Insights

The 10 Commandments of Product Marketing

10 Commandments LogoWhether you’re a fan of Charlton Heston or Mel Brooks, you likely understand the concept of a commandment: It is a foundational command or directive or an essential requirement with no compromise. In the course of managing today’s crises and worrying about tomorrow’s problems, we as product-marketing professionals can lose focus on the essentials needed to be an effective product marketer.

Having been at the product-marketing game for about a dozen years at three different companies (more if you count how many times I was acquired) and having had the distinct honor of working for a master of product marketing, I submit to you this list of the essentials, which we call “The 10 Commandments of Product Marketing.” I hope they help guide new product marketers or reintroduce core product-marketing fundamentals to veteran practitioners.

The 10 commandments are built around the constituencies we as product marketers serve: sales, product management and business, press and analysts, competitors, partners and most importantly, customers.

1. Have an up-to-date positioning document and buyer persona for your product. How often do you start developing product or marketing materials without fully knowing who the target buyers are and what their pains are? It happens more than it should when we are going too fast, but without this fundamental understanding you run the risk of losing control of your message. Never forget: YOU own the message.

2. Know the business plan for your product and have a measurable go-to-market plan for it. Regularly perform a marketing activity analysis against budget to measure this. You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and you can’t achieve an objective without understanding what it takes to get there. I recommend setting a regular cadence of operational reviews with your functional marketing counterparts, where you can review a standard set of results to measure what’s working and what’s not. And when marketing issues come up during quarterly business reviews, make sure your business leader is prepared with the numbers. It’s your responsibility as steward of the marketing budget for the business.

3. Know how customers are using your product. Observing customers in their native habitats need not be intimidating. Ask for a ride-along with a sales rep, or talk to an established customer willing to give you honest feedback. (Customer reference program members are an ideal source for this.) Use these conversations to determine if how you’re positioning your product is real or just hype. Be prepared for an opinion different from what you were expecting and take it in context with other conversations. Just because you have one conversation with one customer who says something completely divergent from what your buyer personas say doesn’t mean you have to shift how you market your product. Keep it real by speaking to a real customer at least once per month. This is also a non-threatening way to gather win/loss data.

4. Know where your product’s customers and users are coming from. This one can be tricky, especially if your business lacks the operational maturity to have consolidated business metrics. There will be someone—likely multiple people—who are able to tell you how many active customers you have for a product (maintenance or support records); the sizes and industry verticals of your customers (Hoover’s et al); average sales price, discount and margin (bookings database from finance); and new customers vs. existing (finance). The trick is to consolidate this information so you have the right information when you need it. For example, wouldn’t it be great if—when your business leader indicated you needed to focus on selling to existing customers to drive penetration—you had that data at your fingertips and could weigh in on the addressable market?

5. Know your product’s license and maintenance revenue targets and progress toward those targets. As a product marketer, you are the VP of marketing for your product. The main focus of your role as a marketer is contributing to revenue. How are you influencing license bookings? Pretend for a moment you work for a “company-is-the-product” startup. You own marketing for that product—and therefore the company—soup to nuts. What do you need to know to be successful? Knowing your progress toward targets helps you move your marketing investments to meet current business objectives.

6. Know who sells your product. Also know what their comp plans look like. Sales reps are coin operated; their behavior follows the money. Knowing how your reps are compensated helps you know what to focus on in sales-enablement discussions. For example, if reps have their comp plan tied to growth in enterprise-level accounts in their region, they’re not going to respond to products and training that address a small- to mid-market customer. Hand-in-hand with this is an understanding of quotas, average deal sizes, whether they’re comped on other parts of the portfolio, professional services, etc. This helps you better understand the folks who are taking your product to market and how to talk their language. You can then be better positioned to influence comp-based incentives or spiffs for your product. 

7. Ensure sales, partners, field marketing and others can successfully evangelize for your product with accurate and up-to-date sales tools. Gather feedback from the field and provide regular updates. This seems like a no-brainer and will likely be 75 percent of your job. Notice the nuance here, though. Your role as a product marketer likely revolves around building messaging, enabling the sales force and influencing campaigns to drive leads and awareness. But turning other marketing shared-services personnel into advocates for your product increases internal mindshare and ultimately improves focus and results. It’s not just about the blocking and tackling of producing sales tools and a good website, but also ensuring the folks building those tools and that website or managing that event can tell the story well. Part of your success will be dependent on turning others, not just sales, into evangelists. Remember, you’re likely competing with other products for mental shelf space across the company. Be aggressive: It’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

8. Know your product’s top three competitors and be able to explain how your product is different. I bet this is the No. 1 request you get from sales. But if you’re like many companies, analyzing competitors is a tricky undertaking. It’s frowned upon to download a competitor’s product under false pretenses or break the law in any way, so you rely on publicly available materials that are either authored by the competitor or from an expensive third-party source. My advice is to stay above it and simply provide strengths and advantages of your products.

9. Know who the key analysts and market influencers are and how they position your product in the market. Don’t rely exclusively on the analyst relations, public relations or social media teams to give you regular updates on analyst reports or industry articles. You need to take responsibility for knowing who your top influencers are and how they feel about your product, and you can do that by subscribing to their blogs and Twitter feeds. Also, establish a quarterly cadence with those influencers to talk business strategy, product updates, etc. It doesn’t even have to be formal, and some of the best influencing I’ve done is over coffee or standing on a tradeshow floor. Begin with the end in mind: How do you want this conversation to end? Courting these influencers is as critical to your success as educating your sales force. Ever had a deal go south when a customer said that Analyst Firm X hadn’t heard about your product before?

10. Know your product’s release schedule and roadmap and execute product releases on time. Another “duh” moment. But seriously, how many times have you been surprised that a product is ready to release, and you nearly caused a delay in its release? At the company I work for, product management owns the release to marketing/manufacturing date, but product marketing owns the generally available (GA) date when the product is actually live and sellable. There are typically 10 business days between these two dates (with some flexibility on either end), which gives product marketers 10 days to shepherd sales tool updates, marketing programs and sales training through the processes needed to post it all live. To keep up on when the release is coming, attend your product or program manager’s regular release meetings and be prepared with a plan on how you will market the product.

Breaking It Down

Remember the old maxim that you either are in sales or sales support? Master these 10 commandments, and you will be better connected to the business, be able to measure your results with what really matters (bookings), be closer to the customer than you ever thought possible and less likely to have to answer to sales.

Remember, you have execution teams to help you. Leverage them so you can be a marketing representative to the business. Overlaying these commandments on top of the Pragmatic Marketing process—and using the templates and tools available to you—adds rigor, discipline and a professional quality to your role as product marketing and business representative to the marketing department.

Author: Scott Lang

 

 

Knowing Why You Lose Won’t Always Help You Win

Person holding a 'I'm a winner' buttonAlan Armstrong – founder and CEO of Eigenworks, gives you his point-of-view on winning how winning more deals means identifying, capitalizing on and replicating your successes.

Winning more deals means identifying, capitalizing on and replicating your successes.

When you’re unhappy with your win/loss ratio, sales and marketing leaders naturally gravitate toward examining losses to find ways to turn things around. The reasoning is simple: When something’s broken, you look for ways to fix it. Maybe it was the demo, or the price was too high. Maybe you couldn’t fulfill an essential functional requirement, or sales couldn’t overcome the customer’s misperception of your company and/or product. These are all valid issues that come up during a post-mortem on losses, which is typically a conversation between the buyer and sales rep.

A real win/loss analysis is not a sales function. It’s a product marketing or product management function. It means talking directly with customers involved in the purchase decision. Although you can learn a lot by listening to the sales team’s view from the trenches, they rarely have a 360 perspective of the battlefield. Moreover, the customer often won’t fully disclose the reasons for their choices to the sales team. Like most of us ending a relationship, buyers want an easy way to exit the conversation without making anyone uncomfortable—but also without leaving room for the rep to come back with a counter offer. This can color what they say.

Winning more deals means spending more time on deals you have the best chance of winning, and conversely, spending less time on deals you can’t win. It means identifying, capitalizing on and replicating your successes. But the only way to replicate success is to model your successes; losses give you nothing to model.

By examining the details of your successes (rather than simply assuming you had the best product at the best price presented by the best sales rep), you might discover new market niches you hadn’t previously targeted, new use cases that customers have identified on their own, or competitive weaknesses that you can exploit.

 Misunderstood Needs

A win analysis is also more effective than a loss analysis in identifying customers that buy from you in spite of misaligned sales and marketing messages. A web self-service company had once been successful selling its product on the basis of cost savings. Recently, though, the value proposition was finding less traction with customers, either because it was no longer believed or the savings were too small to make a difference. Sales cycles became longer and more unpredictable.

After a detailed win analysis, the client discovered a segment of the market that found a value the product provided, but the company wasn’t actively pitching: customer experience. Yes, the product could reduce call-center costs, but that wasn’t what the segment was interested in. These customers had a high-level mandate to improve customer experience. With this new information, both sales and marketing developed the type of messaging and sales approaches that aligned with the needs of this type of client.

Competitive Intelligence

Win analyses are also a great source of intelligence on competitor weaknesses and strengths. Customers will often share with you the major factors that influenced their decision to choose your product over the competition, in terms of sales process, messaging, product differentiation, price and other factors. If the competition was heavy in your wins, you can learn a lot about what sets you apart. By identifying your strengths (and competitor weaknesses), based on actual customer feedback (rather than the intuition of sales and/or marketing), you can better capitalize on your advantages and emphasize them within the sales process.

But it’s important not to be too complacent about your perceived advantages, because they may be fleeting. You may have won this time, not because your product was seen as being overall better, but because competitors couldn’t provide one key feature that was a deal breaker. The things you think you’re doing particularly well at may not have as much value to the customer as you imagine. Uncovering this information, gleaned from detailed win analyses, can help you anticipate future threats and capitalize on your strengths in a way that better aligns your process with the needs of your customers.

How Can We Win More?

Of course, focusing only on wins will provide the same distorted view into customer needs and your sales process as focusing only on losses. A balance of both wins and losses provides a more complete, actionable picture. When the analysis is done well, you can better model your successes to win more deals and learn from your losses what to avoid. The caveat here, of course, is doing win/loss analysis well.

A balanced win/loss analysis program that focuses equally on wins and losses provides the type of synergy necessary to drive your sales and marketing efforts forward. By modeling your successes, you can develop repeatable processes that increase wins. With that knowledge, loss interviews also can become more productive, because you can test potential changes to see what effects they have on future decisions.

Instead of asking yourself, “why are we losing?” turn the question around. Ask “how can we win more?” That simple change in focus can help you uncover opportunities you never anticipated.

About the Author

Alan Armstrong is founder and CEO of Eigenworks, and specializes in win/loss analysis for enterprise B2B companies. He is a seasoned B2B product management and sales executive with three successful tech exits: Sitraka ($60M to Quest Software in 2002), Wily Technology ($375M to CA in 2006) and Fortiva (to Proofpoint in 2008). Alan has held director and VP roles in product management, marketing, sales and business development. In 2001, Alan co-founded the Toronto Product Management Association. He can be reached at alan@eigenworks.com or www.eigenworks.com.

 

 

Answer those crucial questions you have about B2B product marketers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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