small business owner, small business marketingAs any small business owner knows, marketing is an integral part of bringing in new customers. Whether it’s done via email, social media, or old-fashioned word of mouth, you need to get the word out—you can’t get new customers if they don’t know you exist.

But you will never drive sales or attract your ideal customers (or job candidates, for that matter) until you properly position yourself in the market. Simply put, positioning is defining for consumers who you are and what your company is all about.

By positioning your business, you can define your unique niche and convey to consumers how you can fill their needs. You can better execute sales and marketing campaigns, craft more informative white papers, and close sales more effectively.

It’s never too late to revisit positioning. Consider using the guide below as you attempt to build a remarkable business that satisfies a clear need and to clearly convey to your customer the results you can achieve.

Phase 1: The strategic audit. Repositioning starts with asking questions about your business, industry, and market developments. Are consumption or market patterns changing? Are new business models emerging? Why are margins dropping? Is new legislation in the works that could impact you? Is your company’s market share dropping off? These are some examples of the hundreds of important questions that you might consider. Your answers will allow you to insightfully interpret your business and customer needs.

Assess what is working with your current positioning strategy and why, and also identify lack of focus and inconsistencies in that strategy. Use diagnostic questions like those above to understand what the market needs and how your company addresses those needs. This will help you draw together insightful conclusions into your current performance, helping you to articulate your current positioning.

In this discovery phase, take a look at your competitors’ offerings and their success rates, as well as macro trends and market needs.

Phase 2: Repositioning workshops. This is a great technique for reviewing the best way forward. Rehearsing potential market segments that your company could dominate is no easy task, so it may be a good idea to get your team involved.

Assign each workshop participant a key position paper to prepare, and advise each participant to distribute it in advance of the workshop. This builds great engagement and ensures issues are thoroughly researched to allow thoughts in the workshop to flow smoothly. Tell the participants to consider how your product or service improves the performance of your client, and remind each of your team members that the vision needs to articulate the business results you wish to achieve for your customers.

You are in the business of improving your client’s business. Define your new positioning from within your business units and then convey this passion and vision to your clients. You need to believe that your new position will transform your company’s future if you want to convince your clients, too.

Phase 3: Validate your new position. It’s easy to believe your own hype, but you need to stress test your positioning and sales scripts with real people—your customers. Engage in deep conversations with your prospects and customers to understand what is resonating. Are you really scratching a big itch in the market? Even if the need for your products and services exists, are your customers aware of this need and of your ability to deliver?

Test-drive the new scripts and listen carefully to your customers in order to better understand what really keeps them up at night. Engage in a meaningful dialogue with special customers, testing your new scripts and new value propositions. Using this feedback, fine-tune your positioning and messaging so that it compels your customers to act.

Phase 4: Develop an execution plan. The execution of a compelling story and great positioning requires that all moving parts of the business—operations, sales, marketing, and product road maps—are recalibrated around your defined identity. Your entire institution needs to embrace the execution of your new positioning strategy.

Draw up your master implementation plan, allocating one senior manager to be accountable for each piece. Build detailed roll-out plans for each key circle of influence in your company, and don’t forget to educate your own staff on the new strategy. Build accountability into your complete positioning project and set milestones to measure success.

You could be a software company with three people, a new brewing company with organic beer, or a bakery that makes cakes for special occasions. No matter what a company does, all small business owners should be asking the same question: Is my company remarkable or invisible? It’s your choice. Companies both large and small need to be ready to change their positioning. You can’t be complacent and then be confused when sales stall.
The next five years are a great opportunity for companies to stake out their unique markets, claim their spaces, work tirelessly to open huge gaps on the competition, and emerge as world-class, high-growth, remarkable businesses.

Ian Smith is the author of “Fulfilling the Potential of Your Business: Big Company Thinking for the Mighty Small Business,” which won the Small Business Book Awards for Management in 2012. His blog, the Smith Report, focuses on ways to scale businesses. In 2010 he founded the Portfolio Partnership to help CEOs fulfill the potential of their businesses. As an ex-CFO, investment banker, venture capitalist, and CEO, Mr. Smith has realized more than $400 million for shareholders over the past 25 years. Still competitive, Ian is ranked in the top 20 in the world at 400m on the track for his age.