Insights

The business of telling stories (and how to do it)

If you’re in the business of marketing or selling products, then you’re also in the business of telling stories.

Investor and entrepreneur Ben Horowitz once said, “You can have a great product, but a compelling story puts the company into motion.”

As marketers and sellers, we put the product story to work every day. We use it to forge connections with prospects. We rely on it explain why our product matters. And we leverage it to grow our share of today’s scarcest resource, attention.

Stories are powerful. Studies have shown the profound impact that stories have on our brain. Stories not only engage us emotionally but also help build trust and even inspire action. Indeed, B2B buyers are nearly 50% more likely to purchase when they see personal value in a product.

When we rewrote our sales deck earlier this year, we did so by putting our story – not our features – first. And the results we saw confirmed the power of storytelling to drive business outcomes.

But, if you’re not sure what it means to tell your product story, this is easier said than done. Don’t worry, though – we’ve got you covered.

5 steps to telling an effective product story

1. Ditch the list of features and the features matrix.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Prospects don’t care about your product. While your product might be technically impressive, simply calling out your features doesn’t tell prospects why they should pick your product.

We’ve all seen feature matrices like the one below. You find them in product overviews, in sales decks, and even in reports and white papers. Look at it for a minute.

example feature matrix - product story

How does this feature matrix make you feel? Excited to jump into the product? Probably not.

And that’s exactly the point.

A feature matrix shuts down rather than invites conversation. It overwhelms prospects with details about your product without providing any real clues as to the value they might get out of it. And relying on prospects to figure out why your product matters rarely wins you the deal.

2. Put your product story in context.

All great product stories start with context. In order to grab and hold prospects’ attention, you need to establish what’s at stake. You need to show prospects that you intimately understand their situation and know exactly what it will take for them to come out on top.

More than that, naming stakes enables you to answer the question, “Why now?”.  You create urgency by connecting those stakes to the highly positive outcomes prospects will (only) achieve by using your product. Remember, how prospects feel – including the anticipation of professional and personal rewards – impacts how likely they are to purchase.

We use our discovery deck – the deck we present during our first sales call – to establish why our product matters for modern sales and marketing teams. And one of the ways we do that is by pointing out how buyer behavior has changed and the need for sales to get smarter, faster.

changing buyer behavior - product story

Putting our product in context shifts the conversation from why our product is a nice-to-have to why it’s a must-have. And the highly positive outcome we’re pitching? To win in today’s buyer- driven world, businesses need real-time insight into the content that’s fueling the sales funnel.

3. Understand why customers hire your product.

Your customers are your best resource for getting to the heart of your product’s value. That is, what problem do customers solve with your product? And what makes your product the right solution for the job?

One of the tools we use to answer those questions is “Job Stories.” Job Stories focuses on capturing situations, motivations, and outcomes. The result typically looks something like this: When [situation]happens, customers want to do [job or motivation] to accomplish [outcome].

Here’s an example of how Salesflare describes the job that customers hire their product to do. The job story below might read, When sales reps are closing deals, they want customer data at their fingertips, so they have full visibility into the relationship.

salesflare product story job stories

When it comes to selling software, many times the only thing your customers share in common is the job they want to get done. And knowing why customers hire your product provides invaluable insight into what stories and what messages resonate with them.

A good product story weaves together what your product does with why your product matters.

4. Repeat your product story often.

Once you get started telling your product story, it’s often tempting to continually invent shiny new ones for different scenarios. Resist the urge to do so.

Why? Because the secret to good storytelling is consistency.

You need to tell the same story over and over again to actually be heard. The power of repetition is the bedrock of marketing principles like the “Rule of 7” or Thomas Smith’s Successful Advertising.

Take a look at Intercom’s story. Their mission is to make business personal again – and they tell their story in blog posts, on landing pages, at live events, and elsewhere. While they might repackage ideas for different mediums, the core message stays the same.

intercom product story landing page

When a customer purchases your product, they end up buying part of your story. That is, your product becomes part of how they realize the story you’ve just told. And it is to your advantage to tell your story wherever and whenever you can – throughout the funnel and across channels and formats.

5. Measure, learn, and iterate.

While consistency might be key, it doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon what’s been said before. In fact, the goal should always be to refine your product story and to bring clarity to what’s at stake. But you need to do so with a plan and data in hand.

You can measure the power of your product story in a number of ways. Methods we use include getting user feedback, conducting A/B tests, and measuring content performance. For sales content, we regularly use metrics like time spent per page, average percent viewed, and dropoff rate to keep a pulse on engagement.

DocSend sales content metrics - product story

We’re constantly testing whenever and wherever we can. Just like your product, your product story can and should evolve. Actively optimize how you tell your product story, what words you use, and where you feature what parts of your story.

Remember, a good product story starts and ends with your customers. And they – their preferences, attitudes, and emotions – are absolutely subject to change.

Crafting a good product story is hard

It’s not easy to come up with a product story that’s just right the first time around. In the beginning, it often feels like a shot in the dark – and, sometimes, it is. It takes time to move past the what and how of your product and to really nail why your product matters.

Our best advice? Take the time to get to know your market, your customers, and even your product. And make that learning process part of what it means to tell your story. We’ve seen incredible lifts from sharing our product story, and we rely on feedback – both critical and positive – to continue telling a story that’s meaningful for us and for our prospects.

How have you leveraged storytelling? And what’s worked best for you?

To view the source of the article: https://www.docsend.com/blog/5-steps-telling-product-story/

Boost enterprise sales with leads from product trials

A majority of SaaS companies that I have built products for have brought their products to market with a sales led G2M motion. The sales reps would source new customers through outbound efforts and engaging their professional network. This method was great when we were trying to find product-market fit as the sales reps were close to the customer and we had easy access to interview the customers we engaged with.

However, as our business grew we ran into challenges efficiently scaling our G2M efforts. We did all the right things. We invested more into marketing and reduced the size of the sales team and as a result gained some customer acquisition cost (CAC) efficiencies. Marketings goals were to get more customers speaking with sales reps. Once the deal was done, the customer then got access to our product.

We thought we had it all figured out, but a new problem emerged. There was a growing gap between what customers thought our product could do for them and what it actually did. As a result we now struggled with keeping our top-line ARR as our customer churn rates were too high. We were stuck in the SaaS grind of acquiring customers knowing that we couldn’t serve them well. We beefed up our customer success organization, trying to patch the revenue leak and ended up increasing our operational costs to deliver our product.

Many SaaS companies find themselves in this same situation and I want to share there is hope.

To get out of the SaaS grind, you must address the customer expectation gap by getting customers into your product earlier in the buying cycle. This is achieved by offering either a free trial version of your product, or providing access to your product during a POC period.

To make this transition both effective and efficient from a cost perspective, you need to update your marketing and sales operations to account for leads who are in a trial period by:

  1. Mapping buyer journey to sales process

With your current process, you track a lead’s lifecycle in your marketing automation and CRM systems. Using this setup, you set the following lead statuses along the way; Lead, MQL, SQL, Opportunity, Customer. You now need to incorporate a new state; where the lead is in a trial state within your product, either having started a free trial, or have been provided access to a POC.

The first step is to decide collectively between your marketing, product and sales team how to categorize a user who has signed up for a trial. Should they be considered a lead? When should sales engage? When do they qualify as an opportunity?

Given you are aligning the activities across multiple departments, it’s recommended you start by documenting your buyers journey and how it aligns with your sales process. For each stage in the process, who is responsible for what activities. With this shared understanding you can now paint the process together on how to incorporate trial users into this process.

Find below a simplified example where each stage in the buyer journey is mapped and how the trial users can be incorporated. The goal is to align your teams and provide visibility into conversion rates at each stage to know where to optimize the process.

Example: Buyer Journey mapped to Sales Process

2. Measuring Product Qualified Leads™

Not all trial user are ideal candidates to become customers and as a result you don’t want your sales teams to engage deeply with every user who signs up for a trial account. Just as you had implemented the concept of Marketing Qualified Leads based on the person’s demographics, firmographics and marketing content consumption, you now can create the equivalent based on the features they use in your product.

Your product’s role just got much more important to the sales process.

You now want to define the set of features your customers can use to realize value, also known as the “first mile of product”. When your trial user adopts specific features, you can then categorize them as a Product Qualified Lead™. When trial user reaches the defined threshold of product feature activity, you can then notify your sales team to engage.

3. Creating the Product & Sales Handoff

This step is where your planning meets your execution. Now that your teams are aligned on the process and you’re able to use your product to identify qualified leads, you need to make it easy for your sales teams to know when a trial user is ready to buy.

In your CRM, you need to have the information you sales teams need to properly engage with the lead. In addition to the demographic and firmographic information on the trial users, you will want to provide your sales team with what features they used in your product. Triggered alerts can be sent to lead owners when trial users become product qualified and specific views can be created to help prioritize their engagements.

Armed with this information, your sales team now have a more complete picture of what challenges the prospect is looking to address with your product and can offer the best package to fit their needs. You have also allowed your customer to realize the value of your product first-hand and set value expectations to make them a happy life-long customer.

In this article, we cover the marketing and sales operations changes to incorporate a free-trial or POC within your enterprise sales process. For a complete guide to using your product to accelerate growth, download a free copy of our book Mastering Product Experience.

To view the source, please visit https://intrinsicpoint.com/boost-enterprise-sales-with-leads-from-product-trials-aa9a5f87e5c4

5 Growth KPIs Every Product Marketing Manager Should Know

Author: David Daniels, BrainKraft @ BrainKraft.com

How do you measure the impact product marketing has on your business? It’s a common question I get. Most of those questions are in response to pressure by bosses wanting attribution metrics. That is, data to prove that a given marketing effort has an impact on the business in a positive way.

Measuring a direct correlation is possible but it’s far easier to measure in the aggregate. That way you’re reporting on trends rather than incidents. You want to use KPIs that correlate to the business goals for the products you’re supporting. In other words, don’t measure things that don’t matter.

There are 5 basic KPIs I recommend you monitor. Each one brings something to the table to help you figure out what’s working and what’s not. This is a good starter list of KPIs, but it isn’t a complete list by a long shot. The list is limited in scope to what product marketing should focus on.

Customer Lifetime Value (LTV)

Customer Lifetime Value (LTV) is a high-level KPI. It’s a trending indicator, like your weight, cholesterol, or blood pressure. In this case though, a higher LTV is better. It means that each customer, on average, is spending more money with you. It means your business is getting healthier.

A declining LTV could be the result of competitive pressure or there could be excessive discounting. If all competitors are experiencing declining LTV it could be an indicator of a declining product category.

 

LTV = Sum (amount each customer spends until they leave) / # of customers that have left

 

Example:

LTV = ($250,000 + $375,000 + $225,000) / 3 = $850,000 / 3 = $283,333

What I like about LTV is it can be easily calculated from past data. Ask your Finance team to pull the data for you from the last few years and see where it’s trending.

Close Rate

The close rate tells you how many qualified leads actually close and become customers. A higher close rate is better. It means there is a higher efficiency in acquiring customers and it’s being done at a lower cost.

Lower close rates could be an indicator of a poor product-market fit or a sales enablement gap.

You need to decide where you begin the measurement of a close rate. Some organizations use a marketing qualified lead (MQL) as the starting point and some use a sales qualified lead (SQL) as a starting point.

 

To calculate the close rate using SQLs, your formula looks like this…

 

Close Rate = # deals closed / # SQLs

 

Example:

 

Close Rate = 320 deals closed / 1,000 SQLs = 32%

 

Average Cost per Lead (CPL)

The cost per lead is an indicator of lead gen performance. A lower cost per lead is good. A higher cost per lead is not as good. The goal is to generate the best leads at the lowest cost while increasing close rates.

You can calculate CPL based on MQL or SQL. The game for your sales team doesn’t start until there’s an MQL, so that’s the minimum threshold. Take the total cost of marketing programs to get MQLs and divided it by the number of MQLs acquired.

 

CPL = Money spent to acquire MQLs / # MQLs acquired

 

Example:

 

CPL = $500,000 / 850 = $588

 

Average Contract Value (ACV)

The average contract value is the average amount of money per transaction. Think of shopping at a grocery store. There are hundreds of people who go to the grocery store each day. If you take all the sales generated for the day and divided it by the number transactions, you get the average contract value.

 

ACV = Sum (value of deals closed) / # of deals

 

Example:

 

ACV = ($150,000 + $200,000 + $175,000) / 3 = $175,000

 

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

Customer acquisition cost is like CPL only bigger. It adds the cost associated with going from awareness all the way to a close. A higher CAC is generally thought of as bad but that’s not  always true. The CAC can rise as long as the corresponding ACV goes up too.

 

CAC = Sum (all marketing and sales costs) / # customers acquired

 

All marketing and sales cost includes salaries, promotional costs, commissions, and any other costs associated with acquiring a customer. If you calculate your CAC on a monthly basis, you can monitor trends. It’s not an exact science because there’s an assumption that near term  marketing efforts turn into near term customers. It’s not perfect but it definitely trends over time.

 

Example

 

CAC = Sum ($50,000 marketing cost + $25,000 sales cost) / 5 customers = $15,000

 

It’s bad when the CAC is greater than the ACV, like the parody of SliceLine on the TV show Silicon Valley. You can’t make money if the cost to deliver pizzas is $10 and cost to buy them is $9.

In the example, we’ve calculated a CAC of $15,000. If the ACV is below $15,000 then you have a business decision to make. It might be a strategic play to accept deals that are under water to optimize for profit later. It might be a bad business model. Or, there could be leaks that need to be plugged.

 

Putting it All Together

Think of this list of KPIs as basic diagnostics, like when you visit a doctor. The doctor gets measurements from you to evaluate the status of your health. You know from experience the initial collection of data can result in more diagnostic tests to pinpoint an illness.

The reason I’m using this analogy is that I just returned from the doctor’s office. I have a small scratch on my cornea which was diagnosed after a secondary set of diagnostic tests. It occurred to me this is a perfect metaphor for product marketing KPIs.

Using multiple KPIs is important. It allows you to compare how KPIs correlate to each another. One KPI can be great while another KPI is bad.

 

Example:

Assume that you have a Cost per Lead of $300. Your finance team has decided the cost per lead is too high and you need to bring the cost down. Over 6 months your team has dropped the CPL down to $50. High fives are in order because it’s the lowest CPL you’ve ever documented. The CFO is thrilled. But he’s noticed something else.

You now have a Close Rate of 10%, which by any measure is abysmal. It used to be better. In January the close rate was 30% and trending higher. What went wrong?
You can’t diagnose the problem yet, but you have data to analyze. You graph the CPL against the Close Rate from the past 6 months.

Uh-oh. You see where the problem started and can figure out the right treatment to help the sick patient.

We can’t be absolutely certain there is causation to the correlation, but it sure does stink. It requires more investigation but now you have data, not a guess.

If you were tracking CPL against the close rate on a monthly basis, you would have spotted the trend sooner.

Summary

There is an endless supply of relevant KPIs. Don’t get lost in analysis paralysis. Pick a handful of KPIs that are meaningful to your business model and to the goals of your organization.

 

Planning a Launch: Communicate Globally, Execute Locally

By Rich Nutinsky, master instructor at Pragmatic Marketing

Planning and executing any product launch is daunting, but planning and executing a global product launch increases the size and scope by an order of magnitude. Not only are there differences in geography and language to consider, there is also the local calendar. And that’s just the beginning.
First, you have to identify the problem you want to solve. Does it exist for people in other geographic locations? Will your product universally solve that problem?
You will need to conduct market research to answer those questions. But remember, conducting research on your home turf won’t allow you to extrapolate information that is relevant to other geographies; the problem you’ve identified may not be an issue there.

 While there are plenty of variables, global launches generally fall into two main categories: phased and big bang. Big-bang launches, which indicate a simultaneous launch in all markets, are the rarest and most problematic. From a project-planning perspective, the more complex and larger an effort, the higher the probability of failure.
 It is virtually impossible to take a one-size-fits-all approach; most launch activities simply don’t lend themselves to a big centralized push across markets. Ideally, planning should be done locally and integrated into a comprehensive plan. If you plan for a launch in North America and expect to duplicate it in another region, you won’t be successful. It’s important to plan a variety of phased local launches that take into account the unique needs of each region. Here’s a sampling of what to consider in this phased approach.
Regional Considerations
Global launches are often staggered by geography, and the tasks that must be accomplished for each region will drive their launch dates. For example, are there language translations and content modifications to consider? What about legal registrations, trademarks and branding?
When I managed the global launch of a new line of products, something as simple as considering a region’s holidays and buying cycles created immense complexity around timing the launch. Planning and execution of messaging was also a challenge.
Naming the product was another challenge because for every jurisdiction we wanted to enter, we had to make sure that we could use the same product name. If someone had already registered that name or a domain, we’d be back at square one.
These challenges were unbelievably detailed and required assembling a team with global representation, including marketing resources from the different geographies.

“Depending on the geography, product categories may be in different stages of their life cycles.”

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Product Life Cycles
 All products and product categories go through a life cycle: new, growth, mature, decline. Where your product and product category are in their life cycles will affect how you go to market. If your product is in a new, innovative category, your approach to launch will be much different than if you are in a mature product category where a lot of people already have the product.
This is important because depending on the geography, product categories may be in different stages of their life cycles. Therefore, you will want to localize the approach, message and timing of your launch to coincide with the specifics of a particular geographic market. You might include some activities in Asia, for example, that you wouldn’t include in North America.
The Buyer
As you look at global markets, you will find that customers use different decision levers depending where they are. They will buy differently in the Middle East than in North America, and Latin America will be different from Asia.
For example, in some regions companies guard the identity of their actual decision-makers from vendors to gain an advantage during the buying process. In other regions, discounts are a routine incentive. Because the differences can be profound, it’s important to understand whether a strong relationship is required to buy, or whether the decision is a straightforward economic one based on ROI.
Many businesses also discover that buying in a government environment is much different from buying in a commercial market. Not only are the processes defined differently, but the roles and players may change as well. Navigating all the red tape can become as challenging as delivering a compelling value proposition.
Distribution Channels
With all these variables, it often makes sense to employ different distribution channels in different markets. For example, launching a product in Japan through a Japanese channel partner will involve a very different set of steps and activities than if you work with your direct sales force. And if you want to do a regional launch in Europe, multilingual and multi-currency availability are key. But in the U.S. it doesn’t mean a thing. When you go to market, the messages you want to deliver, the value propositions you want to create, must be localized by geography.
Major launches by companies like Apple may appear to be global. But if you look carefully, they usually kick off with a global marketing launch well in advance of the product’s availability. In terms of when customers can get their hands on the new product and how it is delivered, the timing is usually staggered because of the approvals that are required across a variety of jurisdictions.
At a software company based in northern Europe, we twice tried unsuccessfully to expand into North America before determining that we needed to have local resources in North America to be successful. Once we got established in North America, we focused on expanding into the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. Finally, we looked at Central America. Through that focus we were successful.
The bottom line?  It makes sense for most businesses to expand their footprint into markets one at a time. You need to consider the risk, complexity and localization involved in your launch. And even when you communicate globally, it generally makes a lot more sense to execute locally.

Product Innovation is Not About Taking Risks; It’s About Reducing them

Author: Cate Zovod from Cognizant Accelerator

And Product Marketers are Key to Risk Reduction

There’s a scene in Steven Spielberg’s epic historical drama “Lincoln” in which abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens is chastising the President for making perceived compromises on the morally unambiguous issue of racial equality. Lincoln explains the means to the end – ensuring the passage of the 13th amendment:

“A compass, I learned when I was surveying, it’ll point you true north from where you’re standing, but it’s got no advice about the swamps, deserts and chasms that you’ll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp… what’s the use of knowing true north?”

There are known and proven disciplines for building products. A good product manager knows the latitude and longitude of the destination, how many covered wagons they are going to need and how long it will take to get there. But as their product marketing partner, you can map the route that is going to avoid the swamps and deserts – known and unknown. Whether you are in a bootstrapping startup or (in my case) one of the world’s largest technology services companies, you will encounter Terrain, and no matter how good your cell coverage, you will find yourself in places that are not showing up on your GPS.

I am a product marketing startup advisor in a product accelerator in a leading professional services company. I have the privilege of working with deep domain experts who, with a service-delivery mindset, tend to be more customer-centric than their counterparts in traditional software companies. However, repeatable product development and delivery is new territory, and I have learned that where I can provide immediate value is to reduce the risk – or perception of risk – from what we build. How? Through thorough research (quantitative and qualitative), real, meaningful customer conversations and strategic, intentional engagement with the internal and external business partners who are critical to your product’s success.

Risk: Poor decisions are made based on erroneous assumptions

Validate Every Assumption

Think like a VC. What would you personally need to know about this product to invest in it? After all, you will be investing all of your workday time and effort into making it successful.

Establish the urgency of the specific market problem that the product addresses by talking to customers and industry experts. Oftentimes in doing so, you will uncover other, more urgent problems that can feedback directly into product direction and scoping. Scoping not only means pinpointing what particular part of the problem the

product is addressing, but also asking honestly whether your business has the will, expertise and strategic alignment to build it, and just as importantly, to sell it repeatedly. Comb the business and product plans for assumptions, and design your interview scripts to validate – and poke at – anything that is being represented as fact.

Be clear about the intent of the customer conversation going in. What phase of product research and validation are you in? Is this a preliminary meeting to validate that there is pain in this area, are you looking for feedback on feature prioritization, or are you road testing key messages for launch? How would your customers perceive and measure the value you are promising to deliver, and would they pay for it?

Most importantly, are you hearing consistent themes? One customer interview does not comprise product validation. Several interviews with customers all representing different roles or saying different things also doesn’t reduce risk. What counts is finding the same profile of customer saying the same thing, multiple times. Only then can you check the box on that particular assumption.

Assumption Risk Reduction Checklist

· Customer interview questions for assumption validation

o New Product Idea

o Proposed Solution Approach and Roadmap

o Pricing and Packaging, Market Acceptance Criteria

o Messaging

· Database or spreadsheet to capture and analyze feedback in aggregate for team review and pattern recognition

Risk: Just because you build it doesn’t meant they’re gonna sell it

Boost your Signal to your Most Important Channels

An important area of derisking that product marketing can get ahead of is field acceptance of your product. In large, multi-product companies, your field sales organization is bombarded with messages and “to-do’s.” Give them a reason to believe. First and foremost, build a great product that gives them something new, compelling, and problem-solving to talk about.

Assuming all of your company’s products are well-conceived and designed, you need to go a step further to rise above the noise.

Do everything it takes to make the people who own the relationships with your potential customers comfortable selling new products. Engage key field personnel early in your product’s journey so they feel a sense of ownership. Caucus with them prior to customer validations. Bring them with you.

This becomes especially important if you are in the unfortunate but not uncommon position of having to rebuild credibility after a failed initiative or underperforming product performance.

When planning early budget towards a launch, ask for funding to be set aside to spiff your channels. Short of executive mandate to sell, you need to prime the pump, especially if your product is perceived as “harder” to sell because it addresses a new market or leverages new and not well-understood technologies.

Channel Engagement Risk Reduction Checklist

· New Product Introduction Plan

o Field engagement in customer research (invitations and results-sharing)

o Incentive structure including spiffs

o Sales and channel training, enablement and certification

o Proper sku set-up and representation in CRM

Risk: Investment does not translate into immediate outcome

Meter your Asks and Tie them to Successes

The metered ask is a common paradigm in venture capital. The startup receives more funding as key milestones are reached. Both investor and company alike are reducing risk because they are investing in traction.

Your requests for product marketing support, whether pipe generation campaign dollars, PR launches, access to customer communications channels, staffing – can follow this model too. Be thoughtful about when to ask for support from other Centers of Excellence (PR, Events, Sales Enablement), and build in some kind of quid pro quo when you are incorporating their activities into your launch plans. In exchange for their resources, you can provide a list of customer betas; your product briefing can secure supportive analyst quotes around the company’s strategy; perhaps you can make introductions to clients for case study development. Build incremental success metrics into your plans: number of pilots or free trials secured; conversion rates from beta to full contract; customer advocates identified; sales reps certified, etc.

Go-to-Market Risk Reduction Checklist

· Launch Plan and Budget

o Metered Success Metrics (if…then…)

o Marketing resource quid pro quo (give to get)

o Naming and Branding – trademark checks

There are market and operational risks you can prepare for, but can’t control, such as new competitive entrants and macro economic changes. But there are many risks you can minimize. By making a concerted effort to do so, you are also derisking your own job performance. You will be a more effective Product Marketer when you are confidently targeting the right people with the right message. You will be a more trusted partner to sales and marketing when you are quantifying gains in their areas. Most importantly, you can play a central role in ensuring your company’s success with a strategic, high profile initiative such as a new product launch.

Arms tied behind my back, if I could do only one marketing activity it’d be this

Author: Zak Pines, VP Marketing Bedrock

If I was allowed just one marketing activity – it would be customer interviews.

Not just any customer interview – a customer interview process whereby you leverage those interviews as content across all stages of the buying process.

Here’s how I approach these:

Step 1 – Work with customer success team to identify customers to interview – could be as soon as when customers have completed successful on-boarding

Step 2 – Interview the customer over the phone (usually 30-45 mins). Questions go back to how the customer knew they had a problem they needed to solve, who did they involve in the decision, how did they talk about the problem, how did they find your company – straight through to how they implemented it, and what benefits they are seeing or expecting to see.

Step 3 – Edit into a conversation style interview, provide to customer to edit/approve, publish & promote (about an hr, plus promotion).

So in less than 2 hours you have quality content, in the customer’s language, authentically speaking to all stages of the buying process.

These are some recent examples from Bedrock Data:

Now why would I choose this as the one and only?  It just does so many positive things.  Here are eight ways these help you:

#1 – Credibility content for sales

Great content for sales team to use to build credibility around specific use cases – in Bedrock Data’s case you are trying to integrate say, HubSpot and NetSuite – here’s an interview we did with our customer talking about how they approached the project, some of the challenges they faced and how they got around it.

Providing prospects with content that is relevant to specific to their situation – both in the problem they are trying to solve and the types of questions they would like to answer –is the best way to deliver value to your prospect while also overcoming the natural, and ever growing, lack of trust for vendor written content.

#2 – Conversational content to help prospects move through buying process

To that point of mistrust for vendor content, I find prospects are much more likely relate to the conversational style Q&A format of these articles, then overproduced case study templates. There is a true authenticity to the content which helps to break through the skepticism towards vendor content. And, ironically, it’s much faster to pump out these Q&A style articles then it would be to format into “traditional” case studies.

#3 – Proof points for website

These interviews cover every stage of the buying process, including questions around how the company helped the customer. These quotes become great proof point quotes to sprinkle into a website. You get them as a byproduct of conducting the interview and producing the content.

#4 – Quality SEO content

Each of these articles is keyword rich content, speaking to the problems your company solves. Using that word authentic again, they are an authentic way build out quality content as part of your SEO strategy.

#5 – Long form content to mine from / repurpose

Since the articles themselves are approved, published interviews – they create an asset for you for your marketing team to mine and pull from over time. As you add more team members, even interns, they can easily repurpose fro the topics covered in these articles – e.g. a composite piece on a specific topic, or a specific pull quote to address a specific prospect’s question down the road.

#6 – Helps create customer advocates

I’ve found the customers really appreciate the process of being interviewed, and then seeing their experience packaged up into an article. Oftentimes it gives something they can share internally with colleagues as a way to demonstrate the success they have had in the engagement.

Nearly all of the people I’ve interviewed have been happy to serve as reference accounts for Bedrock Data, and have helped to spread positive word about the company through word of mouth – references, webinars, events and social media.

#7 – Build out your buying journey map and customer specific semantics

The interviews also serve as continuous, first-party research to keep your pulse on the customer buying journey, Whether formal or informal, you can continuously evolve your understanding of the buyer journey. This interviews also serve as launching points for keyword ideas, customer stories for sales conversations and topics for other marketing programs.

#8 – It’s fun and rewarding

Lastly this work has been tremendously fun and rewarding. It comes across as a major win-win for everyone involved.

Bedrock Data benefits from the customer stories and customer advocates.

And every time I’ve felt that the customer gets a lot out of it, including as I already mentioned a testimonial of sorts for their own project for them to share.  I’ve been thrilled to see customers being so engaged by the experience that, without solicitation, they continued to spread the word about Bedrock Data. =

For example Luque Wang repurposed his article in this LinkedIn post, and Amanda Daume packaged her interview into an article on her own blog here.

Not too shabby for less than two hours of work, right?

The Quest for Agility Changes Buying Approaches

Author: Hank Barnes from Gartner 

As organizations look to become more agile, we are seeing changing in buying approaches–but all is not well.   In a recent Gartner survey, we discovered that our 506 respondents (in mid-sized enterprises or larger) had considered over 8000 significant software purchases (25K+ or 50K+ depending on organization size) in the past two years.   Most importantly, 43% of them were ad hoc buying efforts—efforts that were not tied to strategic plans or existing budget commitments.

Generally (I will be diving deeper into this in research for clients), the completion rate–that is the license is bought or the SaaS contract is signed–is about the same for ad hoc and planned purchases.   Consider that again.   Organizations are as likely to buy something that they consider on the fly as they are for something that they had planned for.

Is that agility or is that a sign of problems?   We think it may be a little of both.

Certainly, it is a good thing if an organization realizes that their needs have changed or addressing one thing is more urgent than another (I blogged about urgency late last year and now have research published for Gartner clients).   But if the pattern indicates an inability to act and thrashing in their buying efforts, then that is a problem.

Research from CEB (now Gartner) showed that B2B customers (not just for technology) typically experience that buying efforts take twice as long as they anticipated.

BuyCycleTime

And, even when they complete a purchase, many feel regret with the decision (largely that they “settled” for something that was less than ideal).

The implications seem clear.  Even as organizations try to move faster, they often move slower.   A willingness to be agile invites them to consider new ideas, but they have not mastered the process of prioritization.  They have not mastered the process of how to buy (many feel they are in a constant quest for more information–but never really know when they have the information they need).   They have not mastered the art of building consensus–resulting in the perception that pet projects are being pushed rather than what is most important.   And what is most important seems to be nebulous and constantly changing.

This presents similarly mixed implications for providers.  On the one hand, organizations are willing to adapt and change–you don’t have to get your project in the strategic plan to be considered.  But on the other hand, to win, your battling other projects, shifting priorities, and lots of buyer uncertainty.    Providers that can help buyers navigate these waters, prescribing paths to success and value, will experience less frustration, less stalled (or no decision) deals, and more satisfied customers.

There is a lot more in the survey that our team will be exploring in upcoming research (like the urgency note).  It will also be the focal point for one of my presentations that the upcoming Gartner Tech Growth and Innovation Conference, April 30-May 2.  Join us as I explore the issues of “broken buying” and what can be done about it.

HEY B2B MARKETERS—THINK MORE B2C IN 2018

Author: Sanjay Castelino is vice president of marketing at Spiceworks.

Want more success in B2B marketing? Start thinking like a B2C marketer.

Far too often, B2B marketers mistake customers for a business. To influence customers’ purchase decisions, B2B marketers don’t typically imbue any of the personal and emotional qualities that consumer marketers understand so well. As a result, we see too many boring whitepapers, stale websites, and dry content that no one wants to read.

B2B marketers have to understand who the person is behind the business walls, what they care about, and their needs. The customer isn’t some inanimate entity. There’s a real person on the other end of the line.

Spot the problems in B2B marketing

There are many things B2B marketers do that you’d rarely see in B2C marketing—things like sending a cold sales email that says, “Can I get five minutes of your time?” This is the equivalent of robo telemarketing calls in B2C.

There’s also too much control over information—B2B marketers with the attitude of “I won’t tell you the price of this product unless you talk to me in depth.” Imagine walking into a retail store and the staff saying: “We can’t give you a price unless you share your buying habits, tell us you’re interested, and confirm you have the budget to buy our products.”

B2B marketers often create barriers to selling their products because they believe only qualified businesses deserve more information. Sure, B2B marketers can only invest certain resources into prospects who are well-qualified, but we shouldn’t create so many impediments for customers making purchase decisions. That only makes B2B consumers not want to buy from you.

Four B2C tactics to apply to B2B

As B2B marketers, we can adopt some B2C approaches to up our game and better serve our customers.

1.  Get to know your customers based on demographics, not just firmographics.

In B2B, marketers often define customer segments and personas based on firmographics, but the personas within those segments need to include demographic data as well. We have to get to know our customers as people by understanding their roles and helping them accomplish what they need professionally and personally. B2C does a good job of understanding the customer, why they buy, and what they’re getting out of it. In B2B, we typically only talk about business value. We rarely attempt to get to know the person at a level that goes beyond their job. B2B can do a much better job of that.

2. Avoid lazy, robo-calling marketing efforts.

Best-in-class B2C marketing avoids robo-calling and blasting, “Are you the right person?” emails. That’s just lazy marketing. Because B2B marketers view the customer as an entity, not a person, they don’t calculate the brand damage this causes. Meanwhile, B2C marketers are creating brands customers want to be connected to because they have great products, great experiences, or they stand for something they care about. Excluding a handful of brands, B2B does not do that well and should take a page from the B2C playbook to communicate better with customers. And by customers, I again mean people.

3. Measure outcomes, not just clicks.

In B2C, you’ll often find marketers measuring outcomes. For example, TripAdvisor sends an email for a trip to Hawaii, the customer clicks on it, and then makes a booking. That’s a linear transaction driven by marketing efforts. That normally doesn’t happen in B2B, where customers see an ad, click on it, and buy it immediately. So, understanding value in marketing is more difficult. But every B2B business should have a model in place to measure marketing outcomes, such as how you’re influencing customers. Instead of measuring clicks and leads, measure the path to revenue and understand how many people you’ve influenced from your key accounts over a given period of time. There’s no one-size-fits all model, so marketers have to understand what makes the most sense for their business.

4. Get more creative on social media.

When it comes to social media, it’s fair to say that B2C marketers generate more interesting, entertaining, and fun content that customers want to engage with, even when they’re not in a buying cycle. Think about Wendy’s, they’re not just selling their burger, but rather an experience with their brand through humor and light-hearted banter with their competitors. In B2B, we often see self-serving case studies and product information on social media. Rarely do you see content that highlights a company’s culture, speaks to industry trends, or is just simply entertaining. But there’s still tremendous value in activating B2B customers that way. Some B2B brands like Adobe already do this well by taking their content beyond their products.

Ultimately, because B2B marketers think of their customers as inhuman entities, and not real people, they often to fail to activate their brands and influence their customers. That can change if B2B takes a more B2C approach and actually engages with the humans behind the corporate banners.

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

Author: Dennis Chepurnov

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

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

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

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

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

SaaS pricing and delivery make it easier for customers to invest in and—unfortunately for software vendors—divest from new software solutions.
The SaaS deployment model reduces the post-sale touch points with the vendor, for better or for worse.
SaaS has altered customer behaviors and expectations, even with non-SaaS products.
Although SaaS often costs more in the long run, buyers like it because it simplifies their lives. Vendors like SaaS because revenue is more predictable and often requires less involvement of professional services, which can be hard to estimate and staff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are four thoughts to consider:

Customer retention is not the refunds department. Sales and marketing professionals are acutely aware that it costs more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one, yet many organizations still view retention as a reactive measure used to salvage unhappy customers. Instead, customer retention should be a strategic marketing function to match demand-gen. Customer retention should work closely with product marketing, campaigns, sales and services groups to develop programs and touch points that actively help customers reach their business objectives and move forward.
Don’t stop being strategic after your prospect becomes a customer. Many organizations shift to end-user marketing after the purchase (“here is our feature-of-the-week email campaign”). Facilitating end-user adoption is important, but not at the cost of ignoring decision-makers. After the go- live, your target buyers are still there, evaluating your product for success. Are you confident they will still believe they picked the right vendor when they pay your next invoice? It’s important to stay engaged in their efforts and continue to add value and inspire them. For example, developing and sharing a maturity model can help position your products alongside their long-term strategic business objectives and establish a framework for partnership going forward.

Think of it as a buying cycle within the buying cycle. Many organizations “buy to try” SaaS solutions and look for rapid proof of value as an indicator of success. Think of it as an early proof of concept at stage 3. If your organization can proactively take on some of that burden of proof, you stand a better chance of turning stage 3 into stage 7.

Celebrate the contract. It’s a big deal to sign a paying customer, and a lot of people work hard to make it happen. But for customers, the purchase is just the beginning, and your team should view it as a milestone for your marketing strategy, not the end goal.

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