What customers can teach us about marketing

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The customer is always right when it comes to being “the customer.”

In my last post, I described how the very marketing principles I leaned on for years are helping me in my latest customer facing role as a segment manager.  Now I’m flipping it around because since, I have learned that there are 3 things customers have taught me about the value of a well thought-out market strategy:

  • Master the market
  • Be the customer
  • Cut to the chase

Now accomplishing these 3 things is not easy, but I’m a sucker for finding simplicity wherever I can, and I find it when focusing on answering Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why.  Whether it’s framing discussions with customers about the market, or framing a strategy rooted in customer insights, answering the fundamental questions not only helps keep my thought process sane, but on task. Depending on the task at hand, you can create your own who, what, where, when, how, and why questions, but I have found the ones below tend to be the ones that quite often go unanswered, or at minimum, glossed over.

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Mastering the Market

For me, “mastering the market “is all about answering: who is the audience, what are their pain points, and where are they heading?  The answers to these questions are about truly understanding the customer, their challenges, and their directives.

Start first with the market – this is the easy part. You should know what market you want to attack.  Maybe it’s SMB, Startups, or Prosumers. Then comes the more detailed exploration – segmentation. Gather as many relevant data points from as many sources to paint a picture of the segments that make up you market. Each segment may have unique customers, and unique users. Understanding, the customers and more specifically, the users is the critical component to “mastering” the market. Each customer/user will have financial, operational, and technical challenges you need to uncover. At the same time, users act based on directives. Directives may be imposed by leadership, or direct management and they tend to be economical, philosophical, and/or aspirational in nature.

  • Economical:  Reduce costs by X% (Who hasn’t said this?)
  • Philosophical: Quality is job 1 (Ford)
  • Aspirational: A computer on every desk and in every home (Microsoft)

Tony Zambito talks about directives in the THE IMPORTANCE OF GOAL-DIRECTED BEHAVIORS TO BUYER PERSONAS

“It has been predominantly found and recognized that the pursuit of a choice or choices is largely goal-directed.”

Understand how these high level directives impact how your users think, plan, and act. Will they be looking for ways to reduce costs? Will they be more influenced by reliability and quality metrics? Or, will they be looking for creative ways to add value? 

Be the Audience

You have broken the market up into segments. You have defined your target customers / users. You know their specific challenges and directives.  Now put yourself in their shoes and get into their heads – when, how, and why do they buy the products and services they buy?

Answering when do / will they buy is about understanding their buying triggers, hurdles, and most importantly, their timeline. Are they developing a new concept? Are they already implementing and testing the concept? Or, are they committed and in full deployment / production mode?  Depending on where they are in their timeline, not only are the buying triggers and hurdles different, but who you need to connect with in terms of participants, influencers, and decision makers will differ.  Here is where understanding the customers’ / users’ buying process is critical to an effective strategy. The buying process is all about answering how they buy?

It does not stop there.  Too many times, we forget to ask why?  Why do they buy or more importantly why did they not buy? What is the customers’ / users’ rational for making a buying decision?  I have found that they tend to be economic, philosophic, or empathetic in nature.

  • Economic:  “I bought because it was the lowest priced solution, or offered the lowest TCO (total cost of ownership).”
  • Philosophic:  “I bought because it was the lowest risk solution relative to the ROI (return on investment).”
  • Empathetic:  “I bought because we have a strong relationship, and they share the same vision / goals as ours, or are best equipped to enable us to achieve our goals.”

Knowing why customers/users buy or not buy can be extremely valuable information when putting together your strategy.  Combine this with knowing when and how they buy and the strategy you put together has some serious teeth.

Cut to the Chase

Mastering the market is about identifying who is your customer. Being the customer is about truly appreciating what keeps them up at night (their challenges) where their heading (their directives), when will they get there (their behaviors), how will they get there (their processes), and why they buy what they buy to get where they are going (their rationale).

Cutting to the chase is nothing more than putting it all together into clear, simple, and concise positioning, messaging, and content designed for your customers, by your customers. You know the challenges. You know the directives. You know the behaviors, processes, and rationale, so cut to the chase and communicate to exactly who you need to with what they need, when they need it, and why.

It’s amazing when you really listen to the customer, how right they actually are, and how much they are willing to teach us about marketing.

Is it really that simple?

Take a break from marketing (or not)

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When I decided to “take a break” from years in marketing to build my business acumen the wild world of product management, I came to question can one truly take a break from marketing?

My decision last year to embark on this new journey, to take on new challenges in a new world we called customer segment management was exactly that – a journey with new challenges that seems to have been all to familiar.

What I learned was that I truly never left “marketing.” I may not have been in the org, or had the title, but the practices and applications of the science (yes – it is a science) that I formed over the years are so engrained, I could not possibly avoid them. The practices and applications of everything from Content Marketing, Blogging and Social, to Brand MarketingMarketing Strategy and everything in between translated to customer segment management. The very marketing principles I leaned on not only still apply, but empower me when engaging 1:1 with customers:

  • Know your audience – not knowing is a waste of time
  • Always be listening – people don’t want to be heard, they want to be understood
  • Always be exploring – curiosity is where knowledge starts
  • Always be discovering – markets are mysteries waiting to be solved
  • Never stop creating – without a story, you’re just telling (no one likes to be told…)

Know your audience is the cardinal rule of Marketing 101, yet I cannot stress how little attention is paid to actually knowing the customer. Maybe knowing the customer is too vague and subject to interpretation. Perhaps we should try to “be” the customer.  When you put yourself in the world of the customer, you being to realize what their challenges really are – what they care and don’t care about. What makes them tick.

Always be listening comes off as obvious, but there is a big difference between hearing and listening. I found that there are things customers will tell you openly, and things that they might say with a bit of reservation.  Document everything, synthesize all of the disparate data points you’ve captured, and a picture will start to form in your head. The picture helps you begin to actually start knowing your audience.

Always be exploring is when those pesky questions and ideas start to form in your head. Don’t allow them to be passing thoughts. Write them down. Think about how you would go about answering them and start digging. What I found is that the more I dug, the more questions I had, the more exploring I did, and the clearer the path became to discovering opportunities. Which brings us to the next principle.

Always be discovering is about mystery solving.  I like to think of markets as mysteries. Some we realize all too well, and some are mysteries yet to surface. Our goal as marketers is not only to solve the mystery, but uncover new ones we can solve. The beauty is that if you are always listening and exploring, and you know your audience, this becomes a heck of a lot clearer – not easier – but clearer in terms of a path to discovery, to solving the mystery.  That path may take you all over the web scouring for data points. It may take you to more customers, new types of market research, or social media, forums, and customer hangouts. Like any good detective, don’t leave any stone unturned that may help solve the mystery.

Never stop creating is all about storytelling. Storytelling can captivate an audience. It can pull them in and entice them into a conversation or discussion, and that’s what we want whether it’s 1:1 with a customer, or in social media with many customers. Discussions support our knowing the audience and ability to listen which means we can explore, discover, and create more effectively.  Presenting, on the other hand is simply telling. What’s worse than sitting in a room listening to someone tell us about their products and services. We all have sat through those meetings, and they rarely lead to anything (getting back to know your audience).

Takeaway:

Marketing is just as much telling a story to create customers as it is listening to the stories your customers are telling you.

Image of my pup Lucy taking her own break.

Time to Market(ing) vs Just being better

The Bad News Bears finished 2nd - but were they the better team?

The Bad News Bears finished 2nd – but were they the better team?

In the technology sector it seems that first to market is something almost every tech company strives to be the best at, but it is just marketing fluff?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a marketing guy first and foremost, and there are benefits to being the “first to announce” some new fangled feature, capacity point, or even form factor. Analysts love it because it gives them some perspective on who is innovating faster, who is the “market leader,” who is the “technology leader” in a given sector.  The press and bloggers love it because it’s something new to talk about, and of course, the tech company’s love it because their “first to XYZ” is being talked about, tweeted, shared, liked, commented on, etc.  But, to truly embrace the advantage of being the first to market / announce is to back it up with the evidence that it does indeed mean something besides being the first to issue a press release.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great when you are the first to announce something, but do you know what is better?  Being the first to actually ship something and see it get used in the real world, and make a difference for both users and, let’s face it, the company’s bottom line. This seems to happen quite a lot in the tech space.  A rat race to be the first to this, or the first to that.  Do consumers and business users really care who is first?  Or, do they care more about when they can get it, use it, advantage from it?  I would guess it’s the later.

Sometimes, being first doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best.  Des Traynor wrote a great piece titled “Why Being First Doesn’t Matter”  where he says, “more often than not, it’s the other way around. 47% of first-movers fail, compared with only 8% of fast followers…First-mover advantage isn’t automatically bestowed unto the first product in a category. It’s not even guaranteed to exist in your industry and, when it does, it is fought for and earned.”

So, being first is great and companies should continue to strive to being the first to announce something new and innovative that offers real advantage for users. BUT, maybe, just maybe, being first should not be the primary goal, because nothing is better than being the best.

Now that’s something to market.

5 Reasons why those that “THINK BIG & act small” make the best partners

According to Gartner Research, “Gartner Says Capitalism Going Social Will Require Organizations to Build Two-Way Relationships with the “99 Percent”

The impact of social capitalism is not only driving inward exploration but outward. Yes, it’s always good for businesses large and small to create a corporate culture that is more open, collaborative, and enabling.  But, at the same time, companies must apply the best practices of a socially capitalistic workplace into a socially capitalistic community of partners and customers.

The days of keeping everything inside your own 4 walls and creating something of real value for the masses is easier said then done. You need partners, and the time has never been more right to form close partnerships within your industry.

So, who to focus on? One would immediately THINK BIG, but, innovation is not necessarily led by the largest companies. In a recent study on the Harvard Business Review’s blog network, researcher Maxwell Wessel offers a framework for how big companies should go about innovating (via @Fortune), but seldom do.  The reason I have been focused on those companies that may THINK BIG, but act small… Companies that act small have 5 key attributes that I find attractive in partnering:

1. Agile – always changing/adapting their business models to grow.
2. Opportunistic – always looking for opportunities to build their brand.
3. Quick – always wanting and needing to move fast.
4. Hungry – always having that entrepreneurial spirit.
5. Loyal – always open to contributing to joint success.

But always remember, it’s not one-sided.  It’s not an “if you build it they will come” mentality   Companies that THINK BIG but act small usually lack 1 critical resource, okay 2 critical resources: time and patience.  The program you put together must have  a compelling value for them to spend their limited time engaging, and the rewards of said engagement had better come quick.

Creating quality content from lead gen to close

This is a very cool infographic linking technology to the sales process. Not only does it provide the who’s who of software companies that deliver apps for prospecting, qualifying, nurturing, and closing, underneath the covers it reveals what every marketing person have some level of focus on…content.

All to often, we think the role of content is at the top of the funnel: lead generation, and that is where we place a majority of the emphasis, and rightfully so, because without leads, the rest of the enablement process falls apart.  But, in addition to lead gen, content plays a critical role from nurturing & prospecting to qualifying and closing . At each stage, the difference between success and failure lies in creating quality content to one, meet the needs of the customer, and two, meet the needs of sales as they navigate through the sales process.

When I look at this process, I see opportunities to learn what makes quality content.  I ask myself the following questions:

  • What content is driving the most web traffic & creating the most leads?
  • How can that content be leveraged into a sales script for prospecting?
  • What questions are potential customers asking and how do we use content to best address those concerns ahead of time?
  • How do potential customers engage for more information?  Is it via webinars, online forms, social media?
  • What does the art of negotiation look like? Are there consistent “asks” that could point to something marketing could address through programs?
  • How happy is the customer? How has our solution benefited them?  Is there a case study opportunity here?

Of course, there are more questions that arise than simply the ones listed above, but these are the most common. By working with sales through the process, marketers can get a better grasp of the needs of the customer. The more intelligence collected, the greater the opportunity to create the right content.

And the right content just might speed this entire process along.

Mind the gaps in determining content quality over quantity

wojtasiak_Content quality over quantityWhen it comes to creating content, we always hear quality “over” quantity, but I often ask myself how much “over?”
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Thinking about what content we create, when we publish it, where we publish it, to whom the content is targeted, why we created it in the first place, and how it will be measured, I’ve come to the conclusion that we are creating enough, but is it of the best quality?  Is it simple to consume? Does it cater to the audience’s consumption preferences?
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This proved to be a good exercise because it forced me to look long and hard at the content we are creating, and the gaps in our strategy and execution.
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Breaking down the content machine:
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Obviously, we are creating a ton of content, but how efective is it working? The above matrix could be dissected in a million different ways with content marketing best practices applied to each and every cell. Instead of doing that in one very long and detailed post, let’s start with the obvious gaps.
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  1. What: There seems to be a lack of rich media with the exception of infographics, the list is pretty old-school. Suggestion is to focus more on leveraging video, webinars, e-books, etc.  Content that enables the target audience to better interact with the content and thus the publisher.
  2. When: The fact that we are producing content with consistency is a good thing.  What is glaring is the thought that each piece is published once and at a single point in time. Perhaps to give the content more attention, we should be sharing more often.  Share different pieces of content on social networks several times over the course of the month or quarter.  Sharing it only once limits it true potential.
  3. Where: The obvious gap here, with the exception of social networks, is that the content lives entirely on the company website.  Find the places where the target audience lives and start repurposing content into contributed editorials, comments on blog posts, or to answer questions on IT forums.
  4. Whom:  Maybe this segment is simply too broad.  How can we further segment this audience to create content of better quality, and geared to a specific group of people within the IT Pro umbrella?
  5. Why:  Although we are addressing each stage of the buying process, should we be doing more to drive decision?  Is relying only on case studies and only on a quarterly basis limit the impact? Dive in deeper to that further segmented audience to understand what additional content types will drive decision.
  6. How:  Metrics are always a challenge, and no where do we look at number of leads, customer acquisition, or even sales.  Can we do a better job of linking content closer to the sales cycle?  Marketing metrics like views, comments, shares, etc. are nice, but do they communicate the ultimate goal of content marketing, and that is to create sales opportunities?
.So, I think I have answered my own question in terms of quality over quantity. To truly measure content quality, we first need to fill some of the gaps in our content plan, and take a closer look at what content is driving sales activity.  We need better analysis to determine what mix of content is helping the target audience move through the buying process. When we figure that out, we are one step closer to figuring out the “over” in quality over quantity.
What additional gaps do you see in this plan?
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Making “friends” is no different in the B2B world

trust_equals_reliability_plus_delightHere is a question that has been asked and answered over and over again: How do we leverage social media for B2B marketing?
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This week I have been discussing with peers this very subject around marketing to technology professionals. The initial strategy presented was to simply find some heavy hitters in the IT space on Twitter, via blog searches, LinkedIn groups, and start listening, learning, and then engaging. I don’t know about you, but the last time I checked, there are thousands of “IT influencers” all over the web, so where do we even begin to start?  Do we look at the number of followers?  Blog retweets? Blog volume? The task became quite daunting very quickly.
Time to get back to the core of what we are trying to accomplish.  What is the objective, and what are the goals for using social media for B2B marketing?  It all points back to each of our individual initiatives.
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  1. Prioritize:  Don’t think too broad, hone in on a specific initiative or subject.
  2. Focus: Narrow the scope to each initiative’s core message or topic.
  3. Search: Do some preliminary web searches and social media searches for each topic area to find the key discussion areas, bloggers / influencers, etc.
  4. Segment: Focus on no more than 5-10 influencers per topic, and do not automatically default to the major influencers like analysts. Instead, focus on bloggers that work for companies in your target market segment, or run their own segment related blog.
  5. Listen: Start compiling discussion topics, comments, etc. to learn what the hot buttons are, where your value prop fits, where you could add real value to the conversation.
  6. Engage: Begin posting comments on related blogs and in social media to establish a relationship and with the influencers you have identified and fellow readers and commenters.
  7. Contribute: Build upon those relationships by providing information and content that informs, educates, even entertains.
  8. Share: Leverage influencers content into our own online articles, blog posts, tweets, etc. and link back to them as the source.
  9. Schedule:  Carve our an hour or two of your day to dedicate to listening, engaging, contributing, and sharing.
  10. Measure: Track using analytics, refine where needed, and stick to it

Keep in mind, this takes time, patience, and dedication.  It may take 3-6 months to establish a trusting relationship with influencers, because it’s not about traditional marketing. It’s about making new “friends” that trust what you say, with a mutual respect for each other’s opinion.

Isn’t that what being “friends” is all about? It’s no different in the B2B world.

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