Insights

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.

7 Best Practices for Hiring Quality Copywriters

7 Best Practices for Hiring Quality Copywriters

Copywriting is now more critical than ever for your organization to communicate with your audience. Good copywriting is needed, for not only a company’s website, but also for blogs, brochures, white papers, videos, presentations, case studies, advertising campaigns, emails, newsletters, and more.

However, not all copywriters are the same.

Different types of copywriters include sales copywriters, content copywriters, individuals who specialize in business to consumer communications, others who focus on B2B content, and other specialized types of copywriters depending on field.

Here are some best practices when hiring copywriters…

  1. Inquire about their areas of expertise.  It’s important to determine the writer’s specific domain knowledge. For example, security organizations should consider copywriters with a background in cyber security over individuals who lack industry knowledge.
  2. Confirm the skill level of the copywriter. Is the copywriter you are hiring — permanently or temporarily — a professional writer or somebody who does writing on the side? Does your project(s) require a copywriter with minimal experience or a seasoned pro?
  3. Determine if the copywriter knows your audience. Many businesses will have already determined targeted audience via customer profiles. Make sure the copywriter you hire understands your audience’s pain points/challenges and how your product or service benefits this audience.
  4. Ask for writing samples. Experienced copywriters are happy to share a sample of their work to show their skills and experience. Reviewing their portfolio can help you determine if they are the best person for your specific project.
  5. Learn what type of content the writer excels in. As covered, not all copywriters are the same. Some writers may specialize in writing web copy, others may have the expertise in writing white papers. While many copywriters have experience in various content types (case studies, blogging, white papers, solution briefs), they may have a content type they are truly passionate about and you can use that as an advantage to your marketing efforts.
  6. Request copywriters interview subject matter experts. Subject matter experts (SMEs) can provide an insider’s perspective of the particular topic, product, or service you’ve tasked the writer to cover. When copywriters interview and work with your organization’s SMEs, they will learn about your company’s positioning on the topic. Consider copywriters who have a background in journalism as they will have the experience of interviewing and valuing the time of experts.
  7. Consider scaling from one writer to a whole team. Hiring a copywriting team, which includes a chief editor, can help extend your content creation efforts. The chief editor can help manage the team, deliverables, and deadlines. While hiring one writer might be sufficient for your needs, what happens if your marketing organization requires multiple content deliverables under tight deadlines? Considering a copywriting that can extend your team’s efforts, manage expectations and help deliver relevant content to speak with your audience.

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.

 

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

Summary

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 Bruce@EastwoodStrategyAdvisors.com or connect with him on LinkedIn at http://LinkedIn.com/in/blafetra

HOW A ‘PRECISION PRESCRIPTION’ CAN PUT A FINER POINT ON THE QUESTION OF BUILD VS. BUY

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.

To learn more, visit: https://digitally.cognizant.com/precision-medicine-approach-finer-point-build-vs-buy-codex3797/

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: https://intrinsicpoint.com/accelerate-growth-with-product-qualified-leads-pqls-685c7214014d

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.

To read more, please visit: https://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/resources/articles/branding-the-other-half-of-your-go-to-market-journey

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.

To view the original article, visit: https://blog.techvalidate.com/6-ways-dooming-case-studies-even-start-writing-5270