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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