Is Your Go-to-Market Plan Solving the Right Problem?

Is Your Go-to-Market Plan Solving the Right Problem?

Bruce La Fetra, Eastwood Strategy Advisors


The Three Pillars increase Go-to-Market ROI by putting your focus on improving the customer’s business, learning why customers select your offering, and understanding the science of decision-making so you can help your customers make better decisions.

The product marketers at the recent Boston Product Marketing Community conference created a list of their top challenges. They were:

  • Harnessing the trusted customer voice
  • Creating messaging that rises above the noise
  • Measuring product marketing ROI.

Product marketers can address all three challenges by re-framing the issue as: “How do you improve your customer’s business?”

Winning a customer requires more than solving a problem. To win a customer over the long term, you must help them improve their business. To most marketers, this represents a shift in how they think and market.

The Three Pillar approach helps makes this shift feel natural. The Three Pillars lock your focus on:

  • Positioning – Adopt an Outside-Looking-In point of view
  • Less Is More – Learn on why customers select your offering
  • Get Selected Faster and More Often – Accelerate the sales cycle by understanding how people make decisions.

Far from being difficult to implement, the Three Pillars create a virtuous cycle of marketing that improves execution with each iteration.

The Three Pillars are commonly overlooked because they don’t tie directly to your company’s tangible product or service. They are a foundational approach that improves any product or service. Because the Three Pillars integrate with traditional go-to-market strategy and planning activities, big gains don’t require new investments or technology.

Pillar 1 – Positioning: Adopt an Outside-Looking-In Point of View

Pick up a piece of marketing collateral and, with few exceptions, it will talk more about the vendor than the customer. This “inside-looking-out” point of view is natural but turns off customers who want to talk about their business, not yours.

Shifting your focus away from your product and how it is used creates the alternative “outside-looking-in” point of view. Instead, you ask, “How does working with my company improve the customer’s business?”

Start thinking this way, and your customers will notice and love you for it. Even if your product is unremarkable, simply speaking in terms of the success of their business rather than yours causes buyers to gravitate to your company.

A common point-of-view prepares you to identify the real reasons why your customers buy from your company.


Pillar 2 – Less Is More: Learn Why Customers Select Your Offering

Customers select your company for reasons that can be quite different from why you would select your company. Your customer’s buying decision depends less on the finer points of your offer than you think. You work hard to offer a quality product with lots of capabilities. So do your competitors. Customers expect quality, so quality is the cost of entry. Ditto for many features and capabilities. The downside of poor quality or missing a key feature is much larger than the upside from superior quality or a longer list of capabilities.

It’s not so easy to figure out what matters. Beyond hard sales data, most customer buying information is riddled with confirmation bias, wishful thinking, and guesswork. Uncertainty leads to “throwing mud at the wall” to see what sticks. The Three Pillars replace this kind of guesswork with confidence.

To figure out what drives selection, you must dig deeper. Be careful, surveys are ideal for validating hypotheses but are a poor choice when you don’t know what you don’t know. An open mind and an expert third-party will guide you toward insights you are unlikely to discover on your own.

Seeing your business the way your customers see it and knowing why they select your company prepares you for Pillar 3: shortening the sales cycle by understanding how your customers think and decide.


Pillar 3 – Get Selected Faster and More Often: Accelerate the Sales Cycle by Understanding How People Make Decisions

You don’t have to manipulate or even influence customers to gain a competitive advantage from aligning your marketing with how they make decisions. By understanding how your customer thinks, you can help them make better decisions. It’s counter-intuitive, but less information can drive faster, more confident decisions.

People are less rational and more emotion-driven than they believe. This includes complex purchase decisions. They strive to be logical, but processing gobs of often ambiguous or conflicting information from multiple vendors flies in the face of how humans make decisions.

People make an initial decision based on emotion, then cherry-pick facts to make their decision seem logical. A growing body of research shows that making an earlier emotional connection with the buyer gives you an advantage. Once they decide they like an option, the buyer’s thinking falls in line with their emotions (Raghunathan, University of Texas).

Take away the emotional component, and we struggle with decision making. That’s what researchers found working with people who lack emotions due to brain injuries (Damasio, USC). Good decisions balance emotion and logic; both are required.

The perception that a better logical argument wins the day undermines your marketing efforts. Nothing derails the buyer’s decision process like a long list of features—even benefits—when it causes them to reconsider their initial, emotional decision.


Connecting the Three Pillars

The Three Pillars infuse the entire go-to-market process, especially positioning & messaging, documenting the Buyer’s Journey, and sales enablement. Together these activities create clarity by re-casting critical marketing activities from the point of view of the customer.

When I teach the Three Pillars to marketers, they are surprised to find the Three Pillars work especially well with complex B2B offers involving multiple people. These types of buying processes are full of uncertainty, and the Three Pillars create clarity and focus. By clearly aligning with your customer’s business success, buyers and influencers find it easier and less risky to select your company. Internally, the phased approach allows for a virtuous cycle of marketing that reinforces and improves execution over time. The Three Pillars quickly collects additional adherents based on demonstrated results.

Using the Three Pillars to understand and align with your customers’ business success builds a more effective Go-to-Market plan that accelerates the sales cycle. Your company becomes an easier choice for customers because you are authentically aligned with the customer voice. Outside-In messaging rises above the noise because it is both unexpected and better. Finally, linking your success with that of your customers is extremely attractive positioning to customers.

About Bruce La Fetra

Bruce La Fetra is a Partner with Eastwood Strategy Advisors. He positions companies and products for growth by aligning Go-to-Market plans with their customers’ success. Marketing leaders benefit from insights gained during his 20+ years in product management, product marketing, and hundreds of customer interviews for dozens of clients. Prior to consulting, Bruce held product management, product & service marketing, and business development roles for leading software, hardware, and financial services companies. Contact Bruce at or connect with him on LinkedIn at


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.

To learn more, visit:

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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Driving Decisions that Stick: 5 Essential Steps to Getting to and Keeping a “Yes”

Driving Decisions that Stick: 5 Essential Steps to Getting to and Keeping a “Yes”

Author: Sridhar Ramanathan

Within the last couple of weeks, I have had three senior product marketing managers (PMMs) share how difficult and frustrating it is to get decisions on key items like messaging, ad creative, customer collateral, and campaign success metrics.  One said “I’m empowered to decide on core messaging for my product line, but I just can’t get it to stick across all the sales and marketing internal partners. They just go rogue.” Another said that “I’ve worked hard to engage a terrific creative agency that came up with nice concepts, but it’s a nightmare getting people to buy-in on one final design that actual gets used in the field.” Why is it so hard for otherwise successful product marketing managers to drive a decision and get it to stick? These are a few reasons:

  • There isn’t executive level sponsorship to drive the necessary change and adoption
  • The deliverable hasn’t been fully thought through; in other words, the quality isn’t there yet
  • Stakeholders may not have had an opportunity to weigh in on theproposal, buy into it, and to commit to action
  • There’s no accountability for “going rogue.” Internal teams can opt out on decisions
  • There isn’t a fast, closed loop process to tune your plan based on actual performance in the field.

So the question is: what can you do to increase the odds of getting a solid decision that sticks throughout your organization? Here are five essential steps that we’ve seen work with our clients who have a good track record for decision making.

  1. Develop a proposal in collaboration with influencers

A good example of this is a VP of Product Marketing at a world class cyber security software firm. He held brainstorm sessions with 2-3 field SEs/security architects who were former Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) to generate fresh sales plays. He engaged product managers, a senior PMM, and a couple sales reps who could lend additional pragmatic perspectives and hard data on what would work.In a similar way, you’ll want to buildyour “A-team” of thought leaders as you collaborate to develop a specific plan or deliverable for exec approval.

  1. Socialize your recommendation

After you have a draft proposal, you’ll need to share it with stakeholders so that their objections, viewpoints, and their success metrics are built into your final plan. Make the recommendation tangible with visuals, copy blocks, or concrete examples so that stakeholders can see how the plan will be implemented. Hold these meetings one-on-one so that they can be open and honest about their reaction to your proposal. Take their input to heart as you refine your deck.

  1. Formally present your proposal

If you’ve done steps 1 and2,you’ve gone a long way towards getting buy-in. A formal presentation is still required to get the approval on record, and to establish the project team that will be responsible forgetting the deliverable done. One of our SaaS clients beautifully applied the best practices of the “DACI” model which specifies the Driver, Approver, Contributors, and Informed staff members. You’ll want to explicitly name the DACIs in your presentation so that stakeholders are clear on their role in the rollout of this initiative. DACI folks are kept current on progress throughout the project lifecycle with executive check points built in about every two weeks.

  1. Welcome feedback but enforce compliance

Once your project is completed, you’ll want to proactively solicit inputs from stakeholders and the intended audience of the output such as sales, pre-sales, customers, analysts, etc. By establishing a feedback process, you’ll not only head off “rogue” behavior by your internal teams to go off and invent their own deliverable but you’llalso show a commitment to performance improvement. And if you see a particular team creating a competing alternative you’ll want to find out why they chose not to use the deliverable that’s been approved, and then escalate to the sponsoring executive to support your alignment process.

  1. Refine/refresh based on actual field performance

Measure and refine the messaging, campaign, assets, etc. based on your feedback process. No messaging, for example, is ever perfect and immutable over time. We have an analytics software client that has PMMs maintain a formal record of all inputs from sales, pre-sales, industry analysts, customers, etc. so that a quarterly content refresh is based on rich inputs.

We recognize these five steps can take 2-3 weeks to do right, but we’vealso seen that the best results flow directly from the internal alignment and effective decision-making that these five essential steps enable.

We welcome your stories of successful (and maybe failed) decision-making in your own organization.

Sridhar Ramanathan is Managing Director and Co-founder of Aventi Group, a product marketing agency specializing in B2B tech firms. Based in San Francisco, Aventi Group boasts world-class clients who engage the firm for expertise, speed and flexibility when it comes to revenue growth initiatives.

6 ways you could be dooming your case studies before you even start writing

6 ways you could be dooming your case studies before you even start writing

Author: Camille Rasmussen

Case studies are loved by many for their ability to educate prospects and turn sales and marketing spiels into verified, credible claims.

Sales teams need them to show proof to their prospects. Marketers add them to email campaigns to keep mid-funnel buyers engaged. And potential customers look for them on your site to evaluate whether your solution will work for their unique situation.

But for all their perks, case studies are notoriously time consuming. A survey of TechValidate users found 77% of our customers spent over a month on each case study, and a third spent 3 months or more! The good news is you can avoid wasting your time on preventable setbacks. Below you’ll find 6 common mistakes companies make with their case studies before writing even begins.

1. You’re relying on your sales team to identify customers

It’s an easy habit to fall into: you reach out to your sales team and solicit a few good customer names for your next case study. Your sales reps work closely with your customers, so they can easily connect you to interested clients, right?

The problem is, your sales reps aren’t incentivized to help out the marketing team. Their priority is making sales. The result? You’ll likely have major gaps in the flow of customer references when you rely on your sales team alone.

Increasingly, marketers are takings back the reins and running customer surveys to gauge interest. The minimal time and effort required to fill out a quick survey can mean a lot more responses, and a much bigger pool of customer volunteers to select from.

2. You aren’t talking to the right people

Bad interviews get you nowhere. So when it comes time to gather info for your case study, it’s worth taking that extra moment to make sure you’re set up with the right interviewee. Look for someone you believe will be a strong brand advocate (meaning they should have some positive things to say about your product) and who has a strong understanding of the company’s use case, or personally uses your product on a regular basis.

Commonly, when you reach out to set up an interview, the customer might rush to loop in a marketing, brand, or PR spokesperson to speak with you. It makes sense. These are the people charged with keeping public content (including your case study) consistent and on brand, so of course they have an interest in participating. But unless these are the people using your product—or the end users are on the line too—this interview has a strong chance of providing weak material for your case study.

Another tip: whenever possible, interview multiple people with different roles and perspectives to get the full picture.

3. You didn’t get legal signoff from the get go

There’s no bigger let down in the case study process than when you’ve just put the finishing touches on your shiny new case study and patiently await the customer’s final approval… and then—oh no!—the customer comes back and apologetically tells you that they actually can’t endorse third-party vendors.

Not everyone you speak with will have their corporate legal policy memorized, so it pays to get approvals up front. Many companies, particularly the big names that you’d LOVE to feature on your website, have legal policies that prevent them from participating in vendor case studies. So save yourself the time and disappointment and send out a standard release form (see an example release form on page 10 of our case study eGuide).

4. You’re asking the wrong questions

The details you gather from the customer can mean the difference between an engaging, stat-filled case study and a mind-numbingly dull one. Asking the right questions is vital to building a strong customer story, so choose wisely. A few pointers:

  • Always ask open-ended questions. ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ varieties won’t yield the level of detail you’ll need to craft a compelling story.
  • Ask questions around each of the sections in your case study: what their company does, what challenges they faced, what solution they selected and why, and what results and benefits they’ve seen since.
  • Stats and metrics make for compelling proof points, so don’t forget to ask the customer if they have any data that reflects a positive change since they started using your product.
  • Don’t stick to the script. Tailor some questions to the customer’s unique use case, industry, and pain points.
  • Consider sending out a questionnaire a few days prior to a phone or in-person interview to help the customer prepare.

5. You aren’t recording the interview

Here’s a tip straight from the journalism playbook: if you want to remember what’s said in an interview, ditch the pen and notepad and grab an audio recorder. Memories fail, notes get lost, and mid-interview distractions happen.

And when your customer raves about your product in the most eloquent way, or when the building maintenance starts up the lawnmower and you miss a few words, having that back-up audio to revisit can save the day. These days you don’t need to invest in an old-fashioned portable audio recorder (unless you’re going for the reporter-on-duty look). Just hit record on your web conferencing tool or download a third party app, and you’re set.

6. You aren’t aiming for a diverse portfolio of customer stories

When a prospect visits your website, will they find a case study that speaks to their industry, use case, and unique challenges? If not, they might end up feeling disconnected from your product.

Diversifying your case study collection can help your sales team as they work their way into new markets. Aim to build a collection of case studies that are relevant to each of your target verticals, personas, and applications.

The goal is to relate to your target buyers’ pain points and desired results and offer compelling proof that your solution has in fact helped similar companies with their own situations. Every prospect faces unique challenges—show them you understand theirs.

Case study best practices

Want to take a deeper dive into the best practices for writing, distributing, and influencing buyers with your case studies? Check out this comprehensive eguide for more case study tips, or tune into our on-demand panel webinar to get a cross-functional perspective on what makes a successful case study.

This post originally ran on The Marketo Blog 1/9/18.

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Are You Ready For Sales Enablement?

Are You Ready For Sales Enablement?

Listen, I know you already spend most days checking off items on your to-do list. Are the kids going to make it to practice later? Did I pay the electric bill? Is that important project at work still on-schedule? Did I get everything at the grocery store for dinner? Have I contributed enough to society today to slow our descent into chaos and anarchy? These are all valuable, worthwhile tasks that fill your day-to-day life. So I realize that me barging in here with yet another list for you to spend time checking off is a big ask.

But trust me, this one is important! If you value your career and the long term success of your organization, you owe it to yourself to truly consider a sales enablement platform. Maybe you’ve done some preliminary research on what sales enablement is, maybe you have only a passing idea of what a sales enablement solution offers, or maybe you’re well-versed in the world of sales enablement. That’s fine! We all take different paths in our journeys.

Whatever stage you’re in on your personal quest towards sales enablement enlightenment, if you haven’t decided to take the full plunge you should really consider the benefits of a sales enablement platform. For instance, organizations that have implemented a sales enablement solution have seen a 350% increase in content usage, 275% boost in conversions, and 65% more revenue generated by new reps.

Check Your Readiness for Sales Enablement>>

Do those sound like good things to you? If they don’t then I fear you have a tenuous grasp on a) basic business concepts, b) the English language or, c) both. In all seriousness, those statistics are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the power of a sales enablement platform. Organizations can be radically transformed through a solution by improving Sales & Marketing alignment, providing insights into content’s effectiveness, making content more accessible, and much more.

While a sales enablement platform can do all that, it is still a serious investment that requires time and dedication. The decision to purchase a solution is not one that should be made lightly. How do I know my organization is ready for a sales enablement platform then? I hear you asking, your disconcertment growing louder and louder. Fear not, brave reader, for we have designed the perfect checklist for you.

Our Sales Enablement Readiness Checklist is crafted to provide you an honest assessment of where your organization stands and its… well, its readiness for sale enablement. The checklist shouldn’t take you too long to complete, but you should consider each question thoughtfully. Some questions might require you to pop over to your colleague’s desk and pick their brain for a minute. But by the end of the checklist you should have a better understanding of not only whether your organization is ready for a sales enablement solution, but also the possibilities of a platform. So, click the link below and be whisked away to check your sales enablement readiness!

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When, why and how often to use NPS

When, why and how often to use NPS
By: Travis Kaufman

The NPS or Net Promoter Score survey is a method of measuring your customers’ overall satisfaction with your company’s product or service and a proxy for brand loyalty. The survey itself is simple. Customers are asked one single question, “On a scale of 0–10, how likely are you to recommend this company’s product or service to a friend or colleague?” Based on their rating, the customers are classified into one of three categories; Detractors, Passives and Promoters.

In-App Delivery of NPS Survey

Promoters answered 9 or 10 and are the repeat buyers and evangelists who recommend your products and services. Passives give a score of 7 or8. They probably wouldn’t spread any negative word of mouth, but also aren’t enthusiastic enough to promote. The Detractors answered a score lower to or equal to 6. They most likely won’t purchase again from your company and could potentially damage your reputation through negative word of mouth.

When should you send users an NPS survey?

Since NPS is a measure of overall satisfaction, it is best sent after the customer has achieved a meaningful milestone with your product. Ideally after their first “aha” moment in your product. Many B2B companies send NPS just after the customer has completed the on-boarding process. Sending before that won’t give you any meaningful feedback as they haven’t really been exposed to your product or service.

How often should you send an NPS survey?

This is one of those “it depends” types scenarios. Some advocate for no mare than every 6 months, some recommend quarterly. The right answer comes down to how frequently do you introduce new products or services that will truly impact a customers perception and what is the time it takes for those customers to realize value from those products? To provide your customers with the best experience and you with the most actionable feedback, we recommend sending NPS surveys on a user by user basis as a result of them using your product. This is in contrast to a more static approach where you send an NPS on a fixed cadence such as quarterly, or semi-annually to all customers.

What do I do with NPS?

NPS is a signal and should be measured over-time. The fact that it’s a high level company indication, the score alone should be used as a flag to raise triggering further investigation. The more important learnings come the qualitative feedback your customers provide as well as speaking directly with a sample of customers from the promoter and detractor groups. For organizations that serve multiple customer segments and/or have multiple user personas, it’s important to analyze and understand how each of those groups respond.

NPS Trend Analysis by Persona
NPS is but one of many in-app engagement tools available within the Aptrinsic product experience platform. Start analyzing your NPS scores today with a free trial of Aptrinsic.

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Pitch to Win: How to Get Funding (or Approval) to Build Your Great Idea

Pitch to Win: How to Get Funding (or Approval) to Build Your Great Idea

By Diane Pierson, Pragmatic Instructor

Pitching investors requires more than a great idea. Whether you want seed funding for your startup or budget allocation inside a large corporation, you’ll need to go beyond the technology. Each scenario has unique risks and rewards, but solid preparation will put you on the winning track.

Where to Begin?

First, understand what you’re getting into. Seed and Series A funding thresholds are not what they were a decade or two ago. If you want to fund a startup, you not only need a great idea, but also a proven track record of revenue—at least enough to sustain the founders.

Inside a large corporation there are no hard-and-fast rules to what your CEO will find attractive. In my experience at mature $1 billion organizations, nothing less than a $50 million top-line revenue opportunity would raise an eyebrow at the executive level. Inside any established company a reasonable (although, full disclosure, unsubstantiated) rule of thumb would be anything that could bring in an additional 5 percent top-line revenue growth within three years.

That said, the appetite for funding changes over time and vertical to vertical. So, do some research into your specific area of opportunity and determine exactly what you’ll need to achieve before gaining the interest of investors or your execs. The best way to find out? Ask the people who hold the money.

Tip #1: Research the funding thresholds you’re dealing with – know if your idea is big enough to get investors interested.

Tell Your Story

Once you know what it will take to get their interest, get them excited about the opportunity. Even executives and investors born in the tech world or working in a specific vertical don’t know everything about everything, not to mention those in finance, legal and other cash-wielding positions. Be prepared to describe the problem you solve in plain language, and explain what it means to the market. Focus on the what and not the how to spark interest.

With external investors, introduce yourself and help them understand what makes you qualified to grow this idea. Tell them about yourself and your credentials, how you came up with the idea and how you plan to take it to market. Startup investors also want to know whether you have plans beyond the one product idea. Can you deliver not just a product, but a business?

Tip #2: Create a plain-language narrative that focuses on the problem you solve, not the technology that you’ll build.

If you’re pitching an idea internally, you need to spend more time emphasizing how the idea helps the organization move toward its strategic goals. They know you; now you have to prove your knowledge of your company and how it intends to grow.

Highlight the Overriding Benefit

What is it about your idea that makes it stand out? Why would an investor put money into this opportunity versus another? It’s critical that your idea offer some unique benefit to the market—and therefore the investor. Is it an exclusive solution to a problem (rare), or does it solve a problem in an entirely different way?

Tip #3: Be specific about how you crush the possible competition, or exactly why your idea is unique. These differences have to be ones that the market is willing to pay you to solve.

How will you crush the existing competition? Netflix crushed existing behemoth Blockbuster by delivering the same product—games, movies and old TV shows on DVDs—through a different channel (mail delivery versus in-store rental), and by offering subscription rather than by-the-day pricing.

Do market research and spend time to make sure you’ve solved a problem the market is willing to pay you to solve. “Cool” doesn’t bring out wallets.

Find an Advocate

Whether you pitch internally or externally, a powerful, knowledgeable advocate is vital. If you’re pitching a startup to angel or seed investors, find an insider willing to vet your pitch. When I started a small consumer products business I reached out to a former boss who’d been a COO responsible for creating the business case for rounds of funding within multiple startups. His critique of my first effort was painful to hear, but invaluable. He also put me in touch with the right investors for the product I was building and continued to help with advice and connections.

Internally, seek advice from someone who is involved in making budget decisions—finance is a great place to start. Or get your chief counsel to dig into your proposal before you pitch it to other company executives. And of course, you want your department on board.

Tip #4: Get internal advocates and decision-makers on board ahead of time.

When I was the vice president of product and marketing at a smaller company, a young product marketing manager came up with an idea that would make it easier for our transactional customers to buy from us. Essentially, it was a change in the buying workflow.

But he didn’t just come to me with his idea. First, he went to people he knew needed to be involved in the actual production of the product.

He started with the head of customer service and asked, “Could you do this?” The customer service director said, “We can’t do what you ask, but if IT can build a plug-in to make our customer information more secure, we can do this other thing to create an easier path for our transactional customers to buy from us.” They sat down and figured that out beforehand. Then they went to IT and got a commitment on what it would take to build. They worked with finance to put the numbers together. They also got legal’s blessing on the security level.

By the time they invited me and our CFO to talk about their proposal, the legwork was done and we all agreed that it made sense. And when we took it to the CEO, she also bought into the idea.

The product marketing manager and head of customer service did a great job advocating for their idea. They created a path to the revenue. They understood the obstacles, they got finance involved with the costs, and they showed us the benefits. It just couldn’t have been any easier. They were able to demonstrate that within five years their idea would generate $5 million in revenue, which made sense to the company and aligned with its goals.

Make the Ask

Ask for the money, and show them how you will use it. If you’re looking for later funding rounds for a startup, you will likely work with an accelerator program or private equity or legal team. Be specific about what you’re asking for, how you’ll use it and how you’ll measure success.

While people argue that a formal presentation isn’t necessary, I disagree. The 10-slide deck—no longer—is a classic benchmark that works. An added bonus: creating a succinct presentation that gets their attention requires you to focus. And while internal stakeholders may already know who you are, if you share a specific, well-crafted PowerPoint, it won’t fail to make a good impression.

Tip 5: Ask for the money, show how you’ll spend it and what success looks like.

Regardless of whether your pitch is internal or external, be excited, be passionate and be clear. Then back up your enthusiasm with numbers and a solid plan. Never let your exuberance get in the way of a clear-eyed assessment of risks, costs and competition. You need to be a hard-headed business person and an evangelical advocate. Tell your story to get them hooked, then pitch the data to get them to commit.

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