November 16, 2021
Positioning vs Strategy vs Vision

Positioning, Strategy and Vision are connected business concepts but the relationship between the three things is frequently misunderstood. I've seen some folks describe the relationship between the three things as cascading - our vision leads to a strategy which then dictates positioning. I don't see it as quite that simple, particularly because our positioning will change with each step of our strategy. I think understanding how vision, strategy and positioning relate to each other is also very important for how we do corporate storytelling.

Vision is the Destination. Strategy is the Road that Takes us There.

Most companies have a “Vision.” The vision represents what we would like the company to be in the future. The vision is important for anyone that needs to understand where the company is headed. It’s particularly important for investors who are essentially making a bet on the future of the business.  

Your strategy is how you plan to get there. Generally, it describes a set of stages that the company goes through along the path to the vision. For example, your vision is the become the world’s leading CRM for enterprises. Your strategy to get there may be to start by selling to investment banks, then expand to retail banks, then to insurance, and then you will challenge the market leader for all of Enterprise CRM. For another company, the vision might be to provide car dealerships with a complete marketing platform. Your strategy may be to start by giving them an easy way to manage email lists. Next, you will add CRM capability and then later the ability to manage all marketing programs in a single platform.  

Positioning vs Strategy vs Vision

Positioning Answers the Question: Why Choose Us Right Now

Positioning defines how your product is the best in the world at providing some value that your best-fit customers care a lot about. Positioning is firmly rooted in the present. Positioning describes how your product wins business today in the market as it exists today and is the foundation of your current sales pitch. It describes why a specific type of customer should choose your product over any other alternative way of solving the problem

Positioning changes over time as we follow our strategy on the journey to the vision. At each step, you will have different positioning. If I follow the examples above - my CRM company starts with positioning itself as CRM for Investment Banks, then becomes CRM for Financial Services, and later becomes simply Enterprise CRM. My marking technology company starts out positioning as an Email for Car Dealerships, then becomes a CRM for Car Dealerships, and finally is positioned as a complete Marketing Platform for Car Dealerships. 

How does corporate storytelling fit into all of this?

In business, we tell all kinds of stories for all kinds of purposes. For example, we have case studies that tell the story of how a customer used our product to achieve some goal. We have the story of why we are a great company to work for. We have a story for investors that describes our future vision and why we are a great investment. The sales team uses a sales pitch to describe how our solution is the best choice for our target customers today. And marketing is telling a wide variety of stories to help illustrate the value of the products we sell for the customers we are targeting.

Each of those stories has a very distinct audience and a specific purpose. For example, you wouldn’t use your sales pitch in an interview with a prospective employee. You want them to understand what you do and the vision of where you are going, of course, but you also want to help them understand the culture, the pay and benefits, and the opportunities to learn and grow. A customer case study story, on the other hand, is not concerned with company culture or promotions. A great case study tells the story of a company that has a terrible problem, made a choice to work with you, and achieved great results. Different audiences have different goals and require different storytelling structures. 

Sales Pitches and VC Pitches are Very Different

The most common confusion I see in my positioning work is where companies think their sales narrative should look exactly the same as their investor pitch. While there may be some edge cases where this is true, these two pitches are generally very different. An investor cares much more about the future state of the business and how you will achieve that. They are very interested in the macro trends that are working to cause a disruption in the market, how you are uniquely suited to take advantage of those trends and how your business will emerge to be a clear market leader of a massive market at some point in the future. 

A good sales pitch, on the other hand, is much more rooted in the present. It’s built with a prospect’s current needs in mind and is oriented around your current differentiated value. In a B2B selling situation, your customer is coming to you with a shortlist of competitors (plus a potentially good-enough status quo solution). They want to know why they should pick your solution over the other options. Research tells us that the main thing buyers want in a B2B sales pitch is help with navigating their choices. Sure they want to hear about your stuff, but they are also trying to figure out the entire market and their options. We also know that at least 40% of B2B sales processes end in “no decision,” and the main reason a decision wasn’t made was that the buying team could not agree on the approach to solving the problem. We may use pieces of our vision in a sales pitch but only where it helps prospects understand the value we can deliver today. Customers don’t pay today’s cash for tomorrow’s promises - if you sell too far into the future, you’re giving customers a good reason to pick “no decision” and delay the purchase until all that cool stuff you’ve been pitching is actually available.  

A Sales Pitch vs A VC Pitch

We should not expect that the way we position the company to investors is exactly the same as how we position our offerings to customers in a sales meeting. Our sales pitch should not be the same as our investor pitch. We should also expect that our positioning for prospects will evolve over time as our differentiated value shifts relative to other alternatives in the market.