A Theory of (Competitive) Relativity

(If you want be in on more of the Competitive Marketing Conversation, I’ll be talking all about this and more at the day 2 Keynote of the Competitive Marketing Summit in Denver on October 23-24th.  For  the next week, the organizers are letting me offer a 50% off discount to the event, email me at ken@kjrassociates.com to get your offer)

Albert Einstein thought about big things; space and time, the size, origin, and destination of the Universe. Most of us B2B marketers are a bit more limited.  Customers and competitors, the size and future of our market share. But one thing is pretty clear, it’s all relative.

Relativity teaches us the connection between the different descriptions of one and the same reality. – Albert Einstein

Markets are Conversations as the saying goes.  The talkers are are buyers, sellers and interlopers.  When buyers and sellers converse, they talk about the exchange of value.  As I wrote about here, sellers bring a chorus of voices to this value conversation; marketing talking about the possible, sales about the powerful and customer success about the practical.

One critical aspect of any conversation is the setting.  And how I talk and how I am received is determined in a large part by the setting or context.  Mettalica, if your taste allows which mine does, may sound great to you in a large stadium concert, but if they brought the same sound and equipment to a coffeehouse you might just go deaf, and you’d almost certainly run out of the venue quickly.  As Einstein is also quoted as saying, “If you sit with a nice girl for 2 hours it seems like a second, if you sit on a stove for a second it seems like an hour, that’s relativity!”

Value conversations are all RELATIVE to the buyer, not the seller.  The local setting, while part of the space-time continuum of the universe, lives in a problem-solution set of coordinates.  What are the problems that matter most to the buyer, and what are the known solutions that exist to solve them.  Competition then, is all about being relative in and to that problem-solution continuum.

The KEY to competitive marketing then, is connecting to and influencing the problem-solution frame of reference of the customer.  The first obvious answer is to have intimacy with the customer’s world.  YES.  However, the bigger win is by marrying that customer intimacy with your uniqueness, and actually SHIFTING the customer’s frame of reference.  Challenger Sales methodology talks about “commercial insight”,  while I personally prefer my Viewpoint Storytelling approach, but either way, the goal is the same, to shift the playing field away from competition and to you.

Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity states that large objects warp the space time continuum and draw other objects toward them; we call that gravity.  My much more humble theory of Competitive Relativity says that great stories warp the Problem-Solution continuum and draw buyers to your solution, a kind of competitive gravitational pull.    Engage your customer in their context and pull them to your uniqueness and that 2 hour sales lunch will feel like a hot second!



A Chorus of Value Voices

“But we sell to a technical buyers,” she said, “why do I care about the story?”

“But it’s easy to use, why do I need to invest more in customer success?, ” he asked

“It’s just about differentiation!,” they all said.

Like a loud bar, I was having a hard time keeping the discussion straight in my head.  The VP of Customer success only cared about THE PRACTICAL even if it wasn’t powerful.  The Head of Sales only cared about THE POWERFUL, even if it wasn’t possible. And the Marketing Director only cared about the Possible, even it wasn’t practical.  WOW.

Then the lightbulb, I realized that the listener cares about all of them, the Possible, the Powerful and the Practical.  And we have great Voices to describe each of these, marketing, sales, customer success.  And each of those Voices had a different impact that they wanted to achieve with the listener, the buyer.  The Marketer talks about the Possible to achieve Attention.  The Salesperson talks about the Powerful to achieve Action, and the Customer Success Owner talks about the practical to create achievement. These topics or motif create our chorus of value voices.

With that in mind, the bar chatter starts to sound like a well orchestrated Chorus which sounds beautiful and coordinated, and on paper looks like this:

Like a chorus, these voices need to be tied together with a single theme.  And that theme is VALUE.  Our Value conversation is like a chorus.  When we align the voices, the possible sets up the powerful, the powerful is supported by the practical. We can get the attention of buyers, motivate them to take action and reinforce their action with achievement.  If not aligned around common Value, our conversations sounds like a disorganized barroom.  But when we do, well, it can be beautiful music, a Value masterpiece.  Welcome to the #ConversationEconomy !

Look Who’s Talking – Markets are Conversations

Markets are Conversations. First said by the authors of “The Cluetrain Manifesto” in 1999, this is really a truth that goes back to the barter marketplaces of old, to the trading pits of the CBOE, to today’s electronic marketplaces. But if markets are truly conversations, who’s doing the talking, and what are they all talking about?

Markets exists to facilitate the exchange of value between buyers and sellers. Value is measured in the amount of currency, whether traditional fiat currencies or new-fangled electronic ones, that the buyer is willing to exchange for the goods or services that they buyer is offering. So, it’s pretty clear that buyers and sellers are doing at least some of the talking, and they must be talking about value, whether that is in the form of price, features and benefits, or other tangible and intangible things that can be exchanged.

If that were the end of our story, it would be a relatively short one, though still complex and multi-layer. The problem is, like kids at the dinner table, there are quite a few others who want to butt-in and have their say too. I call them “Interlopers”. Interlopers may be distributors or resellers who come between buyers and sellers mostly in the role of facilitation, ie market makers, or they may be be advisors and consultants and others, who we can call as a group market helpers, and a whole slew of others like reviewers and even celebrities, who economist would generically call “agents”. This wide variety of interlopers are not shy, most of them love to talk, and talk a lot, to both buyers and sellers.

So now, when we add in a 3 participant, our conversations look something like this:

But what do interlopers talk about with buyers? Primarily, they talk about recommendations. For example, they might recommend a seller, a product, a price range, a set of competitors to consider. And as many of these recommendations carry a lot of weight in buyer’s decisions, this is CLEARLY a very important part of the Market Conversations that happen.

Buyers then, realize the importance of interlopers and love to talk to them also. Because their to get a recommendation, they must stand out to the Interlopers. So, when these two get together, they talk about STATUS. So our simple model of the Market Conversation now looks like this:


But there still a bit more to add.   Because each of these three groups also talk to each other. When buyers talk to each other they talk about EXPERIENCE. When sellers talk to each other they talk about market SIGNALS and when interlopers talk to each other, they talk about a mish mash of market GOSSIP.

Now our Conversation Market Model looks like this, three participants; buyers, sellers and interlopers, three primary topics of conversation: Value, status and recommendation, and three side topics, EXPERIENCE, SIGNALS and GOSSIP

Think about the market you play in. How would you describe the buyers, the sellers and the interlopers. Simply by understanding what topic you are talking about when, you can accelerate your go to market success. BUT by gaining a deeper understanding of the dynamic and noisy nature of these conversations, with the cacophony of voices, topics and objectives, you can harness the power of conversation to better shape, influence and gain from the markets you are part of, regardless of whether you are a buyer, a seller or an influencer.