How to Build Ladder Messaging (aka scale and sell smarter)
Want to create clear positioning, now and for the future product?
One of the most powerful concepts you should know about is something I can “ladder messaging”.
It means using the right message at the right time - with a focus on making it easy for marketing and sales to do their job effectively.
Every week I see confusion about whether you are positioning “now” to get sales done, or because you don’t want to sit in a category and believe you are either creating a new category or don’t want to be associated with the existing category, you focus on “future” visionary messaging (something your product does not do yet).
It means the message you take to market is confused. Starting at the internal level. This confuses then the message to the external audience. You, the CEO, make it hard for people to know where to position your product, affecting marketing and sales.
On the journey to build a machine. Positioning is a key attribute. It’s the difference between creating the flywheel for growth, or holding the business back because your obsession with vision-based positioning ruins the current state.
And that’s a recipe for working your teams to death - when it can be much easier.
So today, I want you to understand the three components of “ladder messaging” that can clarify your message and revenue.
Let’s dive in.
There are three simple parts to this formula.
1. The Vision (useful when selling to investors or ‘C’ suite, i.e. high-level and inspiring
2. The Strategic Narrative (this is how marketing can mobilise the vision into campaigns and brand building).
3. Positioning is the sales story and step 1 on the journey to the end vision (this is what is relevant right now to help sell the product to prospects).
A value proposition is a written promise of what your business will deliver. It introduces your audience to your company and sets a clear understanding of what you do, whom you do it for, and how you do it differently. It is broken into three parts because you need to bucket your thinking into each area (i.e. vision vs narrative vs sales story).
Leadership and GTM teams use and take the components they need for certain scenarios, i.e. talking to investors, talking to prospects, and designing content campaigns.
The ladder works like this.
Part1: The Vision (useful when selling to investors or ‘C’ suite, i.e. one-to-one and inspiring
Think about Tesla.
The electric car pioneer started out with a high-priced, low-volume speciality car (the Roadster) for the super-rich. This was the vision of a specific audience. It will attract your initial user base (initial niche), and it will attract investors (initial niche).
In short: The vision is the story the CEO will tell investors and the business's 5-10 year vision. This can inform customer/prospect conversations, but it is more high-level focus on the vision of the business and thought leadership. Good for C-level engagements but too high for the broader market of buyers. It is your company's North Star. It is designed to be an aspirational message to the market and internal teams.
Part 2: The Strategic Narrative
Next, Tesla took the revenue and publicity from those elite models and developed mid-priced cars (Model S, Model X) for a larger group of well-off consumers.
For you, this would be when you have traction (£500k - £3m ARR), but you want to create a broader audience beyond the bespoke clients you serve one-on-one.
In short, the bridge and the ladder sit between the vision and what appeals to the current category/buyers. This is an explainer story of the business, where you see the market and where it is going. This story helps inform how you will talk about your product, what you will evangelise to prospects and the basis of a ‘thought leadership platform. It is not a sales email message. In some ways, how you bring the vision to life in story format. You will be laddering the vision backwards into a message that helps the broader audience want to engage with and purchase your SaaS solution.
Part 3: The Sales Story
From the revenue derived from the mid-tier car sales, Tesla entered the mass market with a low-priced, high-volume car (Model 3).
You do the same by turning your current customer base into case studies, proof, leverage, use cases, user stories and a simple focus on solving your audience's challenges.
The sales story defines how you are the best at providing some value to a broader set of customers right now (it threads down from the vision and narrative but not be confused as the same thing). Your sales story can't get too far ahead of the current state of the product, as the goal is building revenue at each step towards your end vision. At this point, you might be creating a new vision and strategic narrative concept but don't let it interfere with selling the mass market to make you scale beyond £10m+.
The story we tell in marketing and sales is tied to where we are TODAY, how to close deals, and what challenges you can sell against in the process.
As with Tesla, you can’t get too ahead of yourself - you have to build in time using the ladder of messaging. Don’t get too obsessed with the category.
Get obsessed with having the right structure of message at the right time and build towards the vision.
At each step, you’ll have to make sure the sales story for people selling to that broader audience is clear, compelling and simple. That’s the key.
You can acquire customers and build brand awareness through each stage of the process.
You’ll do the same thing as both your audience and business grow.
Your flywheel machine will be driven by the right message.