Insights

Creating a Strategic Product Plan

By: Bill Thomson

Most technology companies have a product management department serving as the “voice of the customer” and helping to better understand market needs.

This function typically generates an extensive roadmap of new products and enhancements, but is product management really being used strategically? For example, what is the product strategy that is driving roadmap priorities? And how is the product strategy linked to the company’s overall strategy?

Since most technology companies’ revenues come primarily from their products or services, you would think that the product strategy would be carefully crafted with the close scrutiny of the executive team and that it would be meticulously aligned with an overarching corporate strategy.

But this is often not the case. Without the engagement of the leadership team most responsible (and presumably most qualified) for determining strategy and direction, the risk is suboptimal financial performance at best, and complete company failure at worst. Let’s take a look at some practical approaches to making product management more strategic by engaging executives in key product strategy decisions and encouraging better corporate strategic planning.

The Strategic Product Plan

The essential goal of a product plan should be to ensure that a product is built that delivers some business value to a specific set of customers in order to meet certain financial goals based upon a defined corporate strategy. Successive plans should increase that product’s effectiveness in doing so. A product plan describes the market opportunity, profiles the target customers, specifies pricing, identifies the financial goals, indicates the key priorities for development and enhancement, and provides a roadmap for delivery for at least the next four quarters.

For a new product, a comprehensive MRD (Market Requirements Document) might well serve as the product plan. But each product that continues to be offered to customers should have a product plan updated every year. So, how does product management create a good product plan?

Let’s assume that the product management department is already managing several products that are currently serving customers. After getting feedback from customers, speaking with the sales teams, obtaining a list of the top technical support issues, surveying competitor positions and features, and receiving new ideas from development, the product management team has generated a list of possibly hundreds of potential product enhancements across the product line as well as some new product ideas. Project prioritization typically takes place next due to limited development resources.

Many companies apply some arbitrary prioritization scheme based upon the perceived number of times the feature/product has been requested or how much revenue they think the feature can generate. The product manager (or his development friends) may also make assumptions about value based upon how they think the product should be used. The product management team then creates a roadmap and a release schedule based upon these priorities and voila, the product plan is done, right? No, it certainly is not!

The product plan is not complete because the company’s strategy has not yet been considered. The executives who are chartered with running the company have not had an influence on the product plan. The plan is merely a reaction to a somewhat random set of market facts and events.So how exactly does the corporate strategy relate to the roadmap? Well, the goal of almost any technology company is to increase revenues.

Without a strategy to indicate HOW the company plans to increase revenue, then just about any product plan could arguably help the company achieve its goal, including the plan we just created. But with a strategy that specified how new revenue will be generated, a product plan tailored to supporting that strategy can then be developed.

For example, your company could plan to grow revenue by selling its flagship product into new geographic regions. Your company could plan to grow by establishing a new reseller channel. Your company could  grow by enhancing its existing products to appeal to a wider base of customers. Your company could plan to grow by developing new products that appeal to the existing customer base. Each of these decisions carries with it significant implications on the product plan.

Selling into new geographic regions would require local language support and may have other specific regional requirements. Selling through a reseller channel may require multi-tier administration and branding.Enhancing products to appeal to a wider customer base requires profiling that new customer and understanding his/her unique needs and requirements. And developing new products requires new analysis, requirements, design, and development work.

Thus, each of these strategies would result in a different prioritization of the projects on the product manager’s candidate list and a different allocation of resources. The product plan we created previously is reactionary and haphazard, while the product plan that responds to corporate strategy is directed and intentional.

So why aren’t corporate strategies incorporated into product plans? There are several possible reasons, but three of the most prevalent ones I have come across are: 1) no strategy exists, 2) the strategy has not been clearly communicated, or 3) the strategy appears inconsistent with market and customer data. Let’s analyze each in the following sections and propose some ways to solve them.

If no strategy exists, then one should be created. At one Internet Services company, the executive team employed a process where they reviewed and prioritized the top project requests every six weeks. This approach resulted in constantly shifting priorities since the highest priority projects were always related to the biggest sales opportunities at the time. Less critical product features never made the cut resulting in a product line that became increasingly uncompetitive. Without a driving strategy behind it, your company risks being jacked around by short-term opportunities.

Product management is in a good position to persuade executives to develop a high level strategy as part of the product planning process.Here are some key questions that product managers can ask executives to help with product planning that might very well stimulate some strategic discussions.

  • What are the top 3 most critical challenges our company will address this year?
  • In which geographic regions will we focus on selling our products?
  • Will there be any changes to the sales or channel strategy?
  • What are the revenue and profitability expectations for each product line?
  • Will there be any changes to the focus of marketing and advertising?
  • Are new markets or product lines being considered for the future?
  • What strategic partnerships are on the horizon?
  • What resource changes are expected for the coming year?

Now an astute executive may ask the product management team to answer or help answer many of these questions. And that makes some sense since product management sees market opportunities, has heard customer feedback first hand and has aggregated it from others, has tracked competitor’s moves, and has an in-depth view of their products’ financial trends. But at the same time you still want to leverage the knowledge and experience of the executive team and make sure they agree with the assumptions and logic being used.

Therefore, a practical approach to strategic planning could involve a meeting (or series of meetings) where product management presents their market and customer information to executives, who then have a chance to discuss what they have heard and how they think it should apply to the future of the company.

You could expand the discussion to include input from other functions like sales, marketing, and finance so that everyone is hearing key information that will lay the groundwork for the strategy. In a subsequent meeting, product management can replay the conclusions and decisions from the previous discussion(s) and then present a proposed product strategy that responds to them. Hopefully by then, a consensus on the strategy will be reached and the product management team (with the assistance of development) can then present an updated roadmap and proposed release schedule for the coming quarters for final review and approval.

The second reason why corporate strategies are not incorporated into product plans is that product managers don’t know about them or don’t understand them. It is certainly possible that an executive team will define a company strategy and then will succinctly describe that strategy in a form that can be handed down to all employees for successful execution. More typically however, the executive team communicates the strategy to their teams in a less formal fashion. Atone mid-sized software company, the executives felt that the strategy was too sensitive to share broadly and tried to share it on a “need-to-know” basis only. Most of their own employees were therefore in the dark about how to successfully execute the strategy.

The product management team is a key executor of the strategy. The will translate corporate strategy into product strategy and will create roadmaps that drive the work of many of the company’s employees. For product managers to thoroughly understand the corporate strategy is to significantly improve the odds of its successful execution. Thus, I would highly recommend that the entire executive team present the strategy directly to the product management team. This will facilitate the necessary dialogue and allow for a joint understanding of the implications to the product strategy. Product management should then be required to develop a product strategy and proposed roadmap and present back to the executive team to close the loop and ensure alignment with the corporate strategy.

The third reason why a corporate strategy may not be adequately incorporated into product plans is that the strategy itself appears to be inconsistent or contradict market and customer data heard by product managers. This is a likely result if the executive team developed their strategy without being adequately in touch with the market and customers.

If the product management team is being utilized appropriately, then they will be serving as the “headlights” of the company driving the front-end of the product development process and thus they will be spending the majority of their time discovering market opportunities, customer needs, technology trends and competitor positions. Now executives should always make it a part of their jobs to speak with customers and to review market trends.

But to ensure they hear the wealth of available market and customer information, it should be considered a prerequisite to developing the corporate strategy to have the product management team present a review of what they have learned.

You may have noticed that in all three of the cases where corporate strategies are not adequately integrated into product plans, we found that the solution was direct communications between product management and the executive team. Product management can help to educate senior executives with their market and customer knowledge, can help mold the strategy, and must also hear it first-hand so that they can properly execute it. However, there are reasons why this direct communication does not occur.

It is quite common for the product management team to report to a VP of Marketing or a VP of Product Development who represents them at senior-level meetings. These are broad functions with many responsibilities. Marketing executives are often measured and rewarded on driving revenue (with sales) for the company.

Product development executives are expected to deliver quality products on schedule. Now I am admittedly oversimplifying here, as many good executives will make decisions with a big picture perspective on business priorities beyond their direct responsibilities. But there are some general tendencies based upon short-term rewards and there are limits to a person’s time and attention. So when sitting at the strategy planning table, what types of things are they most concerned with? How well do they understand customer needs and market opportunities? Is profitability one of their primary concerns? Are they concerned with short-term or long-term issues? In other words, will they be good representatives of the market and will they push to defend the bottom-line?

This brings us to a broader issue at many technology companies. Who is actually concerned with profitability and the balancing short and long-term goals? Who is ensuring that every key decision is being made with key business goals in mind? In short, who is minding the store? For most functionally-aligned technology companies comprised of sales, marketing, operations/support, development, and finance, the lowest level of management where accountability exists for profitability and long-term strategic issues is amazingly the COO, if one exists, or the CEO if not. Think about it. The sales organization is primarily concerned with revenue and tends to be short-term focused. Marketing typically supports sales objectives. Operations and support keep the services running well, maintain customer satisfaction and are primarily cost centers. Development focuses on delivering quality products on schedule and is also managed as an expense. Finance tracks revenues and costs but is in a limited position to influence them.

So, who is thinking about profitability and achieving long-term goals? If it is nobody other than the CEO or COO, then there is a real danger that the myriad of decisions made every day by managers across the company will not be made with the right focus.

One increasingly popular solution I am seeing employed is to elevate the role of the product management function, given its critical strategic responsibilities, and have it report directly to the COO or CEO (or for larger companies, the relevant business-accountable executive). This makes product management a direct member of the leadership team making strategic decisions about the business.

This product management function will be chartered with providing market intelligence to inform the executive team, managing product profitability, and determining and driving product strategy consistent with corporate strategy. This function becomes a resource for the CEO/COO/business leader to explore and manage long-term opportunities. It is the function that has P&L responsibility and will drive business decisions deeper into the organization. It is a function that gives business leaders greater control over the plans that drive so many of the resources of the company, the roadmaps and product plans.

Since product management is in such an influential position to execute the strategy, and needs to work with so many of the other functional organizations during product development and delivery, it may be desirable to include other cross-functional delivery teams in this function as well, for example project managers and business analysts. Some companies create a “Products” organization reporting tot he CEO/COO that has a general manager heading up each major product line with product management, product marketing, business analysts, and project management reporting into it.

In one case I have seen, a large enterprise software company initially had their product management department report into the product development organization. When they felt they weren’t being market focused enough, they moved it under marketing. When product requirements appeared to be chasing short-term sales opportunities, they eventually settled on an independent products organization such as the one just described.

One cautionary note. It may be tempting to use this new organization to manage all issues related to the product and to stuff it with too many related functions. Care must be applied to keep it motivated to improve P&L and stay market focused. It would be tempting to say that if there is a quality problem, give it to the products organization to fix. If revenue is slipping below its goals, have the products organization investigate. If a big customer is having a problem, give it to the products group to handle. In a product company, most issues are product issues. Having the products organization handle all of them will create a bottleneck and will divert resources away from its primary job, to be the eyes and ears of the company to the market. The other functions of the company are accountable for issues such as product quality (development), revenue (sales and marketing), and customer issues (support). So let them handle it.

The Strategic Planning Process

So let’s step back and take a look at what an end-to-end product planning cycle might look like when integrated with the company’s strategic planning cycle. Assuming that a company resets its corporate strategy, financial plans, and product plans once per year, the planning process would ideally occur during the 3rd and 4th quarters of the fiscal year in preparation for the upcoming year.

The five basic steps in the planning process (as depicted in figure 1) are:

  1. Market review
  2. Financial review
  3. Corporate strategy
  4. Product strategy
  5. Product Roadmap and Release schedules

Strategic Product Planning

During the first step, product management presents a market review to executive management sharing facts on market trends and opportunities, key customer needs, and competitor moves and positions.Though product management will keep tabs throughout the year on many of these items, this is the opportunity to update the information to make sure it is complete and current. Other functions may be invited to provide their perspectives on the market and customers as well.

During the financial review phase, the finance organization presents results on the financial performance for the company overall, for its sales channels and for its products. Providing revenue and profitability by product is critical to making good product decisions and developing effective strategies.

The next step is where the company’s executive team outlines its corporate strategy in terms of its vision, financial goals and its plan for achieving those goals. The corporate strategy should be explicitly presented to the product management team to facilitate development of a product strategy. For some smaller businesses, steps 3 and 4 may be combined into a single step.

During step 4, product management develops its product strategy considering market dynamics, customer needs, financial goals, and corporate strategy. It specifies what changes to the products are needed and indicates the financial plan for each product area. The product strategy should be reviewed by the executive team to ensure alignment with the corporate strategy before proceeding to the next step.

The final step involves the development of a product roadmap and more detailed release plans for the coming quarters consistent with the product strategy. This roadmap becomes the official “product plan of record” and should be managed with formal change control procedures.This step is executed at the conclusion of the annual planning cycle and is repeated every 3 or 4 months to allow responses to changing market conditions and deployment schedules and should be re-approved by executive management.

Conclusion

For a product or services technology company, the success of the company is determined by the success of its products. Effective product plans address market and customer needs AND support the company’s growth strategy. Creating effective product plans can only be accomplished with strong communications between the product management team and the executive team because:

  1. Product management has critical market information that executives need to develop effective strategies;
  2. Product management can help develop strategies by asking key questions and discussing product implications; and
  3. Product management must clearly understand the company’s objectives and direction in order to create product strategies and roadmaps that will help them to be achieved.

By leveraging the product management team as a strategic resource, you will ensure that your products have been influenced by the best minds and information your company has available and you will gain greater control in driving your company’s success.

To learn more, please visit: https://pragmaticmarketing.com/resources/articles/creating-a-strategic-product-plan

How to Onboard at Scale Without Sacrificing Personal Touch

If you want to make more money, you need to get more customers.

It’s a simple fact. But all those new customers need to be onboarded well so they adopt, expand, and ultimately renew. And that means you need to scale. You won’t be able to onboard customers at a one-to-one ratio—at least not for long. But for many companies—especially ones with complicated or comprehensive products—that means accepting that your onboarding quality will suffer; the only question is how much.

Don’t accept that! You can scale up your onboarding process without being forced to give up personal touch. Gainsight’s VP Aptrinsic Marketing, Travis Kaufman, as he walks you through a tested system for growing your onboarding capabilities while still engaging with customers in a way that feels personal to them.

In this webinar, you’ll learn how to:

  • Guide your users to “a-ha” moments in your product
  • Create “release experiences” to introduce new features
  • Re-engage users to complete critical tasks
  • And much more!

Register here to learn more.

Four Fairly Fast Factoids for B2B Tech Marketers

Part 1 of a new series for product marketers

Time is always at a premium, so this post is all about providing short and useful findings that you can use in your tech marketing role.
This first of installment covers these 4 topics:
• How to do a quick scan of digital ads
• Recommended podcasts
• Optimal eDM Subject line length & a handy excel function
• Good distraction while waiting for you next conference call to start

Digital Ad Review
A quick and free way to get a sense of a firm’s digital ads is from marketing analytics firm Moat. Go to the Moat home page, type in name of a firm (like your employer, competitor, partner, or prospect) and then the Moat software quickly provides a snapshot of that firm’s web ads. The images below are from my search on Cisco, Imperva, and Rackspace. The output is actually much longer with dozens more ads than I’m showing in this picture. I used it recently to do some comparisons for how a client and their main competitor were positioning similar products.

Do You Podcast?
One in four Americans listened to a podcast in the last month (including me) according to Edison Research, so thought I’d share a few podcast resources:
• Top security podcasts. I love this one because it’s put together by a security company, Heimdal Security, so they are generating traffic to their home page from people searching for “top security podcasts”. I’m surprised more firms don’t curate a list like this for their industry.
• Here’s a list of the best marketing podcasts for marketers. I listened to a few and I’d say there are good bits, but IMO most podcasts need to get to the meat of their story much faster. Thankfully, it’s easy to skip ahead 15 seconds or play at 1.5x speed on most podcast players.
• And when on that family road trip, I recommend Brains On & Surprisingly Awesome (now known as Every Little Thing). They are both interesting and entertaining for all ages. I listened to an entire show about Broccoli and it in fact was “surprisingly awesome”.

Optimal eDM Subject Line Length
Do you know the ideal length of an email SUBJECT line? Email deliverability firm Return Path has good data on length of email subject line relative to read rate (for email marketing but maybe it could transfer over with emails to your boss or spouse). Somewhat surprising, slightly longer headlines (51 – 70) characters, have the highest read rate, yet a small portion of emails are that length.

Handy Excel Function:  The best way I’ve found to count characters, like when writing multiple headlines, tweets, CTAs, etc. is “=LEN” (as in LENGTH) function in Excel. This was a new one to me and pasting =LEN across Excel cells made counting characters in a spreadsheet super easy for me while I was on a working on a digital surround campaign recently.

When the Meeting Organizer is Late
Just about everyone has a few minutes to kill while waiting for a conference call to begin. Here’s a G-rated, smile-generating impossible odds compilation video. Most are sports related, but by sports I’m talking ones like Jenga, gum juggling, and pencil flipping. It’s ok to skip the first minute as the videos get better. With sound on you really get the reaction of spectators which I highly recommend. Enjoy!

Have a Good Tip Share?
We greatly value input and suggestions from clients, experts, prospects, and all on this topic. We welcome you to be a part of the next version of Fairly Fast Factoids for B2B Tech Marketers by submitting your notes to eric@aventigroup.com or jaime@aventigroup.com.

When and Why to Start a Win/Loss Program

I’m Ryan Sorley, Founder of DoubleCheck Research. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with venture capital firm OpenView, and one of their portfolio companies SmashFlyto discuss how they use Win/Loss Analysis to improve their decision making.

Competitive Intelligence

It’s fair to say most organizations have an anecdotal, or very cursory, understanding of what their competitors do for the most part. Public information through press releases, social media, or general marketing efforts is readily available. However, determining how to position your business against competitors can be pretty difficult, and very generic.

#WinLoss research starts with the hope that there’s something that you can walk away with, even if it’s painful to hear. When Josh Zywein, Vice President of Marketing started at SmashFly he knew they really needed to gain a deeper understanding of the business, and started by asking the question, “Do we track wins and losses right now? How do we track #CompetitiveIntelligence?”

The answer was “yes” from sales, but the reality was that most of that was done through self reporting by the sales reps, which can be very light on detail. A deal may be marked as a closed loss to a competitor, but there wasn’t much context surrounding why the deal was lost.

Some reps may dig a little deeper. Some reps may have good relationships with prospects, and aren’t afraid to ask why the deal was lost, or even what the business driver was for the selection.  “The reality was that even when that happened, we found that prospects would tell the rep what they wanted to hear, or would withhold detail that they might share with someone that’s a little bit more objective.”

Recognizing The Problem

Ricky Pelletier, Partner at OpenView, added, “Win/loss research can be eye opening. Seeing that juxtaposition is interesting, because you might start investing down one path of differentiation, when in reality the customer is buying you for a completely different reason. Understanding your value prop through the lens of the customer is incredibly valuable. Hearing it through the lens of a salesperson, or through marketing, is good, but it’s nowhere near as insightful as hearing it through the customer.”

From win/loss analysis you can expect competitive intelligence, understanding who you go up against, why you win, why you lose, and what resonates with a prospect in a particular deal against a particular competitor. When done correctly, and with purpose, a win/loss program can help align your sales and marketing strategies with your prospective buyers.

Zywein adds, “A company that is just crushing it from a sales perspective may not be worried about doing win/loss analysis. It’s not that they shouldn’t do it, but they probably have fewer problems than companies that are willing to make this investment. First is recognizing that there’s a problem somewhere, or something isn’t working quite as well as you expected it to.”

Perception may be part of the problem. A lot of companies have the belief that they understand their customers really well, especially when the leadership team has been involved in the selling process. As they move from being the ones selling to having more of a broad-based sales team and getting less direct intelligence, there is sometimes a disconnect between what they know, and what they think they know. They’re just not sure how much new information they’re going to learn from win/loss research, because they perceive that they have a really close relationship with the customer.

Access To Insights To Make The Right Decisions

Most of the win/loss data and programs that OpenView has run have been done by their internal team. They don’t push their portfolio companies towards win/loss research because it’s good for them as the investor. Their goal is to show their portfolio company the data so that they can make the right decision to benefit the company, which is ultimately good for everyone involved.

OpenView is a minority investor, and as Ricky Pelletier said, “There are reasons why we have a lot of faith and excitement about a company. Whenever we do loss reviews, and identify painful information, the mindset is not to attack the company, or talk about all the things they’re doing wrong. We’re still really bullish about the prospects, and there’s a reason why we made a bet on that company.” When any areas of improvement are found, it is tempered with the fact that OpenView has made a commitment and is excited about the investment.

With close relationships between OpenView and their portfolio companies, there couldn’t be better alignment behind getting the right answer.

When OpenView Offers Win/Loss Analysis

OpenView operates something like an outsource agency, or a consultancy, for win/loss analysis. It’s offered when value is recognized by both OpenView and the portfolio company.

Kyle Poyar, Senior Director of Market Strategy at OpenView shares, “Generally, there’s a certain trigger behind the research. For instance, if a new competitor just raised a lot of funding, they’re coming out, taking some market share, winning some deals that you thought would be natural for you to win or if you’re launching a new product line. There are certain triggers where we say it really makes sense for you to start collecting some of this information from your buyers.

Closing Thoughts

Give win/loss priority. Delegate resources to ensure success. Act on the input. Recognize that success doesn’t happen overnight. Your customers and your prospects are some of the most valuable data sources that you have. You want to be very careful with how you use that, and how you treat those relationships.

To learn more, please visit: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/when-why-start-winloss-program-ryan-sorley/

Unleashing the Power of the Sales Playbook

By: 

I’ve seen many variations of sales playbooks in my career. From the simplistic and overly-general to the content-dense with loads of long lists, hyperlinks, and prose. Playbooks are typically too long, too complicated for the user, and out dated immediately after publishing.

“It’s a boat anchor, weighing down our 
sales teams rather than empowering them”

All too often a document that is intended to help a sales rep quickly prep for a call or meeting turns into a compendium of everything that is known about a product, its features and differentiators, the marketplace, the target audience and the competition. It’s easy for this sales tool to turn into sales overload. It’s a boat anchor, weighing down our sales teams rather than empowering them.

Instead of wasting time and money creating a document that the sales team won’t use, let’s focus on what the sales playbook is intended be. A valuable sales playbook—one that will actually be used—will satisfy three goals:
• It will provide relevant information at the right moment in the sales cycle
• It will be quick and easy to access
• It will be kept up-to-date

Here are three tactics to ensure your sales playbook reaches all three goals and becomes a tool that sales people will love. (Don’t forget, while pulling together the information that will go into the playbook, to follow the advice of the best chefs and fashion designers: edit, edit, edit!)

Tactic 1: Make it relevant
In today’s world, buyers are self-educated. They are often quite far down the buying path before they ever engage with Sales. Rather than assuming the interaction starts at the beginning of the sales cycle, focus the playbook on how to deal with prospects who are already halfway to a decision. In concrete terms, this means equipping the sales team to uncover specific needs, position the solution, clearly articulate the value proposition, and help the buyer build a business case.
Keep information focused: this means avoiding the tendency to include too many personas or spend time coming up with cutesy names. Rather, it means providing a clear explanation of the problems, attitudes and concerns of the most likely buyers. Create two or three personas with the clearest fit, and make explicit assumptions about where they are in the buying process. Discuss what criteria are most important to them, what value propositions are most relevant, and what influences them. Make sure to include a least one key decision-maker in the mix. Validate by mining your current database, then following up on clues by using questionnaires, surveys and interviews to find the most relevant answers for these key issues. As the sales team works through opportunities, they will be able to gather new information that can be used to keep personas and value props updated.

Tactic 2: Make it accessible
We are all slaves to our devices. Who doesn’t live in email all day long, respond to every ping of the smart phone or check social media at all hours of the day or night? If this is the reality, why do we give our sales teams paper printouts, lengthy presentations and cumbersome documents where it’s difficult to find needed information quickly?
A good playbook is one that is used frequently, both in preparing for the call and while conversing during the call. That means a playbook that is easily accessible, and that is easy to navigate. While the basic work of assembling the information for the playbook will not change, our method of providing that information to the sales team can take a dramatic turn for the better if we use tools to bring the playbook to life online. Today there are a number of tools that let you produce highly interactive sales playbooks, so your reps can find exactly the information needed with just a few clicks. Whether it’s market-specific customer references, online demonstrations of functionality, ROI calculators or competitive knock-offs, an online sales playbook can be a wealth of information when the sales person needs it: now!
One bonus of a well-constructed online sales playbook: the reps can enter feedback while they are online, the fodder for the final tactic – making it a living document.

Tactic 3: Make it evergreen
As sales learns more about who buys (and doesn’t) and why, the sales playbook can and must change to incorporate new learnings. Similarly, as product features and functionality evolve, as new products are introduced to the market, as new competitors come onto the playing field, the sales playbook needs to be a living document that can accommodate the changing reality.
Plan for this. Budget for it. The sales playbook needs to be updated consistently with the latest messaging, positioning, competitive analysis, market trends, personas and products, and value propositions as they become more finely tuned. Don’t forget to advertise any significant changes to the sales playbook to your direct and channel sales teams. Give them a reason to keep coming back for more. And don’t forget to credit the team members who contributed to revisions through their insights and observations – that can’t help but build team spirit and a sense of ownership of the playbook.

To learn more, please visit: https://aventigroup.com/single-post/2018/10/11/unleashing-the-power-of-the-sales-playbook/

CSM & Product’ Is the New ‘Sales & Marketing’

By: Nick Mehta, CEO, Gainsight

If you take a look at my LinkedIn page (and scroll way, way down), you’ll see exactly where my career took a left turn. (No, not Chipshot.com—you scrolled too far!)

I started my professional career as a product manager.  Well, I tried to start my career by doing a Master’s in Computer Science in college, which taught me I wasn’t smart enough to be a developer, but maybe I could hang with them. Over the years, I moved up from Product Manager to “Manager of Product Management” (still a bizarre title to me!) and so on.

That was my career trajectory, and I couldn’t have been happier. It checked all the boxes for me—strategic thinking, working collaboratively, creativity, working with sales, and above all a total focus on giving the customer a great experience. Not to mention lots of PowerPoint!

When I left the world of product management to become a CEO, Customer Success was barely a gleam in my colleague Dan Steinman’s eye! But when I look back on it, I can see how it was preparing me for this crazy world of CS, and how the skills I honed in PM are so complementary to my job today.

For the last six years, we’ve been on a mission here at Gainsight to spread the word about Customer Success as the only way to drive sustainable growth in subscription businesses. Obviously, you can’t have a business without a product (and therefore a Product Management Team), and likewise, you can’t maintain a customer base without Customer Success.

The Customer Success Movement in 3 Acts

In the first act of our story, we tried to shine a light on the Customer Success Management (CSM) organization. We evangelized the value of a CSM team, we educated tens of thousands of people in the tricks of the trade, and built a worldwide network to help plug the right leaders into the right roles—all of which has led to CSM being recognized by LinkedIn as one of the top emerging professions in the U.S.

However, pretty soon it became clear: a lot of companies were building out a small, siloed CSM team to “own” Customer Success, but weren’t able to scale. We knew Customer Success needed to be bigger than any one team (as we say at Gainsight, CS > CSM). It’s a priority that needs to be woven into the fabric of the entire company—every department, every team. And the reason why is simple: to the customer, you’re all one company. The client doesn’t need to understand the differences between Sales and Support and Service and CSM and Marketing. Therefore your customer interactions need to be just as seamless. And so the second act of the Gainsight story was taking Customer Success out of that siloed CSM role and taking it across the company.

But as I spoke to people in the Customer Success community—as well as the CEOs of thousands of subscription businesses—I heard time and time again that one organization was missing from the conversation: Product. That resonated, because, as an ex-Product Manager, I saw how organically the two disciplines fit together. And in the “Age of the Customer” more than ever, most customers’ primary interaction with their vendors aren’t necessarily through their people, but rather through their products.

That’s why for our third act—simpatico to the third act of the Customer Success movement, we’re so fired up to announce that Gainsight has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Aptrinsic, the first product-led growth platform. You can read more about the acquisition here.

Nick Mehta and Mickey AlonNick Mehta and Aptrinsic CEO Mickey Alon

The New Sales and Marketing

Here’s some conventional wisdom that’s at least as old as the mercantile system: if you want to achieve growth, invest in Sales and Marketing; acquire new customers. And in today’s economy, according to Gartner, 57 percent of the purchase decision is complete before a customer even calls a supplier. With that being the case, it was inevitable that Sales and Marketing platforms (think Salesforce and ExactTarget, Oracle and Eloqua, and so on) would come together to optimize growth through new customer acquisition.

It made a ton of sense. Sales teams wanted to understand prospect behavior, scale their engagements via marketing nurture, and influence marketing priorities. Marketing was interested in driving lead volume, learning from prospects, and iterating on campaigns quickly.

But in the Age of the Customer, CS teams have joined the ranks of Sales and Marketing in driving business growth by focusing on customer retention—more specifically, impact to net retention as a function of growth. However, for all of us who are building digital products and services, so many invaluable customer insights and personalized engagements are happening within the product itself. The analogy of Sales and Marketing alignment extends now to Customer Success and Product teams, who together are on the hook to deliver experiences and outcomes to both keep and grow customers.

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The same consolidation of Sales and Marketing platforms has yet to happen with Customer Success and Product technology—until now. We’re convinced that by partnering with Aptrinsic, we can usher in a new era of growth for subscription businesses with Customer Success and Product teams at its heart.

Gainsight’s New Capabilities

So what can you do with Gainsight and Aptrinsic? Our goal was to enable Customer Success and Product teams to work more closely together, as well as rally the rest of the company around the mission of driving Customer Success. In tandem, these two toolsets will give you the ability to fully leverage the product channel to generate even more powerful customer insights and actions. Here are just a few examples I would have loved back in my PM days:

  • Analyze the behavior of users in your product in terms of feature adoption, navigation, and retention.
  • Guide users to onboard and use new features through in-app engagements.
  • Solicit feedback from users in the product.

From both a CS and a PM perspective, we want you to be able to drive great outcomes and experiences whether inside or outside the product, whether delivered through automated digital outreach or human interactions (or a mix of both). And now, Gainsight is the only solution that enables companies to take full advantage of the shift to both digital and subscription, by providing Customer Success and Product teams everything they need to drive growth.

Where Can You Learn More?

To fill you in on all the details, I filmed a video with Aptrinsic CEO Mickey Alon and our very own Chief Operating Officer, Allison Pickens.

You can also learn more by checking out the following:

 

To learn more, visit: https://www.gainsight.com/blog/csm-product-is-the-new-sales-marketing/

Improve your Technology Marketing by Focusing on Business Outcome Messaging

By: Michelle Buckley

Developing messaging for professional services or software platforms often creates the “paradox of choice” for product marketers – the technical team or consultants explain they can “deliver anything the client wants” and with pride they list just short of about 5 million capabilities of skills and technology they have interacted with.  The paradox?  There are so many options, product marketers are not sure what choice to make.

The truth is that comprehensively describing in depth all possible product and service capabilities is the weakest way to generate interest from new prospects, and it’s not just because of “information overload.”  The reality is that technology buyer behavior has been changing dramatically over the last two years.  Business buyers drive the majority of IT purchases, even if funded out of IT.  As digital business becomes mainstream, CIOs are prioritizing business outcomes over technical service delivery.  As shown in the Gartner 2018 CIO Agenda research, CIO  priorities for 2018 focus on business metrics, from controlling costs and streamlining processes to driving revenue growth by exploiting data.

Furthermore, enterprise technology buyers tell us that the top reason technology provider campaigns inspired them to consider a solution (when they were not planning a purchase) was marketing messages that were “relevant to business issues, or triggered new thinking around them.”

For these and many other reasons, we are advising technology and service providers to lead their customer acquisition efforts with messaging focused on the business outcomes and value your offerings enable instead of the long list features, functions or capabilities available in your offerings.  Don’t worry, there will always be time later in the sales cycle to get technical.  But first, you need to inspire an opportunity with a hint of the business results that your offerings can deliver.

How can you refocus your technical messaging on business outcomes?  Start by researching the business outcomes of your own reference customers to capture insight. This can be done simply by interviewing reference customers, salespeople, or frontline customer service employees to learn what resonates with your ideal customers.  Sure they wanted new functionality, but what is the real reason they paid money for your solution (in one sentence or less)?  How did they justify the investment to their CFO?  This is the key to the customer insight that will inspire future projects and engagement in new logo customers.

To learn more, please visit: https://blogs.gartner.com/michele-buckley/2018/10/05/improve-your-technology-marketing-by-focusing-on-business-outcome-messaging/

How SaaS Broke Your Buyer Journey Map and How to Fix it

By Dennis Chepurnov

Most marketing and sales professionals are familiar with the concept of the buyer’s journey map. It’s a visual tool that helps align your organization’s marketing and sales tactics to the needs of your target buyers as they go through the process of selecting and purchasing a service or product.

Most buyer journey maps include the following six stages: identify need, determine solution, explore options, select vendor, justify internally and make purchase.

This model has worked adequately for many decades, but lately I find it lacking. This buying model has failed to keep up with changes in the market; specifically, the advent of software as a service (SaaS). Intended to transform how organizations deploy and pay for software, SaaS also has profoundly affected how customers go through the buying process.

SaaS Rocks

Buying enterprise software used to be an onerous undertaking that involved six to 10 months of requirements gathering, business case development, discovery, vendor evaluations and demos. It also entailed negotiations with IT and procurement and budgeting for the capital expenditures needed to acquire hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of required hardware and licenses. Several more months of deployment, customization, testing and training followed. During much of this process, customers had to commit key stakeholders to the buying process and deal with the resulting business disruption. Vendors also had to contribute considerable time and efforts from their account teams, professional services and training staff.

This still happens with large enterprise software deployments, but much of today’s business software buying has transitioned to SaaS and other subscription licensing models. This shift impacts both customers and vendors.

  • SaaS pricing and delivery make it easier for customers to invest in and—unfortunately for software vendors—divest from new software solutions.
  • The SaaS deployment model reduces the post-sale touch points with the vendor, for better or for worse.
  • SaaS has altered customer behaviors and expectations, even with non-SaaS products.

Although SaaS often costs more in the long run, buyers like it because it simplifies their lives. Vendors like SaaS because revenue is more predictable and often requires less involvement of professional services, which can be hard to estimate and staff.

The Vendor Trade-Off

It sounds great to have this perpetual subscription revenue, but there is a flip side: The buying process is never really over. With every subscription payment, customers have an opportunity to reflect on the value the software provides, then compare it to the cost they are paying.
The perpetual pricing model places the burden of ROI on the customer after the purchase; SaaS pricing effectively shifts it to the vendor.

This is a fundamental shift in the dynamics of value generation. With perpetual licensing, buyers staked their professional reputations—and sometimes their jobs—on significant investments of time and budget to acquire a technology solution. After the purchase, customers were responsible for ensuring the investment paid off.

With SaaS, a customer’s up-front investment is considerably lighter. Given the lower up-front investment of time and budget, the incentive to stick with a product is also lower. If a customer fails to see rapid value from your product, they are likely to move on to one of your competitors.

It’s often easier for customers to try a new product than to work with an existing vendor to ensure that the product works the way they need it to. I have witnessed many organizations sign on with a SaaS vendor only to drop them several months later and try another.

From the customer’s perspective, signing a SaaS contract doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the buying process. In fact (and this is where the floor drops away), while your sales team is ringing the gong and marketing celebrates another pipeline goal attainment, your customer may still be in an extended stage 3: exploring their options.

“It’s often easier for customers to try a new product than to work with an existing vendor to ensure that the product works the way they need it to.”

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What This Means

Most marketing teams disengage from the customer’s journey at the point of purchase, just as the customer embarks on the most important stage of the whole experience: building business value from the product we sold them.

Buyers are our champions inside their organization. As a marketer, it feels somewhat disingenuous to abandon them just as they sign the contract. True, they may now be in the hands of other departments like account management, professional services and training, but those teams engage in tactical endeavors, and they often interact with different
customer stakeholders. But what about the decision makers we’ve catered to throughout the buying process? What happened to the strategic visions we painted for them? The industry insights we shared? Why should the story end here?

The customer’s journey does not end with the purchase, and we have SaaS to thank for making this painfully obvious. Marketers must extend the journey map beyond the purchase, continuing to support buyers as they derive business value from your product.

To that end, updated buyer journey maps should include a seventh stage: derive value.

Any organization that wants customers to succeed (and remain customers) needs to reassess the effort and focus they dedicate to this seventh stage. While many technology vendors promise to be their customers’ partner for success, few have actual programs to back it up, and fewer still engage product marketing—the authority on buyers and technology solutions— to help drive this effort.

Here are four thoughts to consider:

  1. Customer retention is not the refunds department. Sales and marketing professionals are acutely aware that it costs more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one, yet many organizations still view retention as a reactive measure used to salvage unhappy customers. Instead, customer retention should be a strategic marketing function to match demand-gen. Customer retention should work closely with product marketing, campaigns, sales and services groups to develop programs and touch points that actively help customers reach their business objectives and move forward.
  2. Don’t stop being strategic after your prospect becomes a customer. Many organizations shift to end-user marketing after the purchase (“here is our feature-of-the-week email campaign”). Facilitating end-user adoption is important, but not at the cost of ignoring decision-makers. After the go- live, your target buyers are still there, evaluating your product for success. Are you confident they will still believe they picked the right vendor when they pay your next invoice? It’s important to stay engaged in their efforts and continue to add value and inspire them. For example, developing and sharing a maturity model can help position your products alongside their long-term strategic business objectives and establish a framework for partnership going forward.
  3. Think of it as a buying cycle within the buying cycle. Many organizations “buy to try” SaaS solutions and look for rapid proof of value as an indicator of success. Think of it as an early proof of concept at stage 3. If your organization can proactively take on some of that burden of proof, you stand a better chance of turning stage 3 into stage 7.
  4. Celebrate the contract. It’s a big deal to sign a paying customer, and a lot of people work hard to make it happen. But for customers, the purchase is just the beginning, and your team should view it as a milestone for your marketing strategy, not the end goal.

We live in an era of seemingly endless options. Consider how many times you have downloaded a new app on your phone, tried it for a few minutes and then promptly uninstalled it when you realized it did not meet your needs. Today’s B2B buyers have a similar mindset. If you fail to help buyers actualize the value of your product after purchase, it won’t take them long to start looking at the next vendor.

To learn more, visit: https://pragmaticmarketing.com/resources/articles/how-saas-broke-your-buyer-journey-map-and-how-to-fix-it?utm_source=PMC+1809+&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_content=Article&utm_campaign=Partner+influencers

How well aligned is your content to your sales funnel?

How well aligned is your content to your sales funnel?

by Victoria Greene

Sales funnels are all about the buying journey your customer takes; from becoming aware of your brand and products, to signing the order form.

The problem is that this marketing model was developed in 1898 (by American advertising expert Elias St. Elmo Lewis) and an awful lot has changed since then. With that in mind, ask yourself this, just how well aligned is my content to my sales funnel?

Don’t worry about finding the answer, because, over the course of this article, it will become clear. And not only that, I’m also going to help you bring the content in your sales funnel kicking and screaming into this millennium…

Relearn what you know about sales funnels

Lewis’ AIDA funnel was built upon 4 key elements:

  • AwarenessYour customer knows about a product or service.
  • Interest: Your customer is actively interested in a product group.
  • Desire: Your customer wants a specific brand or product.
  • Action: Your customer makes a purchase.

The Purchase Funnel

(Source: Wikimedia)

For a 21st Century business, these stages are reduced to 3. Marcela De Vivo explains these as being:

The 3 stages: Awareness, Consideration, and Purchase

(Source: Search Engine Watch)

The problem with each of these models is that their sales funnels are linear, with a beginning middle, and end. While this isn’t an unrealistic model, it’s not one your business should buy into dogmatically. Why? Because when your customer ends their journey they’re gone.

Whether it’s through a subscription model, or by convincing your customers to keep coming back to your business, your sales funnel needs to consider repeat customers. If it’s not, then it’s unrealistic and, in order to for it to become realistic, you need to…

Be aware of the continuous engagement model

Thinking solely linear is so 1898. Today’s powerhouse businesses know that, to be successful, their customer buying cycle has to keep spinning, with the wheel turned each time their customers make a purchase.

In order to keep this wheel spinning you need to be aware of the continuous engagement model when reviewing the content in your sales funnel.

As you’ll see below, in the example of Accenture’s Nonstop Customer Experience Model, a continuous engagement model looks altogether different to Lewis’ vision of your customer buying journey:

Accenture's non-stop-customer experience model

(Source: Accenture)

While the names have changed, some of the terms are not so different from Lewis’:

  • Discover: Your customer finds out about a product or service.
  • Consider: Your customer reviews the different product or service groups.
  • Evaluate: Your customer makes a decision on which brand to select.
  • Purchase: Your customer buys your product.

But you also have new segments to consider:

  • Use: Your customer tests out your product.
  • Promise: You make a commitment to how your product will perform.
  • Delivery: What you deliver to your customer. It’s essential that your delivery matches with your promise. If it doesn’t then you’ve lost their repeat business. But if it does…
  • Consider: Your customer will consider buying from you again and the cycle restarts from this point.

Your customer can join the buying cycle at various stages, seek information from different sources, and may adopt a staccato approach to their buying decisions – they might get to the penultimate stage of the buying cycle, abandon their purchase, then come back and buy it at a later date, from a different sales channel.

Accenture's non-linear customer pathways

(Source: Accenture)

This changes how you need to create and disseminate the content you use in your sales funnel; for your sales funnel to be realistic, you need a smart content marketing funnel to function in an omnichannel world.

Creating smart and realistic content for an omnichannel world

Lewis’ model might be outdated, but adopting the continuous engagement model full-scale makes it difficult and expensive to quantify conversion rates throughout your funnel. The realistic and smart way for you to design the content driving your sales funnel is to incorporate both.

What does this hybrid look like?

Content marketing funnel (TOFU, MOFU, BOFU)(Source: Shopify)

TOFU isn’t just for eating…

In order for your business to have a realistic sales funnel you need a three segment approach, and there are specific types of content you need at each stage.

TOFU (Top Of The Funnel)

At this stage your customer is becoming aware of a problem which they need to resolve. Your goal is to hone in on your audience’s pain points and increase their awareness of the need to find a solution to them.

Types of content needed for TOFU

You must consider how well your brand is set up to disseminate the content that you require in order to have a realistic sales funnel. As social media is a huge part of TOFU, your brand’s website must work in harmony with your social media channels.

Conduct research into your target audience and establish what their preferred social media channels are and then align this with the platforms your business uses.

You also need to think about social media automation tools. This is crucial because you need to reach your audience at the right time and also use the time that you have at your disposal wisely.

MOFU (Middle Of The Funnel)

The midpoint of your funnel is about making your customers buy into your brand and your vision of problem resolution. Your goal is to put the building blocks in place to establish a long-term relationship with your customers.

Types of content needed for MOFU

  • Discount codes
  • Webinars
  • Informational resources
  • Surveys

It’s at this stage that you can collect your customers’ email addresses. The value of doing this is that you can re-target your converted customers and return to those who have begun but failed to complete the buying process.

Your website must be built using a CMS that’s compatible with email marketing software in order to do this, but the value to your business of doing this is enormous – email marketing returns an average of $38 for every $1 that you spend.

BOFU (Bottom Of The Funnel)

You’ve got your customers attention and sold them the value of your products. Your goal now is to sell your products

Types of content needed for BOFU

  • Tripwires
  • Sales decks
  • Customer testimonials
  • Trials for your products
  • Spec sheets for your products

Your goal here is simple: convert your audience into customers, ones who will buy your products now and ones who will come back to your business again and again.

The value of customer testimonials at this stage of your sales funnel simply cannot be overstated:

  • 92% of your customers read online reviews
  • 88% of your customers trust customer reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 63% of your customers are more likely to buy your business if you use customer reviews

Sales funnels have been a feature of business for over 100 years. They are a hugely valuable way of maximizing the buying journey you take your audience on, so that you can convert them from users looking to resolve a problem to long-term customers for your brand.

In order to turn your audience into customers, you need to have content supporting your sales funnel in a way that’s realistic. So, when you review your sales content sales, remember that TOFU isn’t just for eating.

About the author

Victoria Greene is a branding consultant and freelance writer. On her blog, VictoriaEcommerce, she shares tips on how brands can use the power of content to drive up revenue for their business.

Visit www.docsend.com to learn more.

The Myth of the Impersonal Buyer

The Myth of the Impersonal Buyer

By Rod Griffith

“Get out of the water! Now!” The cry came from a concerned father sitting on a blanket not far behind me on a Cape Cod beach. The sheer volume of his voice alarmed all of us nearby. There had been recent shark sightings along the Cape shores, so sharks were first and foremost on our minds when we heard him yell.

His two kids—a boy and a girl of perhaps 9 and 12—were in the water, barely up to their waists. When they didn’t respond, he jumped to his feet and yelled again. “I said get out of the water, now!”
I immediately thought of Chief Brody from the movie Jaws.

The kids turned and broke into a high-step run out of the shallows and up the beach to their father.

“How many times have I told you to wait 30 minutes after you eat before going back into the water?” he asked them. “You can get stomach cramps and drown. It happens every year.”

But he was wrong. It doesn’t happen every year. It actually never happens. Studies published in 2007 and 2008 by Rachel C. Vreeman and Aaron E. Carroll from the Indiana University School of Medicine debunked this myth about drownings caused by swimming too soon after eating. According to Vreeman and Carroll, there are no documented cases of drowning or near-drowning due to eating.

They couldn’t find one case. Zero. Zilch. Yet how many millions of us were given the same stern warning back when we were kids?

Every so often, science reveals myths that have long been taken as fact. We can’t remember the days when the world was thought flat, or when bloodletting was believed to cure illness. But most of us today will remember when coffee was bad for you and when Pluto was a planet, or when swimming after eating could lead to drowning.

The business realm is not immune to these myths.

“”It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble–it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” –Josh Billings”

“It’s not personal. It’s business.”

I wish I had a dime for every time that was uttered. This commonly used statement expresses the archetype of the ultimate business decision-maker: focused, unflinching and objective to the core.

We laud business leaders for their ability to keep calm and cool under pressure, and to maintain a laser-like focus on strategy and business objectives, where lesser people would be swayed by their emotions. In heroes like Steve Jobs, or in villains like Gordon Gekko of the Wall Street movies, we see steadfast steeliness, determination and objectivity—qualities, we believe, of the quintessential business decision-maker. And someone vastly different from the typical personal consumer.

We assume that while individual consumers regularly base purchase decisions on emotions, whim and personal desire, savvy business decision-makers base their procurement decisions on research, analysis, data, ROI calculations and strategic business goals. Personal needs and emotions, we believe, don’t play a major role in business decisions—especially for significant purchase decisions such as technology solutions.

Like the danger of swimming after you eat, this notion of the impersonal business buyer is being proven by researchers to be a myth. Research indicates that the personal value that buyers perceive in a B2B product has far greater impact on the decision process than most marketers thought.

A study conducted by CEB, now Gartner, in conjunction with Google (“From Promotion to Emotion”, 2013) found that the perceived personal value in a product had almost twice as much impact on the purchase outcome as the perceived business value. According to the study, the personal value perceived by the decision-maker includes professional benefits, social benefits, emotional benefits or self-image benefits.

On the consumer marketing side, most purchases are relatively low-dollar. The downside of a wrong purchase for basic consumer goods is some moderate frustration and annoyance, if that. Don’t like the new book you bought? Donate it. Don’t like that new desk lamp? Regift it.

In contrast, business purchases—especially technology products and solutions—can have serious consequences. The stakes are high, so the accompanying emotions surrounding the buying journey may also be high. Rapidly changing technology choices add further stress. People’s careers can be made or broken based on a purchase decision. But, because of this “myth of the impersonal buyer,” B2B marketers often completely overlook the emotional side of the purchase.

The Personal Value Messaging Gap

The same study (which surveyed 3,000 business purchasers) found that buyers who see personal value in a product indicate a significantly greater likelihood of purchasing—three times greater—than buyers who do not see personal value. Those buyers who see personal value are also seven times more likely to pay a premium for a product.

But there’s a dilemma here: Buyers tend to believe in the personal value of a product only after purchase and use. The study found that, while 77 percent of customers believe in the personal value of the products they’ve purchased, only 31 percent of buyers believe in the personal value of products they do not own.

If buyers don’t see personal value, one likely reason is that B2B marketers aren’t effectively communicating the personal value of their products. Because of the myth of the impersonal buyer, we tend to overlook and neglect our personal value messaging, focusing most of our sales messaging on the business value of our products or solutions.

A typical messaging hierarchy focuses on desired business outcomes, strategic value, differentiating features and benefits, and supporting proof points. Inevitably, messaging is filled with common terms such as “intuitive,” “easy to use,” “robust” and “powerful.” Competing products of similar design or technology will often use similar descriptors. This can result in sales messaging that lacks differentiation.

Just visit a few of your competitors’ websites and you’ll see this. Most competing products of a similar nature and design (including technology) claim to offer many of the same business values. A good portion of the messaging for competing products is often virtually interchangeable. So, unless you have a clear and significant advantage over your competition (a rare situation in today’s global economy), the business value that your product offers is probably very similar to the business value that your competitors offer. Consequently, companies that build personal value messages into their messaging hierarchies can gain an edge over competitors who have yet to expand their messaging beyond the typical business value focus.

Identify Your Personal Value Messaging

To identify the right personal value messages for your products or solutions, start by talking with your customers—which is something many B2B marketers don’t do often enough. Use the following questions to structure the conversation and help identify the personal value your customers believe your products or solutions provide.

Has our product helped to accelerate your career in any way?
Perhaps your product has helped customers gain experience and skills in a hot new technology area, bolstering their résuméor helping them win a promotion.

Has our product helped you gain professional recognition?
Anecdotal evidence about how your product has helped customers gain recognition or awards can be extremely helpful in differentiating your sales messaging. Where possible, use real customer success stories and testimonial quotes to support personal value messages.

Has our product boosted your visibility in the company by impacting company success?
The purchase and implementation of your product may have required your customer to foster support and collaboration from teams across the organization. This can often boost their visibility and reputation within their company (and among important C-level management)—especially when the effort has resulted in recognized improvements in the company’s productivity, efficiency or quality.

Has our product improved your reputation as a leader or out-of-the-box thinker?
The selection of your product may have required your customer to champion your product or service within their organization. In the process, your customer may have had to battle those who were skeptical, preferred the status quo, or wanted to go with a safe big-name vendor. Showcasing how your product can help a customer boost their reputation as a leader can add powerful personal value to your overall messaging.

Of course, there are some aspects of personal value that you may not want to ask your customers about directly, because you’ll risk, among other things, offending them. You don’t want to imply, for example, that they lack confidence or are in fear of losing their job. So the following questions are likely best answered indirectly through casual conversation, listening and observation (versus posing them directly to your customers):

Has our product helped the customer build personal confidence or pride?
Your customer may have had to overcome doubt and taken some professional risks to champion your product or service through their decision process and implementation. After all, failure could have meant a major career setback, if not a professional catastrophe. Success, on the other hand, can be a serious boost to the customer’s confidence and create a sense of personal pride.

Has our product helped the customer build or strengthen relationships with staff, peers or executives?
A decision team leader who successfully gains the buy-in, adoption and implementation of your solution may have had to reach out and forge new relationships, or strengthen current relationships, with their staff, peers or key executives. This may have resulted in improved respect and appreciation, fostered new friendships or acquaintanceships, strengthened interpersonal communications – or perhaps helped to reverse a previously negative relationship.

Has our product helped the customer spend more time working on the areas they prefer to focus on?
If your product or service helps reduce the amount of time spent on business challenges or issues—or otherwise improves your customer’s productivity or efficiency—it may allow your customers to shift more of their focus to the work that satisfies them more, professionally and personally.

Has our product given our customer peace of mind?
Your customers may find that the decision to purchase and implement your product or service has helped them strengthen their value to the organization, elevated their reputation within the company or boosted confidence in the security of their job. The emotional result is greater peace of mind, which can improve both work and overall life satisfaction.

Put Emotion into Motion

Once you’ve defined the personal value messages for your product or solution, the next step is to infuse your messaging—value propositions, elevator pitches, sales stories, etc.—with your personal value and emotion. This will enhance your customer appeal and both strengthen and differentiate your overall sales messaging.

The more personal the personal value message, the more challenging it is to build into general sales messaging. You may find some of the personal value messages are more suitable for specific sales plays to known, targeted decision-makers. And you will almost certainly want to communicate the personal values more subtly, perhaps through customer anecdotes and testimonials.

Back to the Beach

I was tempted to speak to that father on the beach who chastised his kids for going into the water after they ate. I would have liked to have told him about the researchers who couldn’t find a single known instance of someone drowning because they ate before they swam. But I didn’t want to correct him in front of his family. Short of depriving his kids of a little water time, he probably wasn’t doing much harm anyway. Some myths are relatively harmless.

But the myth of the impersonal buyer isn’t one of them. The customers’ emotions and personal interests can play a strong role in the decision-making process. Make sure you’re leveraging the power of personal value messaging to improve your differentiation and customer impact—and avoid becoming a victim of the myth of the impersonal buyer.

Rod Griffith

Rod Griffith

Rod Griffith is president and co-founder of MarketReach (www.mreach.com), a B2B technology marketing services firm based in Nashua, NH. He can be reached at rgriffith@mreach.com.