Oct 13

How to Create Great Content without Exploding Your Team

A Webinar with Hugh Taylor

Content can help you generate leads and build market awareness, but it can be a challenge to develop content that represents your team’s complete go-to-market vision.  Content creation amplifies team disagreements over message and value proposition.   It does not need to be this way, however. In this webinar, Hugh Taylor will present his approach to resolving the inevitable team conflicts that arise in content development.  Based on his experience writing content for large technology companies, Taylor will highlight a number of proven best practices for bringing a team together to create effective content, including:

-          The message framework process.

-          The role of the subject matter expert (SME).

-          The importance of planning for reviews and approval authority.

-          The need to seek and destroy toxic internal conflicts e.g. engineers vs. marketers.

Watch on Demand

About the Presenter

Hugh Taylor has written marketing content for such clients as Microsoft, IBM, HP, SAP, Google and Advanced Micro Devices.   Prior to launching his freelance writing practice, Taylor served as Social Software Evangelist for IBM Software Group, Public Relations Manager for Microsoft’s SharePoint Technologies and VP of Marketing at several venture-backed startups.  He is the author of B2B Technology Marketing as well as other books on the role of technology in business.

www.hughtaylor.com

Aug 26

Humanizing the Buyer’s Journey

As featured in Mktr2Mktr.com

 

Humanizing the Buyer’s Journey

Using content to attract sales leads requires a deep dive into the human psyche. It wasn’t always this way, but as concepts such as the buyer’s journey and gated content become the norm, competition for attention has intensified. It’s not good enough anymore to dangle a white paper and expect prospects to volunteer to be contacted in exchange for a download.

Finding Worthwhile Leads

Characteristics of worthwhile leads

Fig. 1: Characteristics of a worthwhile lead

To find a worthwhile lead, we need to reach the right person at the right time with content that answers the buyer’s personal information needs. Figure 1 depicts this targeting, also showing that the right kind of content will align with the business imperatives faced by the sales prospect. When we can hit this target, we will have found a lead worth contacting.

The risks from incorrectly targeted leads include wasted effort and misspent budget. Even if you’re paying $2 per click to reach people who are not in a buying mode and do not find your material to be an answer to their specific, immediate information needs, you will be wasting money. There’s another dimension to this potential problem, too, which is to have the right content but misunderstand how to attract the right kind of eyeballs. The content marketing challenge is two-fold. Not only do only do you have to have good content, you have to promote it effectively. To avoid these common content marketing traps, we need to get inside the lead’s head.

Humanize the Buyer’s Journey – Get Inside the Minds of Your Leads

content marketing for leads

Fig. 2: Content marketing satisfies a progression of needs and personal responses from the lead

The good news for us is that the lead’s head is usually pretty easy to open up and explore. I would say, “It’s not brain surgery,” but there is a certain amount of cerebral exploration needed. Most leads are under some sort of pressure to solve a business problem. For instance, an IT infrastructure manager might be tasked with cutting costs of cloud hosting. That is his or her business imperative, shown in Figure 2 as the “We have to…” start of a search for content. The business imperative leads to an information quest. “We have to” becomes “I need to.”

It’s critical to understand this group-to-personal hand-off when devising a content marketing campaign. The lead is invariably an individual who works for an organization. The lead’s personal information needs line up with those of the organization but they are not the same. As content marketers, we can turn potential energy into an actual lead when match the buyer’s “I need to” with content that fits the buyer’s “I respond to” criteria.

Developing Content that Speaks to the Personal Needs of Your Prospects

The content we develop has to speak to the lead’s information quest. For example, an infrastructure manager may not want to register for a white paper titled Making DevOps Work in the Cloud. It’s related to his or her information quest but it’s not actually addressing it. A paper about cloud DevOps is not well targeted to the IT manager buyer persona. Instead, that buyer might respond to a paper called Budget Cutting Best Practices in the Enterprise Cloud.

Finally, with the right content, we have to attract the lead’s attention. We have to ask “What will the buyer respond to?” through the content development and campaign execution processes. We have to align the lead’s “I respond to” with his or her “I notice” in order to generate a useful lead registration. This is a nuanced game. We want to get clicks and registrations from the right leads, but if we’re paying by the response, we don’t want to attract everyone. If we promote the budget cutting paper with an ad that says, “Save money in the cloud,” we will likely get a lot of useless registrations. Who doesn’t want to save money in the cloud? We have to stay focused on our mind map.

If we understand where the lead is coming from, in terms of business imperative, personal information quest, and personal content responsiveness, we can discover a message that will get noticed and drive action. In our example, the right kind of message might say something like, “Be an enterprise cloud budget hero.” This message keeps the focus on business cloud and works on the lead’s mind map. The lead is under pressure to save money in the cloud. He or she is looking for information that will help save money in the cloud. The content promises to enable savings in the cloud. The message connects these elements and says, “Click here. We’ll give you the information you need to address your business imperative, to make you a hero.”

Humanizing the buyer’s journey requires that we understand our target buyer personas well enough to develop a good working theory on how their minds work. It is an exercise in emotional intelligence. And, it doesn’t end with the launch of the campaign. As we review early results, we can improve the click-throughs and qualifications of the registrants if we refer back to the original “We have to, I need to” flow.

buyers journey blog Hugh TaylorHugh Taylor, is the President of Taylor Communications, a firm specializing in long form content for technology companies and the author of the book B2B Technology Marketing. You can follow Hugh on LinkedIn.

Jul 17

The Art of the Technology Marketing Case Study

Originally published in Mktr2Mktr.com

The Art of the Technology Marketing Case Study

case study image

Case Study image via Shutterstock

Case studies can be a pain. But they are essential for marketing technology products to business customers and should be essential to your overall content marketing strategy. Yet, they are really hard to get. Why? Major clients typically don’t like having their names used as public references. Then, even if you get permission, it can be difficult to craft a written case that accomplishes the necessary sales and marketing objectives. It’s a bit like landing a dream date with the Homecoming Queen but then having nothing to say to her when you finally go out for a milkshake. A lot of case studies tend to be dull and generic, articulating the familiar problem-solution pattern that crushes with its sameness. It does not have to be this way. There is an art to creating a great case study. A great case study is one that makes both you and your client look good. A great case study is an interesting read. A great case study gets the reader nodding his or her head, thinking, yes, I have this problem and this vendor can solve it.

So, how can we make our case studies sing like this?

A good case study paints a compelling portrait of your client

A case study is essentially a portrait of the client. What makes a portrait good? Consider the difference between a $9.99 portrait from a big box store and Holbein’s portrait of King Henry VIII. The big box portrait involves pointing a camera at someone and pushing the button. The picture will show the subjects face in broad, flat lighting, but that’s about it. Holbein, in contrast, was able to identify a subtle but profound set of nuances in Henry VIII’s face that made the portrait cry out, “This is one of the most powerful and important men in history.”

 

case study blog Henry VIII portrait

Case Study Blog Target Portrait

Source: Target

Your client is Henry VIII and you are Holbein. What is special about your client, in business terms? That is what you must highlight to make the case study compelling.

Once, I was asked to write a case study about process monitoring software at a German manufacturer of copper wire. I wondered to myself, what is so interesting about copper wire? Not much, until I learned how much wire this company produced and how they approached quality. They produced 140,000 miles of wire a day and had a zero defect policy. Got that? They spun enough wire to go 6 times around the world every day and accepted absolutely zero manufacturing defects. The software helped them achieve this goal. I could correctly position my client as a key enabling technology in a remarkable feat of manufacturing quality process engineering. That was a differentiator. It made the client look interesting and it made the software vendor look like an agent of serious business transformation.

Think Movies When Creating Case Studies

Case study blog movie example

Source: IMDB

My old job as a script executive in television was great preparation for writing case studies. Writing about cloud infrastructure software enabling a company to cut its IT budget isn’t that different from producing a TV movie where Kate Jackson saves New York City from an outbreak of the bubonic plague. (I’m not making this up. I really did work on that project.) Movies have a three act structure. Act I presents a problem that the hero has to solve, such as New York getting infected with the Black Death. Act II has the hero fighting the battles that will solve the problem. Act III is the final resolution. A case study, with its problem-solution-benefits structure, is no different. The challenge is to make the case study as engaging as a movie. Making the problem-solution-benefits structure interesting involves casting a hero in the leading role. Who is the hero of your case study? Is it the IT manager who believes that cloud infrastructure will save her company money? What are the obstacles that the hero must overcome to save the day? If you approach the case study like a thriller, you can find its hidden, compelling narrative.

Turning yourself into the Holbein or Steven Spielberg of case studies can take some work, but there is a secret to making even the most routine of cases turn into reliable vehicles of trust and credibility: It all happens in the interview. The questions you ask of your client will determine the content of the case study. If you ask, “What was your problem and how did we solve it?” you will get a big box portrait case study. If you go deeper, and ask probing questions about the specific ways that the client runs his or her business, what makes it successful, and how your product enhanced that success, you will start to get more nuanced, selling detail. Some suggested case study interview questions are shown below. Go ahead… find your inner Holbein and turn your case study into a portrait of the king.

Essential Interview Questions Technology Marketers Must Ask When Building Successful Case Studies

  • What does your company/organization do?
  • What would you say are your company’s key success factors?
  • In what area/department of the business do you work?
  • What are your department’s goals and responsibilities?
  • What is your role?
  • What was it that initiated interest in our product? E.g., was there a specific business or IT problem you needed to address?
  • If there was a problem, can you describe it?
  • What were your requirements for the project/upgrade/acquisition?
  • What factors were important to you in selecting a vendor?
  • What influenced you to decide to work with us?
  • What specifically will we be providing to you?
  • What are your expectations for how the product/solution will work?
  • What is the status of the implementation of our product/solution?
  • In business terms, how would you assess how our product/solution is addressing your needs?
  • In IT terms, how would you assess how our product/solution is addressing your needs?
  • Can you point to a particular return on investment (ROI) for this project/upgrade/acquisition?
    • Savings of software license or maintenance costs?
    • Ability to migrate to cloud?
    • Personnel redeployment?
    • Infrastructure cost reduction?
    • Faster time to market?
    • Greater margin?
    • Other?
  • What are the next steps in the project that involved our product/solution?
  • Do you have any other comments you would like to make?

case study blog Hugh TaylorHugh Taylor, is the President of Taylor Communications, a firm specializing in long form content for technology companies and the author of the book B2B Technology Marketing. You can follow Hugh on LinkedIn.

May 08

Going Beyond the Drip Campaign

Using content in closed-loop marketing sounds like a great idea. However, arranging for your prospects to see the right content at the right time can present something of a challenge. For many of us, the trouble starts after we’ve accomplished the first step of lead generation. We create an interesting piece of content, such as a white paper, dangle it in front of the prospect like a baited fish hook and smile with satisfaction when the prospect fills out a registration form.

So far, so good, but what happens next? For a lot of us, the lead generation process ends at this point. We’ve gotten a lead. We throw it to sales and go on to the next campaign. It’s okay. I’ve done it more than once in my career as a B2B technology marketing executive. We can do better, of course. We set up a drip process in a marketing automation system, such as Marketo or Eloqua, that sends the prospect a fresh piece of content periodically until they become qualified. The drip is an effective way of engaging with a prospect up to a point, but it’s not optimal. We can do better.

In The Content Funnel, I explore how we can take drip campaigning to the next level.

May 08

Hugh Taylor interviewed about entrepreneurship on WHCR FM – 4/27/14

Feb 20

Hugh Taylor interviewed by Kevin Price on Business Talk 1110 KTEK

I was interviewd by Kevin Price on his “Price of Business” radio show on February 10th. The topic was business plan writing.

Jul 14

The Winning White Paper: Five Questions to Ask Before You Start

The Winning White Paper: Five Questions to Ask Before You Start

I’ve been writing white papers for B2B technology marketers for many years. It’s a variegated format, one that serves different purposes in the marketing process. That variety is both a strength and a weakness for marketers, however. It’s versatile, which is great. At the same time, the size of the blank canvas can be intimidating. Without good planning and direction, the white paper can become a costly document that does not achieve its desired marketing objectives. To help my clients avoid this trap, I’ve developed a white paper discovery process that consists of five questions. It pays to go through this discovery process before commencing the work itself. It’s not overly elaborate. Rather, these five questions comprise a simple concept and positioning exercise that sets the project on course for best results with the paper’s intended audience.

1. What is the topic of the paper? I like to ask this question first, but I know that the answer will change as we discuss the next four questions on the list. A white paper’s subject is determined in an iterative process. The topic evolves through the discovery process as you refine the purpose of the paper.

2. What is the primary purpose of this paper? What are you trying to accomplish with this paper? A white paper needs a reason to exist. Is it for lead generation? Will it be a paper that is placed behind a “Registration Wall” to induce potential readers to part with their contact info for a chance to see it? Is it intended to be a piece of sales support “air cover” that helps bolster a pending deal? Are you trying to assert thought leadership or showcase expertise in a particular subject area? Are you trying to offer in-depth technical education on a specific topic of interest to your clients? Each purpose requires a somewhat different approach and execution. Your answer can of course be “All of the Above.” It is possible to combine these goals, but the best papers are written for a specific primary purpose, with secondary agendas taken into consideration but not emphasized about all else. A related question is, “How will you promote this paper?” A paper intended for lead generation needs to be sexier than a paper designed to show off technical expertise. A lead generation paper should engender some intrigue and mystery.

3. What length do you have in mind for the paper? This is simple question that requires a simple answer. Beneath the surface, though, length is a proxy for many different issues that need to be thought through for a winning white paper. How deeply do you want to delve into your topic? The answer should also relate to the previous question. What are you trying to accomplish? If you want to show off in-depth technical expertise, you won’t do very well with a three page paper. Conversely, a 32 page doorstop won’t do your sales team much good unless they are in a highly technical sales discussion with engineers. Then, there’s budget. Length and budget go together. What level of investment do you want to make in the paper?

4. Who is the intended audience for this paper? An effective white paper should be understandable to a range of different readers. You won’t manage to get every single reader to comprehend every nuance of the paper, but the paper should still be created for a specific customer persona. I have found the following buckets to be useful in thinking through intended audience types: Technical Decision Maker (TDM), Business Decision Maker (BDM), Senior Business Manager (C-Level), or specialized reader, such as developer, architect, network operations person, information security manager, and so forth. Some marketers like to use a common hundred-level shorthand to communicate the intended reader. A 200-level paper is relatively non-technical while a 400-level is for engineers.

5. What is the theme of this paper? Do you want a business-oriented paper on a technological subject? For example, do you want to show the return on investment (ROI) for a particular product? Do you want to share best practices? How about a deep dive on an esoteric branch of technology that concerns your clients and prospects?

These five white paper discovery questions run together. If you do the process right, you’ll answer each one more than once, learning and reshaping your answers as you hone in on the mix of topic, depth, audience and theme that will give your paper the most impact. Ultimately, the process is designed to
give you the best results for your investment in a paper, landing your most important messages with the right people.

Hugh Taylor is President of Taylor Communications. A twenty-year veteran of marketing communications, Taylor writes marketing copy for technology companies. Check out Hugh’s new white paper, Getting To Yes with Business Decision Makers.

 

Jul 23

Implementing the Strategy Part I – the Marketing Organization

The blook up to now has covered areas of marketing that I think you need to do to be effective.  At this point, I want to pivot onto an equally, or perhaps even more important topic, which is how you actually implement the marketing work.  It’s one thing to have your messages, materials and lead generation programs ready. It’s another to put it all into action in an actual organization, especially a large one. The purpose of this chapter and the rest of the blook are to focus you on approaches to realizing a marketing plan.

When thinking about marketing implementation, a word that comes to mind is “auftragstaktik”.  I know – you were thinking of that very same word, weren’t you?  It’s an esoteric, German military term that means “mission command”.  There’s no real English equivalent.  Auftragstaktik describes how army commanders give their subordinates a clearly defined mission. It’s an inclusive term that refers to the complete set of instructions and resources that the forces need to complete the mission with a certain time frame.  The senior level staff is free to focus on the big picture knowing that their orders will be executed without them focusing on details. A certain level of knowledge and trust between superiors and subordinates is also implied in auftragstaktik.   Military historians cite good auftragstaktik as a reason for the successes of the German army in the field.

We’re going to apply some of the principles of auftragstaktik to marketing implementation.  Marketing is, after all, a blend of strategy, creativity and implementation.  You can’t have one without the other two.  And, I would make the argument that implementation is perhaps the most important element of marketing.  You can have the most brilliant strategy and creative thinking in the world, but if you can’t implement, nothing will come from them.

A discussion of implementation could take a hundred different directions.  A good way to look at the issue, though, is to approach implementation through two essential topics: Marketing organizational structure and execution.  In auftragstaktik terms, the strategy is the high level command, the General’s “Occupy this territory” dictum.  Organizational structure is about how the army is divided into groups, translated into the various departments and teams in the marketing organization.  Execution refers to the field level tactics – guns, grenades, tanks, planes, and so forth.  In marketing, execution is about how each team does its work.

Like an army going to war, the marketing group’s tactics and organization refer back to the strategy. The three subjects are related.  Just as you wouldn’t order the Navy to attack Wyoming, you wouldn’t task the Web marketing group with creating billboards.   Okay, I know that some of you are going to be jumping up and down thinking that no, in fact, you would actually want the Web marketing group to take care of printing billboards.  And, you might be right, but you’re actually proving my overall point, which is that each organizational unit in marketing will necessarily have some important role to play in strategy execution.

The Shape of the Marketing Organization

Marketing is a task that is almost entirely dependent on people.  While some aspects of marketing can be automated, virtually every aspect of marketing is devised and executed by people. Even seemingly automatic processes are actually created by people who have to think through what they want to achieve and then implement their ideas.  As a result of marketing’s intense reliance on human beings, the marketing organization is of paramount importance in achieving the objectives that the broader organization requires of the marketing team.

At a high level, the organizational structure will be dictated by size.  In this context, you have three options:

  • The small – This is your basic startup situation with perhaps two or three marketing people covering all the major marketing work tracks.  In a lot of cases, they will be augmented by contractors and vendors. In the small marketing department, structure is not a big issue, though someone usually has to be in charge (at least, in theory.)  People cover multiple areas.

 

  • The medium– In a medium sized marketing department, one team typically handles all the marketing for the company.  The medium department can have dozens of people working in it and multiple teams but it’s one basic organization unit.   Medium departments usually have one person, or team, for each of the major marketing work areas.
    • Inbound Marketing – a.k.a. lead generation. The inbound group holds lead generation  events such as webinars, manages trade shows, conducts the
      • Advertising
      • Email marketing
      • Content-based marketing
  • Product marketing
  • Web/Digital marketing
    • Website
    • Search engine optimization
    • Search engine marketing (SEM) or “pay per click”/PPC
    • Social media
  • Communications, or “comms” or “marcom”.
    • Public relations
    • Analyst relations
    • Content-based marketing
  • Channel management
  • In some cases, two more responsibilities will be added to the marketing department.
    • Inside sales
    • Business development

 

A couple of comments: These roles get blurred quite a lot, and responsibilities vary.  E.g. social media might fall under inbound, as could content marketing.  And, you may be asking, how is it possible for one person to do all of this? The answer is “yes”.

 

  • The large – A large company usually has multiple marketing teams placed in different parts of the broader corporate organization.  In most cases, these teams work as a matrix, as shown in the organizational chart.

 

 

 

The org chart shown above depicts a fairly typical, if somewhat simplified matrixed marketing organization.  In this case, there are two divisions, one of which has its own dedicated marketing team.  The other division has two captive marketing executives who get support from the central, or “corporate” marketing department.  Why would the divisions have such different marketing organizational structures?  It would depend on the marketing mission of each division.   Division B has some intense marketing needs. It has to be on the ground in many different areas, so it requires a marketing staff that is completely focused on Division B’s products and marketing requirements.  Division A is in a different business, one in which the marketing is carried out mostly by partners.  For example, imagine that Division A makes a part that is placed in another company’s product on an OEM basis.  Division A doesn’t have a huge marketing task list as a result.

Let’s talk about the matrix. The dotted lines in the organization chart refer to informal reporting relationships and collaborations between peers in different groups.  In the case of Division A, for example, the Director of Communications reports to the VP of Comms, who reports to the Chief Marketing Officer.  He or she is a member of the corporate marketing team.  However, on a day-to-day basis, the Director of Comms works mostly with Division A’s Senior VP of Product Y Management.  This matrixed relationship is effectively one where the Director of Comms is taking direction and doing tasks on assignment from Division A, even though he or she works for the corporate marketing team.  Division A could be described as the Director’s “Internal client” even though in practical terms, the Division A executive is the boss.

Why would anyone want this kind of setup?  Believe it or not, there are many benefits to a matrix though some serious challenges as well.  One big advantage is that the matrix reduces duplicative functions.  With autonomous divisions, you can easily have multiple versions of a complete marketing department in each division.  This is bad on several fronts. For one thing, it’s expensive to have, for example, a director of public relations for each division when one central person could handle all three.  Then, you have the problem of divergent messaging and practices.  If three PR people, who are not coordinating, all reach out to the same publication at the same time with three different messages, you’re not doing a very good job with PR. And, you paying triple for the right to do it badly.

From a management perspective, a matrix can also be a good way to keep teams focused on their main missions.  If you are a product manager, for example, you have many different product management responsibilities. They are more than enough to absorb your management focus.  If you also had to manage marketing people, you might get stretched too thin. With a matrix, you can let the marketing department manage the marketers who provide service to your team.  It’s as if you were working with an outside vendor who happens to be inside y our same company.

In very large companies, the matrix can also help with the process of team member assessment and review.  At Microsoft, for example, there are many different levels of employees.  A level 63, for example, might be a relatively senior team member, while a 61 is less experienced.  The pay scale and expected performance match the levels, more or less.  What is expected, however, from a level 63 communications person is different from what is expected from a Level 63 product manager.  The senior managers who oversee both of these people will need to “calibrate” their expectations.  Having mixed professional specialties on a team can complicate the calibration process.  This sounds very bureaucratic and it is, but it’s no joke. People’s salaries and promotions depend on it at big companies so it’s taken very seriously.

The Compound Matrix

Tolstoy once family wrote “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  If only Tolstoy could have seen today’s extended, globally matrixed marketing organizations, I think we’d be reading a thousand page tome about the utter tragedy of it all.  See, the matrix depicted in the figure is only one-dimensional.  In reality, at a global technology company, the marketing matrix can get a lot more complicated.

This figure attempts to show the six potentially additional dimensions that can get loaded onto a standard matrixed marketing organization.  Briefly, you have the following groups connected (though usually not reporting to) the core product marketing team:

  • Verticals – Some companies like to market by vertical, so you’ll have a group that focuses on marketing to the automotive industry, telecoms, government, and so forth.
  • Feature sets – In some cases, a product with multiple feature sets will have a separate team for each major feature.  This was the case with Microsoft SharePoint, where one team handled search and another focused on content management.
  • Geos – Any large company will have different geographic marketing teams. The scope of the matrix will depend on the size of the geographical territory.    Generally, smaller markets – both within the US and abroad – will have one marketing team that handles all of a company’s products.  Thus (purely as an illustration and not as revealing any facts) Microsoft’s marketing team in Portugal might handle the entire Office, Windows, and server product sets.  In the UK, in contrast, which is a bigger market, there might be a dedicated Office marketing team, a Windows team, and so on.  Inside the US, the same structure will emerge.  The New York metro area will likely have numerous product specific local market teams, while South Dakota will have one team (or maybe even just one person!) who handles the entire line.
  • Channel partners – Some channel partners are detached 3rd parties while others are so big and influential that they can effectively be an additional marketing team.   There’s a reason they call Windows-based PCs “WinTel Machines” – that refers to the close connection between Microsoft and Intel.  If a product has a special channel, the product marketing team will be matrixed to the channel partners’ marketing organization to some extent.
  • Internal solution partners – If your company sells solutions in addition to products, you may find your product matrixed to one or more solution groups.  This is the case even if your company only offers guidance on solutions to partners that actually do the solution selling.  For example, if you’re in the ERP business, you may have a unit that focuses on mobile ERP.  This group will focus on making sure that your ERP product is compatible with various mobile devices and hand-held computing equipment, such as bar-code scanners.
  • Research and Development – R&D runs the gamut as far as matrixed marketing organizations go, but generally speaking you will have some connection points with groups that conduct customer research and develop new product concepts.

All of these groups participate, have input on what you are doing and need materials from you.  It can be a messy setup, with numerous groups, each with different management, goals and timelines all trying to coordinate their activities.  And…  This just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?  In a very large company, such as, for example, the top 10 largest technology companies in the world, you will have multiple versions of each matrix functioning within each major business unit.  The organization chart will look something like the figure shown below.

 

 

Matching Business Strategy to Marketing Organization, Priorities and Control

Wow!  What a mess.  And, just to make it even more insane, add in the constant churn of people coming and going from positions.  It’s a wonder that anything ever gets done at all.  Most companies that have this type of multi-layered matrix try to match the matrix to their marketing strategy.  In practical terms, this means creating priorities and emphasis, as well as handing control, to the most strategically important people and teams in the matrix.  Without some type of emphasis, the compound matrix will not function well. And, indeed, sometimes these complex organizations don’t run very effectively, even if there is a strategy dictating who is in charge.

For example, a company might be solution-centric or industry-centric.   In an industry-centric company, the industry vertical group gets the weight to make the other groups do what they want, more or less.   There are also horizontal market segments that receive priority, such as content management or email servers.  Alternatively, the matrix can be managed using a schedule.  For instance, you can organize product marketing into scheduled waves of activity. This is Microsoft’s tactic, with “release waves” of product families, such as Office, occurring at preset three year intervals. The calendar dictates much activity that occurs across dozens of individual groups.

The real question with a compound matrix organization is “who owns the business?”. Some person or group has to be in the lead or the matrix will not work.   This entity that owns the business sets the agenda – to some degree – of the other elements of the matrix.   A lot of the time, the business owner is the product manager.  For example, at Microsoft, there is the “Information Worker Product Management Group,” which is responsible for the overall business of Microsoft Office.  The business owner is responsible for coordinating with the other elements of the matrix to make the business move in the desired direction.  In some cases the business owner will determine the budget allocation for other matrix elements though just as often, the units are independently funded and must agree to work together on a cooperative basis.

Getting a separate business team that you don’t control through budget to agree to do what you want them to do is not always easy.  This is where leadership comes into play.  Or not.  When there is strong leadership at the top, different pieces of the matrix can get together an agreement on a plan that will play to the dominant strategy.  For example, if the company has been pushing horizontal product features decides to shift to a vertical focus, the senior management needs to get consensus amongst the matrix unit leaders to cooperate on making vertical markets the priority.  There is usually a lot of push and pull leading to compromise.  Ideally, the negotiation of priority results in an optimal deployment of all the matrixed resources. This is not always the case, of course.  A lot of the time, the matrix just grinds along, each part doing what it does, and marketing happens in the process.  It’s not the best way to do things, but like those mediocre but plentiful Sherman Tanks rolling off the ships in Normandy, a lot of movement in the right direction will achieve some strategic goals.

Organizational Puzzles

Where does marketing fit in an organization?  Should it report to sales?  How does marketing relate to business development?  These are mostly issues facing smaller marketing teams though the relationship between marketing and Biz Dev can be complicated even in large companies.  If you ask me (and let’s face it, if you’re reading this, you are asking me) I think marketing should not report to sales.  Many companies have a person called “VP of Sales and Marketing.”  This is, in my view, a mistake. That person is invariably a sales professional who either lacks the knowledge or time to manage marketing effectively.  When you have marketing report to sales in this way, you’re relegating marketing to a second tier status.

If you do find yourself in charge of marketing at a company where you report to sales, my suggestion is to work hard on negotiating your autonomy.  This may be easier said than done, but it’s definitely necessary if you want to avoid being a sales doormat.  For instance, as a marketer, you must take a relatively long term view of the marketing process.  Yes, you need to generate leads with immediate business potential. But, you also have to work on building the kind of long term credibility and repeated touch points that will lead to sustained marketing success.  A sales manager may not see things the way you do.  I realize I’m being grossly unfair and generalizing here, but if you think about the conflicting incentives involved you’ll see what I mean.  The sales manager usually has a short term set of goals, perhaps stretching from the nearest quarter to the end of the fiscal year. That’s about as far as he or she is going to think about approving budget for marketing efforts.  After that, said sales manager may be history anyway…  It can be time for a fight if you want to pursue the longer term, or perhaps more subjective ROI programs you know the company needs.

The Right Place for Business Development

What about business development?  Where do marketing and business development fit within an organization.  Like everything else in this discussion, it depends.  But of course, I have an opinion on the subject.  Biz Dev is a function that varies from company to company, but it’s mostly about arranging partnerships with other businesses that can resell, or facilitate the sale of, your product.  It’s probably a closer relative to sales than it is to marketing, but the disciplines overlap.  As a result, marketing sometimes get parked under Biz Dev.  The converse is also true.  Biz Dev can get slotted within the marketing department.  Sometimes, marketing and Biz Dev both report to sales.

There is no ideal solution to this, but in my experience, it’s best for Biz Dev to be autonomous or largely left alone within the organizational unit that houses it.  The reasons for this preference stem from a recognition that Biz Dev is inherently different from sales and marketing, even though it bears a superficial resemblance to them.  Biz Dev should be free from the quantitative time pressure of sales as well as from the broader mandates of marketing.  Of course, Biz Dev, marketing and sales need to align strategically, but Biz Dev should be free to pursue its own agenda. At the same time, it’s critical for sales and marketing – as well as product development – to be at arm’s length from Biz Dev’s agenda.

Biz Dev is in the “maybe” business.   Like a shopper who wonders what a dress in the store window will look like on her, the Biz Dev executive looks at many potential partners and tries to find a profitable business fit.   If you don’t like that analogy, think kissing frogs.  Biz Dev has to kiss a lot of frogs to see if any potential partner is going to turn into Prince Charming.  That’s all fine, but frog kissing can lead to a lot of wasted cycles in marketing if there isn’t a healthy distance between the two.

Consider the following scenario: The Biz Dev person gets hot and bothered by the idea of partnering with company X as a reseller.  With a partnership in hand (perhaps informal, perhaps contractual, though it really makes no difference in practical terms) he leans on marketing to create collateral, presentations, press releases, sales training materials, white papers, and so forth, to support the new partnership.  The process is time consuming.  It may also require stretching existing messaging and value propositions to fit the partner’s go-to-market strategy.  All of this work and distortion will be worth it if the partnership produces revenue.  If the partnership doesn’t perform, and most of them don’t, a lot of time will have been wasted.  Plus, there’s an opportunity cost.  Other marketing didn’t get done while you were being pushed (and rushed, usually, as well) to get the partnership marketing materials ready.  For this reason, it’s good to have some balance in the Biz Dev-Marketing relationship as well as some executive oversight that can help assign priorities to Biz Dev requirements.

Biz Dev can also tax engineering resources if it is not managed well.  I don’t mean to dump on Biz Dev. I’ve been in that role myself a few times, so what I have to say comes from experience on both sides of the issue.  What can happen, though, is that when Biz Dev gets wind of a potential partnership, it presses engineering for modifications or new features that the partner wants.  These may or may not be on the roadmap and they may or may not be trivial.  If they are non-trivial and unplanned, someone needs to take leadership and decide if the changes are truly warranted.  For example, let’s say that your software company has an opportunity to resell its application through a major social network.  Sounds great!  And, maybe it is.  But, creating the APIs and coding for functionality to make it happen could be a major project.  If the work is going to be done on the come, with no clear expectation of revenue, it’s a very serious judgment call as to whether it should be undertaken.  Marketing can get called into these discussions.  What do you think of this partnership?  Is it worth spending resources on?  Or, more accurately, is it worth diverting resources from other work to get this done?  As the master of strategy that you surely are after reading this book, you will undoubtedly be able to offer brilliant advice.

Web Marketing and Social Media

Where does Web marketing fit in the marketing organization? How about social media?  There is definitely more than one correct answer to each of these questions.  The issue, though, is one of boundaries.  Web marketing, as well as social media, are both distinct disciplines with clearly delineated work tracks.  For example, building and maintaining the Web site is a Web marketing activity.  As such, it could easily justify a standalone organizational unit for Web Marketing.  A VP or Director level manager could be assigned all Web marketing tasks.  At the same time, Web marketing cuts across nearly every single aspect of marketing and sales.

Consider, for example, search engine optimization (SEO).  This is a purely Web marketing activity, at least in technical terms.  However, SEO is actually a profound focal point for all marketing and communications work.  SEO drives the question, “What will people be thinking about when they are looking for a company like ours?”  That’s not a Web marketing issue alone. That’s a big, high level question that needs to get answered by many different voices inside marketing and beyond.

Structurally, Web marketing should be a matrix within the marketing group.  Whoever runs Web marketing should plan to reach out to many different people and teams.  Web marketing works best when it incorporates the goals and strategies of the complete marketing effort.

Social media is similar.  New as it is, social media marketing is still the province of the young, the special, and the different.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, but as a lot of marketers are finding with social media, to get any kind of payback from the process, it has to be grounded in marketing basics. Social media is a form of public relations. It’s also a form of lead generation and CRM.  It is sometimes an end unto itself, but that is not the main purpose of social media.  Like Web marketing, social media should try to matrix itself within marketing and work to integrate broader marketing messages and objectives into its campaigns.

 

Contractors and Outsourcing

Who should actually work for your marketing department and who should be hired as a contractor?  Which work should be assigned to vendors versus kept in house?   The quick answer is that it will depend on your budget. If you can afford full time people, hire them. If you need to contract out certain work due to budget constraints, that’s what you’ll do.  Not always.  The contract vs. hire question affects large and small marketing organizations alike.  For very small marketing teams, such as you would find at a startup, the issue may be forced.  At wealthier companies, it’s more a blend of strategic and corporate HR policies.  The underlying issues, however, are always the same.

The contract vs. hire choice revolves around two basic questions.  First, what are the core strengths and mandates of the department.  These should guide hiring. You want to hire people with skills and experience that are most closely aligned with the department’s prime mission.  Second, how do you define value for marketing budget spent?

On this second point, consider the following hiring vs. contracting decision.  Let’s say your department has an unmet need for both public relations and search engine optimization. You want to kick off campaigns in both areas but you lack the staff to get the work done.  One solution would be to hire someone who could do both tasks.  Such a person would have to be adept at both PR and SEO.  Even though these two skillsets are nowhere near as far apart as they used to be, they are still quite distinct.  Whomever you hire will likely be slightly less effective at each skill than a dedicated resource would be.  You can’t afford to hire two people, however.  You could contract out SEO and PR and get a better result in each category. Your spend might be higher, but so would your value.

Imagine that you could hire a full time PR and SEO person for $75,000 a year, or $90,000 with benefits and taxes included.  In contrast, what would it cost you to find a contractor for each?  If you paid two contractors a rate of $60 per hour each for 20 hours a week (1000 hours a year), your cost would be $120,000.    It’s $30,000 more but it’s probably worth it. Where you have to be careful, though, is with vendors that substitute for personnel.  You might end up paying $15,000 a month for PR and $5000 a month for SEO.  Now you’re paying $240,000 and the value received is probably about the same as with contractors.  It may be better, of course, and you might get better accountability from a vendor in comparison to a lone contractor, but you have to do the math and weigh what you really expect to gain from the situation.

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 24

Create a Strategic Message for the Company

The customer’s buying process touches many layers of their experience with your company.  The product, solution, and price combine with your overall reputation and that of your people to form a gut level impression and drive a “Buy/Don’t Buy” decision in a way that transcends any rational analysis of each specific element. Fronting for the complete impression-making process is what I call a strategic message.

Your strategic message articulates your company’s essence and foundation of its value in the marketplace.  It answers these and other questions:

–      What business are you in?

–      What do you do?

–      What markets do you serve?

–      Why are you, or could you be, a leader in those markets?

–      Why are you valuable to investors or acquirers?

–      How/Why are you a strategic success in the industry?

We explored this topic in our section on finding your industry category and market-sizing.  However, now, we are going to talk about how to express all of these different, interlocking ideas, in a concise outward-facing message. The figure below shows the elements of a strategic message.  The elements needs to relate to one another.

Strategic message ven diagram

One thing to address right away are the differences between a strategic message and message used in marketing a specific product or service – a “go-to-market” (GTM) message.   While these message types overlap, they focus on different aspects of your business and have quite distinct purposes.   Strategic messages are high level and visionary, while GTMs are pragmatic and emphasize solutions and value propositions.  Strategic messages advance the overall brand. GTMs advance the cause of the business unit/product/solution and business objectives (i.e. revenue/share).  Strategic messages speak to industry level thinking. In contrast, GTMs focus on customer-centric thinking.   Strategic messages are inclusive of all productions and solutions at a high level, but GTMs tend to stay on a single product set or solution.  Strategic messages are often forward-looking versus GTMs that are usually directed at immediate action.   Strategic messages drives awareness of the company as a player in the industry, not driving preference for a specific type of purchase.

Exxon presents a great example of a contrasting strategic message and a GTM:

  • Strategic message, i.e. “Who we are.”  – “We are the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas company, providing energy that helps underpin growing economies and improve living standards around the world.”
  • GTM – “As the world’s leading synthetic motor oil, Mobil 1 helps provide total engine protection and excellent fuel economy.”
Strategic Message Go-to-Market Message
High-level, visionary Pragmatic, solution-oriented value proposition
Advances the brand Advances the business unit/product/solution business objectives (i.e. revenue/share)
Industry level thinking Customer-centric thinking
Inclusive of all productions and solutions at a high level Product and solution focused
Forward looking Focused on today
Drives awareness of the company as a player in the industry Drives preference for purchase of products and solutions
e.g. ExxonWe are the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas company, providing energy that helps underpin growing economies and improve living standards around the world. e.g. As the world’s leading synthetic motor oil, Mobil 1 helps provide total engine protection and excellent fuel economy.

 

To work, the message needs to be:

  • Comprehensible – Will the target audiences understand the message?
  • Believable – Will the claims made in the message be believed, or will the company look ridiculous for posturing in an unbelievable way?
  • Meaningful – Does the message mean something specific to the target audiences?  i.e. If an analyst is reviewing competitors in a sector, will the strategic message create the desired impression?
  • Aligned with go-to-market message – Does the strategic message further the goals of go-to-market message?

 

 

Technology Company Strategic Message Template

In the trying to make your life easier department, I’ve devised a simple template for creating a strategic message.  It goes like this:

The company innovates/leads/transforms the [market space] by producing [solution types] and leveraging [trends].

So, if I were asked to use this for Apple Computer (as they clearly need my help, you know…)  I might come up with:

Apple Computer leads and transforms the personal digital device market by producing portable information technologies that leverage consumers’ increasing desire for ease of use.

Okay, maybe that was a bad example.   If I had to do it for IBM, I would say:

IBM is the corporate IT industry leader, with extensive technology offerings that leverage the trends of platform consolidation and reliable cloud computing.

Forces that Affect the Success of a Strategic Message

Landing a successful strategic message with key audiences involves a delicate balancing act.  There are

many forces that can destabilize the impact of the message and actually render it harmful to the

company’s mission and objectives for the message. A strategic message is like a spinning top.  A lot of things can pull it down.  As the figure shows, a successful message is like a top spinning perfectly.  It gets positive reactions from key audiences without getting pulled off its axis by messaging problems.

 

 

Factors that can pull a strategic message out its sweet spot include:

  • Being overly broad – This is a classic strategic message pitfall, where you want to go for broad appeal but sacrifice tangible value. For example, if you describe yourself as “an e-platform” or “a mobile lifestyle technology”, you’re not connecting yourself enough with reality to make much of an impact on people.
  • Being overly narrow – To avoid being excessively broad and high-level, you might go too far in the opposite direction.  Narrow messaging starts to look like a product based GTM.  For example, if your strategic message says something like, “better thermal characteristics for semiconductors,” you’re probably narrowing it down too much.
  • Category confusion – We’ve discussed this earlier in the book, but if you can settle yourself into a category you will land your message better than if you are off base or worse, creating a brand new category of your own.
  • Being unclear – Vagueness is the curse of strategic messaging. Let’s say your company makes software testing tools but you want a higher level strategic message that connotes a broader value proposition.  So, you come up with something like, “Powering reliability in the cloud.”  The problem with that is you could be messaging hardware, operating system software, application software, testing software, or network infrastructure.  You don’t want to be vague about what you actually do.
  • Overreaching – We all do this from time to time but you have to watch out for overarching in strategic messages.  Sometimes your enemy here is the gerund, as in “Transforming mobile technology.” Really?  You’re going to transform a hugely broad, multi-billion dollar category?  It’s too much, even if it’s a cool ambition to have.  You don’t people to wonder what you’re smoking when you considered your potential.  The funny thing, of course, is that some companies truly attain goals that would be considered overreaching.  If Facebook had said early on that its goal was to revolutionize social interactions, that would have been laughable, but it would have been true.

 

Strategic Messaging Gotchas and Risks

Strategic messaging isn’t easy. If it were, a lot more companies would have good strategic messages. This is not the case, to be polite.  There are several major “gotchas” at work when you try to devise a strategic message that really lands where it’s targeted.  For one thing, the more credible and comprehensible you get, the more potentially narrow and small you look.   Then, there is problem of market evolution.  I like to say, facetiously, that if you can explain exactly what you do, you’re too late.  All kidding aside, though, if a technology category is well defined and understood, you have to work a lot harder to establish that you offer a unique value.

Trying to be “hot” is a big pitfall.  Technology that’s old and boring is not hot. It’s ice cold, and a big driver of low valuations and slim interest in your company.  Mainframe tools, anyone?  So, you want to be hot.  Who wouldn’t? The problem is that if you want to establish yourself as being in a hot category, you may need to define a category that either doesn’t exist or is poorly understood.  Or, to establish yourself in a new, hot category, you may need to make claims that you can’t back up, leading to possible credibility issues if the media wants to look into it. Consider, for example, how can you claim leadership in a category that either doesn’t exist or isn’t acknowledged by any respected third party?  You will look  as if you are full of hot air (or other more solid material that I won’t mention by name because my mother raised me right).  Latching onto hot trends without any meaningful unique differentiators also makes you look like you’re desperately jumping onto the flavor of the month. Like, if you say, “We’re a cloud-based technology.”  Guess what?  Everything is a potential cloud based technology.  Your message needs to outlast the latest craze.

Another useful way to solve strategic messaging challenges is to think of your message in terms of comprehensibility versus credibility.  As the chart shows, there is a continuum for message along both of these axes.  There will be a sweet spot for your message in terms of its credibility and comprehensibility.  In simple terms, you have four basic quadrants in which a message can land.  At the top right, you have a clear and credible message. In this example, it’s “Microsoft enters the smart phone business.”  Note, however, that there are two big pillars on which this clear, credible message stands:  The category is well understood and the company has the inherent brand credibility to make the claim.  If the message were, “RinkyDinkComm enters the smart phone business,” you would justifiably ask, “Who?”  They lack credibility.  Similarly, if the message were, “RinkyDinkComm, the leader in Cloud-Fusion Transactionality,”  you might ask both “who?” and “what?”.

Some messages are clear but hard to believe, such a company that announces it will overtake Google in search.  I wish everyone the best of luck but that’s a mission I can’t believe in right now.  Going around the chart further, we have vague but credible, which is when a known brand stakes a claim in a poorly understood category.  For example, if you read “Microsoft, the leader in Cloud-Fusion Transactionality,” you would probably think, well I don’t have any idea what that is, but if Microsoft is doing it, it might be important.

Certainly, there are no easy solutions for strategic messaging.  It’s a subjective, messy process that involves a lot of trial and error.  You will likely have to work at it for a while and iterate a great deal.  Not everyone will be pleased with your strategic message, and in my experience trying to make all stakeholders happy is a sure-fire recipe for mediocrity.

Mar 05

Marketing in a Sales Support Role

There’s a popular website and service called “Marketing Sherpa,” which offers specialized research for marketers.  The name of the site, however, might describe how a lot of sales people view marketing in general.  Oh, marketing? They’re our Sherpas.  We’re climbing the Mt. Everest of sales – the real, hard work in this company – and marketing helps carry our luggage. Good for them!  In every company, there is always a question of how marketing and sales should work with one another.  Sometimes, it’s clear and marketing is the “Sherpa” for sales, assisting and facilitating but not leading.  Other times, it’s more about marketing setting the vision and helping sales realize it.  It can be balanced, too.  In any event, there are certain duties that marketing has towards sales.

Give Them a Brand to Work With

In the dead horse flogging department, I’m not going to waste a lot of time discussing brand in a B2B technology marketing context.  Yes, brand is important in this kind of niche marketing, but it’s not at anywhere near the level of significance that you will find in the consumer arena.  The best way to think about brand as a sales support issue is to envision how you will deliver visual and verbal consistency to lend the company credibility and identity.

A good brand for a business-facing technology company is one that connotes professionalism, quality and reliability.  Opinions will differ on this point, but I have my reasons for believing this.  As with so many other aspects of tech marketing, one absolutely must keep the customer clearly in view.  For most technology products, the buyer is usually more conservative than your company management. I’m not talking red state-blue state here. I mean that technology buyers are typically risk averse and under pressure to deliver high levels of system availability.  Your brand needs to communicate values that support these ideas.

Please allow me a slight digression to make my point.  When I was Social Software Evangelist at IBM, I was involved in product management and marketing for Lotus Connections social software for business.  Lotus Connections presented an unusual branding challenge for IBM.  Social software for business was something new, a cheeky kind of borrowing from consumer sites such as Facebook but striving for business legitimacy.  The branding, which included the product interface itself as well as the web site and collaterals, was a great deal warmer and more “Web 2.0” looking that your average IBM business solution.  That was intentional.  Lotus Connections was trying to look the part.  However, the branding was still very much identifiable as IBM, with all the gold-plated seriousness and honor that brand connotes.  Some of our competitors, though, were not quite getting the idea.

Forgive my exaggeration, but it seemed as if every company that was trying to enter the corporate social software space had a name like “MonkeyPoo” or “Crazanga.”  These off-the-wall cruh-aaazy entrepreneurs who launched these brands were trying to show how hip and cutting edge they were.  They thought this would impress corporate buyers.  Wrong.  The venture capitalists may have been infatuated with the latest and hippest but purchasing consideration is not helped by wackiness.

Branding Basics

You owe your sales colleagues (and everyone else involved in the business) some branding basics, including:

  • Name – It may be too late for you to influence the name of the company, but you can definitely participate in the discussion of new product names.   There are many different schools of thought on product naming, but from a branding perspective, it’s helpful to have a product naming convention or system.  If one product is named after a Native American deity, then the others should be too.  It would work against your branding to have three products named “Akna,” “Aleut” and “Kwikapp Image Manager.”

 

  • Message(s) – Your message and brand are not necessarily the same thing, but they have to relate and be in alignment with one another.  We’ll delve deeply into this a little later, but for now think about the alignment between your brand, your high-level corporate message and product-specific messages. Do you they fit together?  They should, at least in terms of underlying value proposition.  For example, if your corporate message is aspirational and creative, you will have a dissonant brand effect if your product-specific messaging tells the opposite story. For example, if you’re “Crazanga: We empower the collaborative mind” but your product message is, “Enterprise Collaboration Suite: Cost effective information worker team site deployment”, you’re going to have people scratching their heads.

 

  • Logo, style guide and brand “system” – You need a distinctive look with a consistent use of fonts, colors and your logo.  That’s branding 101.  Why do I bother mentioning it?   Here’s the problem that I have seen (and perpetrated, to be honest) at a number of technology companies.  Most tech companies are founded with engineers who have little interest in marketing and even less money.  Typically, they commission a logo and proceed to ignore basic branding style conventions for the next couple of years.  This is totally normal and forgivable.  After all, when you’re trying to build the product, the marketing is an afterthought. Then, when it’s time to go to market, you’ve got a messy brand on your hands.   It is your responsibility to put a strong branding style guide into effect. This includes what is often called a “brand system,” which dictates how certain elements work together.  For example, if your company has a signature theme, such as a blue swoosh, that swoosh should appear on your PowerPoint decks, Word documents, datasheets, website, and business cards.  It’s your distinctive brand element.

 

Collateral for the Sales Force to Use

You need to keep your sales team supplied with up to date datasheets on all your products.  Nowadays that means PDF documents.  Beyond datasheets, you want to paper every offering your company has with supporting documents that help make the case that your product is the one that deserves preference.  Possible ways to accomplish this goal vary from company to company, but I have had success with three basic document types:

-          Technical notes or “Solution Briefs” – These are short documents that go into greater depth than the datasheet and can also cover topics that are related to the main product details contained in the datasheet. For example, Kwikapp might have one datasheet for its basic photo portal.   Supporting technical notes could delve how the product works, underlying systems that it uses, how it connects with other applications, how it serves specific industry verticals, and so forth.

 

-          Technical white papers – A technical white paper goes into real depth on how a product or solution works.  They are intended to assuage the curiosity and potential objections of serious technical members of the buying committee.

 

-          Case studies – Buyers like to see that people in similar occupations have had a successful experience with your product or solution.  A case study needs to demonstrate that your product solved a distinct business problem.  Increasingly, case studies are being presented in both written and video form.

Sales Decks

As the marketing person, part of your job is to create sales presentations in PowerPoint (or equivalent non-Microsoft digital files, for my IBM friends out there.)   Using your branded PowerPoint template, you need to collaborate with sales to devise an effective presentation that matches your overall messaging and value proposition.  Some marketing people do not consider this to be their responsibility, and they are half right.  Yes, sales people are always going to adapt and customize the decks you prepare for them.  That’s good and bad.  It’s good because there are constant changes in the sales pitch and the presentation will vary from prospect to prospect.  The bad part is that sales people can, with the best of intentions, come up with new marketing concepts on the fly.  In my experience, this is not a good situation.  You will already have enough trouble wrangling all your marketing content without sales people acting as gratuitous freelancers.

Battle Cards

A battle card is a succinct sales tool usually consisting of a two-sided sheet of paper.  It’s meant to help a sales person be a quick study in exactly what it takes to sell a particular product or solution.  Battle cards vary in content, but most of them contain the following information in brief, digested form:

  • The “elevator pitch”
  • Key value points of the offering
  • Key product facts, i.e. what’s new about it, cool features, etc.
  • Major objections and how to handle them
  • Frequently asked questions
  • Competitive differentiation
  • Further resource links

Basically, a battle card should have everything a sales person needs to conduct a five minute sales call and get from low awareness to consideration in a potential deal.  Marketing is responsible for creating the battle cards. However, making a great battle card involves a skill that some marketers need to improve: Listening.

The sales people are really the authors of the battle cards. They are the ones out in the field talking to clients and prospects every day.    They have the knowledge that will go into the battle card. If you don’t listen to what sales has to say, you will create a sub-standard battle card.  Your role, though, is to listen and interpret what you hear about discussions in the field and translate them into those hard-hitting, brief attack points that will push the deal into the pipeline.  And, of course, you need to align the battle card with other elements of your branding and go-to-market programs.

Proposal Templates

The sales process for enterprise technology invariably involves the development and submission of a written proposal.  This can be as simple as a price quote or as elaborate as a massive, multi-media document.  I have personally been involved in crafting proposals that are longer than this blook.  Yikes!  Very often, the culprit is a “Request for Proposal” or RFP.  These are also known as request for information (RFI) or request for quote (RFQ).  No matter what they are called, however, the RFP is a list of questions posed by the customer that the vendor needs to answer in written form.

Like so many tasks in sales and marketing, different people have different ideas about the right way to do a proposal.  Some suggest a very short form with minimal text accompanying the RFP answers.  Others even go to the extreme of simply returning the RFP questionnaires (Typically in Excel) format with absolutely no explanatory text.   In this case, though, I must insist that you listen only to me.  Seriously, I have worked on proposals now for fifteen years and I have a very good track record of success.  I have written proposals that have resulted in millions of dollars of revenue from Fortune 1000 clients.  My recommendation is that you develop a proposal template that the sales team can re-use and adapt for multiple sales engagements.  The template will be a Word document (or something like it) that the sales person can easily customize for each RFP response.

The best proposals are neither long nor short. They have the right amount of information and text in the right places.  Customers do not want to wade through endless pabulum before getting to the meat of the proposal.  Here’s how I recommend that you structure a proposal.  The order and flow can vary, but I think a good proposal has these elements:

  • Title page, including the client’s logo.
  • Table of contents – very important to enable quick navigation of a large document.
  • Introduction – one page max giving an overview of the client’s needs and your solution recommendation.
  • Executive summary – one page max giving a thumbnail of each section of the proposal.
  • Our Understanding – recapping of client’s requirements in your words to show that you understand what they need and that get where they are coming from, in a business sense.
  • Our Recommendation – this is where you can paste in the answers to the RFP questions. However, this section needs a wrapper that sets up your proposal solution as the one to be selected and explain why.
  • Solution approach – this may or may not be addressed in the “Our Recommendation” section.   This can go into greater depth about your solution than you can in the simple RFP answers, which are often a few sentences long and aimed at answers very specific technical questions from the client.
  • Why Us?  – this is where you explain how great you are
  • Project Plan – explain how you intend to implement the solution, including timelines and personnel to be utilized. You may want to add resumes of key project implementers.
  • Pricing – breaks out what you what plan to charge.
  • Appendices –
    • Depth product detail, if necessary
    • Customer success stories
    • Recent similar projects
    • Client references

Marketing Content and the Concept of “Air Cover”

Sales people, those mythic he-men (and she-women, if there is such a thing) believe that business is a war and that they are the front line troops.  This notion has some symbolic truth, though anyone who has been through an actual war might find the analogy a bit insulting.  Still, those front line solders need “air cover” from you to protect as they battle competitors.  Like those brave Marines who mounted Mt Suribachi on Iwo Jima, who needed strafing from P-51s to keep the enemy at bay, your sales people need all kinds of marketing content to stave off flame-thrower wielding competitors.  Every piece of content that your salespeople can show to their prospects is like a 50 caliber round exploding near the foxholes of your competitors. It keeps them from hurting you.

Air cover can take many different forms, though the general rule is the more the better, and the more varied the better. Examples of air cover include:

  • Press clippings (also known as links in today’s Web media age)
  • Collateral
  • Technical white papers
  • Marketing white papers
  • Solution briefs
  • Analyst coverage
  • Case studies (Written and video)
  • Other marketing content, such as videos, on-demand webcasts, blog posts

All of this accrues to the main goal of air cover, which is the sales person’s ability to say, “We know what we are doing. People respect us.  And, we’re prepared and professional enough to have all these materials to show you.”  As you might intuit, air cover has a lot to do with answering a set of questions that may not have been asked, namely: “Why should we consider your product?”, “Has anyone actually used it, or are we your Guinea Pig?”.  This is not a phenomenon restricted to startups, either.  Established vendors also face credibility challenges when they are introducing something new. Even if you are carrying a bag for a multibillion dollar IT behemoth, if your product is unknown or unproven, you’re going to need air cover.

What’s the difference, you might be wondering, between a marketing white paper and a technical white paper? Glad you asked. A technical white paper, which we discussed above, goes into depth on a technical topic, explaining numerous details of the subject that would be of interest to a technical decision maker.  A technical white paper is intended to provide enough clarification on a technical topic to convince a technical decision maker to consider or prefer your product.  In contrast, a marketing white paper is aimed at a business decision maker and presents the product in a broader business context.  It is intended to answer the higher level question, “why is this product right for my business” the two paper types almost always overlap.

Lead Generation

We’ve talked about lead generation previously in this blook so I won’t beat it to death here.   What’s worth pointing out here, though, is that lead generation should be seen as part of a bigger sales support function that marketing performs.  All the sales support elements come together when you do lead generation. Whatever the lead generation program is – a trade show, email campaign, webinar – once the lead is on the hook, you need to be able to deliver a complete sales support package to help the sales team push that lead all the way over the finish line.

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