My last five years summed up in four words: no change, no change.

Early in my career, I heard Andy Grove speak and he said something that stuck with me to this day – “no change, no change.”  I took this to heart early in my career jumping from one marketing discipline to the next trying to find my passion – and I take it to heart today having found my passion in product marketing. There’s one thing about product marketing –  just when we think we have it figured out – things change. 

Change is what fuels me. I’m not averse to change. I am one of those marketing leaders that is not afraid to tweak positioning and messaging – and tweak it early and often, admittedly driving my peers crazy, but change is inevitable and when you know something is not working – you change it. 

“Know the buyer more than anyone else.” That was the mantra, vision, purpose, rally-cry of my Product Marketing team when I joined Code42 in 2016. It was perfect at the time. We were entering new markets with new products. We need to first and foremost know our buyers. The more we learned about our buyers, the more we understood the market.  The more we learned about our market, the better we could segment it.  The more success we had targeting specific segments, the more we learned about our customers in those segments. Wash, rinse, repeat. 

If Product Marketing was to succeed selling new products in a new market, we had to change. We changed from Product Marketing to Portfolio Marketing. We rallied around a bigger purpose to “know our buyers, markets, segments and customers more than anyone else, so we could be the best product evangelists we can be.”  We hired, developed and grew into a talented team of trusted advisors for the company. We built sales and marketing playbooks, message maps, web pages, content and training. And to this day we are constantly redefining (i.e. changing) product launch. 

Most of the time change is quick, tactical, a tweak here or there. Then there are those times when change is disruptive. When it’s not a tweak, it’s transformational. I call them market waves and they come once every ten years –  if you’re lucky. If you don’t catch them at the right time, you’re out. 

That’s what I love about Portfolio Strategy and Product Marketing (yes – my team’s latest positioning).  When you know the buyers, markets, segments and customers more than anyone else – you see the waves. You see them way out in the ocean when they are forming long before they begin to crest and crash into shore.  You pick one and start plotting your strategy, your plan, your timing. Then you commit to disrupt, transform, change the very thinking of the buyers, markets, segments and customers you spent years figuring out.  You just defined a new market and it’s energizing as a product marketer because we know it’s probably going to change. 

Marketing amidst mass corporate culture shifts – it’s a two way street

2019 CEO studies by PwC, Deloitte, McKinsey, Gartner, Forrester, IDC –they all say the same thing:
digital business remains the CEO’s #1 priority.

In a recent study, PwC asked CEOs to grade themselves on the company’s use of data to drive digital business initiatives. They compared how CEO’s responded based on two factors: comprehensiveness and criticality. How comprehensive is the data the organization collects and analyzes versus how important or critical is that data to digital business success, the 5 biggest gaps CEO’s believe they have:

  1. Data on customer needs: Are customers happy?
  2. Data on brand reputation: Are we trusted and respected?
  3. Data to compare against industry peers: Are we unique?
  4. Data on risk exposure: Are we safe?
  5. Data on employee needs: Are employees engaged?

To best answer these questions, we explored what CEO’s believe enables digital business success, and it came down to three: data, technology and talent. Given these are the top 3 digital business enablers, we looked to see if CEOs are putting money where their mouth is relative to these enablers – where is more of the new money going?

  • Data: 77% of the new money is to close the comprehensive vs critical gaps we discussed above.
  • Technology: 74% of the new money is going towards technology to help drive workforce productivity and efficiency – to make the workforce more performance minded.
  • Talent: 64% of the new money is going towards changing the culture to be more data centric and move faster.

The one thing about digital capabilities and information technology spend…it’s worth nothing unless your people and your culture embrace the change.

The 10,000 foot view

80% of enterprises will change their culture by 2021 as a way to accelerate their digital business strategy. 89% of CEO feel that culture directly impacts the bottom-line metrics of the organization

Baby boomers are retiring. GenXers are climbing the ranks. GenY & GenZ now make up 59% of the global workforce. Corporate cultures are shifting because they have to.  The cultures of the past are not made for such a diverse, digital, mobile and collaborative workforce. No wonder CEO’s say talent management is a top digital business enabler. At the same time, no wonder more employees in the US changed jobs in 2018 than ever before – 40 Million of them according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s safe to say that culture has a huge impact on job satisfaction. A recent Gartner study found that the number of employees regretting their job decision increased nearly 50% over the past decade

So, who owns culture?

Ultimately, the CEO owns the culture, but when it comes to making culture change happen, they look to the CHRO (People) and the CIO (Technology). Not surprising, considering talent and technology are 2 of the top 3 digital business enablers. Corporate Executive Board’s Future of Work 2019 study found when it comes to driving employee engagement and growth, technology is the number one lever to pull – more than skill development or rewards and recognition.

73% of human resources leaders believe that significantly changing the technologies employees use for work will drive better engagement & enable growth. 

This not only aligns to the CEO’s digital business enablers and investment priorities, it also aligns to what 88% of CEO’s stress the CIO’s top priority is – increasing employee productivity and organizational efficiency. In other words, being performance driven. This is evidenced by Gartner’s projection that 70% of CIO’s will have invested in some sort of employee collaboration platform by 2021. No doubt, technology is where CIO’s and CHRO’s find common ground. This is why many CEOs anoint them the agents of change and task them with building a collaborative culture.

Collaboration cultures drive results.

According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2019, nearly one-third of organizations have adopted a collaborative culture. When asked: How much work is done in teams vs. hierarchical functional lines? 31% of companies said most if not all work is done collaboratively in teams. And, thus far over half (53%) of the companies that have built collaborative cultures have seen significant results relative to bottom line metrics around innovation, recruiting and retaining talent, customer experience, strategic initiatives, growth targets, and revenue and profits.

Right now my head’s spinning from stat-overload, so let’s recap.

  • CEOs say digital business is the priority
  • CEOs recognize they have gaps in digital maturity
  • CEOs invest “new money” in digital capabilities, technology and culture
  • CEOs anoint CIOs & CHROs the drivers of culture change
  • CIOs & CHROs see technology as their primary path
  • CIOs and CHROs build a collaborative culture
  • Collaborative cultures drive results
So what does all of this mean for marketing? It’s a two-way street

I go back to the original digital business gaps: Are customers happy? Are we trusted and respected? Are we unique? Are we safe? Are employees engaged? These very questions are at the core of our market[ing] research


At the 10,000 foot view, our mission is to tell a company story through our go-to-market that sparks interest. In order to do this, we need to answer one simple question: are we trusted and respected? If our customer’s mission is to build a collaborative culture, then are we living up to their needs as a trusted and respected brand that enables said culture?  At the same time, are we enabling their brand to be trusted and respected.

At the 100 foot view, our mission revolves around customer success and optimizing their experience with us in order to build an army of advocates. Answering the simple question “are customers happy?” is the basis for our research.  If our customer’s culture is rooted in productivity and efficiency, is the customer experience we deliver actually productive and efficient – for them?

The 1000 foot view

Where the rubber meets the road is square in the middle of our research aperture – the 1000 foot view. Enabling digital business cannot start and stop with being a trusted and respected brand and knowing if our customers are happy.  The path from customer needs to brand and back again travels through the buyer. The product story we tell is all about enabling the buyer and giving them reasons to engage with us. Here we center our research on the levers we can pull (data, technology, talent) that not only help buyers be unique, safe and engaged, but prove that our product is unique, safe and that our employees across the organization help our buyer answer these questions. Again, it’s a two-way street. Yes, we as a vendor want to be differentiated and deliver value to our buyers, but at the same time, our buyers want to feel they are delivering differentiation and value to the employee base and customers they serve.

If we fail answering these very questions (Are customers happy | Are we trusted and respected | Are we unique | Are we safe | Are employees engaged), and fail at enabling our buyers to answer these questions inside their own organizations, then we both fail being a trusted and respected brand.  And if that happens, neither of our customers will ever be truly happy.

Market vs. Market[ing] research: striking the right balance

When it comes to market research projects, what is the optimal research mix?
Too many companies do market research for market research sake. There must be a clear focus for the research and it must support business objectives. One thing we learned as a market research and product marketing team is striking the optimal balance comes down to three words: clarity, conviction and confidence.

Clarity comes when the research we do consistently points us to the same market problem and the market opportunity to solve it.  Conviction comes when we know we have effectively identified and defined our target buyers making up the buying committee and mapped the buyers’ journey.  Confidence comes when patterns emerge in our customer data that paint a clear picture of our ideal customer profile, and our buyers’ ideal customer experience.

We break our market research projects and priorities down by what we call our research aperture:

  • Clarity – 10000 foot view:  Our vision for this stage is to define the market problem and business needs. Here we look at big macro market trends. In our world it’s stuff like digital transformation, generation shifts in the workforce, the gig economy and associated increases in employee turnover.  We look at how these macro trends impact IT and Security priorities at the C-level and thus technology budgets and spend.
  • Conviction – 1000 foot view:  Our vision for this stage is to identify our ideal target personae and their pains. We focus on identifying the target decision makers, influencers and motivators that make up our buying committee and their challenges. We then map the buyers journey and identify the role each member plays at each stage of the journey and the information they need to move from one stage to the next. What we end up with is a fully baked buyer enablement map that shapes our content strategy.
  • Confidence – 100 foot view: Our vision for this stage is define our ideal customer profile. Here we rely most on voice of customer data. This is the aperture where we map the ideal customer journey from purchase to on-board to education to adoption and usage to advisory and advocacy. We do countless customer interviews and look for data patterns identifying opportunities to optimize the customer experience at every stage of the journey. Optimize the customer journey and we optimize retention, expansion and ultimately build and army of customer advocates.

Here is a general breakdown of the approach:


When it comes to striking the right balance, it depends on where you are in your go-to-market maturity relative to your aperture (market, buyer, customer).  We found that most of our 10000 foot view macro-level market research activities are baked.  We know our company story and direction – we have clarity.

Today, it’s more about building conviction and confidence and prioritizing the 1000 and below aperture.   The beauty of the 1000 and 100 foot views is that they are highly actionable and have the ability to drive immediate results. We have moved from market research to market[ing] research with two clear objectives and goals:

  • Buyer Insights – The 1000 foot view:  Focus our research on enhancing the product story and optimizing how we enable the buyer to move through their journey. It’s all about engagement. What messages work, what content, in what formats through what vehicles. Are we providing the information they need to continue to engage and move through their buyers journey?  We do this in close partnership and collaboration with our digital demand and field marketing teams.
  • Customer Insights – The 100 foot view:  Focus our research wholly on customer success with the goal to optimize the customer experience and their journey from purchase to advocacy. Very similar to buyer insights, customer insights focus on answering many of the same questions: what messages work, what content, in what formats through what vehicles. Are we providing the information customers need to  move through the customer journey?  We do this research in close partnership and collaboration with our customer marketing and customer experience teams.

In the end, our research mix came down to the level of clarity, confidence and conviction we have in the market problem, the target buyer personae and their pains and our ideal customer profile.  We’ve spent the last 12+ months doing the work and we’ve checked those boxes.  How do we know?  The business objectives and goals for the year tell us we are ready.   So, now it’s time to shift our mix and start focusing on research that helps the sales, marketing, customer experience and product teams deliver results.  That’s where the fun is…research that drives results – go figure.

Buyer Enablement

Buyer enablement is rooted in one simple principle: 

Always know where your buyers are in their journey so you arm them with the information they need so they can move forward.  

Buyer Enablement is broken up into 4 phases:

  • Phase 1:  Problem Identification
  • Phase 2: Solution Exploration
  • Phase 3: Requirements Building
  • Phase 4:  Supplier Selection

Phase 1:  Problem Identification
In this stage, buyers want a clear definition of the problem, the data that supports it, and the validation that their peers have experienced the pain. Focus urgency messaging on strategic pain: Prescribe where buyers need to focus – what pervasive problems require immediate attention and why.

Phase 2:  Solution Exploration
In this stage, buyers want a clear definition of possible solutions that align to the business problem they’re trying to solve – with peer validation that we solve it! Focus urgency messaging on strategic pain: Prescribe what buyers need to do in order to solve the problem.

Phase 3:  Requirements Building
In this stage, buyer champions want to create urgency within the buying committee using a list of requirements and ranking their level of importance to the business. Focus urgency messaging on systemic pain:  Prescribe how buyers best solve the problem using product differentiators as a guide for what to compare.

Phase 4:  Supplier Selection
In this stage, buyer champions want to create urgency with the buying committee to purchase by proving the vendor is the best fit for the organization. Focus urgency messaging on chronic pain: It’s the everyday pain members of the buying committee feel.

When it comes to your product, tell a story. And here’s an idea – have a point

And by the way, you know, when, when you’re telling these little stories, here’s a good idea. Have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!

– Planes, Trains and Automobiles 1987

Every product should have a story.  Every story should be told in a way that connects with the buyer. Every product marketer should create a story that maps not only to the buyers’ journey, but also sales process.

Six components of a product story:

1. Market Problem: Our target market’s stated or silent problems stemming from existing inefficiencies, awkward workflows or non-optimal solutions.

2. Business Need: Our target market’s functional or emotional desire to address existing inefficiencies, awkward workflows or non-optimal solutions.

3. Buyer Pain: The emotion our target buyers feel when their specific need, problem, weakness, struggle, or desire remains unsolved / unfulfilled.

4. Product Promise: Our product promise is what we do for our target market and buyer to solve their problems, needs and pains – answering “what would I use you for?”

5. Product Value Prop: Our product value prop is how our product works and what makes us the best solution to address the market problem, business need and buyer pain.

6. Product Proof: Our product proof is the hard evidence that we actually solve the market problem, business need and buyer pain both technically and economically.