EP. 10: 6 Basic Principles for Competing in a Competitive Market
In this episode of In Demand, Asia Orangio, founder of DemandMaven, shares the principles for growing a SaaS company when you are competing in an overcrowded market.
At DemandMaven, we just wrapped up a project for a client that was in one of the most competitive markets. While we had some incredible wins, we also had many lessons learned. We distilled those lessons into 6 principles for founders to apply when they are entering a highly competitive market.
Dive deeper by reading the full article that inspired the episode: https://demandmaven.io/lessons-learned-from-competing-in-an-overcrowded-market/
- You’re going to need a clear, competitive differentiator. This differentiator is what makes you different, better, and special. It sets you apart from everyone else. Maybe you’re tackling a specific pain for a specific audience better than the other guys.
- It’s going to have to actually be better than all of the other competitors. “Better” is also not as cognitively clear because to almost every founder, their product already is “better”. But it has to be recognizably “better” to the customers as well. They’ve got to feel that “betterness”.
- If it’s not better, it’s going to have to be a little cheaper, although some would argue this would need to be the case regardless as a new player in a highly-competitive market.
- Have zero friction to signing up and becoming a paying customer. It needs to be pretty easy to make a decision about the product and actually sign-up. Some would argue that adding barriers to entry would increase demand, but that totally depends on how many competitors there are and how frictionless they appear to be. Time to value is also a critical component when weighing how to approach this. The longer time to value, the less friction you’ll need to have.
- Find a channel with the most opportunity. If you’re in an extremely crowded market, then it’s likely that most acquisition channels will be tapped (and maybe maxed out with extremely high CPLs). You’ll need to follow basic rules on ARPU and adjust CAC accordingly, but after that, prioritize the channels you can either beat the competition at, are totally untapped, or both!
- Lean into your strengths skill-wise and resource-wise. This one’s a tough one because they’re not always obvious and it seems like a weird thing to list. But knowing the competitive landscape, you’ll need to identify what you can provide that’s better and different from a marketing perspective. So if you’re good at speaking, networking, writing, building, whatever — leverage that because it (usually) can’t be copied. All of that, of course, within the context of what your buyers are most likely to do, consume, and care about.
These 6 basic principles are really just the start. To stay competitive in a crowded market requires an ongoing commitment to improvement and innovation, but if you take care of these 6 principles you will be off to a great start.
What’s up founders! And welcome back to the In Demand podcast where we talk all about how to reach your first $1m ARR. I’m your host Asia Orangio and I’m the founder of DemandMaven where we work with early-stage SaaS companies on reaching their very first growth milestones.
We’re going to be talking all about how to compete in an extremely overcrowded and or competitive market. A couple of weeks ago, and honestly, by the time that you guys listened to this episode, this article should already be on the Demand Maven blog. So if you want to see a really read the entire piece, then you’ll be able to do that by the time that this goes live. But I recently wrote a huge tear down on just lessons learned in competing in an overcrowded market. I wrapped up a project for a client a couple of months ago, and we had worked together for quite a long time. It was actually one of my first clients and one of my longest lasting clients. And it was awesome working with them. And also just so happened to be one of the most competitive markets. I think I ever got to market in on top of continued to build a marketing function for, and there were many lessons learned, there were many wins, but I think it was also just a huge learning experience for both of us.
Moving forward, there are some things that I would definitely do differently in hindsight. It’s one of those things that just always 2020, you never, you can always prepare, but until you actually execute something where until you actually experience it yourself, it’s so hard to know exactly how you’re going to react to different things. In this case, we were in one of the most competitive markets, I think, known to the SAAS world. And it was project management. I didn’t notice at the time, but there’s hundreds of thousands of tools in the productivity space period, not just project management, but everything from being able to automatically track time to managing your workflows and projects and tasks, literally everything. When you, when you look at the productivity space as a whole, there’s just, there’s so many solutions. And when a SAAS company enters that market, what in the world are you supposed to do?
I actually find that at the end of the day, it comes back to your go to market strategy. And there’s really six things that knowing what I know now, I would have done just much differently, just infinitely differently. So we’re actually going to unpack those six things today. Again, if you’d like to read the full breakdown, the, the, I think it’s like 4,000 word posts on everything about our strategy and what I think we, would have done differently now that we know what we know again, that’s going to be on the demand maven.io blog. But today we’re really just going to cover the six basic principles of competing in that highly competitive market. Whenever you analyze a market, one of the acronyms that you’re going to hear is Tam or total addressable market. How many people or businesses could potentially buy your product. There are some SaaS companies out there that have a total addressable market of only maybe a couple of million dollars.
And then there are total adjustable markets or Tams of a billion plus. And if you’re B2B versus B2C all of these things have an implication on how big your Tam is, the larger the Tam. The more likely it is that you’ll either need a lot of funding or you’re going to need time. And sometimes both, every single SAAS company is beholden to the same iron triangle and that’s scope time and budget scope is what we’re doing. What are we actually building? What are we delivering time is how long do we think it’s going to take us? And budget is what assets or really cash assets do we have to effectively see through, our scope within the time that we have. And if you blow one out, then the others typically construct, the fundamental theory here is that none of the three things are unlimited.
There is a limit in some kind of way. So you either minimize the scope or you extend your time, or you increase your budget. And sometimes you do two of those things. And sometimes you do none of those things. It just really depends on your situation. The Tam, however, is usually also indicative of how many customers you need to serve. And if you also have a lot of competitors, now, a lot of competitors is to be defined by you and your market, really. but if you have maybe like 10 or so competitors, okay? So that’s, a size, especially depending on your total adjustable market that you probably differentiate pretty easily, but let’s say you have a hundred customers or competitors. I should say a hundred competitors. Let’s say you have a hundred competitors. There’s going to be a couple of things.
We’ll really six things that you’ll need to do differently than if your Tam was maybe only a hundred million with no competitors. The first is that you’re going to need a clear competitive differentiator. This is honestly always true. Even if you don’t have any competitors, you still probably are going up against competing behaviors or competitive alternatives. These are things that people are doing instead of using your product. Many companies compete with Excel because it’s easier to use a spreadsheet than it is to use the product. that’s not always the case. Sometimes it is actually easier to use the product instead of Excel, but, that’s a competing alternative. It’s not technically your competitor, but it’s a competitive behavior. If you have hundreds of competitors, your differentiator needs to be clear and it needs to be something that is actually experienced by your target market.
The differentiator is really all about what makes you different, better and special. And yes, you have to be all three. We’ll actually get into some of these later, but the first most critical thing is that it has to set you apart from everyone else, something about what you’ve built or who you’re serving sets you apart. Maybe you’re tackling a specific pain point for a specific audience, and maybe you’re doing it even better than the other guys, but no matter what it is, it has to be clear and you really need at least one, if you have none, it’s going to be really hard to actually compete. When you have a clear competitive differentiator, then now we can start to effectively compete. I mentioned better earlier. Well, the second thing actually has everything to do about actually being better. It’s one of those things that isn’t as cognitively clear because to almost every single founder, their product already is better.
And this is not to be shady to the founders out there who built the products for themselves or who, or, you know, for founders who really do feel like their products are better. Not, this is not meant to be shady at all. I promise, but something I always put on its head at least, or something I always come back with is it might be better to the founding team. And that’s something that you probably already understand. You probably already get why it’s better, how you built it and what makes, how you built it better, but better betterness is something that has to be experienced by the customer, either with your education or without sometimes the customer doesn’t really know that something is better until they actually go through the motions and they go through onboarding. They go through setting up the product themselves, or maybe they even get some education on why the product is addressing a problem in the way that it does, but the betterness still has to be actually experienced.
And it needs to be something that they really strongly feel and that they can actually point to. Whenever we say that, Oh, this has to be better than something else. We have to also be very clear on what that better is. In what way is it cheaper? Is it faster? Is it more effective? Do I get better results? Do I get more results? And this is kind of where we have to be very clear. And this kind of goes back to also our competitive differentiator, but when a product isn’t fundamentally better, it’s going to have a hard time competing in pretty much every single way, because if it’s not a better product, then it pretty much has to be cheaper or something else is making it different, better and special something. And if it’s none of those things, then it’s going to be almost impossible to compete.
Very few customers. And very few audiences will choose products that don’t actually do something better for themselves. But again, that better has to be clear and it has to be something that is understood and felt by customers. If it’s not, it’s going to be really hard to communicate your competitive differentiators and your value propositions. And then of course convert people into paying customers. So that was number two, number three, if it’s not better, it’s going to have to be a little cheaper. And this is something too that, I’ve, I’ve done tons of research on. Does a product actually have to be cheaper in a market that there are tons of competitors. And I’m sad to say that. I think in most cases, yes, I was having a hard time finding outliers in this scenario where you could, where you could charge more and charge more than your competitors and not be fundamentally better.
It’s just so rare. So if you’re, if you’re not better than your competitors, you’re probably going to have to be cheaper. And ideally you’re both, you’re both better and you’re cheaper, ideally, cause that way it becomes such an obvious, choice to make, which is to choose your product somewhat are you, that you would have to be cheaper no matter what. and just regardless of being a new player in a highly competitive market, I mean, if you’ve got to think if you’ve got hundreds of competitors and if you are not necessarily a better product than you’re probably going to have to be a little bit cheaper, because the idea here is that the tradeoff of that betterness, whatever that is, is matches up to whatever they’re not paying. So basically the savings match up to the betterness that they’re maybe not getting in some kind of way.
And ideally of course, you’d never have to compete on being the cheaper solution. Ideally you’d compete on the butter solutions. That way you can charge really whatever you want over time. But overall, if there’s, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, especially going through my own experience, in this particular competitive market, matching the price and struggling with showing how the product was better. What was interesting was we knew that the product was better. We, we, we saw how it was better than our competitors, but I think combining that with also being just a little bit cheaper would have sweetened the deal. I think, that is something to keep in mind when entering into a competitive market. Now there are some products out there, some competitors I should say out there who, it seems like their prices are just like ridiculously cheap. and I think that this is kind of where you get into well, is your product better than theirs?
And if the answer is yes, then, okay, it’s probably cool that you’re, you know, more expensive or, roughly the same price, but if you’re not better than even the cheapest of tools, then now we still have to evaluate what is our actual market, who are our actual competitors and, from a pricing perspective and just as a positioning perspective, do we have, are those things aligned properly? The fourth thing is something that, I think every company strives for, and it’s not always something that ends up executed as well as you’d like. And it’s something too that the more that you work with it, the better it is in theory, at least, but it has to have zero friction when signing up and becoming a paying customer. This was one of those lessons that we learned the hard way. and what I mean by friction is when someone comes to your website to sign up for your product, it should be a seamless start to finish experience.
There should be very few barriers to entry. In theory, there are some markets where there aren’t that many competitors. You can probably introduce a little bit more friction to generate a certain kind of demand, but in a competitive market, if it’s too easy to go sign up for 12 different other tools, but your product is the one that has the most friction, then you’re likely going to turn people away without even realizing it by not having a very easy, sign up process. And then of course, onboarding process, a great example of this is actually for, required, requiring a credit card on signing up. So that is a way to, it’s a, it’s a friction point that ultimately kind of, it encourages people to, if they, you know, sign up for the product that they’re serious. And it’s a way to kind of get people in the head space of, okay, well, if I’m signing up for this, it’s because like I’m really considering it.
And in a way that’s actually a really good qualifying activity. The people who input their credit card in theory, at least they’re more likely to be serious and they’re more likely to stay engaged. That’s only, however, under the assumption that we’re not in a super competitive market, if we have hundreds of competitors and none of them are requiring credit cards to sign up, what do we think the customer’s going to do leave? They’re going to bounce and they’re going to go to the other tool that doesn’t require the credit card. So these are elements of friction. And sometimes it works really well depending on the market. Sometimes, especially when you’re creating a tool or a platform in a totally new category. So let’s say you don’t really have any competitors, but you’ve got competing behaviors and there’s not really any other SAAS platform. It looks just like yours or is even really close to it. Usually you can get away with like adding friction points and in some cases that does actually generate demand, but in others, again, if you don’t have your different, veteran’s special nailed, and maybe you’re a little bit cheaper, and you’ve got that competitive differentiator, very clear your value props are clear, then it might actually be harder to use friction points in that way because those things have not been fulfilled. Something else that’s really important here beyond just the signing up process is also the actual becoming the paying customer
Time to value is a metric that, or a KPI rather that many SaaS companies measure, because they know that maybe there’s a certain level of complexity to their product and the shorter, the time to value, meaning the less time it takes for a customer to get the aha moment or understand like, Oh, this is the most valuable part of the product. And like, this is why I would use it the longer that takes the less likely it is that they actually do become a paying customer. But this also has a lot to do with the products experience and how much friction it has if the onboarding experience, for example, is not on point. If the competitive differentiating features in the product, if the things that make you different better in special, aren’t really discoverable by the customer in enough time or in the right amount of time.
Then you could lose them that way as well in a perfect world, the longer, the time to value, then the less friction you ultimately have. This is true, no matter what, but if you’re doing something truly different and truly better and truly special for customers, then the likely become paid customers no matter what, because the product market fit ideally is strong, but if it’s not, then you’ll need to really no matter what, make the experience as frictionless as possible. All right. Number five, find a channel with the most opportunity. This is true, especially in an incredibly competitive market. The likelihood of there being an untapped channel is small, but the goal here is that you find a channel that you can provide the most value through. And that actually does have the most opportunity. It has the most potential for you. What I mean by that is it’s likely for example, that if you’ve got hundreds of competitors, they probably have their SEO game on point.
They probably have their paid acquisition game on point. They probably have communities. they’re being mentioned in every single blog. It seems like, and they might feel like you need to go exactly where they are, but I actually would throw a little bit of caution to that. There’s a really good chance that you’ll be in some of the same places for sure, but ideally you’d find the places that are either untapped or they are maybe just less sought after a good example of this is ad words actually. So let’s say you decided to do some kind of paid search, but the cost per leads on most of the main keywords is like sky high. Like you’d never be able to afford it well, okay. If that’s the case, then let’s look at what organic search would look like. And also are there some paid search keywords that we could look at that maybe the competitors don’t really care about?
This really encourages the new product entering into the competitive market to really think about different segments that maybe they could serve, that the competitors just aren’t serving as well. And that could be a very early growth strategy. And then of course, there’s just all the different opportunities around what have the competitors just not touched at all. You might be hard pressed to find that, but if you do find that it’s something absolutely to try, there are going to be a few channels, like, you know, organic search and SEO and paid advertising that you’ll likely test anyway. But even within those channels, what are the opportunities that have been relatively untapped? You will need to follow those basic rules based off of your average revenue per user RPU and then adjust your cost to acquire accordingly. So for example, it’s based off of your AI. RPU, that’s likely going to put you in a very specific kind of acquisition model or acquisition strategy, if you will.
And again, we can absolutely get more into that and maybe another episode, but after that, though, you would still prioritize your channels based off of what are you most likely to succeed at? Are you likely to succeed at content marketing, for example, are you likely to succeed at paid acquisition? What kind of paid acquisition are you likely to succeed by conferences or whatever that extra acquisition channel is going to be? It’s important to remember that it’s unlikely that you’ll beat the competition right now, but if you’re looking just to gain market share, which is really the first goal, then we should be looking at the places where we think we can have the most impact. And that’s something too that, I always knowing now what I know, I wouldn’t have strived for more on the impact side and especially in the places where I knew that we could win that’s something to, to of course, think about strategize and plan for.
And then, and then on the flip side, there’s going to be channels and strategies that you’re going to have to enter, but just be smart about them. Be smart about how you enter the market, using certain channels. All right, the last one, lean into your strengths, skill wise and resource wise. This one’s a tough one because it’s not always obvious what your strengths are or what resources you actually do have. And it’s also kind of a weird one to list. I’m not going to lie. And a lot of that is just because like, what would your strengths have to do with how you compete? And I actually would argue, well, has everything to do with how you compete, because there’s has to be something that you do. That’s again, different, veteran’s special than your competitors.
Knowing the competitive landscape you’ll need to identify what you can provide. That’s better and different, not just from a product perspective, but from a marketing perspective as well. And this is why I list number six. So if you are just naturally good at speaking or networking or writing or building or whatever, you can use that because usually it can’t be copied. It can’t be copied by anyone else because who can copy you if you think about it. All of that of course, is, you know, within the context of what your buyers are most likely to do, consume and care about. So for example, I worked with a client a while back, so founders for our product and through working with the account and with the product and the founders, we discovered that the founders didn’t really love writing, but they loved speaking. And I wrote an article actually about creating or the importance of founder generated content.
It’s so important for founders, true create content, even if they literally never share it. But what we discovered was it was actually really, really, really hard for the founder to write, but when they spoke with each other, it was so natural, it was so easy. And so I worked with them on creating their own podcast and also creating their own content. Like how can they actually do this in a way that really can’t be copied? It’s not to say that they couldn’t be copied by their competitors. Their competitors could spin up a podcast probably in a few days, but the difference is the relationship that you build with the founders versus the other brand and how likable they naturally are whenever they’re just, you know, talking. And those kinds of things are not as directly copyable, as you would think. Another really great example of this is actually I say that I’ve used him as an example all the time, but Alex from Groove HQ, I think now it’s just groove.
He created; I think one of the very first SAAS founder blogs that are at least one of the most recognizable to me. and basically, he just, he basically journaled, he created content marketing about his journey as a SAAS, founder, and many, I mean, it inspired probably hundreds of thousands of companies by now, to do something similar. But what was so unique about what Alex did was you can’t really copy Alex he’s Alex, there’s no one else in the world like him. So even if other people start up their own growth blogs, it’s Alice Alex’s does not diminish or limit the success of others. It’s truly abundant. So that’s what I love about leaning into your strengths. It was a, I don’t want to say it was easy, but it was certainly natural for Alex to use one of the strengths that he has.
And I, and I also, if I recall correctly, he really had to learn how to create content. He really had to learn how to write, it was uncomfortable in the beginning, but over time it became a strength of his, he mastered the process, he mastered it. and again, his success did not take away from other success. So that’s also something too that is so important about leaning into your strengths, into your skills and into your resources. Is that, not only are they not directly copyable, but your success doesn’t take away from someone else’s, I mean, and even in the competitor case, but that said leaning into your strengths. It’s important from a competitive perspective, because it’s not going to be as easy as you think it is for competitors to directly copy it. And then on top of that, because I fundamentally believe that the universe and the world is abundant to get a little bit of woo on you, but because of that, you actually end up doing something even greater, which is being a leader, inspiring others.
And again, what you achieve, it doesn’t limit the achievements of others really more than anything, it just continues to propel you forward. I think it’s so important when a company is able to really double down on what makes them strong and they’re able to minimize their weaknesses as much as possible. That’s when you start to see a brand really, truly emerge and start to gain market share because they’ve doubled down on what makes them special and different and better. And they know how to leverage their own internal resources and their own internal strengths. And this is really about, you know, not just like the brand as a whole, but like the individuals and what are they good at? What can they do? Did you know that, you guys actually were great speakers or great writers or a great videographers, or what have you, maybe, maybe you do, maybe you don’t, maybe you’re thinking about it and you’d need someone to tell you to go do that thing.
Well, I’m here to push you over the edge and say, yes, do it. Cause if it’s not something that your competitors can do, or at least easily copy you’ll at least know that it was done with all of the personality and flair and, just abundance and growth potential that you guys have. And again, your competitors can’t copy that. And vice versa, these six principles of competing in a highly overcrowded competitive market, they’re honestly just the beginning. They are. These are, these are the lessons. Part of the lessons learned at least the part of the principles of the overarching lesson, which is if you’re going to enter an extremely competitive market, these are really the first six things that I would tackle. And these are the first six things that I would analyze and strategize around. They are in many ways what I would consider success gaps, meaning if we know that we’re not strong at one of these things, we’re going to have to figure it out because if we don’t compete is actually going to be really challenging.
It’s going to be an effective and it’s going to be expensive. And I think that’s the latter part is the one that I always makes me extremely cautious for a lot of obvious reasons, but it’s definitely just a starting point. And again, if you’re listening to this, now you can absolutely go to the demand may have been done. blog and read the full, the complete article about, you know, everything. This was really just the beginning in a way. I’m sure that there’s other things that you could add to this. And I’m deeply curious about what you have learned from competing in an overcrowded space or an overcrowded market, overcrowded, of course, to be defined by you. But if you have hundreds of competitors, hundreds, just, it seems like, you know, you could throw a rock and hit like 50 of them. there’s just, there’s a few things to consider. And if you’ve been in the market for a long time, this could also help you to, double down on what you know, to be true and successful about what you guys are currently doing. And if you’re about to enter into a market, again, these are just the six basic things I would make sure that you have checked, and completed
As always, thank you so much for spending this time with me to learn more about how to reach your growth goals for your SaaS business, head on over to demand maven.io. You’ll find all kinds of free resources, articles, and content. Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already and I’ll see you on the next one.