Imagine being a CMO or agency partner proposing this tagline and positioning statement to a managing partner or group of practice leaders:
“We Suck Less.”
How do you think that idea would fly in the boardroom? Would you want to use it for your firm? Do you think that anyone would be stupid enough to use it? Probably not.
Now imagine being a client listening to a group of firms cycling through your boardroom pitching their wares. You might hear pitch statements like:
- We don’t have competitors because nobody does what we do and how we do it.
- We are an industry-leading [fill in the blank]
- We’ve cracked the code on [fill in the blank].
- We’re unique because nobody can offer the strategic or user-specific or global or local or [add your adjective here] view of X.
- Our clients like us better than any of our competitors.
These self-aggrandizing statements of prowess (i.e.“We’re Better Because We Think We’re Better”) are popular positioning mantras among professional services firms. These statements make partners and firms feel good but they seldom do anything to differentiate firms or drive revenue faster than the average. There are simply too many firms shouting similar unsubstantiated claims in the market. Prospects stop paying attention or believing.
Imagine if one of the firms cycling through your boardroom started its presentation with “We suck less.” What would your reaction be? Would you continue napping or would you snap to attention at the statement’s absurdity? I suspect that you would snap to and listen to why a firm would say such a thing.
You might hear the firm acknowledge that the entire industry sucks given the nature of the industry, its products, and its demands (have you flown on an airplane lately?). Perhaps you might feel that someone empathizes with your frustration and actually owns up to its contribution to the industry’s customer dissatisfaction level. Perhaps, you might even trust that the firm tells the truth, even when it is hard. Perhaps, you might be willing to take the time to hear how this firm actually does things differently in order to “suck less.”
Believe it or not, “We suck less” is, in fact, the tagline of Chicago-based IT services company Waident Technologies. Waident Technologies is run by John Ahlberg, a former CIO turned entrepreneur who has been on both sides of the IT fence. He is a straight-talking, client-centric realist who got fed up with bad service in a difficult industry. Instead of sugar-coating the industry’s services issues, he was one of the first to take them head-on. As he says, “It’s technology. Sh*t breaks and it breaks at the worst time for businesses. It sucks. Our job is to make it suck less.”
The first time I heard him share his value proposition at a tech CEO networking meeting, I started laughing. I was so taken aback by the raw honesty that I had to listen.
One thing is for sure: I’ve never forgotten the firm and person who said it.