What to expect from a positioning exercise

A positioning exercise allows your company to get aligned on your go-to-market strategy and create a story that cuts through the noise, stands out from the competition, and resonates with your target market.

The exercise consist of a mix of workshops, research, and testing. Here is what to expect in terms of focus, scope, timeline, and the people who need to be involved. 


As you start working on your positioning, you will quickly find that some participants want to keep things as broad as possible so as not to exclude any market opportunities or anticipated future product directions. If you cater too much to that instinct, you will end up with a vague positioning statement that fits everyone and by virtue no one. As an early stage startup, the more focused you can be, the more effective your go-to-market motion. It all comes down to resources, and you only have so much peanut butter to spread around. 

The best way to get focused is to prioritize at every stage of the process; target customers, competitors, product highlights. Ask participants this question often: “if you could only choose one, which one would it be and why?” Then proceed with “now, if you could choose two, what comes next?”. That will quickly give you a prioritized list.  

As you go along, you and the other participants will get frustrated by the imperfect amount of information you have available to make decisions. That’s startup life for you — a series of bets based on limited information. Listen to your experience and the data you have collected so far, and think of it in terms of probability. Which decision has the highest probability of being correct, then go with that. You still have plenty to learn, but you need to form a hypothesis to have something to learn from, and hypotheses are based on your current understanding of the world. Forcing yourselves to prioritize, will help managed the desire to have too broad of a focus. Another urge, is to create a positioning statement that accommodates for all potential product and company directions in the future. Don’t. Your positioning statement only needs to be true for the next 12 months. That’s it. This needs to be clear to everyone involved and will alleviate a lot of concerns. As your company and product evolves, so will your company’s positioning and messaging. Positioning for a multi-national corporation with many product SKUs is very different from that of a startup, so try not to get ahead of yourself. Focus on what will get someone to buy your product today.


Agree on the scope early and communicate it to all participants as you kick off the process. The goal is to write a crisp positioning statement that sets the context for why you matter in this world over the next 12 months. It should be a formal document that the CEO can sign off on as 90% “there” and that everyone else is bought into (committed to, but not necessarily 100% agreeing to). It is easy for a project like this to become amorphous and feel like it never ends, but the end goal of this process is the positioning statement and document. That’s it. Everything else comes later. 


Expect the positioning exercise to take somewhere between 4-8 weeks, depending on your cadence and how much time the leadership team can dedicate to it every week. Make sure participants are able to commit to a deep exploration of your company, customers, and competitors. 

You are probably thinking right now, “We can do that faster”, and that is the goal, but reality is that it will take time to gather the information, meetings get rescheduled, things come up, then you need more time to think through it, and you will probably find it hard to commit to whatever new positioning you come up with simply because it is new. All these elemetns will stall you slightly. It is important to give yourself enough time to be thorough without dragging it out for too long. If you are running the process, plan for and communicate that it will take three months from kick-off to a first draft of the new positioning, and require everyone’s timely response and collaboration. Together we will aim to do the majority of the work faster and avoid losing momentum throughout. 


The final result will be shared with the entire company but the workshop part requires participation from a number of people. Everyone listed below will need to understand and appreciate the importance of why they need to participate, and this needs to come from the CEO. Having the CEO communicate the importance ensures nobody is second guessing whether this is a marketing project or truly a strategic company project. If the CEO is not onboard, you might want to pull the plug. 

Here is the list of who else you should include in the workshop.

  • Leadership: All founders and members of the leadership team will need to participate from start to finish. Get buy-in early and explain why this matters to the success of the company and why it accelerates everything your marketing and sales teams do from hereon-out.  
  • Customer facing teams: Sales and customer success and any other teams that interact directly with customers will provide invaluable input to the process. You will either be interviewing them or asking them to fill out a questionnaire. This will help support or refute suggestions made by the leadership and will be helpful as you seek to understand what resonates with the customer. 
  • Customers: Get ready to engage with as many existing, past, and potential customers you can set up meetings with. You will get valuable input from your customer facing teams, but don’t rely solely on second-hand input. Asking customers directly will give you unique insights into their pains and motivations. 
  • Marketing: Marketing leaders and product marketing leaders are required, but it can also be beneficial for other marketing team members to listen in on discussions among the leadership team so they understand both the “whys" and “why nots” of your final positioning.  

Getting started

If you need to revamp your positioning story, I'd be happy to help. Read more about how I run and facilitate positioning workshops for startups.

Written by: Anders Maul

Photo by: Etienne Girardet


Featured blog post

How to beat the odds as a startup 

According to a Startup Genome study, the most common reason startups fail is due to poor product-market fit. This blog post will give you a framework that explains what product-market fit is, how to find it, and how to know if you have product-market fit.

10 startup pitfalls you should try to avoid

I have spent the past 15 years focused on accelerating startups. I have founded two companies, advised multiple startups, evaluated 600 Techstars startup accelerator applicants, and been a founding marketer four times. Here are some common startup pitfalls I have noticed over the years.

It all starts with the customer

A lot of startups start with the product and end up focusing too much on the cool technology that is underlying the product or service. It’s the build-it-and-they-will-come mentality, and it rarely works. The only way to know if you are telling the right story is by knowing your target customers deeply.

The sooner we start,
the sooner you'll accelerate sales.
Request a free 30-minute discovery call. No strings attached.
Request a free discovery call