Where to start with B2B tech product positioning with Vakis Rigas, VP Marketing at Shypple

The positioning of B2B tech products requires consideration of competitors, features and jobs to be done. Ultimately, positioning aims to find context. 

On this FINITE Podcast episode, hear from Vakis Rigas, VP Marketing at Shypple. Vakis has an extensive background in product marketing at top tech companies such as Typeform and Google. 

He has success-backed ideas for positioning, and how to achieve long lasting success by dominating a category, standing out from competitors and finding the needs of an audience. 

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And check out more of the FINITE B2B marketing podcast here

Full Transcript

Alex (00:06):

Hello everyone and welcome back to the FINITE Podcast. In this episode, we’re going to be talking to Vakis Rigas, who is VP of marketing at Shypple a digital freight forwarding and supply chain platform. Vakis has an extensive background in B2B tech, and we actually recorded this episode when he was head of product marketing at Typeform not long ago. Today, we’re talking all about positioning for B2B tech and SaaS businesses, how to go about it, and how frameworks like jobs to be done could provide some helpful guidance. I hope you enjoy.


Alex (00:37):

The FINITE community is kindly supported by the marketing practice, a global integrated B2B marketing agency that brings together all the skills you need to design and run account based marketing, demand generation channel and customer marketing programs. Head to themarketingpractice.com to learn more.


Alex (00:57):

Hey Vakis, thanks for joining me today.


Vakis (00:59):

Thank you so much for having me.


Alex (01:01):

Looking forward to talking. We are going to be diving into positioning, and I know that this is a topic we’ve kind of covered before from different perspectives, but I think the early stage positioning in the B2B tech world is an important subject and one that is always a good discussion. So I’m looking forward to talking through it with you. To begin with, I’m going to let you just introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about your current role and what you’re doing at the moment, current team and any relevant background experience and we’ll then dive into the discussion.


About Vakis’ background in B2B tech marketing 

Vakis (01:31):

Awesome. Right now I’m sat on my lovely balcony in Barcelona, Spain, and waiting for my next opportunity. So I actually just stopped my role as head of product marketing at Typeform, and will soon be joining another company, which I will unveil very soon. 

I have been in Barcelona for a bit over a year and a half working with Typeform looking into specifically positioning. But very much just trying to identify the different personas that we were dealing with at Typeform, understanding what type of customers we have, what type of value we deliver to those customers and which customers enjoy and see a lot of value from Typeform. 

So a bit of a background on me, I started my career in Denmark, I’m Danish, born and bred. Started as a marketer in a very early stage consumer electronics startup. I was employee number three, I believe. And we essentially just sold computer hardware over the internet and it taught me a bunch of things, especially a lesson or two around pricing. 

When you’re operating with a roughly 6% profit margin, you learn how to talk differently about the goods that you’re selling so that you can boost the value of a little bit. Did that for about four years, took them from almost nothing to a leading player in the Danish e-commerce scene. And then I moved on to Google, where I worked in adtech for over six years or so, both selling and also working in product marketing, working on positioning, figuring out the competitive landscape and did a ton of sales enablement. 

After that, did some consulting work, product marketing mainly so helping companies figure out how to carve out space for themselves to compete. As we all know, we typically join a company that already has a preexisting product and also pre-existing competitors. So my approach to that is figure out, not necessarily how you’re different from those competitors, but figuring out what jobs are solving for your customers or what jobs your customers are hiring you for. And then figuring out if you can draw a parallel to something else. 

So you can position yourself differently and not necessarily put yourself in a box where you have to compete with the ones that are put in place for you in advance. And after doing that for a while, I got connected to Typeform, who asked me to come and set up their product marketing department, hiring a team and to help the organisation understand what product marketing is, and also how we could use that function to accelerate growth for the company.


How product marketing compares to other marketing functions 

Alex (04:42):

And I think that’s a good starting point. We’re going to start the discussion by really setting the scene on positioning itself, but almost a level above that, as you just touched on it yourself, helping people understand as an organisation what product marketing actually is.

And I think particularly for some earlier stage businesses that they go into that scale up phase, and maybe they’ve had more generalist marketing teams and roles start to become more specialist. Maybe there’s a better starting point, is just kind of what does product marketing cover? And then we can dive into the positioning more specifically.


Vakis (05:11):

Sure. It’s a hard question to answer. It covers many things. I think most of us have tried to come up with an easy way to communicate product marketing. Some say it’s the glue between the different departments. I think for me, product marketing is the function that helps you understand your customers, understand their needs and the department who will also figure out how you can position your product so that you are providing a sufficient amount of context for that customer to engage or even buy the product that you’re selling. 

And that is a thing that you can do across platforms, which is also why I think most people refer to product marketing as the glue. Because once you understand the story that you need to communicate or narrative to your customer, you need to spread it across every department. 

Because every customer who comes in, they’re expecting a certain story. So the better your organisation is able to retell that story and even build upon it is crucial, at least in my opinion, to the success of your product and company.


How product marketing is about finding context

Alex (06:30):

Yeah, it makes sense. So we’re gonna be talking about positioning quite generally, but also some of the theory and the frameworks behind it. What about the positioning piece in itself? I mean, you’ve alluded to it in your introduction in terms of figuring out where a product sits alongside others and being able to draw how you’re different. If you’re to define positioning, just so that we’re all on the same page before we dive into the episode in more detail, is that a fair summary?


Vakis (06:58):

Definitely. So the answer to that for me, positioning is context. So you’re providing a certain level of context to someone who needs it, someone who is seeking it. I can give you an example from Typeform, where most people who came to Typeform prior to us doing this work would go in and they would say like, I’m looking for a form and then Typeform would answer or capture some sort of demand in any place across the internet. And then they would respond, here’s this form solution. And then there would be varying degrees of better form solution than others, more conversational, more beautiful. 

But really with that context, you’re a form. So you are automatically being compared to Surveymonkey or SurveySparrow or any of the other companies out there that do forms, Google form. And that also means that you’re being compared on price. And if you do that, then you put yourself in a situation where you can compete on basically two things. 

You can compete on pricing, which eventually I’ve seen, at least throughout my experience drives you down a rabbit hole. I mean, it just gets cheaper and cheaper and while it’s good to offer a good price for your customer, it shouldn’t be about that. It should be about what the customer is trying to achieve. 

And the other thing that you could develop for is features. So one form solution has all these great features, and then you can build those features and then you are feature parody, but really not important to all customers. I don’t think that there is a single Typeform customer that is using all the different features that we have, multiple customer groups that are each using certain features. 

And so for me, positioning is more about figuring out what job the customers who hire you are trying to do, because if you can understand that, then you can provide more context. So instead of needing a form, they might need a mechanism that could help them connect with more customers and recommend specific products or features within the solution that they’re offering to a specific customer. 

And one of the use cases that we saw in Typeform that we started to test out with was e-commerce and e-commerce within e-commerce. One of the things that people were trying to do was they were trying to ask a series of questions to identify a certain need, and then automatically recommend products what customers could then buy. So this product is not really a form. 

And if you try to draw, which we did an analogy to who else performs the service, we could say, that’s the same as a shop assistant in a retail store. If you come in through the door, they ask you if you need any help, most of us say, no, I’m just browsing. But there are quite a few that would say, yes, I’m looking for a white shirt. It needs to be somewhat fancy because I’m going to a gala or something else. 

And then they would lead you to the product that best fits or best solves the job that that customer needs to do. So what we did with this particular use case was we repositioned Typeform as not a form, but a shop assistant for e-commerce. And then all of a sudden you’ve said the different context, the potential customer that comes in sees this and says, that’s exactly what I need, or that is very close to what I need. 

And then your conversation is not about price or features because you’ve already said enough context for it to fulfill the feature requirements they have. And price becomes a different conversation because it’s not about how much does your nearest competitor cost, it becomes about am I willing to sacrifice or invest in this and will my return be greater than that investment to a degree that I’m satisfied with? And that’s a much healthier conversation in my opinion, because then it’s a positive value return or value exchange essentially. 

And that is where we need to go, because that will make sure that the customers get a better product because the company has more of an investment to put into working with that product. And it becomes a much clearer narrative. So positioning to me, it was a very long long-winded answer, but it is just context. The ability to provide as much context as possible and position your solution as the solution, or answer to the needs of your customer.


Where to find a product’s position in the market 

Alex (12:20):

And what do you think the best starting point is? Or what do you have to establish before going through this process? Cause I think every marketer will have come across a range of different positioning frameworks and tools. And we’re going to be talking a little bit about jobs to be done and that side of things. But I think you’ve already answered this to some extent, saying that really this is about deeply understanding your customer’s needs. Ultimately is that the foundation of all positioning work?


Vakis (12:46):

For me? Yes. At least it’s the starting part. If you don’t have any, it depends what type of company you are. If you’re starting from zero, don’t have any customers, I’d say the first starting point is trying to figure out how you can get customers on board. And you can try various ways of positioning your product, but try to get it out there to see how your customers are using your product. 

Because at the end of the day, most customers that I’ve spoken to in any line of work, the way that we wanted to build the product was the way that they use the product. So we would always learn from at least half a dozen customers, new ways of using the product that we’d never thought of before. 

So I think the first place to start here is to get customers, get people on your platform or product, get them to use it, see what they do with it. And once you’re at that place, say you’re a bit more mature, you have revenue, then start to talk to those customers. One of the quick wins that you could do initially that I’ve been doing with a pretty decent hit rate is sending out a product market fit survey. 

So asking your customers how satisfied or dissatisfied they would be if they no longer had access to your product. And some of the responses that you’ll start to see there are some people would not be very disappointed because they just don’t see a very big need for the product or service. And then there’s people who would be somewhat disappointed and those you could work with to move them over to be very disappointed.

But really the ones I tend to look at the most are the ones that are very disappointed or would be very disappointed if they no longer had access to it. And the reason why I look at them is because often I find that is where you have product market fit. And often I find that those are the ones that will go above and beyond to really figure out how to use your product. 

And then I start to talk to those people to get to what I really want to learn, what job they’re trying to do. Because once you understand what job they’re trying to do, that’s when you can start to really think about your positioning and how you can initiate that process.


FINITE (15:12):

The FINITE community and podcasts are kindly supported by 93x, the digital marketing agency working exclusively with ambitious fast growth B2B technology companies. Visit 93x.agency to find out how they partner with marketing teams in B2B technology companies to drive growth.


How category definition impacts positioning 

Alex (15:31):

In terms of understanding the market. So I think we’ve got listeners that are probably at all different stages of the journey. So in early stage startups, some in big enterprises and everything in between, but some of the stuff you said and the exampleS you gave of the work you did at Typeform and the e-commerce example, there’s a number of B2B tech companies who are to some extent on the journey of trying to define their own category, which I think we all know as marketers is no mean feat and can be pretty challenging to do, and very few have done it successfully. 

So I’m interested in your perspective once you’ve begun to understand the market, how much is it about if you feel that you need to define a new category or you are defining a new category, but at the same time as it’s already a defined market slightly on the periphery, there’s demand, there’s user intent, people are looking for products in that area. 

How much do you think you have to go where the market already is or go after existing existing categories, versus what if you’re trying to carve your own path? And how does that fit into your view of the positioning and the product marketing world?


Vakis (16:47):

It makes perfect sense. And I think there’s different paths, right? I think the path of least resistance is where you’ll have preexisting demand. And that’s also one of the things that we saw at Typeform. There’s a demand for forms, surveys, quizzes. So those solutions people are already familiar with. 

For me, where you really get to value is understanding the job that people are trying to do because the forms, surveys and quizzes, they’re all tools. They’re not necessarily where you want to be or where the customers want to be, it’s a means to get to somewhere. And I think figuring out where that somewhere is, or understanding your current customer base and seeing, out of the people that we have today, where’s the biggest opportunity? Where can we build the most on top in terms of value? 

And I’m not talking about making your product more sophisticated. I’m saying, is there a way that we could potentially develop services or features or products around that will help them perform their jobs even better? So after they’ve sold the first job, what’s the next one? What’s the next challenge that they’ll run into? Do we have a place here that we can be in? 

Because I think that’s where you start to think and start to build a category. I haven’t built a category successfully myself yet. Of course it would be wonderful one day because we all know what benefits that brings. But I think understanding the customer’s job is the most important thing that you can do for your business. 

Because once you understand that and you can successfully help them complete it, they’ll know what the next one is. And if you can help them complete the next job, it becomes like a wonderful circle where you can create and establish a very special relationship with your customers. And I think at the end of the day, that’s where we all want to go. We want to get closer to our customers because that creates a stronger mode and it also just creates a nicer atmosphere, I think.


What the jobs to be done framework is

Alex (19:10):

That leads us perfectly into this world of jobs to be done. I mean, you’ve already started alluding to it, but I guess you can tell us a little bit more about the kind of jobs to be done theory or framework? I’m not sure what the best way to describe it is, but it’s a framework. I guess it’s a thing, it’s not just a description of something.


Vakis (19:31):

So I’m fairly new to the concept, I’ve just been starting to take it and I’ve used it quite a lot. But I’m by no means a leading expert on this. There’s plenty of books out there of people who have done it for a long time. Clayton Christensen is probably one of them. The more well-known in jobs to be done is basically just a theory of understanding what the actual job is that a customer is trying to do. 

The theory of jobs to be done is just asking more questions, getting to understand what the actual job is, because it’s not a 13 inch drill, it’s a 13 inch hole. And if you ask deeper, you’ll figure out it’s because I need to hang up a painting. Why do you need to hang up a picture? Well, it’s because I want this picture that we took on vacation that the whole family went on at one point. And then why do you want that up? 

And then you figure out that that’s because that person wanted to be reminded of that great time that they had on that vacation. And the more questions you ask, the deeper you get to and understand the problem or the job that they’re trying to do. And by doing that, you might find different solutions that will work better, and that can be applied better. And that is something that works really well when you’re building a product. 

But it’s also something that works really well when you need to communicate a product, because when you’re asking all of these questions, you figure out that your customers have very specific needs. They have very specific pains that they’re going through, and there are very specific games that you can get. And you can use all of that in your communication as you both position, but also message around your product.


The need for product marketing roles in a B2B tech/SaaS company 

Alex (21:42):

Yeah, it’s a framework that I’ve come across a few times and never really kind of formally applied, but one that I need to do some more looking into and more research cause it breaks things down pretty nicely, and gets you asking all the right questions. I guess there’s plenty of organisations in the tech landscape. 

It doesn’t have product marketing as a defined function, there’s some product marketing responsibilities within the team, but not necessarily clearly separated out. I think obviously every company is thinking about positioning, but do you think this is an area of the marketing world that’s under-invested in or not thought about enough? Particularly for maybe businesses in that early stage startup to scale up transitory phase?


Vakis (22:29):

I think it’s an area that most companies are starting to get their eyes on a lot more. If you’re looking at job postings for product marketers, it’s pretty much across the board now. That’s almost always the first marketing hire that they want to bring in nowadays because typically PMMs, they have a good range of marketing experience, but the most important of all, they know how to build a story or get a narrative out there. 

I think people are seeing more of a need for them today than they have ever before. And it’s quite interesting to see how many are hiring and how many are finding it really difficult to hire. So even people who are looking for junior PMMs or mid-level PMMs, there’s just not enough out there right now. 

So I think it’s something that if you are a growth marketer or any type of marketer, you might want to like figure out what this PMM or product marketing discipline is. Because I think that there’s a big opportunity to get more PMMs into the world. And also with a strong background within, or preexisting strong background within marketing would be very beneficial.


How to find customer pain points 

Alex (23:52):

Interesting. You talked a bit about how you can get close to customer’s pain points, challenges, hear about how they’re using a product. Are there any tips you’ve got or ways that you’ve used in the past? 

I know you mentioned sending out surveys of different kinds, but how do you recommend listeners to go about actually gaining that level of insight? Obviously there’s all kinds of analytics and tracking and stuff you can do inside products and outside of the product. But anything that comes to mind that’s really worked well for you over the years?


Vakis (24:24):

Product market fit surveys are a great tool to get started. You’re not going to get a lot of information, but you’re going to get a sufficient level of information in terms of understanding where your customer is. So if they have a higher product market fit and they give you some other indications that they are the right profile to talk to, that’s a great way of figuring out who in your current customer portfolio would provide some sort of valuable information that you can then leverage to build a better product and have that information over to your product team. 

And therefore also establishing a relationship there and figuring out what they’re trying to do so that you can build communication and a narrative around that particular job. So that’s a great way. There are certain scenarios where this is not possible.

So say people are opting out from receiving communications from your company and you really want to talk to this person. Then I try to figure out other channels. Twitter works really well. LinkedIn, try to make a connection and figure out if you can get in there another way to work with your sales team. So if you have an inside sales team that’s already working with your larger customers, leverage them, establish a relationship to them, see if you can come on and help them out. 

And a good way of doing that is also providing a little bit of a carrot. So if the product team is working on something new, why not take that out and ask the sales team, if they would be up for a meeting with one of the clients that would be a prospect for this new alpha or beta feature that no one else gets access to. 

That’s a great way to get started and provide a little bit of value without taking too much, because we can also quickly get in a situation where we’re just asking to talk to a ton of customers all the time. And if you are a customer that can also be annoying. So we have to also respect that time.


Competing with unique features instead of replicating competitors 

Alex (26:29):

Yeah, absolutely. Are there aspects of positioning that you think, particularly within the B2B tech/SaaS space that are unique? Or anything that B2B SaaS companies in particular have traps that they fall into regularly? I know we’ve touched on the whole trying to define a new category that’s not an easy point, which may be one of them. But anything else that you think is particularly relevant?


Vakis (26:53):

Just reiterating, establishing a category while the returns are high is a really long journey. And I think the vast majority of marketers underestimate how long our journey is, because it’s not just internally that you need to create and establish that category. It’s also externally and internally is slow. Externally it’s going to be much, much slower. So it’s really hard. 

Not everyone has the same reach as Dave Gerhardt or any of the other wonderful people who are doing this work. And even they say it’s hard. So I’d say maybe figure out what’s the earlier step before you go out and try to do this. Yes, you can do it intentionally. Just don’t expect that it will take three months. 

The other aspect that I wanted to mention is people keep competing or seeing their similar products as competitors. And I think that is very, very dangerous. If you keep competing against one of your competitors, you’re always going to look at the next new launch that they’re putting out. And then you’re going to think about like, oh, why don’t we launch this? And then you start like sending collateral over to your product team, telling them our competitor launched this feature, why don’t we have this feature? 

And it’s not really healthy, because you end up wasting a lot of time talking about things that you might not want to talk about because your competitor might be targeting a completely different audience than you, which is why they built that particular feature. Or they might be doing the same thing as you looking at other competitors. And then just getting to feature parody as soon as possible. 

So what you’re much better off doing is get yourself out of that view and ask yourself every time someone launches a feature for my target customer, the best customer, or if you have done high expectation customer work, if my high expectation customer used this, would they benefit from it? Would it improve the job that they’re trying to do? Would it help them be better versions of themselves? 

If you can answer yes to those questions then yeah maybe take it into consideration. But I’d much rather that people start thinking about the job that their customers are trying to do and how you can solve it for them in the best possible way. And in my introducing a product that no one else ever would introduce to the market, that I think is when you start to establish or at least get closer to understanding what your category might be. 


Alex (29:42):

Make sense. Those are some great tips. I think there’s lots of actionable insights there that you’ve said, so I’m grateful for your time. Half an hour flies by pretty quickly, but thank you so much for joining. I can almost imagine myself sat on a sunny Barcelona balcony, but I’m looking out the window, gray clouds and rain here in the UK. So I’m a bit jealous I’m not going to lie, but thanks again for joining Vakis.


Vakis (30:05):

Thank you so much. At least you don’t need air conditioning and yeah, hopefully there’s a bike ride in store for you very soon.


FINITE (30:16):

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