5 Strategies to stand out in a competitive market

Best Practices | Company News | Marketing

Underdogs sometimes win

I love underdog stories, and one of my favorites is now on FX and Hulu. The series, Welcome to Wrexham, is a documentary of sorts set around the small town in the north of Wales, Wrexham and their local soccer (English Football) club. The town has a history of economic set-backs, a coal mining disaster, but also many glory years of football. The storied past successes on the football pitch helped buoy spirits in this town, which like much of the UK, reveres football as even more than just a beloved sport, often having an outsized impact on the psyche of a community. In Wrexham, unfortunately, that psyche was significantly damaged 15 years back when the town’s football team fell out of the professional league, and hasn’t been able to put together a team good enough to make it back ever since. 

That is until Hollywood stars Ryan Renolds and Rob McElhenny bought the soccer team in 2020. They had a lofty goal to buy the team in Wrexham to see if they could improve the team enough to win back a spot in the English football league. In season 1 of the series, we saw them take second place, failing their goal despite significant new investment in the team. However, in season 2 they achieved their goal of being promoted back in the professional league – much to the joy of the entire community, and even much of Wales. It was an emotional and very satisfying triumph to watch, though it took lots of the stars’ money, a new coach, a pro manager, many new players, hard decisions, and a lot of creativity…but they did it.

Now, however, they have 72 stronger foes to face as part of the five divisions of the English Football league. They will now have to get even more creative to stand out in this more competitive crowd of talented teams.

The challenge

And so it is for us at Insightly in the CRM space, as it also is for many companies in competitive industries. 

Here’s why: It’s hard to find a more crowded field than CRM. According to IBISWorld, there are 1,787 CRM providers globally as of 2023. So, come on this journey with me as we talk about 5 key strategies that I’ve used to try to stand out in a competitive market.

Here’s the G2 data, of just the pure-play CRM platform providers…and you can see there are still a lot of brands vying for attention. It’s a pretty crowded screen, and you can just make out Insightly there. Well, at least we’re in the upper quadrant as a leader!

The world of SaaS has gotten a lot more crowded and complex in the last 23 years, and Scott Brinker from Chiefmartec.com has been tracking the expansion of SaaS for over a decade. He shows that in 2011 there were only 150 vendors in Martech, which as of 2020 had grown to over 8,000. 

So how do you stand out in a crowded space? 

Our challenge in CRM is to find the white space, or underserved portion of the market where we can carve out a unique spot, leveraging a combination of messaging and platform capabilities to grow. 

That white space may not be where you think it is. 

We all recall how Netflix aimed  to unseat top, $9 billion rival Blockbuster back in the early 2000s. Netflix’s early success in adding subscribers hinged on luring away Blockbuster customers who were tired of being charged a dollar a day for late returns. Yet, despite a tough initial battle, Blockbuster decided they couldn’t part ways with the $800 million they made each year from late fees. Netflix, now one of the biggest content creators in the world, had done it…the white space wasn’t about video at all, it was about late fees!

5 strategies to stand out

So, the problem isn’t just mine, it is likely many of you reading this are struggling with the same competitive challenge, and are trying to figure out how to topple one or several competitors that may have a bigger market share, a better known brand, or significantly more money and resources than you have. 

Not to fear, I’ve summarized my top 5 (scrappy) ways to stand out among the competition without breaking the bank:

  1. Your customer experience is your unique value proposition
  2. Try humor in your advertising 
  3. Create ‘Remarkable’ content that stands out from competitors 
  4. Borrow some clout by working with influencers in your field 
  5. Keep a ‘sandbox’ budget, so you can test new marketing initiatives each quarter

While there are several other potential strategies we take beyond these, I think these are the top ones to consider putting into action first.

1. Customer Experience (CX) as your unique value proposition

Here’s one thing many smaller industry underdogs forget: If you’re small, you can leverage that size as a differentiator. One of your unique value propositions should be that you can provide a better, and more personalized customer experience than your larger competitors can. Your smaller size should translate into the ability to better know and understand your customers, allowing you to provide a significantly better, higher-touch, customer experience than your competitors.

Many organizations struggle with providing a strong customer experience. We conducted a study in 2022 where we surveyed >500 sales, marketing, ops and CS leaders and we asked them about the quality of their customer experience, and we also asked them about their company’s growth. 

The results were fascinating. 59% report to provide good or exceptional customer service. However, 6% say they need improvement and 35% say they just “meet expectations” – so not really a differentiated experience provided.

Bar chart

But here’s what’s really interesting from this research: Those with the best customer experiences were 2.5X more likely to report significant growth than all others. So, in other words, the data heavily backs the approach to differentiate on CX, as it is aligned with growth and better outcomes, such as higher recurring revenue, upsells, and repeat purchases.

2. Try humor in your advertising 

This is hiding in plain sight, yet rarely gets discovered by most brands, especially those in B2B. The research heavily supports that being approachable, and funny. This is a great potential differentiator to attract people to your brand and away from competitors.

As Marketing Dive reported, “Ninety-one percent of people globally prefer brands to be funny, yet 95% of business leaders fear using humor in consumer interactions, according to a June ‘22 report from Oracle and author-podcaster Gretchin Rubin. The report found that 45% of people globally had not felt true happiness for more than two years.”

The “Happiness Report” found that 90% of people are more likely to remember ads that are funny and 72% of people would choose a humorous brand over the competition. Again, as a smaller org, you can be more nimble and take more risks that larger orgs won’t. Digital is all 1’s and 0’s anyway so you can pivot at any time back to boring & predictable B2B marketing. 

Using humor also likely improves response rates in B2B too. From the study, 69% percent of respondents said they would open an email from a brand if the subject line was funnier, yet only 24% of business leaders report using humor in email marketing campaigns.

Here’s why humor works: People are people. So, of course this works in B2B, not just when marketing to consumers.

It worked for Insightly. We engaged an agency for a series of campy-funny video ads, and they worked well with our target audience, achieving over 1.2% click through on YouTube pre-roll ads, and also on LinkedIn. We utilized a weather theme pointing at the forecast being rainy for your legacy (big blue cloud) CRM, vs. sunny for Insightly. Speaking of the big blue cloud, I wonder who that could be? 

Cloudy video


3. Create ‘Remarkable’ content

In Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow he compares good marketing to seeing a purple cow in a sea of brown cows. Nobody stops to gaze at a brown cow, but if you saw a purple one you’d stop the car, get out and photograph it, then tell all of your friends. I think the corollary to this is what I heard Rand Fishkin say, “If you want to create really great content you’re going to have to be comfortable with pissing some people off…but appealing to others…those are your customers.”

So how do you put the recommendations of Purple Cow into action?

It starts by thinking about what is differentiated. In doing so, you might have brainstorms that you discard as silly or too aggressive. What we have found is that It’s okay to be edgy. Yes, also in B2B. 

Going against a competitor? Find and exploit a competitiveness weakness. In our case, legacy CRMs, such as Salesforce, often have a much higher total cost of ownership than modern competitors like Insightly. Also, the customer data from G2 shows that legacy CRMs are notoriously slow to implement and incorporate into a business.

So, we used a “Snails-force” ad to highlight the slowness, featuring a snail whose ‘favorite speed is slow.’ Also, we did an ad showing how the heavy blue cloud is weighing down a business due to the high cost. Similarly, we did a successful video ad with the key call-to-action being…”lose the blue cloud and save some green” – with money growing on trees.

All were targeted to current salesforce users and achieved >1.0% click-through rates, more than twice the 0.4% average on LinkedIn.

4. Borrow some clout

I personally have a little over 4,000 followers on LinkedIn. So, I’m doing okay, but I’m not a social media powerhouse. But some other folks are. Insightly has a podcast/YouTube show called Closing Time. It’s unique in that the episodes are about 15-20 minutes meant for bite-sized consumption. Through the show, we’ve been able to associate our brand with heavy hitters who have 100K+ followers. 

Overall our content initiative with category “influencers” is to deliver content that appeals, and influences our ICP audience based on their current pain points and challenges. The goal is to “create demand” and awareness (some would call this ‘branding’) even though many of these companies aren’t currently in the market for CRM. 

The research now supports the value of branding in B2B. Harvard Business Review’s study  “What B2Bs Need to Know About Their Buyers” shows that “80% of B2B buyers have a set of vendors
in mind before they do ANY research.”  80% of the time, the buy will already have a “day-one” consideration set before they begin ANY research. This will be based on brands they are already familiar with.

Most of these will be 2-3 of the brands within the top-5 market share leaders plus possibly 1-2 smaller “challenger brands” that are already known to the buying group.

That means that only 20% of brands that are discovered after the buyer begins to research the category will eventually be added to the consideration set!

So 90% of buyers who purchase (i.e. do not fall into a “no decision”) will choose one of the brands they already knew about BEFORE beginning their research of the category!

  • ~40% Result in No Decision
  • ~55% Chosen from the Day-One Consideration Set (90% of the 60% who buy)
  • ~5% Chosen from brands discovered AFTER the buyer begins to research the category

This shows the value of branding as a way to be in the consideration set from the beginning.

5. Keep a Sandbox Budget

The two most important words in marketing are “What if…” Marketers are creative, so give your team space to think of the next big idea. And put some budget behind it. Here at Insightly, our marketing team holds a creative ideation meeting twice a month where we dedicate time to collaborating and coming up with new ideas. 

Here’s why this works: As a marketer, you want to always be trying 1-2 new things. What’s working now may not work in 1 or 2 quarters so you have to have innovative ideas that you are incubating. 

Here are just a few options:

  1. Try a new demand gen channel or more aggressive web site A/B testing.
  2. Develop some new creative or video test 
  3. Enhance your go-to-market with some new tools for targeting, personalization, etc.
  4. Maybe direct mail will help you reach your audience in a new, differentiated way?
  5. In-person events are back. What about in-market events, and dinners with customers and potential customers?

The point is to always be testing.

As the underdog, you have lots of things your larger competitors don’t have. You have the chance to provide better service, provide new benefits they won’t, create funny and differentiated content, and aggressively test. Don’t get discouraged!