by: Cate Zovod

Did you know that identical twins – born with the same DNA – grow genetically apart, and end up with wholly different genomes as they age? This phenomenon, called epigenetics, concerns how genes express themselves as they’re exposed to environmental factors, stress, diet, culture, etc. This discovery is spurring a new era in precision medicine, in which doctors can tailor treatments that target our highly individual genetic and epigenetic profiles.

IT organizations are like the human body: Both are complex interconnected systems. And just like the human body, no two enterprises are alike. Even IT organizations with similar DNA – say, predominantly “SAP shops” with the same core ERP systems, or banks whose operations have relied on CICS mainframes for decades – will evolve differently, resulting in divergent org structures and staffing, network configurations, cultures and business priorities.

So with all these differences, why do we marketers continue to treat customers with broad strokes, or by size and industry? It’s time to issue a more precise prescription: those of us who sell technology need to move beyond the old “build vs. buy” paradigm, and tailor our content and solution offerings to more effectively and efficiently solve customers’ greatest business challenges.

Technology May Be the Answer, But Only If They Ask the Right Question

As an industry, we don’t always do the best job helping to address these issues with actionable guidance that transcends piecemeal selling; it’s easier to recommend a pharmaceutical than it is to create and manage a holistic health and nutrition plan.

A better approach would be for marketers to ask the right question to begin with: Find out what your target customer’s “hedgehog” is (as popularized in the book Good to Great),– the thing at which they are uniquely best and their employees most passionate. From there, you can start to create a compelling case for buy over build. And here’s the news: Build vs. buy is a continuum, not a binary choice.

The ideal sales motion – the one that begins to look like precision medicine – is a combination of outside-in (what is the customer’s destination?) and inside-out (what do they have in place?). In other words, examine the nature of the problem they are trying to solve to understand the role of your productin relation to their businesses strategy.

Ask more questions: What talent do they have in house? What is their assessment of the problem you solve? What are their preconceptions of the technologies required to solve it? If they believe what you are selling is germane to the care and feeding of their hedgehog, they will prioritize their time, money and talent accordingly. If it is not, that is fine – you may be able to make a case that they can offload a commoditized but necessary process onto your technology and services.

And there’s another level of detail to consider: What are all the options available to your customer to solve the problem? Do not just consider direct competitors as they may be talking to consultants, services providers, job candidates, or examining open source options. And, what changes will they have to make in their business processes to make the most of an investment in your product? Do not downplay or obfuscate required organizational commitments – partner early with your customer – pre-sale! – to pave the way to a successful outcome.

For instance, the organization that fosters well-documented processes backed by strong rules engines may earn faster ROI on automation purchases. But if the decision-making culture puts a premium on individual judgment or is more art than science, with variance as the norm, workflow automation may only address a small percentage of cases. That organization might be best served starting with an audit of past decisions to identify commonalities that can be applied to a wider swath of cases, before technology even comes into play.

The Evolution of Build vs. Buy

The options have become more complex as our vendor landscape has matured. It’s not just SaaS vs. on-premise; it’s in-house management vs. BPaaS. It’s not custom dev vs. outsourced; it’s also open source vs. proprietary code libraries, monolith vs. microservices. Customers need help navigating the new terrain, and it is an opportunity for your company to become a trusted partner.

So what’s the right precision prescription?

Consider two axes of evaluation: from custom to one-size-fits-all, and from do-it-yourself to fully outsourced.  Where your customers land depends on their investment profile/budget, risk tolerance, skills pool and strategic priorities.

build buy matrix

Be a Helper and a Healer

Increasingly medicine is personalized to suit the profile of the patient. Enterprise technology should entertain the same metaphor, realizing that one organization’s game-changing software investment is another’s expensive shelfware, and some companies differentiate on product quality while others may need to preserve margins to win as a price leader.

While enterprises are being pushed, at an existential level, to modernize to compete, it isn’t easy to understand what to prioritize, the impact of investments and the true costs of doing so, and not just in terms of money. But in this complexity lies great flexibility and choice – and an opportunity for good sales and marketing partners to provide critical guidance.

The embarrassment of riches that is today’s IT vendor landscape is a boon to customers, but creates an extremely competitive environment for product marketers. For instance, there are over 1,000 fintechs and nearly  5,000 marketing technology providers.  You can stand out from the crowd by:

  • Partnering with customers in a genuine way to determine the best solution configuration for them – whether or not it maximizes short-term product license sales
  • Broadening your familiarity with approaches customers might consider to solve their problem, in order to position yours in light of their strengths, weaknesses and predilections
  • Be candid about the journey: share not only case studies with positive outcomes, but lessons learned, potential “gotchas” and helpful supplemental investment options around your product. In this way you will move from vendor to trusted partner.

Steps for Product Marketers

  1. Think beyond traditional market segmentation and adopt an Account-Based Marketing approach for your top target customers. Learn about their technology maturity, staffing model, skillsets, buying preferences, and their “hedgehog” – what sets them apart in their industry.
  2. Use what you have learned to develop custom – or tailored – content, beyond industry and company size. Partner with demand gen to leverage tools such as component-based email templates, tailored nurture streams and website personalization to tailor your outreach to new kinds of segments. Instead of an “email for large banks”, do an email for “banks who build in-house” or segment by the technology adoption lifecycle.
  3. Get familiar with your company’s own services offerings and their strengths – or those of your partners. As product marketers are often measured on license sales, services are downplayed. But they may be key to a customer’s success with your product, and in getting the customer successful faster, they may deliver competitive advantage both to them and to you.

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Is Your Product or Solution “Channel-Friendly?”

By: Jeff Thompson, Aventi Group Co-founder

Channels and partnerships are a big part of any company’s growth strategy.

This goes for both startups and established firms.  In almost all cases there is a limit to how much or how quickly a company can grow relying only on a direct sales force.  Yet, finding the best partners to work with and enabling those partners to be successful can be a very slow process, not to mention very resource intensive and frustrating.  My Aventi Group partner, Sridhar Ramanathan, posted an article in February on channels titled Product Marketing is a Key Voice in Channel Strategy, in which he outlined a number of areas where a company can apply best practices to improve channel partner performance.  He started with some ideas on business proposition and messaging for channel partners, and we plan to follow up with additional entries touching on the other areas he references.


In addition to effective channel marketing and channel operations, another key success factor in building strong channels is to ensure your product or solution is as “channel friendly” as possible.  In other words, have you done everything you can to make it easy for partners to market and sell your product(s)?  Many companies underestimate the difficulty involved in positioning and selling their products.  With a direct sales force, you have close to complete control over your selling motion, including how a product is positioned, how salespeople engage with prospects,  how a product is priced and packaged, and how salespeople are compensated.  With indirect selling or channels, you can still influence many of these factors, but your ability to control and manage the selling process will always be limited.  Here are three (3) recommendations to keep in mind as a way to make your product more “channel friendly”.


1.)  Clear and simple messaging

This may seem obvious but messaging for channel partners must be as simple and clear as possible in order to be effective. Frequently, and especially in high tech, companies make the mistake of assuming everyone has some basic knowledge of what their product does as well as a familiarity with common acronyms, industry terms, etc.  This is a problem with high tech messaging in general, but the impact can be magnified with partner messaging.  With channels, you are often trying to extend your sales coverage into related or complementary solution areas.  Recognize that a channel partner’s salespeople may have very limited knowledge of your solution and/or the underlying technology.  Your messaging must make sense to them, use language and context that they are familiar with, and clearly align with the business value and benefits offered by other solutions they are tasked with selling.  If a salesperson can’t quickly understand the product messaging and positioning, then they typically won’t spend a lot of energy trying to sell it.  On more than one occasion, I have been told by someone in sales that confusing or poorly constructed messaging is a big red flag indicating “other” problems with a product and that the product or solution is “something to stay away from”.


2.)  Easy to sell

This one has a couple of parts.  The first part of “easy to sell” involves the basic steps or “recipe for success”  that a salesperson much follow in order to sell your product.  You need to be able to provide very clear answers to some basic sales process questions, including:


Why does my customer need your product or solution? 

what problem are you solving?)


What is the solution? 

(single or multiple products?  services?  where and how to buy?)
Who am I selling to? 

(key decision maker?  influencers?)


How do I sell the product?

(what collateral or sales tools can I use?  demos or trials?  references?)


What questions or barriers exist and how should I address them?


What sales support is available?

(how do reach someone for technical support, demos, etc.)?


The second part is about optimizing the sales cycle.  How long should salespeople expect a typical sales cycle for your product to last?  If the length of a sales cycle is a lot different than what those salespeople are used to then you will likely run into challenges.  This applies both if the sales cycle is shorter or longer than what they typically experience.  Salespeople quickly get used to a specific sales motion that involves a relatively consistent amount of time, number of calls, etc. to close a sale.  The more you can present a sales cycle that resembles what that sales organization is familiar with, the more likely you will see fast results.


3.)  Easy to implement / easy to support

Here is a third key area that usually comes up or is discussed as you negotiate a channel agreement with partner management; however, it can also emerge as a major challenge later in the relationship.  I have seen many channel partnerships get off to a good start and collapse very quickly as support issues or implementation challenges emerge.  In many cases, it is hard to predict and plan for support and implementation until you have a few joint customers.  That said, investing time upfront to ensure you have considered likely support processes and situations or customer scenarios that may arise can help to alleviate or more quickly resolve challenges once the partnership is in full swing.  Just about every salesperson out there has a story of selling a new partner product only to find out the product is difficult to implement and/or the partner company does not have an effective support infrastructure.  Just demonstrating to a channel partner and the partner sales organization that you have thought through support and implementation and have a structure and plan in place will build confidence with the partner and help to assure salespeople that they will not regret selling your product to a customer.  It is also helpful to go into a partnership with a clear understanding as to what it will take to implement a joint solution once a sale is made.  This way, everyone has some realistic expectations about time, resources, and costs required. The partner salesperson is then able to position this properly with a joint customer and avoid surprises after the sale.


We welcome your stories of launching “channel friendly” products.


Jeff Thompson is Co-founder and Managing Director and Co-founder of Aventi Group, a product

marketing agency. Aventi brings clients the top Silicon Valley marketing veterans, best practices from numerous clients and industries, and the flexibility to shift marketing staff mix based on dynamic business needs.  We attract, hire, retain, and develop talented marketing experts –many of whom are former managers, directors and executives who bring their wealth of experience to our clients.



Accelerate Growth with Product Qualified Leads (PQLs)

By: Travis Kaufman

As a SaaS product leader, you are under increasing pressure to create products that generate and grow revenue for your organization. As if acquiring customers wasn’t challenging enough, you must also continue to deliver value to your customers to increase customer lifetime value and mitigate churn. As you develop new product initiatives to deliver on your revenue growth goals, you really have two options; focus on acquiring new customers or increasing share of wallet from existing customers through up-sell and cross-sell offers.

Chief Product Officer at Box, Jeetu Patel spoke at the Mastering Product Adoption & Growth event in San Francisco and made a comment that caught my attention. He stated that “Building immersive product experiences that people love is the key to customer retention and growth.”

This caught my attention because when he said “product experience” I assumed he meant that growth comes from focusing on increasing share of wallet from existing customers. For a majority of enterprise software companies, the customer doesn’t use the product before purchasing it, so how can any product experience really influence new customer acquisition.

What I quickly realized was that Jeetu was referring to companies that use a product-led G2M strategy in which the product is offered to prospects on some sort of trial basis. Using this model, his statement really means that an immersive product experience can influence both new customer acquisition as well as increasing wallet share.

With a product-led G2M strategy, the product leader has more influence and responsibility as the experience the prospective customer has with the product will determine if they choose to buy or not. See below, the outline of the customer lifecycle with a product-led strategy.

Using the traditional marketing and sales led G2M strategy, marketing is responsible for acquiring leads and nurturing them until they are ready to make a purchase. Marketers use the term MQL/MQA (Marketing Qualified Lead/Account) to refer to a prospect that is ready to buy. Once a prospect becomes an MQL/A they are then introduced to a sales rep to close the deal. Sales are an expensive resource for any organization and so this method of handing off MQL/A’s to sales is an attempt to focus sales on the most valuable prospects.

With a product-led G2M strategy, marketers now work to get people to try your product. Instead of being a lead awaiting to meet a sales person, you now have users in your product experiencing first hand the value of your offering. The users experience with your product is now the determining factor on them making a buying decision.

You don’t want your sales team to spend time speaking with every single user of your product. This would be an inefficient use of their time. In this model, you want to introduce your sales team to the users who have realized the value that your product offers. Enter the PQL, or Product Qualified Lead.

The anatomy of a PQL has similarities to an MQL in that both profile data (who the person is) and company data (who they work for) are used to determine fit. The biggest difference is that instead of looking at behaviors a lead takes with your marketing material, you also must incorporate what features of your product they are using (aka the Customer Behavior Index).

Moving from theory to execution can be a bit overwhelming. And as a result, we at Aptrinsic are here to help product leaders take advantage of this G2M strategy and accelerate your growth.

Aptrinsic co-founder Mickey Alon is hosting a webinar on the how to lead with your product and effectively use PQL’s to accelerate growth. Please register here to attend the webinar. We hope to see you there.

And if webinars aren’t your style, you can also get a free copy of our book Mastering Product Experience.

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Branding: The Other Half of Your Go-To-Market Journey

By Justin Topliff

The old adage that good marketing can’t sell a bad product is true. I’ve seen brands throw millions of marketing dollars at products that ultimately flopped.

As product professionals, we internalize this lesson and combat its occurrence by taking an outside-in approach when it comes to product development. But what about the inverse of that adage? Have you ever considered that good products can’t sell themselves? And that bad marketing or branding could sabotage the success of your products?

Product/market fit defines the degree to which your product could be successful. Marc Andreessen famously claimed, “The only thing that matters is getting to product/market fit.” Those of us who have read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries or gone through Pragmatic Marketing certifications know that fully understanding your customers and solving their needs is paramount to product success.

But after you’ve done that and reached product/market fit, what do you do next? Getting to product/market fit is only half the battle. Breakdowns occur when little thought is given to customer/message fit and how to talk about that product and its brand.

Here’s the deal: Almost everyone has no idea they want your product. Aside from the customers you interviewed to discover market problems and develop product requirements, the rest of the world has never heard about your product. It could be code complete, launched and available, but it needs a soul to come to life. It needs a distinguishing brand of its own and alignment with your company’s brand.

This branding dictates perception and crafts a buyer’s emotional experience with your product. Branding is what claims real estate in the buyer’s mind. Without branding to evoke that emotion, the buyer would have no desire to actually try your product, let alone purchase it. Ultimately, buying decisions boil down to emotion, and branding is one of the few tools that can influence the emotions of a buyer on first contact with your company and its products.

Brand and Product Are Different but Must Align

While products fulfill a customer’s needs, brands fulfill a customer’s wants. A product’s ingredients are functionalities and features that satisfy needs. A brand’s ingredients are promises and emotions that satisfy wants. Your customers may need a product or a solution, but they want and are drawn to the brand providing that product.

For example, I may need an airplane ticket to visit family, but I want a no-hassle experience. For this reason, I may be drawn to purchase from Southwest Airlines, a brand known for charging no fees for checked bags, itinerary changes, etc. The product is similar to that of other airlines: a plane, seats, overhead bins. But the no-hassle brand enveloping the product is what differentiates it from other similar products and attracts buyers based on their emotional response (in this case, perhaps their hatred for being nickel-and-dimed by other airlines).

Customers initially buy into a brand and its promise, not a product. No customer looks at lines of code and says, “Yes, this is what I need.” They interact with a brand that humanizes and personifies that code through value-based messaging that resonates.

Bridging the gap or playing translator between brand and product is the specialty of product marketing. While it’s important to build useful products that satisfy customers’ needs, equally critical is to understand what customers want and translate the value of our products into their language. If the product team ignores the brand promises while building the product, or marketing ignores the product’s abilities while making brand promises, you are destined to fail. Brand and product are sisters, not enemies.

Companies with strong brands and products that deliver on that brand enjoy better sales-funnel metrics, higher revenues and a deeper connection with customers yielding stronger engagement and advocacy. So, the million-dollar question is, “How do I succeed in achieving customer/message fit and uniting my product with my brand?”

The Brand Experience Is the Sum of All Parts

Branding isn’t about slapping logos all over everything anymore. It’s about considering all customer touchpoints. At every point of interaction with your company and its product, customers must receive a congruent brand experience. Many companies fail to realize that details matter here.

For instance, Starbucks’ brand is about community and bringing people together in a neighborhood café, not coffee. If you’re trying to deliver on the Starbucks brand promise, coffee is only one piece of the puzzle, and focusing only on it would be shortsighted. What about the customers’ experience when they visit the physical location to get their coffee? Does the space feel like home, with artwork and comfy furniture, or like the department of motor vehicles? Are the baristas friendly? Did they write a favorite drink on the chalkboard to foster a sense of connection?

As a product organization, are you paying attention to all parts? Do all areas of your product experience, beyond the code, support your company’s brand? Customer experience must be congruent with brand promise; any breaks in these areas will erode the perception of your brand. And when that happens, customers leave.

Be Customer-Driven When Crafting Your Brand Identity

The best brands are based on values, benefits or the innovation you’re producing. But it’s a complicated, noisy world. To brand products properly, brand builders, technologists and designers need to partner in innovation.

An example of success is the brand Apple created for their mid-2000s Macs through the “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” campaign. From a branding standpoint, what did they do differently than their competitors? They didn’t center their brand on the product, they centered it on the customer experience. Their brand wasn’t “here’s our awesome computer with this long list of technical specs that you don’t understand,” it was “here’s the delightful experience you will enjoy if you own a Mac, compared to the one you will hate if you own a PC.”

They brought to life their product’s brand promise of delight and simplicity with humorous videos. Actors played the parts of a Mac and PC and acted out the contrasting experiences. The actual product only appeared in the video for a few seconds at the end. Apple realized they weren’t selling a computer, they were selling a user experience—a way of life that came with owning a Mac. Not only was this a better and easier thing to sell, it was a brand that people could immediately relate to.

Apple took the time to understand their buyers and the problems they encountered. By taking this outside-in approach, the brand they created for their product achieved customer/message fit. The brand was integral to the experience of the product, and vice-versa. To this day, few product brands remain as memorable or as successful in minting lifetime evangelists and contributing to company/market fit.

Examine the Partnership Between Product and Marketing

Being customer- and market-driven shouldn’t be a mantra limited to product development. I’m always surprised at how many marketing departments have not done customer research or leveraged the research already done as part of product development. Most marketing departments hedge their bets through A/B testing, but this step could be even more successful with some up-front research.

Does your marketing team know as much about your customers as you do? When is the last time your marketing department got out of the building and spent time with customers? Or the last time you passed along your customer research to them? Knowing the pains of your customers can halve the amount of time they spend A/B testing their way to customer/message fit.

Persona documents are useful here, as are interview notes or any qualitative responses around customer problems you have from larger research projects. Product marketing can champion this information between product and marketing. If you don’t have a product marketing team, encourage your marketing department to get out of the office and spend time with customers directly.

Deliver on Your Company’s Brand Promise

Your brand, and every piece of messaging attached to it, helps you control perception in the marketplace. It’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure that the message and brand your company uses is consistent across all channels, assets and communications. This doesn’t stop with sales and marketing materials. Messaging lives everywhere: tooltips in your products, verbal call scripts, billing reminders, etc. It all must be consistent. Your brand is the sum of all parts of the experience spanning the customer lifecycle.

As a product leader, take ownership of your portion of this responsibility. Consider the macro and micro touchpoints your customers have with your product. Do your product’s sign-up experience, onboarding sequence, product emails and in-app alerts match your company’s brand?

If any customer touchpoint is incongruent with your brand, it will show. Sweat the small stuff here because it matters. Nobody goes to Ruth’s Chris Steak House to eat on paper plates. If something is wrong, fix it quickly and educate that team or area of the company on the importance of delivering on brand promises over the entire customer lifecycle. Be a brand champion by fighting for brand integrity across everything you own.

At the end of the day, customers stick with brands and products that deliver on their promises. Branding is what initially brings awareness to your product and convinces buyers to purchase. Your product delivering on its brand promise is what makes customers stay.

Don’t underestimate how important the relationship between brand and product is to your company’s success. The good news is that being successful here is easy. So long as branding—and everything else—is developed from an outside-in approach, congruity is almost certain.

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