Why Marketing Should Go Agile

Marketing has changed more in the last five to seven years than at any other time during my career. The pace of change has quickened, there is more direct pressure for marketing to demonstrate its contribution to the bottom line, many more channels of communication are available to reach increasingly fragmented audiences, and all of this must be done with scarce and expensive talent and resources.

Despite all this change, many of the core processes of marketing remain unchanged. We still spend time writing thick marketing plans, constructing yearly budgets, launching big-bang ad campaigns and targeting broad audiences (instead of having conversations with people).

Some marketers, including myself, are taking a different approach—one based on agile development. Software developers faced a similar crisis in 2001. They were pressured to get more done with scarce resources, and to adapt rapidly to change. They responded with a set of principles and a methodology called agile development, and it has transformed software programming.  I believe that we can apply many of the same principles and methods to marketing and transform our discipline.

What Is Agile Marketing?

Agile marketing is an iterative and experimental approach to marketing that values adaptability and responsiveness to change over long-term planning. It also values individuals and two-way marketing interactions, as well as collaboration among the various marketing disciplines. There are six core values of agile marketing.

Responding to change over following a plan. It’s not that agile marketers don’t do any planning; they do. However, they put a premium on adapting and responding to the marketplace through constant adjustments to their plans and priorities on a weekly or biweekly basis—rather than an annual or semiannual planning cycle.

Rapid iterations over big-bang campaigns. Few marketing campaigns can get it exactly right the first time, and there is also value in speed to market. Agile marketing recognizes this and values an iterative approach. It encourages marketers to try something out quickly and fine-tune it as they go, rather than putting all of their energies and dollars behind a big-bang campaign.

Testing and data over opinions. If you’re iterating, how do you know something is working or not working? Data makes the difference.

Individuals and interactions over one-size-fits-all. Agile marketers realize that there isn’t just a market for a product, but many individuals who make individual buying decisions. Buyers make their decisions as the result of conversations, not through traditional one-way advertising. Agile marketers seek to foster those conversations, and provide an individualized buying experience. Think of how Amazon customizes its recommendations to your unique purchase history;
this is an example of individuals and interactions.

Collaboration over silos and hierarchy. In this era of specialization, it is tempting to organize marketing departments around skill sets: PR, advertising, social media, etc. But to the buyer, the product or the company is the product or the company, regardless of the medium used for communication. Collaboration is necessary to ensure not only consistency of message, but also a user experience that is consistent and pleasing. Teams that collaborate also get more done.

Agile marketing is a mindset: Marketers who practice agile marketing put the customer experience at the center of everything they do. They focus on solving buyer problems and the buyer’s journey, not on selling and the sales cycle.

Lastly, agile marketing is about aligning marketing with the business and sales goals of the organization, getting stuff done quickly and documenting the results with transparency and accountability.

Planning for Change

How do you “plan for change”?  How do you organize your marketing team to respond to new demands when you don’t know what those demands might be, or how you’ll address them?

The first step is to admit that your priorities will be in a state of constant change and to throw out those tools that give a false sense of security about the amount of control you have over that change. Throw out yearly marketing plans, yearly marketing budgets and rigid organizational charts. Instead, revise your priorities, including how you spend both your time and your budget, on a regular, frequent schedule: at least once per month, and if you’re really ambitious, once every two weeks.

Second, make it someone’s job to rapidly respond to changes and opportunities in the market. Depending on the size of your organization, create a team, assign a person or make it 50 percent of someone’s job to respond in real time (somewhere less than 24 hours, perhaps less than 4 hours) to particular kinds of opportunities such as competitive threats, newsjacking and brand-damaging events.

Scrum

Scrum is a formal methodology that can help you revise your priorities. Agile marketers use it to manage their work, just as agile development teams use scrum to manage software development. It’s beyond the scope of this article to cover everything you need to know about scrum, and many of the readers of Pragmatic Marketer are very familiar with both agile and scrum. Instead, let me outline the basics of scrum, and discuss how scrum for marketing is somewhat different than scrum for software development.

Scrum starts with the marketing backlog, which is basically the list of all the potential activities that marketing could do. The marketing backlog can be seen as the “wish list,” although it should be cleaned up and prioritized over time.

Unlike scrum for agile software development, most marketers do not write user stories. Instead, they break tasks down into manageable chunks that are typically half a day to 1 week in size, describing what’s to be done, who the audience is, what the desired outcome is and how success will be measured.

At the sprint planning session, the marketing team meets with executive management and sales for 30-60 minutes to hear about the current business and sales priorities, adding any new items that come up into the marketing backlog. The team then prioritizes work off the marketing backlog, accepting enough work to fill the length of the sprint (usually 2-4 weeks of work).

Although scrum as practiced by developers requires assigning each item story points (a measure of the complexity of the task), I find that marketing teams tend to keep it simple, deciding for each task whether it is a half-day, full-day, half-week or full-week task.  Anything that is bigger or longer than a week’s worth of work should be broken down into smaller tasks.

Once the team has 2-4 weeks’ worth of prioritized activities, they go to work. This 2-4 week period of getting things done is known as the sprint.

One of the most important rituals of scrum is known as the daily standup. Every day, or at least 3 times per week, the team meets for no more than 15 minutes. Each person on the team answers three questions:

  • What work did I complete yesterday?
  • What am I working on today?
  • What issues, if any, are blocking me and preventing me from moving forward?

When the sprint is finished, the sprint review is held. Executive management and sales are invited, and the marketing team reviews the results of the sprint. For software developers, the sprint review is a time to demo working software. For marketers, new marketing materials are handed out or shown, new websites are demonstrated and the results of any mini-campaigns are shared. The sprint review provides a degree of accountability and transparency that is sometimes lacking in marketing. It answers the question, “What do you guys in marketing do anyway?”

The sprint retrospective is a short internal meeting of the marketing team to talk about what worked and what didn’t work during the last sprint. It allows for adjustments to the process and methodologies used by the team over time.

Who Is Practicing Agile Marketing?

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff is one of the early adopters of agile marketing. He has used the methodology at companies as diverse as Webtrends, Involver, MindJet and his current company, BitTorrents, where he is chief marketing officer. You can read some of his posts on agile marketing at marketingiteration.com. Jascha credits agile marketing with helping him to create an agile culture:

Agile processes and tools are actually install mechanisms for culture. By requesting people to work together in certain ways, track specific metrics and check in with each other at specified intervals, companies can put in place the building blocks for people to interact in positive, productive ways.

EMC is also an early adopter of agile marketing. You can read about their success with agile marketing at Scott Brinker’s Chief Marketing Technologist blog, www.chiefmartec.com as well as watch a video of David Quinn, EMC’s senior director of corporate marketing, presenting to the Agile Marketing Meetup group in Boston on YouTube.

Quinn credits agile marketing with changing how EMC launches new products and interacts with the business groups. It not only has helped the marketing team with time management (and eliminated those long “coordination” meetings), but also provided greater accountability and transparency.

Lastly, I should mention Frank Days, whose blog Tangyslice.com has been a source of inspiration for me. He has implemented agile marketing at Novell and Correlsense, and his approach to agile marketing is refreshingly pragmatic. He likes agile marketing because it helps him get better results, plain and simple.

Jim Ewel is a startup CEO and blogger on the topic of agile marketing.  He is currently the CEO of InDemand Interpreting, which provides language-interpreting services to hospitals, clinics and physician practices nationwide. Previously, he was the CEO of Adometry and GoAhead Software. Earlier in his career, he was a VP of server marketing at Microsoft. You can read more about agile marketing at his blog, AgileMarketing.net. – See more at: http://pragmaticmarketing.com/resources/why-marketing-should-go-agile#sthash.3BfWS6o3.dpuf

The “Experiential Shift” and what it means for Product Marketers

Product Marketers should help Sales sell. Research says that the buying experience now drives B2B customer loyalty much more than product features, price, or vendor brand reputation.  So is there more that Product Marketers can be doing to help Sales create experiences that really connect? Yes, there is, and it’s called “experiential segmentation.”

Your customer segmentation model may be perfectly rational, and that may just be a bigger obstacle than you realize

As the differentiating power of traditional sales levers (price, features, brand reputation) wane, the buying experience is growing more important. Product Marketers are responsible for providing buyer insight, often in the form of personas, that help Sales sell. Yet, according to our research at Quarry, the customer segmentation model employed at 70% of B2B enterprises is not meaningfully different from that of competitors.  And that poses a problem.

A persona, like any other form of “target” definition, pre-supposes an underlying segmentation perspective. Take a look: Are your personas differentiated, one from  the other, by means of some categorical framework?  Job title, for instance?  Or company size? Or industry vertical? Each of these categories is a segmentation perspective. Each encodes a theory that says, in effect, “this system of differences between people explains and predicts differences in how they behave.”

These category-driven theories, we must presume, have some basis in fact. But they also suffer from two liabilities that you would be wise to consider.

First, as noted above, for 70% of B2B marketers these theories are not proprietary.   If the segmentation perspective – meant to be the “difference that makes a difference” – embedded in your personas is the same as the segmentation perspective of your competitor, then, even if you have done an excellent job in every other respect with your personas, the utility that Sales can extract from personas for the purpose of differentiating the buyer’s experience has been limited from the outset. Letting this situation persist hinders an experience-led sales and marketing strategy where customer insight is the edge in creating experiences that connect differently and better.

Secondly, even where they may be differentiating, these categorical segmentation perspectives are proving to be weak theories. They rest on assumptions that are crumbling under the weight of evidence and changing circumstances. Let’s take the commonplace (some might even say “best practice”) of using organizational titles as the foundational categorization scheme for personas.

Job titles may feel meaningful but…

In my recent interview with CEB’s Pat Spenner, Pat underscores how CEB’s research on the consensus-driven nature of B2B purchases reveals that both job title and organizational rank are weakly correlated with the propensity for an individual to stick their neck out to lead the consensus buying group to consolidate their understanding of a problem, establish the criteria for a solution, select a vendor and seal the deal for a quality solution. In short, according to that research, “Mobilization,” not “job title” or “rank,” is “the difference that makes a difference.”

Moreover, these top-down categorizations of customers (role, size, vertical)  rest on a body of 18th century rationalistic economic and psychological theory that assumes human beings behave in the marketplace as “rational actors.” The last few decades of research in behavioral economics, prospect theory, neuroscience, organizational behavior and cognitive linguistics converge in a way that is extremely harsh to that “rational actor” notion.

Now, chances are, you have a somewhat change-averse colleague. Let’s call him Larry. Larry will argue, “well, maybe our segmentation model is the same as our competitor’s for a good reason; maybe that is just what reality looks like.” For Larry, the fact that your segmentation model is the same as a competitor actually feels reassuring – an independent source of validation. And Larry might also assert that while job titles are a weak predictor of “mobilization,” they still seem indispensable to operationalizing B2B demand-gen tactics.

And here’s where you as a Product Manager need to make a choice. You could defer to Larry. You could spend a bunch of time trying to argue with him. Or you could take the lead in creating and implementing an alternative that is better aligned with our contemporary understanding of how buyers buy, how humans behave and how experience-driven sales and marketing works.  In short, you could embark on an “experiential segmentation.”

When curiosity leads, new insights can follow

What might that process look like? It starts with setting in brackets the current categorical assumptions about the differences between customers that make a difference. It involves a curiosity-driven exploration of your customer’s broader context – not just what your customer thinks about your brand or your category of products. It involves a recognition that the complexity in people’s motivations and the contradictions discovered in their self-stories are not noise to be discarded but instead are foundational assets for building proprietary customer insights. And it involves a certain amount of change management leadership to get your colleagues aligned around an insight-rich view of the customer that is proprietary and custom-tailored to creating differentiating experiences for your customers – both in digital demand-generation channels and in face-to-face selling. If you’d like to learn more about that, you can read about it here.

It’s not necessarily easy. Partly because some reassuringly familiar things must be abandoned.  Simple categories and tidy, “rational actor” assumptions about b2b purchase decisions need  to give way to a more nuanced multi-dimensional viewpoint  on buyer’s motivations.  And, (something that may make Larry nervous) you’ll have fewer “best practice” examples you can point to for reference until you actually get there.   But what are your options?  Buyer experience is increasingly driving sales.  If you take seriously your responsibility to provide Sales with buyer insight, it’s hard to ignore the evidence that segmentation, as it is widely practiced, undermines experience-based differentiation.   There is more that Product Marketers can be doing to help Sales create experiences that really connect. It’s called “experiential segmentation.” And it will separate you from your competitors.

Why Your Buyer Journey Mapping Should Dictate Your Content Spend

Here’s the situation – you have money left in your budget, and you’ve got major content gaps according to the buying cycle. How do you prioritize your spend?

If your answer is based more on gut instinct than actual knowledge of your content inventory and gaps, then a content audit could be extremely beneficial to you.

According to a Sirius Decisions B2B Content Study, 60-70% of B2B content goes unused. This means that 7 out of the 10 content pieces that you’re slaving over right now are never seen by the outside world.

The top reasons why:

  1. Topic is irrelevant
  2. Lack of awareness or the content can’t be found
  3. Low-quality content.

This means that you’re likely misusing your content budget. To prevent this from happening you need to produce content that serves a purpose.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel – start with the content you have. Perform an objective audit across multiple dimensions, including place in customer journey, metrics, format, purpose, etc. The audit will give you a quantifiable result that you can share with your team instead of sitting around the table arguing which pieces should get done.

By far, the most important component of the audit, is mapping your content to the buyers journey. This requires a deep understanding of the following

  • Who’s involved in the buyer journey?
  • What are their needs?
  • What are the triggers that have them initiating their search and at each subsequent stage?
  • What are milestones they need to achieve to move onto the next stage
  • Where channels and influencers will they use to find content?

Once you have a strong handle on this, determining the content you need to have at each stage of the buying journey becomes much easier. You’re striving to provide helpful content that educates and provides answers to their questions.

After you’re done with the audit, don’t be surprised or offended if you realize that much of your existing content should be shown the door. We’ve conducted audits for several clients and found that anywhere between 30-50% of the content they give us to evaluate either needs a face-lift, needs reconstructive surgery or simply needs to go. We also find that most marketers tend to have a lot of late stage content (sell sheets, product briefs, case studies) but are often missing the helpful content found in the beginner and middle stages.

While the process of conducting a content audit can be as painful as passing a kidney stone, the inevitable relief in sensational. You’ll have a better understanding of what pieces you have that are actually worth sharing with prospects or customers, and you’ll know what purpose each piece serves. You’ll also know which pieces just need a minor update, which need a major overhaul and which pieces should never see the light of day again. You’ll be a much better position to leverage it for the variety of demand gen, lead nurturing and/or sales enablement programs you’re on the hook for. Most importantly, you and your stakeholders will be much more confident on how your content budget should be spent.

David will be reviewing the Content Audit Template that the GET LIFT Agency team uses with their clients at the Product Marketing Community Conference on April 22nd. If you’d like a sneak peak, please reach out to David.

Kenneth Wong on the dynamics of a Product Marketer’s role

(Q) What do you believe are the primary responsibilities for a Product Marketer (PM)? 

(A) ” Product Marketers have a responsibility to serve as a conduit between the enterprise and its customers. That is, Product Marketers (PM) have a responsibility to insure that Product Managers understand market and competitive conditions, and a responsibility to insure that customers know and understand what and how the enterprise creates value for customers. PM’s cannot do that unless they appreciate that they have two sets of customers: internal customers (e.g. product managers) and external customers.”

“Product Marketers need to sell information and insights to Product Managers just as they do to customers. Just as in marketing to customers, a good PM understands its internal customer using the same tools and concepts they apply to marketing to external customers. Thus, while PM’s may not have, for example, bottom-line responsibility for a product, they need to be acutely aware of what drives that bottom line performance in order to understand the context under which a Product Manager will use (or decide to ignore) their advice. This raises some interesting questions: for example, if concepts like segmentation, positioning and branding are central to a PM’s responsibilities in dealing with external customers, do we apply these same concepts in dealing with INTERNAL customers? Surely these must be added to a PM’s responsibilities.”

“As scale and complexity increases, it becomes near impossible for a single person to serve both- the product manager and product marketing roles. Indeed, given the plethora of media now available, one person may not even be able to manage the Product Marketing function and other specialists may be needed. Strict definitions of roles and responsibilities may seem a logical way to allocate authority across many people but, ultimately, someone must coordinate and curate or decisions are made in silos. That “someone” is the product marketing manager.”

(Q) How can Product Marketers directly influence revenue growth, customer retention and awareness? 

(A) “There are only four ways to enhance profitability: Get prices up; keep costs down; get a bigger share of existing customers and expanding the base of existing customers. This is not opinion but basic accounting definitions. Thus, the question could also be phrased in four parts:

  1. How to support premium pricing and/or avoid price cutting (Answer: By meaningful and relevant differentiation)
  2. How to contain or reduce costs (Answer: Through scale, scope, organization and process innovation – the same as every other function)
  3. How to increase market share (Answer: Choose the right customers to serve; minimize waste/ lean marketing; better understand the path to purchase; know where we lose customers along that pathway
  4. How to expand market size (Answer: Refer to the Blue Ocean strategy).”

(Q) What role does a Product Marketer play towards helping an organization become market-driven?

(A) “Product marketers manage the interface between customers and the firm. This does not mean they are advocates for the customer but rather that they start their decision-making process, regardless of the decision area by asking, “What would the customer prefer?” Once known, economics will dictate how much of that preference can be accommodated.”

(Q) What challenges do Product Marketers face both within their organizations and externally as they look to help their companies become market-driven?

(A) “We court customers but we record our success with customers on financial statements like P&L. Within the firm, Product Marketers need to understand how their decisions impact those statements, including an understanding that, sometimes, firms will do whatever is required to support their bottom line regardless of whether the decisions reflect customer focus. Showing the long term implications of such shorter term thinking is vital.”

“Second, convincing the world that Product Marketing is NOT the same as advertising or personal selling.”

(Q) What metrics should a Product Marketer use to measure success? 

(A) “It all depends on what PM’s are trying to accomplish. You cannot manage what you cannot measure but since we adjust what we do, depending upon results achieved, following the wrong metric for your strategy means you only succeed via blind, dumb luck.”

Ken Wong is a faculty member and the Distinguished Professor of Marketing at Smith School of Business, where he has held both teaching and administrative positions. He was the principal architect of the first full-time degree program in Canada to operate completely outside of government subsidy: a distinction that earned him the cover of Canadian Business in April 1994. (The new Program has been rated by Business Week as #1 worldwide among non-US MBAs in the last four bi-annual rankings). Ken is also the Vice President, Knowledge Development for Level 5, a marketing consulting firm focused on brand strategy and execution.

10 Steps To Squeezing More Out Of Your Marketing Budget

squeezing imageAs marketers, we tend to start the new year with high hopes for innovative new campaigns, but by February or March, we’re already beginning to feel defeated.

The biggest reason: Our budget and internal marketing resources are stretched thin across an increasing number of channels, including digital and social media. We’re under greater pressure to achieve the ideal mix of spending among those channels—and to prove our worth as marketers. 

In fact, 58 percent of chief marketing officers said they felt increasing pressure to prove the value of marketing and business communications to their CEO, according to the 2015 CMO Survey.

Meeting those demands requires taking a hard look at every aspect of our marketing budget, time and talent to ensure we’re using them as efficiently and effectively as possible. 

It’s a combination of reducing unnecessary spending we’ve taken for granted in the past and digging deeper to uncover insights that increase revenues. 

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Sure, that all sounds great, but what does it look like on a day-to-day basis?” 

Obviously, there’s no single formula that works for every industry and business model, but there are best practices.

As the Head of Marketing for a company that has built its business model on streamlining processes for some of the world’s most profitable organizations and a company that is in the midst of its own transformation, I can tell you what has worked for our clients and for us.

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Author: Jeff Gladwish

5 ways you should be using your marketing automation for product marketing

5 WaysThe strength of most marketing automation platforms (MAP) is that they can be used in as many creative ways as you can come up. While MAP isn’t typically thought of as a tool for product marketing, there are some really great ways to use your platform to help your product marketing team be more successful.

1. Create product interest segments

A list of leads and/or contacts with similar product interests can be very helpful for product marketing and these segments can be created using data from a variety of sources. For instance you could have your sales team tag product interest directly in CRM when they speak with prospects or you could use visits to product pages on your website or you could create a list based on product specific content requested. You can even use a combination of these sources to find the products your contacts are honing in on.

2. Use contextual content on your website

Most enterprise marketing automation platforms can connect your contact database to your website content and allow you to dynamically offer different content action based on who they are and their past history. Practically this means your website can personalize each interaction by recommending specific content and products based on past interactions. You can create recommendations for other relevant content and even modify your call-to-actions to match any given contact’s product interest.

3. Product relevant nurture campaigns

As leads progress through the sales process and seek out more product-focused content, lead nurturing campaigns are a highly efficient and easily measured tactic. You can use them to focus on your prospects’ pain points and how your product can address them as well as the key features and benefits that help. You can also encourage interaction with other MoFU (middle of the funnel) content assets like testimonials, case studies and data sheets. These kinds of campaigns can also help you identify the most active leads and accelerate those to sales.

4. Use product info in lead notifications to help sales

Alerting sales when a lead is ready for some human interaction is a very common practice. What isn’t as common is including product information to help provide context for that follow up. An excellent best practice is to include which product pages the lead has viewed, how many times they have viewed each page and a list of associated content they’ve downloaded or read.

5. Use (and automate) social listening for product not just brand mentions

The social-sphere is full of conversations and you should know when they are talking about your products. If your MAP has social listening functionality, you should set up campaigns to listen for mentions of your products just like you do for your brand name. You want to know if the market is happy or indifferent and you want to know why. Listening to social media can help you develop important insights you can use in future campaigns.

These 5 ideas for product marketing with MAP will depend on the feature set of your platform but even if you can only execute one or two – you will see some powerful results.

About the Author: Chris Hokansson is the managing director of One Red Bird.

One Red Bird helps B2B marketers use software and data to craft better marketing.

Photo by Ell Brown. Available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

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

Answer those crucial questions you have about B2B product marketers

This is what Robert Rose, Content Marketing Institute’s Chief Strategy Officer, had to say when asked the crucial content questions that determine marketing success with B2B product marketers.

(Q) First and foremost, we’re interested to hear your perspective on what role a Product Marketer plays in a B2B organization? 

(A) Well, interestingly, I think there’s two questions implied in your one. The first is “what role does a Product Marketer currently play in a B2B organization?” And, the second is “what role SHOULD a Product Marketer play in a B2B organization?” In answering the second one – I think the role is one of the most important in the company. This is truly the role where the Product Marketer should have his/her finger on the pulse of the job their customer is trying to get done; and when I say “job to be done” I mean it in the Clayton Christensen “jobs to be done” approach. The Product Marketer should inherently have a great understanding of the customer’s needs; not only from how they use our product or service – but from what it is they need and want more broadly.  This plays into both, how the Product Marketer can provide insight back into the development of the product or service , and in how they can also help to optimize the thought leadership, inspiration and other content that would layer over the product to help differentiate the brand in the market place.  Too often (and this answers the first question) we see Product Marketing and Demand Generation Manager merged into one job – where the role is simply to help develop the “description” of value of the product being developed, and to focus on how many leads can be drawn in for that product. In this case the Product Marketer simply becomes the “Chief lead generator”, unable to focus on developing greater insight, or developing powerful content because they’re so focused on feeding the sales teams with cleverer brochure copy.

(Q) To that end, how relevant and important is content marketing to a Product Marketer’s role? 

(A) I think Content Marketing can be a critical aspect to what a Product Marketer can be focused on. Our experience is that they are certainly passionate about it – and are interested in doing it. The challenge (with regard to my answer above) is how much time are they allotted to focus on developing content that is valuable in and of itself. In other words, how much of their day can they actually devote to developing content that is helpful, inspirational, educational etc., separated from the product or service they actually work on, because that is content marketing.  The risk is that product marketers are so focused on developing sales materials, that content marketing simply becomes an alternative form of collateral. Maybe it has a bit less logo, or less call to action or looks like a thought leadership piece. But in reality, it’s just a marketing brochure disguised as something different and used to support some other kind of direct marketing campaign.  I think Content Marketing – done really well – can be one of the major focal points of the Product Marketer’s role within the business.

(Q) It’s been well documented that Product Marketers are struggling to stand out in today’s increasingly noisy marketplace. What should they do to earn the attention of buyers and influencers?

(A) In three words: ACTUALLY EARN IT. As we’ve been discussing, the Product Marketers are definitely struggling to stand out because they are forced into this role where the only thing they CAN talk about is the product or service that they work on. And this, of course, means that they – by definition – can’t rise above the noise of everything else out there. If they’re going to earn the attention of buyers and influencers they must deliver value through content. This means getting beyond simply describing the value of our product or service in ever clever ways and actually delivering content that is valuable in and of itself. This is a change in focus, not a talent thing. Most product marketers I meet are extraordinarily talented – and would LOVE to talk about something valuable. They just quite simply don’t have the avenues to do it.

(Q) Members tell us that they’re producing more content than ever before, and utilizing more marketing channels to distribute their insight and thought leadership with less than stellar results. Are they not in tune with their buyers & influencers? Is today’s B2B buying journey more complex than ever before?

(A) The buying journey is not more complex (despite what the analysts say) – it’s just more opaque than it used to be. There’s been a shift in capabilities. It used to be when customers were researching B2B products, (which are almost always a considered purchase) the content they needed to educate themselves to the change they wanted to make was simply unavailable. So, they would contact the business (or a few of them) and speak with sales people. This was the beginning of the “consultative sales process”. Our enterprise (or inside) sales personnel would help to educate the buyer as to the change that was desired and we could manage the stream of information to these buyers through the sales channel.

Now, it’s much less clear. The customer can research, and become as educated as the sales person if they desire prior to ever coming out of the darkness of an anonymous web browser. By the time the sales consultant gets a call, the customer is not only educated, but has moved well along their process of either building a business case, or working through the details of the change this B2B product will bring to their organization. This has predicated the need for content, and – unfortunately falsely – created the impression that the business needs to fight the loudness wars for getting more and more and more content into the marketplace.

So – it’s not that Product Marketers are not in tune with their Buyers. It’s that they are finding it so difficult to keep up with ever fragmenting audiences and channels, that they feel like they have to be filling every content gap for every channel.  This is the mistake. You’ll never scale that. Product Marketers MUST get out of this pattern of quantity over quality.

(Q) To ensure that Product Marketers are true Architects of Growth, please advise how we can enable sales most effectively, and consequently enable buyers to make informed and expedited decisions? 

I love this question. The best way to arm sales is to give them things that AREN’T available anywhere else. There are two patterns to this. The first is to help them understand what content we’ve created, and (more importantly) what content we are GOING to create. In other words – when a sales person gets a prospect on the phone, I want them to get the prospect excited by not only talking through the White Paper they just downloaded, but also by talking up the White Paper or Webinar that’s coming down the road.

This is something I say to VP of Sales at B2B organizations all the time. I tell them – if your sales guys can’t deliver any information to a prospect that’s not immediately available on the web site or through a Google search, then they add no value.  The Sales Channel can be your BEST strategic delivery of content – or your worst. We MUST arm them with great content.

Now, in many cases this is over their objections – they may say “all I need is a better one sheet or a better brochure”. But what they REALLY need is great content that will create trust in the mind of the prospective customer.

Robert Rose is the Chief Strategy Officer for the Content Marketing Institute, leading the client advisory, education and technology practices for the organization. His book with Joe Pulizzi, Managing Content Marketing, is recognized as the “owner’s manual” for deploying a content marketing process. His second book Experiences: The Seventh Era of Marketing came out in 2015.