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You'll Never Succeed in a Complex Market Unless You Try These Strategies Complex industries offer opportunities in market needs, potential profitability and expansion opportunities — but the key to being successful is developing and supporting a clearly differentiated value proposition that separates your organization from potential competitors. Here's how to do it.

By Tim Johnson Edited by Kara McIntyre

Key Takeaways

  • First, you have to define what a complex industry is.
  • Next, create and execute strategies to differentiate yourself from your competition (more on that below).
  • As a result, you'll have better quality leads, a reduced sales cycle, higher margins, easier recruiting and more effective fundraising.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

An issue many marketing teams face today is how to successfully differentiate their company and product suite in a complex and ever-evolving industry. Achieving this differentiation results in multiple benefits, including a shorter sales cycle and higher margins. But success requires taking a new look at all aspects of the company's brand and marketing program.

I began thinking about this article last April as I walked through the RSA conference, one of the cybersecurity industry's flagship events. A remarkable number of companies in different segments of cybersecurity made similar claims, to the point that despite serving a wide range of cybersecurity companies over approximately 25 years, I had difficulty discerning the differences in their value propositions.

Throughout this article, I use the cybersecurity industry as an example, but the points here apply to a wide range of other industries as well.

Related: 3 Ways to Differentiate Your Business in a Competitive Market

Defining a complex industry

There are multiple factors that can cause a marketing team to consider their market a complex one. Three of these include:

  • Multiple, discrete sub-segments: Complex industries typically include a wide range of sub-segments that are discrete, but often may have some overlap. To obtain a complete solution, customers often have to purchase solutions representing multiple sub-segments. In cybersecurity, just a few of these sub-segments include infrastructure, network, endpoint, application and IoT security — all achieving something similar, but within different areas of a network.
  • Significant revenue potential: Complex industries typically offer solutions highly valued by customers, who are willing to invest aggressively, leading to ongoing, rapid growth in the industry. Grand View Research estimated the global cybersecurity market topped $222 billion in sales in 2023 and is projected to grow at a 12.3% compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2030.
  • Fiercely competitive: Two conditions tend to make complex industries highly competitive. First, the significant revenue potential attracts a large number of players, often companies with deep pockets. And, because the barriers to entry between sub-segments can be low, these players can sometimes make relatively simple changes to their products to compete in different sub-segments. The code written to create endpoint security solutions can be rewritten to create an IoT security solution with relative ease versus starting from scratch.

Strategies to create differentiation

Some approaches to create differentiation are obvious, others are more subtle. In brief, here are three ways to make your organization stand out in a crowded pack:

  • Define anew who you are: A very useful exercise is to take a new look at how you define your organization based on models such as Simon Sinek's Golden Circle, built on answering the deceptively simple questions of what, how and why your organization does what it does, starting with the most difficult question: Defining your why — like "We started XX to develop new medicines to save children" — can create powerful bonds with your customers beyond product speeds and feeds.
  • Look for competitor weaknesses: Seek out where your organization and products excel and your competitors may have weaknesses. Is your code more efficient, is your customer service better? These are areas where you can create distance between your organization and competitors.
  • Find unmet customer needs: Companies that successfully answer the "why" of their organization often receive a greater level of trust and loyalty from their customers. This enables them to more honestly communicate and gain feedback from their customers, allowing them to identify unmet needs that, if fulfilled, enhance that trust and loyalty.

Related: Stop Working So Hard. Differentiate Yourself Instead.

And then the question becomes how to communicate your organization's differentiation. Here are several proven, effective suggestions:

  • Update your value proposition and ensure it is included prominently in all customer touchpoints. On your website, for example, in addition to being front and center on your home page, it should be communicated throughout your site.
  • Define your market graphically. Create a Gartner magic quadrant or similar style graphic that definitively highlights your organization's unique value proposition versus competitors.
  • Consider independent testing. If your organization is claiming differentiation based on the performance of your hardware or software, securing validation testing from an independent, third-party expert source can be valuable. Because these expert sources must protect their reputations, their opinions are seen by customers and others as highly credible.
  • Keep your messaging simple. In many business sectors, especially in tech, messaging often involves jargon that can be impenetrable. Keeping messaging simple is almost always more powerful and cuts through the noise of jargon.
  • Maintain a high profile. Building and supporting an active, multi-functional marketing program gives your organization the levers to continuously reinforce your differentiation.

Additional benefits of enhanced differentiation

The most obvious benefit of creating differentiation is ensuring customers and prospects understand your value proposition when they are making purchases. Other benefits can include:

  • Better quality leads: Prospects that better understand your organization's value proposition and continue to interact are much more likely to actually need your product or service.
  • Reduced sales cycle: Higher-quality, more informed leads will make purchase decisions faster, reducing the resources required from your sales team to close deals.
  • Higher margins: Better quality leads that close faster and understand your organization's value proposition are often more likely to expand their engagement with you if you fulfill your value proposition.
  • Easier recruiting: If prospective employees have a clear idea of your organization's value proposition and its differentiating versus "one of the pack," they will be more likely to accept a position offered.
  • More effective fundraising: Organizations that carve out a unique position for themselves and own that position are more likely to secure funding. VCs and other investors typically look for portfolio companies with a clear, unique offering.

Related: Your Differentiators Suck. Follow These 5 Steps to Stand Out From Your Competition.

There are many benefits to operating in complex markets in terms of market need, potential profitability and expansion opportunities. But the key to successful operations is developing and supporting a clearly differentiated value proposition that separates your organization from potential competitors.

Tim Johnson

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

President of UPRAISE Marketing + Public Relations

Tim Johnson is president of UPRAISE Marketing + Public Relations, Inc., a boutique marketing firm. He has more than 40 years’ experience working with organizations to develop marketing programs designed to support brand awareness and business development.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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