When Demand Generation is a Waste of Time

First published by Martech Advisors on August 20, 2018

How to Develop Customer-Centric Messaging in Four Easy Steps

A recent client knew their messaging and positioning wasn’t working. Field sales stumbled trying to explain it. No one understood it and every employee told a different story. Messaging and positioning are one of the most gut-wrenching activities an organization undertakes. The pressure to get it right and a multitude of internal opinions on what constitutes good messaging abound. Often organizations make the job harder by ladling the exercise with too many objectives and expectations. When I talk with management teams I often hear them describe messaging as needing to convey what the company does, the market category, the latest cool features, how it differentiates from competitors and include trending buzzwords, 800-pound gorilla customer names (for validation), while motivating prospects to contact the company, AND be short and memorable. It doesn’t need to be nor should it be that hard. The most effective messaging and positioning is at the intersection of customers’ most valued and sought benefits, a brand’s unique differentiators, and the market’s direction. Clients frequently come to us for help with their messaging and positioning. They believe that since their internal exercise did not produce the right messaging their approach must be missing some vital step, knowledge, or insight. They don’t need a consultant; they need a more effective process. The four-step process we recommend (and use) are:

1. Capture customers’ words.

Capture the actual words by sitting in on prospect calls, demos, and meetings. Don’t ask Sales for this information, they are focused on buying signals not tone, body language, semantics, and emotion. Ask marketing or product marketing to be the listener and scribe. Tip: Focus on customer segments that represent the company’s future growth areas and listen without prejudice.

2. Leverage industry analyst inquiries.

Talk to large and boutique analysts – don’t pitch them – about market categories where you might fit today and in 24 months. Ask thoughtful questions about purchase drivers, the decision process, sought benefits, features, ROI, and business case development. With permission, record the calls and transcribe them; there is a wealth of information there. Tip: Conduct multiple inquiries throughout the year to develop a relationship with key analysts. Those will come in handy because as you develop your messaging, your questions will change.

3. Conduct competitive analyses.

Pick your top four aspirational competitors because you should, as a rule, position up to more successful vendors. Conduct pattern analysis on two years of press releases, media stories, industry and Wall Street reports, executive interviews and speeches. Look for changes in messaging and any corresponding events such as new products, M&A, emerging trends. Plotting the patterns gives insights into when, how and in what direction competitors will evolve their messaging. Tip: Plot the changes on a four by four chessboard, it makes pattern detection easier to identify and understand.

4. Agree on unique differentiators.

The process to identify unique differentiators begins by defining the table stakes that all competitors must offer for prospects to consider them. Then, list those capabilities, whether you have them or not, that customers use to shortlist vendors. From that list define your unique two to five differentiators that compel a customer to buy from you versus aspirational competitors. Tip: Speed up this step with a customer/prospect co-creation session and also use it to validate market strategies. The four-step process puts structure around activities that are already happening in organizations. Once you have the results from the steps you’re ready to sit down and craft the actual messaging. The easiest way to do that is to answer four questions:
  • Who are we?
  • What do we do?
  • Why are we different?
  • How we are different?
The objective is to describe your uniquely differentiating and most valued benefits that strategic customer segments realize from using your product or brand. When answer ‘why are you different’ focus on the primary reason customers select you over someone else or status quo using customer language. Structure your answer to how you’re different by listing in a table each attribute (no more than five) and the corresponding customer defined benefits, in their words. As you work on the wording, focus on being short, to the point, written in ninth grade English. The language should reflect the tone of your brand, without jargon. Bluescape messaging was that they help companies create better. Its visual collaboration software gives teams a virtual workspace to meet, share, and develop ideas. The messaging wasn’t differentiating or effectively resonating with their target markets. Following the four-step process, new messaging was developed. The responses to the first three questions are below. The response to the last question is, and should be for every company, internal confidential.
  • Who we are?  We’re a comprehensive digital workplace collaboration solution provider.
  • What we do? We make conversation and content collaboration natural, so that teams work faster, smarter, and more efficiently.
  • Why we’re different? We make collaboration natural, visual and intuitive while allowing you to use your favorite tools, applications, and devices. We are experts in creating better ways for people to work.
Notice how the language is casual, simple and familial which reflects the tone of the brand. Customer sought benefits are– “work faster, smarter and more efficiently” – with the unique differentiators conveyed as “natural, visual and intuitive”. Bluescape expanded the messaging work and questions into a detailed branding document that guided all market-facing interactions – and made updating easier. Marketing and sales should validate your messaging with prospects, customers, partners, key influencers and industry analysts. Test it at tradeshows, prospect dinners, in social media and field marketing events before baking it into all your content. Keep in mind there is no one perfect positioning statement. As customer expectations evolve over time, so too should messaging. The operative word is evolving not herky-jerky shifts. By going back to the four-process step, identifying what has meaningfully changed and incorporating that into the question responses, your team can easily keep messaging aligned with customers and relevant.   First published in Martech Advisors on June 25, 2018

Driving Faster B2B Purchases through Sales and Customer Alignment

The new customer

The way B2B buyers make purchasing decisions have transformed, but many sales staff continue to exhibit learned behaviors from a prior era. Sales once thrived from closing big deals, but now buyers make purchases incrementally. They chaperoned buyers through their purchase, but, according to Forrester, now 75 percent of the buy cycle is completed before sales is contacted. Sales feels their role is to persuade buyers to make a purchase, but the majority of buyers obtain evaluative information from nine or more independent sources before engaging with sales. These disconnects between buyer expectations and seller behaviors that are hard-coded into sales culture have crippled efficacy and efficiency. Only 50 percent of sales staff are hitting their quotas. Forrester has found that buyers don’t see value in their interactions with sales 97 percent of the time. To close deals faster and meet quotas more often, sales needs to be re-wired to meet the expectations of the modern buyer. They, and Marketing, need to systematically understand buyer expectations and use that information to align sales with those behaviors that buyers will see value in, which will help buyers make purchasing decisions faster, and increase close rates. Bridging the gaps Years ago, buyers looked to vendor sales teams as fountains of knowledge, insights and tools to help them be more successful.  The role of the sales person was trusted adviser and guide.  They helped companies identify unmet needs and guided them through the evaluation and selection process. Not anymore. Today, buyers expect sales people to specialize in listening. Listen to how buyers understand their needs, their approach to solving them, and how solutions they’re evaluating fit into the broader corporate ecosystem. The first step in bridging the gaps between buyer expectations and seller behaviors, is to create two sets of maps; one from the buyer’s perspective and another from the seller’s. The first map is called the buyer’s journey. It documents each step of the buyer’s process from the trigger point where a problem is first identified, through purchasing a solution and evangelizing it. The second set of maps documents internally held beliefs, processes and strategies, so the two can be compared. Both maps are created primarily through thoughtful, objective interviews. The result is a set of storyboards that document processes, expectations, and interactions for different personas, products and problem statements. The storyboards show why some sales are being delayed or lost, when buyers experienced something different than what they were expecting and, most importantly at all, what buyers needed from the vendor at each step of their purchasing process. We call these buyer tollgates. Jumping over tollgates Tollgates are barriers the buyer has to overcome before making a purchase, such as a business case or a presentation to management. When sales is focused on “buy buy buy” long before buyers are ready to make a purchase decision, it delays the purchase and is not valuable to buyers. By refocusing sales on helping the customer overcome their tollgates, sales can dramatically improve its value to the customer, close rates and shorten the sales cycle. The buyer’s journey map serves as a decoder ring to the buyer for sales. Over time, sales can instinctively pick up on indicators of where a prospect is in their process and what tollgates they need to pass to get to the next stage. Each time sales helps the buyer pass a tollgate, the buyer sees value in the interaction and is able to proceed to the next step faster. The most compelling way for a sales representative to improve their individual performance and earn a larger commission is to master the art and science of helping buyers pass tollgates. Background: The Sellers’ Compass™ New Business Strategies introduced the Sellers’ Compass™ in our whitepaper “Connecting Customer Experience to Revenue.”  The Sellers’ Compass is a framework for aligning marketing, sales, support and operations to how buyers make purchasing decisions and their expected experience with the vendor. At the heart of the methodology is the Sellers’ Compass™ itself, a ten-stage map of the buyers’ journey. This is our methodology for mapping the buyer’s purchasing process, including buyer tollgates and expectations in sales interactions. Sales operates most heavily in the Evaluate, Validate and Purchase steps. When the buyer’s journey map is completed for an individual brand, sales will be able to identify the step in the sellers compass a prospect is in and correlate it to specific buyer tollgates and expectations. The outcome is a sales staff that operates in a thoughtful way with scientific precision, rather than relying on gut instinct and traditional sales behaviors. Sales and marketing alignment A Harvard study found that those responding to an online lead within one hour were seven times more likely to get business from it, yet in a separate study they found that 23 percent of leads were never responded to and only 37 percent were within one hour. This is a substantial amount of lead leakage, where prospective customers are “disqualified” or fall through the cracks. 80 percent of those disqualified leads end up purchasing from a competitor. Sales is often frustrated by the quality of leads produced by marketing, and marketing in-turn sees that their leads are not followed-up on. Lead scoring based on journey maps and measuring where buyers are is a better technique to qualify leads and provide sales with meaningful context. Instead of telling sales a lead touched a piece of content, marketing can identify how fast the lead is moving through their purchasing process, what step they’re on, and what tollgates they need to overcome, so sales is equipped to make effective calls that will bring quality business. Change management Psychologists have compared the natural human resistance to change to our aversion to pain. Sales methodologies have been deeply rooted into sales culture and training. Change must be carefully facilitated, while navigating cultural and political constraints. It must be done incrementally, or risk being rejected by staff outright. Journey maps based on the Seller’s Compass methodology is a tool for helping staffs visualize the gaps between buyers and sellers and internalize the changes that can improve their performance and commission. Conclusion Sales staff needs to replace spray and pray and hard-selling techniques with a thoughtful approach to understanding buyers and helping buyers complete their self-directed journey. By helping buyers overcome their own tollgates, sales can become a valued asset to buyers, while accelerating the sales process and closing more deals. First published in MarTech Advisor.

AI in Email Tech: An Intuitive Touch to your Customer Engagement

Email is the best and the worst marketing tool. It is the ‘go-to’ tool for building mindshare, finding leads and nurturing sales opportunities. At the same time, email is considered one of the most annoying, unproductive, time-sinks of the day. Despite our daily griping about the size of our email inboxes, email is here to stay with higher volumes expected. According to Adobe’s latest email study, millennials expect their use of email to increase and can be expected to check their email more frequently than any other generation. Additionally, enterprise social networks like Slack were preferred by only one percent of the study respondents. Despite, or because, of our experiences and feelings, email users are stepping up to be ‘masters of their inbox’. People are becoming more selective in how they engage with email. Adobe found that:

  • 40 percent of emails are deleted without being opened.
  • Lack of relevant personalization drives brand dissatisfaction.
  • Email is effective for additional incentives to purchase (42%), not what to purchase (17%).
  • Time spent checking personal and work email dropped by 20 percent compared to last year.
Email has gone through various evolutions beginning with mass mail, segmentation, personalization to becoming true one-to-one marketing platforms that are tightly integrated into an organization’s marketing and sales ecosystem. While email is here to stay, the technology capabilities are rapidly changing. Artificial Intelligence Empowered Email Machine learning is helping marketers get more granular in their buyer/customer engagement strategies, more responsive to their needs and interests, and ultimately more adaptive in their marketing outreach. Dave O’Flanagan, CEO at Boxever, a customer intelligence cloud solution, believes that new technologies can be instrumental in aligning email communications to each recipient’s needs. “Artificial intelligence and machine learning can help to solve this problem. Intelligent solutions will learn from past customer experiences and interactions and use that insight to dictate what they offer those customers in the future.” Michelle Huff, CMO at Act-On Software, a marketing automation platform provider, sees email vendors increasingly adapting communications to context and looking to AI to bridge that divide and help their users anticipate buyers’ needs. “The convergence of technologies enables marketers to build Adaptive Journeys™ to support complex discovery and purchasing behaviors,” shares Huff. “Intelligent technology can activate adjustments in messaging in real-time to ensure the right content is being sent to a customer for any given scenario,” agrees O’Flanagan. “This ensures customers are getting impactful, personalized email engagements.” But, technology is not a silver bullet; making email effective requires Sales and Marketing to work more closely together. More Interactivity According to Huff, “Email is really the workhorse of marketing. It is what helps to further a relationship: It is the nurturing engine used to warm up, prime, reconnect and stay top of mind with your buyers and customers.” Manohar Chapalamadugu, Founder and CEO of Agile CRM, believes as does Huff and O’Flanagan, that embedded videos and interactive content will increasingly become the norm within emails. Allowing the reader to engage with the content either by sliding, peeling, pulling or zipping integrates email tighter with marketing automation to score customer behavior. O’Flanagan cautions that video and interactive content needs to be hyper-personalized to deliver true value. Huff advises companies to support email campaign with multichannel marketing. “By adding a display advertising element, marketing can bet on higher open rates and overall content engagement,” Michelle shares. “This can be two-fold: Retargeting email subscribers with ads across additional web properties to keep your brand top of mind as well as act as a reminder to open your most recently sent email or engage with your next email.” Data-Driven The trend that will have the most impact on email marketing is it’s becoming more data-driven. Huff states, “Being able to understand how a customer interacts and engages with your emails and the assets within it like CTA buttons, links and videos are digital breadcrumbs helping marketers better understand who their buyers are and where they are in their buying journey.” Becoming data-driven is tightly linked to email’s role in helping companies achieve a true 360-degree view of customers and enable real personalization. That means capturing and rationalizing all interaction data across the relationship lifecycle and investing in a centralized data platform to get a complete cross-channel view of customers. Yet at the same time, marketers will need to be more vigilant to their data and compliance obligations, prioritizing regular audits of customer data collected, ensuring that data is permissioned and sell-by dates enforced, as well as investing in third-party certifications. Huff advocates that “marketers and CMOs will need to look at privacy and compliance as weapons in a larger demand gen arsenal . One that is central to their brand promise.” Individualized Marketing By becoming more data-driven, email will evolve into what Act-On calls ‘adaptive individualized marketing’ to make smarter email marketing decisions about what the recipient should receive based on what is known about them. That will lead to true one-to-one marketing. “Marketers must build Adaptive Journeys personalized to each individual based on the unique behaviors and preferences of each customer,” shares Huff. “A brand’s engagement with a buyer should not be program based, but predicated on who they are, when they prefer to engage, and across the channel they most engage on. It’s about delivering value to the customer where they are and when they want it.” Adds O’Flanagan, “, brands must leverage customer data in an appropriate fashion and approach personalization subtly . To build trust and improve the overall brand experience.” Email platforms are crucial to operationalizing customer experiences . Behavioral data will not only determine where in a journey an individual is but what is the next best action (to borrow a term from Pegasystems) and when. Huff stresses that “measuring the impact of individual email programs and tying that back to a centralized data repository draws a more complete picture of the lifecycle end-to-end.” This enables the whole organization to better understand how to correctly impact micro-moments of influence and pain. First published in MarTech Advisor