Clarity is a Virtue

Posted on by Jack Danahy

Another packed RSA Conference has passed, and a crowd of companies spent their days explaining their value to prospects and customers.  Small innovators competed for attention with the multi-story booths and thickly carpeted oases of some of the largest technology companies in the world.  The competition was certainly noisy.  Not just loud, as multiple presenters and speakers strove to be heard over one another, but noisy in terms of the messages that each was trying to deliver.  To be successful, younger firms at RSA Conference, and in the market, needed to deliver their message with something more effective than flash and volume: They needed clarity

Clarity as a Differentiator

Clarity in security is a challenge because common terms have been muddied by misuse over the past 30 years. Well-intentioned phrases have hammered the meaning out of basic terms.  As a simple example, searching “threat protection” on Google yields 19 million results, and all of them refer to protecting against threats, while this same phrase describes technologies that do everything from blocking attacks to cleaning up the mess after they succeed. Similarly, terms like detection, response, advanced, active, machine learning and AI no longer have absolute definitions in security. 

Defining your solution and your value isn’t easy.  Being accurate is not enough in the security market, because other companies are likely to have already used the same words to describe something that is functionally very different or even inferior.  Here are three steps that can help to bring the clarity you need: 

Step 1: Create your initial value definition non-competitively

By starting with your own description of what you do, you will limit the number of terms and phrases that you are going to need to research and potentially rewrite.  If you start by looking at competitor positioning, you almost certainly damn yourself to following in their inaccurate footsteps.  Having defined what it is your technology does, you can now see where change is needed to differentiate. 

Step 2: Sanity check your creation with the right audience  

There are multiple excellent ad-hoc survey tools that you can use to connect with people who look like your proposed market.  At Barkly, we use Spiceworks, Google surveys, and SurveyMonkey, to gather feedback on different questions we have.  Once you have decided on the venue, here is a sample of how simple your survey should be: 

[Enter Your Value Proposition] 

Q1: What do you think we do? (Not using the words above)

Q2: Who do you think we will compete with?

[Multiple choice is OK, but getting an unbiased list of companies is better]

 Step 3: Revise your description and repeat

Once you’ve taken time to review feedback from your survey, go back and repeat Step 2 among new participants until what they say matches what you think you do. Use information from the messaging among companies listed in Step 2 to see where confusion may be created, or where differentiation will help you to stand out. 

Other Gifts from Clarity

A clear and accurate description of your value is necessary to develop consistent assets, prioritize internal investments and respond to competitive questions and comparisons. There are other benefits from this kind of disambiguation that should push you over the edge, if you aren’t there yet. 

  1. Stand out to people who really need what you do. Most everyone has some kind of security investment, and when they look to invest more, they will do so with some particular goal in mind, and likely with little appetite for redundancy.  A clear definition of your particular value may very well be the additional layer or complimentary lever that a potential customer has been looking for, understands or can afford.
  2. Create appropriate comparative expectations. As an innovative company with a specialized focus it is risky to allow an under-informed customer, analyst or reviewer to go into their evaluation with an inaccurate understanding of the breadth or depth of your solution. By clearly defining your value, they can test for that value, and you are relieved of the after-the-fact explanation of why you didn’t provide a type of protection that you never thought anyone would expect.
  3. Go for the no. In a young company, instinct will make you want to create an offer that is attractive to as many prospects as is possible.  This is fine, as long as that offer is described in terms that clearly represent the offer.  When solutions are described vaguely or indistinctly, time is wasted as the prospect trials and tests their way to understanding that your value is not what they were looking for.  In a young company, time is one of the most limited resources you have.  Your clarity in defining your value will maintain a much higher quality prospect pool, with only truly interested prospects moving through the sales cycle. 

This kind of clarity is not easy to achieve.  Not just because most of the good words have already been taken and misused, but because our human nature encourages us to avoid risk. The “all things to all people” approach creates higher early interest, which can be rewarding, but it will ultimately lead to conflicts in user requirements, investment priorities and even company image.  Take the time to refine your message, and then push that message strongly.  “Being who you are” is even better advice now than it was when you were in grade school.

Jack Danahy

Co-Founder and CTO, Barkly

Business Perspectives

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