B2B startups, and even more established companies, that develop innovative products are very focused on the product and its development. These companies have invested all of their capital, time and efforts into developing and improving the product. When they face difficulties entering international markets, they don’t seem to understand why it’s so hard to sell a product that is better than the competition, and why clients don’t simply realize it and just buy the product or at least start a pilot. Their frustration leads them to wrongfully assume that either the product is not good enough or, worse still, that the clients aren’t good enough.
One of the reasons this happens is that company executives have a superficial view of the market. Their approach sees an innovative product with clear advantages on the one hand and potential clients that might be interested in buying it on the other. Best case scenario, these companies also realize that they have several competitors (unlike a not insignificant number of executives who argue that “we have no competitors”) – with less inferior, less innovative or much more expensive solutions, so they believe. Oftentimes, since these companies have such innovative products, they don’t even bother defining and evaluating market properties or client environments. Their persistent focus on the product and its clear advantages blinds them from looking at the entire environment to which their potential clients are exposed.
This is especially true of innovative, breakthrough software (in its approach, business model, functionality, user interface, etc.). Many of these companies don’t even know what their market is and to which product category their product belongs just because they focus so much on the product itself. As a result, they don’t bother properly defining their product to the client and certainly not to investors and distributors. Their lack of understanding of the competitive environment means that the product is often defined under the wrong market sector and category. This causes confusion and misunderstandings with clients. The company finds itself attempting to sell a solution while completely disregarding the client’s environment and the myriad of solutions in its specific market sector. This leads them to be encapsulated in a virtual reality where only their product, and maybe that of one or two competitors, is all the client has to choose from. These companies then have a very hard time briefly explaining to potential clients and distributors what their product does and which marketing / distribution / sales channels are accepted for products in their category. Imagine a boxer who takes a wrong turn and instead of making it to the boxing ring he finds himself on a tennis court, desperately trying to explain to the crowd and referee what he’s doing there.
Market mapping is a process undertaken as part of market research and when establishing marketing strategies and drafting an international marketing plan, during which the category or market sector of the developed product is evaluated and the active players are identified. When we say “players” we mean that there are other entities in the market that don’t compete with said product directly. There are various types of players in the market, but one of these types is vendors with similar, comparable, alternative, broader (product suites that contain a solution that directly competes with that of the company) or narrower solutions.
I recently worked with a client, a B2B software company, that developed a unique product, or so they said, that automatically adapts ads in marketing campaigns. The product was indeed unique in terms of functionality and approach – so unique, in fact, that the company didn’t try to categorize it and when they did it was wrongfully categorized under Campaign Management, which is a category generally used for other types of products. The technical solution was unique, but the problem it solved and its benefits were not. Only after identifying the correct category, Brand Management, did the company realize it had many fierce competitors in the market – which forced them to take on a totally different marketing approach.
Here is a partial example of market mapping:
This image maps out the players in the digital workplace and marketing technology sector. These are various software vendors and solutions for working and sharing in a digital web environment – mostly for marketing purposes. Anyone selling digital workplace or marketing technology software overseas should familiarize themselves with this map – or, alternatively, create one of their own and understand where they sit and which vendors and solutions are comparable or complementary and which compete with them directly.
Such market mapping, although incomplete since there are other types of players besides those vendors not included, enables us:
- To understand our arena – in which market sector we are competing. When we know our market, we can evaluate its properties, trends and types of active clients. It allows us to understand what marketing channels our clients are exposed to, which distribution channels they use to buy products from, which conferences they attend, who are their opinion leaders and influencers, and more. Instead of taking a year to find out where your product belongs, you can actively start scouting the market and identify the relevant sector quickly and effectively and use that to promote your products.
- Get acquainted with other players that are not competitors – doing so broadens our view of the market and maps out all players with similar products with which you can cooperate to market yours: whether by expanding their product suite by introducing your product, complementing their solutions to offer a more comprehensive solution to the client or even contacting one of their distributors to distribute your products.
- Know your clients even better. Clients are exposed to many different products, not just yours. Even if they aren’t your direct competitors, you compete with them over the client’s budget and priorities. A more realistic perspective of the market is critical for managing international sales in a much smarter manner and reaching clients with a more effective message.
So, in which sector are you competing?