth enough about everything and you work on something else right now.

In any case, you still have to present it, even if others are better at it. Of course it’s not as complex as it should be, but you must tell people about it.

Being upfront can drastically reduce your churn rate!

People need to be sure about the pros and cons of using your product. If you show and tell why the other 90% of your product’s functionality is top notch, they will definitely pick you over everyone else.

A few pointers on how to present this:

  • Lead with what you do better;
  • Focus on the end benefit of using your product;
  • Don’t make this feature seem more than it is, otherwise you might lose users.

But most importantly, find out what makes YOUR product indispensable for your users and present this right before the shortcoming.

What do you do better than everyone else

This section is all about your product and how to find out what makes it so good.

Find out why your users are paying for your SaaS and leverage this to position yourself as the best choice in your specific niche. 

Going one step at a time conquering the market niche by niche assures steady and sustainable growth. 

Think of it this way, the email marketing software category has thousands of products. 

Moreover, according to Fortune Business Insights the global email marketing software market size stood at $1,025.7 million in 2019 and is projected to reach $2,275.5 million by 2027. 

If you want to capture just 1% of the total market share that would bring you somewhere close to $10 million. It’s doable, but if you are reading this right now I have a feeling you have some more work to do. And I’m here to help.

Instead of trying to capture 1% of the total market, try to capture 10% of a market segment (or niche).

For example:

Say you got 500 people using your software. Find out what’s something they have in common and start positioning yourself as the best alternative for that specific niche.

Are they content creators that sell online courses on Teachable or Kajabi?

Are they consultants helping small businesses owners get better at social media marketing?

The more niche down you can go, the better.

Now say you already captured quite a large chunk of this market. What do you do?

Well, you simply delete a narrow down criteria. This means that instead of positioning yourself as the go-to email software for content creators that sell online courses on Teachable or Kajabi, you position yourself as the go-to email software for content creators that sell online courses.

Grow further, take another narrowing criteria down.

Back to the present, you should find out what makes your product the best in its specific niche.

By now I’m sure you know how to do it: by asking your users.

Because you need a lot more responses this time, I recommend running a poll. It’s easier for people to respond to a poll while they use your product then click reply and write an answer to an email.

The idea of this poll is to help you understand what makes users pay a monthly/yearly subscription fee.

You can use my template and something like Hotjar to run it:

Version 1

Question 1 – Multi-select

What do you consider to be the best feature of <your product>?

Main feature 1
Main feature 2
Main feature 3
Main feature 4
Other – please type

Question 2 – Multi-select

What made you decide to upgrade to a paid plan/start using <your product>?  (if you don’t have a free plan)

Benefit 1
Benefit 2
Benefit 3
Benefit 4
Other – please type


Version 2

Question 1 – Multi-select

What do you consider to be the best feature of <your product>?

Main feature 1
Main feature 2
Main feature 3
Main feature 4
Other – please type

Question 2 – Open-ended

What made you decide to upgrade to a paid plan/start using <your product>?  (if you don’t have a free plan).

People are more likely to answer both questions in Version 1 just because they are lazy. Clicking is easier than typing.

Alternatively, Version 2 can help you get more open ended responses and works best if you are not sure what are the 4 most important benefits your product brings to your users.

Based on the results of this poll you should be able to position your SaaS as the best one in a specific niche. 

You’ll know why people have picked you and should make sure you clearly present this on your website.

In the next part of this series I’ll explain how being unique can even hurt conversions. Before you continue, consider following me on Twitter to learn even more about positioning, copywriting and how to increase your conversion rate.

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