Why B2B Product Marketers spend too much time on value propositions

B2B buying has changed, and this changes the type of work that B2B product marketers should be doing.

Trade between companies in anything from a corporate order of photocopiers to a consulting engagement for a struggling business unit has changed dramatically in the past decade.

Employees must collaborate and cooperate more than they ever have to get their jobs done, and almost any B2B purchase now requires integrating with a company’s technology and IT systems. This means that a lot of purchases that once required a single “yes” from a senior decision maker who paid for it out of his or her own budget, now need to be discussed by a whole array of people.

This often includes someone from IT to ensure the product integrates with existing systems, someone from an information security or data privacy team to make sure there’s no reputation-destroying data leaks, two or three senior managers with responsibility for whatever it is the B2B purchase will help with (you can imagine a product manager, a country manager, and a marketing manager all being involved for example), maybe someone from HR if employees need to be trained on the product, and so on.

The average number of decision-makers now involved in making a purchase decision for a B2B product or service is 5.4, and that number is growing.

What’s Changed

As this post explains, these consensus purchase dynamics stall deals, often before they even get to a stage where customers engage with any marketing collateral, much less a sales rep. Worse, the growing number and diversity of stakeholders involved in purchases means they are less and less likely to find consensus early enough in the purchase process to give suppliers the chance to get a pitch in (research shows that the optimal point for suppliers to influence a purchase decision is 37% of the way through the process).

There is a lot that marketing and sales teams can do to respond to these problems; the rest of this post looks at what product marketers can and should be doing, and future posts will look at other marketing roles (see this marketing role guide for more).

What Product Marketers Should Stop Doing

A common refrain from sales teams when their conversion rates – of contact with a buyer into actual sales – are not where they should be is, “Our value proposition isn’t clear enough. It just isn’t resonating in the marketplace. We need to make our value proposition more crisp.”

And in response, product marketers feverishly set about making the value proposition simpler and – “crisper” – than it already was. It might sound like the right thing to do but, based on thousands of data points and years of CEB research, product marketers actually spend too much time on their value propositions.

The data show that customers will unapologetically agree with a supplier that what’s being sold will improve performance of their company but that they just aren’t willing to pay for that performance. They’ll say, “We know. We get it. Your solution outperforms this other one because it has more uptime. But we don’t need all that incremental uptime. We just need X amount of uptime, and we’re only willing to pay Y for that.”

What Product Marketers Should Start Doing

The primary thing a product marketer should do is to cut the time spent sharpening value propositions by 50%, and instead shift that energy to developing “commercial insights.”

A commercial insight teaches the customer something new that changes the way they think about their own business, and leads uniquely back to the supplier. When crafted well, commercial insights help customers value — and so pay for — the incremental performance the supplier provides.

Product marketers — with their knowledge of the marketplace, product vantage point and relationships across the marketing and sales organization — are in the best position to orchestrate the creation of commercial insight. And it really is orchestration — it takes a mix of characters from the product team, Sales, Marketing and sometimes other parts of the firm. But if product marketers don’t take the lead here, no one else will. At least, not as effectively as a product marketer could.

Beyond this, product marketers need to rethink the way they gather information on customers and how they get an understanding of what customers are struggling with, and how they go about creating marketing collateral that will help guide potential purchasers through their increasingly difficult decision-making (there’s more in this post and in the Challenger Role Guide for Product Marketers).

Author: Patrick Spenner

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