Mental Models Applied: Using A 2×2 Chart For Handling Competitive Objections

In some earlier articles and in a talk I gave at a local product management meetup, I’ve shared about the importance of having a toolkit of mental models. They help with decision making, problem solving, communication, plus every other thing we do as product managers.

A good mental model can help you see things in a different way. Click To Tweet

As an exercise for myself, I decided to take a mental model that’s usually used for decision making – a 2×2 matrix – and apply it to marketing. I found it gives an interesting perspective.

Using a 2×2 Matrix for Handling Objections About The Competition

One thing we have to do in the go-to-market portion of our jobs is come up with good ways to talk about our product versus our competitors. A 2×2 matrix turns out to be useful for this. To use it, you have to be clear on your differentiators – what your product does better than your competitors.

Think of two capabilities of your product, each of which is differentiating against some of your competitors. Make those two capabilities the axes of a 2×2 matrix. Your product should be in the upper right quadrant – the magic quadrant. Then lay out your competitors on the 2×2 matrix, and see where they fall, based on how well they support – or do not support – those capabilities.

Because you chose differentiating capabilities, your competitors will all fall in one of the other quadrants.

Come up with spiffy names for the axes, and for the quadrants. For example, the lower left quadrant might be “The Laggards.” Or you might use a term that’s more specific to your customers’ needs such as “Can’t Plan; Can’t Execute.”

Example – Resource Management and Portfolio Management

At my last company we made project management software. Our two most differentiating capabilities were project portfolio management and resource management. We were better than our competitors on one or the other or both of these areas. Putting those in a 2×2 matrix, we get something like this:

Portfolio Management
NoneFull
Resource ManagementFullArbitrary projects, right peopleRight projects, right people
NoneArbitrary projects, people chaosRight projects, people chaos

I used “Right projects, right people” for the name of the magic quadrant. And then the obvious flipped names for the other quadrants.

Or you might choose to be a little more business-like and customer-oriented, such as:

  • Project certainty; resource certainty
  • Project uncertainty; resource certainty
  • Project certainty; resource uncertainty
  • Project uncertainty; resource uncertainty

Clever names

Naming the quadrants is an art – I’m sure there are better names than I’ve come up with in a few minutes. (Leave me your suggestions for quadrant names in the comments and I’ll update the post if I get some good ones!)

Finally, of course, I’d lay out my competitors on this chart according to the strength of their resource management and portfolio management capabilities.

Using This Chart for Handling Objections and Questions

The great thing about this 2×2 chart is that you can read the competitive objection handling right off it.

I’d suggest setting up the competition conversation with a few questions to the prospect:

  • “How important is it for you to make sure you’re working on the right projects, and then track your progress across all the projects?” (That’s what we call “agile portfolio management.”)
  • “How do you make sure the right resources are working on the right projects, that you and everyone in the organization is on the same page about how the resources are assigned, and that your resource assignments match your resource capacity?”

If the prospect is worried about working on the wrong things, and is facing the chaos of manually managing resource allocations, their ears are going to prick up at those questions.

Then you can simply show them the chart, and point out where your competitors are lacking in one or the other of these important capabilities. If you can get the prospect to tell you which competitors are in the deal, you can focus on them.

Three things you can do today

  1. List out all the differentiating capabilities in your product. (Or maybe you’ve already made this list!) Choose two and create a 2×2 chart with those capabilities on the X and Y axes, as described above. (Try to come up with good names for the quadrants if you can!)
  2. Plot your product and your competitors on the 2×2 chart according to how well they deliver those capabilities. If you chose well then your product is the only one that shows up in the upper right quadrant.
  3. Help the sales and marketing teams understand how to use this chart for objection handling.
  4. Consider doing the exercise again with a different pair of differentiating capabilities.

More reading on 2x2s

Here are a few additional articles on 2x2s, although most are using the 2×2 for making decisions, rather than driving marketing:

About the Author

Your host and author, Nils Davis, is a long-time product manager, consultant, trainer, and coach. He is the author of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, many blog posts, a series of video trainings on product management, and the occasional grilled pizza.

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