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

How to Get What You Want From Analyst Relations

It matters less what you say than what others say about your company or product. While marketers have been preaching this for decades, the definition of who the “others” are has varied over time. Others used to mean tier one print media outlets, news channels and industry analysts. Today, the focus is on customers, thought leaders and subject matter experts promoted through case studies, blogger posts, video testimonials, webinars, social media and customer reviews on platforms like Trustpilot. Industry analysts are noticeably absent from today’s list.  

The Technology World’s Love Hate Relationship With Analysts

The technology community has always had a love-hate relationship with analysts. For many, they are seen as a necessary evil requiring costly investments in the hope of currying favor. Success is usually narrowly defined as inclusion in analyst reports and placement, preferably in the upper right corner of a magic quadrant, wave or market category vendor rating. You’ll hear many CEOs and marketers lament that analyst relations is a “more you invest, greater the odds of coverage” game. However, that’s not true. Sure, some “analyst” firms are play for play, but seasoned marketers know who those players are just as well as customers do. Leading large and boutique analyst firms like Gartner and Wainhouse Research are in the advice and empowerment business. Gartner’s mission statement states: “We equip business leaders with indispensable insights, advice and tools to achieve their mission-critical priorities and build successful organizations of tomorrow.” In other words, analysts are motivated when they see companies using their knowledge to achieve real success. It’s what makes them tick. Years ago as CMO of Ariba, I developed a trusted relationship with Mickey North-Rizza, who is now with IDC. As I led Ariba’s shift from on-premises to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) while rebuilding market credibility at the same time, Mickey was my muse. We talked about positioning, acquisitions and market evolutions. She gained a richer understanding of our goals and challenges. She was instrumental in turning around the market and Wall Street’s perceptions of Ariba, which improved the stock and sales performance. To this day, I listen to Mickey.

Jump Start Your Way to Better Analyst Relationships

If you’re a growth or early stage company you need to invest in relationship-building, but here are a few of my hacks to get a jump start on results:

Get Personal

Instead of your CMO conducting briefings alone, put your CEO on a plane to join the visit with analysts on their turf. Have a cup of coffee, lunch or a formal briefing and demo in a relaxed environment designed to foster a personal connection. Your CTO should also be there.


Use those conference passes — and buy more. Attend and preschedule analyst one-on-ones. Ask intelligent questions during their presentations.

Frequent Inquiries

Submit a steady (but not over the top) cadence of inquiry requests with relevant analysts and ask thoughtful questions about recent reports and issues facing your company.

Access to Customers

Every analyst loves to talk to customers. In inquiries and briefings offer to connect the analyst with one or two customers for an open conversation without “minders.”  

2 Keys to a Successful Analyst Relationship

One key to successful industry analyst relations is to set realistic goals for your program.  For a recent growth-stage client the goals we set were:
  1. Make sure we’re in the right market category, today and within 24 months.
  2. Help define/confirm the compelling use cases and return on investment (ROI) metrics.
  3. Help define truly differentiated messaging and validate with category and GoToMarket analysts.
  4. Make sure relevant analyst knows us, our differentiation, and enjoys every conversation.
  5. Critique and engage in refining our (new) website to meet the customer experience (CX) objectives.
  6. Get mentions (intentionally last on the list).
The second key to success is your account executive, who is your champion within the analyst firm. You have the right to expect to work with an account executive that understands how to navigate their firm, your goals and engage with your team on:
  • A detailed onboarding plan with ‘milestones’ and a prioritized initial list of analysts.
  • Monthly face-to-face meetings focused on client updates, milestones and relevant upcoming research agendas.
  • Proactive reminders about scheduling inquiries and briefings and help in getting the analyst to accept requests.
  • Build relationships with multiple client personnel including your CEO to broaden analyst exposure and knowledge with the company.

Contact Us Search Fix Your Marketing Data Problem So You Can Get on With Work Search Fix Your Marketing Data Problem So You Can Get on With Work

If your company is like most organizations, one of your biggest headaches is your database. Underpinning everything the sales and marketing departments do, a database can make or break your growth. Yet databases often get very little attention. I get it. Analyzing, cleaning and appending your customer relationship management (CRM) or marketing automation data is mind-numbing, daunting and super unsexy. You can either kick the can down the road and face the constant scrutiny from sales or fix it and get on with life. The reality is you don’t have much of a choice if you want to get the most out of account-based marketing (ABM), hybrid ABM or middle-of-the-funnel (MOTF) and bottom-of-the-funnel (BOTF) campaigns. I wrote about the growing data integrity problem in Forbes in 2017. Now I’m going to share ideas about how to fix it, with a look at the four-step process we use with our clients.

1. Gap Analysis

Before you start “fixing,” you first need to understand what to fix. The place to start is by evaluating your database’s health with an understanding of what and where the gaps are. You should answer questions such as these:
  • How well does the database represent your target markets? We once had a client that wanted to target Fortune 1000 companies but had a database that was 80 percent small and midsize businesses in nonstrategic markets.
  • What percentage of your database is made up of duplicate and dead accounts and contacts? Our company appears in various databases as NBS, New Business Strategies and NBS Consulting Group Inc., not to mention various odd permutations that are clearly the result of typos. Likewise, my partner’s name often incorrectly shows up as, among other things, Jim, Kenneth, James and KJ — which irritates him to no end.
  • How accurate and complete is the account and contact information? You might be surprised at how often basic information is inaccurate. We moved our offices to a new location three years ago, and we still receive marketing materials with the old address.
The other area we like to test is family tree data, which is especially important for B2B clients with “land an expand” sales models. Here the gap analysis should focus on the percentage of accounts with family tree data and when that data was last updated.

2. Prioritize Cleaning

Data cleansing efforts follow the law of diminishing returns because it is unrealistic to expect to clean all of your data. Some data elements are just more important than others, and you should clean those first. Evaluate all the data elements that you currently have and prioritize them. Is “industry” or “NAICS code” more important than “employee size”? The best way to address questions like that is by partnering with your inside sales and field sales teams. The outcome should be a prioritized list of data elements. We also recommend that the team agree on rules for standardization or normalization. Simple little things like not clarifying whether to spell out “Drive” or use the abbreviation “Dr.” can start the slippery slope of bad data. Fortunately, today’s popular CRM systems and systems like LeanData help standardization of certain data elements through matching and fuzzy logic, but they can’t do it all — nor do they make up the rules.

3. Pick Your Partner

You will need a vendor partner to provide the data needed to correct and append your database. The array of choices is staggering — there are list brokers, offshore companies and vendors like ZoomInfoDiscoverOrg and D&B — and all of them make similar claims The decision is often made more difficult by internal team favorites and differing philosophies. At one of our client organizations, the chief financial officer felt the expense of partnering with a third party was unnecessary and said that the database should grow organically to reflect how well marketing was doing its job. At a different client, the head of sales believed in subscribing to multiple databases, under the logic that “what you don’t get from one can come from the other.” Neither of those options is cost-effective, and neither one will produce the results you need. We developed the following best practices from helping more than 100 clients:
  1. Evaluate partners that have depth in your top prioritized data elements — industry, company size, etc.
  2. More doesn’t mean better. It is better to err on the side of data accuracy and currency than on the size of the vendor’s database.
  3. Ask for a random sample of 50 to 100 records that match your data criteria. Test the sample records for accuracy in emails and phone calls, etc.
  4. Dig into the vendor’s data currency processes. Is the data pulled from multiple credible sources? Does it undergo human validation of all data fields a minimum of every 12 months?
  5. Insist on a day-to-day account manager and data specialist to help you implement and monitor the cleaning and appending processes. Compare the vendor’s methodology against best practices, and ask tough questions; your success depends on it.
  6. Negotiate an error threshold on specific data elements. Under the threshold, the vendor commits to correcting the data within an agreed-upon time frame. Over the threshold, the vendor agrees to a financial penalty with remediation or contract termination without penalty.
  7. Read the contract very carefully so you know what data you own, what you’re paying for and how to terminate the agreement. In a recent project, during a review of one vendor’s terms and conditions, we found that upon contract expiration or termination, all data secured from that vendor had to be deleted from the client’s database. That was a deal-breaker.

4. Append

Together with your data vendor, define a work plan and timeline to implement the clean and append. Agree on how the database is to be cleansed and on the process flow for the append, which typically happens in your marketing automation or inbound marketing system. Also identify any other corporate systems that will need to change to ensure the integrity of the database. Because no company can afford to stop marketing and sales during a clean, tag each record as it is cleaned. Once a majority of the database is cleansed, launch the append to begin adding missing data to existing and new records. With a solid data foundation in place, you can now look at how you can more effectively support personalization and segmentation and leverage intent data and ABM orchestration to improve conversion or evolve into a customer data platform (CDP) to drive more relevant customer experiences. Just get on with it.

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.