Category is a team sport

Written by Paul Maher

A recent full-day workshop was deemed a great success by our sponsors.

The CEO who set the company up four years ago, and the Chairman, himself a software veteran with exits including a sale to one of Europe’s largest software firms were onboard. Everyone involved in the interactive sessions, which included pretty much the entire company, had a renewed view of the business. They all knew for the first time, just how scarily successful its Category could be. 

Needless to say, there’s still a lot to do.

Such kick off meetings are fraught affairs as new concepts like Category ecosystems, the company’s Point of View and Lightning Strike are explained. Then examples are shown and debated. This workshop went well, thanks to a combination of pre-work from the board members and the enthusiasm of a young team, determined to beat out the competition and up for a new vision.

The ‘real work’ lies ahead; there is of course only so much one can, or should try to, achieve in such single day workshops. The plan we built and allocated across the team still has vital details missing. The PoV is in its infancy and the Strike has a firm date plus a lot of planned product feature updates, but no venues, either physical or online set up yet. 

The potential of the Category can only be delivered when these steps are complete. Only then will we start to tell the world about our plans to revolutionise how gig economy workers are treated and rewarded. 

No Plan B

The real reason Categories succeed is the collaboration of teams. No matter how well-laid a Category Design team’s plans are, they are nothing without a full court press from the entire company. 

For instance, new product offerings under development need to line up with the new Category vision. Sales teams need to educate their current customers on the change in direction. Professional services teams have to spot customer needs the Category can develop to serve. Most importantly, the leadership team needs to be repeatedly clear the company is ‘All in’ on Category. This is why Category is a team sport without a Plan B.

Just like any team sport, weak links will appear. ‘Drive by’ products demanded by pushy customers can push a ‘Better, not different’ agenda. Such well-meaning, but flawed logic, allows competitors to make claims which diminish the ‘Different not better’ advantage of your Category.  A ‘Go with what we know’ attitude can see sales teams revert to older sales decks, battlecards and comparison charts, which limits the take-up of the Category and forces comparisons with the Categories of competitors.

When these weak links appear, it is the role of management to remind and realign the team around its Category definition goal. As in sport, this is a blend of goal setting and inspiring and the more tactical, course-correction when players are on the field. 

Player motivation

Also as with all successful teams. Management will need to blend extrinsic and intrinsic motivations to get the best from their players. Category defining managers know which levers to pull for each team member. 

They set objectives, some internal and some external, to play to the strengths and weaknesses of their team. For some team members, this may be the intrinsic motivation to listen for the private reactions of competitors in their customer conversations. In many cases, violent dismissal of the Category by a rival indicates a strong Point of View which is causing defensiveness.  

For other team members, typically those with a competitive streak, extrinsic motivation in the form of clearly measurable goals, are ideal. In the beginning these can be crude, such as the pick up of Category names in Google Trends, or the feedback received from an industry body or analyst firm. Ultimately, these may be refined down to the social media performance of Category content or SEO keywords.

The precise toolset a management team deploys will vary, based on the strength of the individuals in her squad. There can be no doubt that without a united squad, Category creation should not be a solo sport, a lonely and fruitless slog up through the divisions. 

Experienced leaders know well that kick-off workshops, like pre-match team talks, are just the beginning of Categories. So the very next day after our workshop,  we were already swapping action-oriented emails the day after the workshop. It is a good sign.

Experience shows every winning team will face setbacks, defeats and challenges to their beliefs. What really matters is the teamwork, commitment to learning and relearning from mistakes and the common purpose building a category demands. From kick-offs to the final whistle, Categories truly are team sports.

Contact Us