What customers can teach us about marketing


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.


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)


“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?


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.

How to FRAME your content plans

Content may be the all important deliverable that can spell success or failure of any marketing initiative. You can have the right message, the right target audience, the right vehicles, but if the content does not deliver the message in a way that resonates with the audience, and in a format that fits the media you are using…odds are your efforts may be lost.

Content marketing is something that I have been touting where I work for the past year as a strategist, and now that I have moved into the management and execution of an actual initiative, it’s time to drink my own kool-aid. I am learning that when it comes to content, it’s easier said than done.

Content marketing is probably one of the most used buzz words in marketing circles today. Every single marketing consultant and/or agency is touting its importance and providing valuable insights as to the best content to create for whom and through what vehicles.  Sometimes, it’s hard to keep up.

I recently read and enjoyed Gareth Case’s “Why Every Marketer Must Exploit 4 Dimensional Marketing” because it got me thinking more about not only the content I will create, the target audience, and the vehicles, but the realisation that you can never create enough content. I know, content costs money and time, but if you are able to create a good balance of content through the buying process, you should be able to manage your resources well.

My approach…I work for a technology company, so this may be skewed a bit…I like to “FRAME” my content planning this way…

  1. Foundation: Start with foundational content which in our case is typically whitepaper driven aimed at more technically minded professionals. I assume you have already established the target audience and the vehicles in preparation of creating the foundational content.
  2. Repurpose: Think of ways to repurpose that content into at minimum 10 other pieces of content aimed to address the needs of a specific vertical market or job function (to Gareth’s point), buying process stage (awareness, evaluation, decision, support), and format (blog, video, tweet, eBook, etc).
  3. Assemble: Take an inventory of the content you are creating by audience, buying stage, and format to determine your editorial calendar or content to do list.
  4. Map: Map the content created to the media or vehicles in your plan, and establish a timeline.

For me, since my initiative is new to the company, phase one is dedicated to awareness and education/evaluation building through blogs, contributed editorial, PR, etc.  As we “connect” with partners and customers, we begin to build more evaluation and decision content (case studies, best practices, technical guides, training, etc). This is phase 2 content that begins to get weaved into the website, blogs, social media, etc. By this point, we should be building out our programs and structure to aid the purchase and support phases of the buying process (loyalty programs, incentives, customer service tools, etc.)  At the end, some 9-12 months after the initial launch, we have a complete content structure that addresses needs throughout the buying process.

Oh, step 5 – Enhance:  Always refine and refresh your content to give it longevity.

Where do you start?

Related Posts:

Don’t promote to promote – my 5 content “musts”

Why content is key from Interest to Advocacy or Awareness to Support

Content marketing – don’t blame the club

Content as the path through the buying process

Why the Decision phase of the buying process is the hardest.

I recently posed a question to the B2B Technology Marketing Community group on LinkedIn:

“Looking for advice or services on creating tech case studies. Any best practices out there for identifying and recruiting customers to feature in a case study?”

Who knew that writing effective case studies was such a hot topic? The comments, ideas, and answers provided by fellow members of the group have been outstanding thus far. What brought me to pose this question to the group was the ongoing struggles I have had with recruiting customers to help create case studies.

That whole “decision” phase of the buying process that, historically, we have struggled with addressing. And rightfully so. When you think about it, getting potential customers past the decision phase and into the purchase phase should be the most difficult.

If you are struggling with creating compelling case studies, I encourage you to check out the string on LinkedIn. There are some very insightful and enlightening comments from fellow B2B technology marketers.

Based on all of the comments, I’ve started taking some notes, and will use this post as a way to organize my thoughts…

Storytelling is key – create an editorial calendar of stories that not only align to company priorities, but also captivate the reader, and put the customer first.

Involve Sales – Sales has the relationship with the customer, so think of ways to involve them more, provide incentives, show how you are going to help tell their customers’ story, more than our own.

Utilize Customer Satisfaction Surveys – Leverage existing, or create a new survey that enables customers to provide feedback as to the business relationship with your company. This can be a great source for potential customer advocates willing to share their story.

Provide a template – It’s important to share with sales and the customer what you are looking for.  Be up front as to what the content will include and what you will need from them to best tell the story.

Don’t just focus on products – Great stories may also be about the company-customer relationship.  How did your company help customer XYZ operationally?  Sometimes the most compelling stories go beyond the product.  It’s whole product marketing!

Make them easy to find – There are benefits to deploying case studies in web format over pdf in terms of search optimization.  Of course, for sales to hand out or email to prospective customers, a polished pdf version may also be needed.  Don’t assume one size fits all in how you disposition the content.

It’s all in the name – Maybe the term “case study” is over used. Maybe it’s self-serving in nature.  Think about using a customer centric naming convention like “technology brief”, “solutions brief”.

Encourage copycats – Plan your content around customers you want to replicate. In other words, focus the compelling stories you create on areas you can replicate from one customer to the next.  The real value is in when potential customers read stories that resonate with their business problems, and can easily be solved.

Avoid Testimonials – Effective case studies, solutions briefs, technology briefs, etc. do not simply mean a customer touts your product or company as great.  It should be the reverse. You should be touting how great your customer is, and how you played a role in their success.

I’m sure there will be more to add to this as we progress in our planning and execution. And, I am sure to have more questions to pose, but I do feel much better as to the direction I am heading.

Thanks fellow B2B Technology Marketers!

Related Posts:

Why sales enablement content is more “show me, don’t tell me”

“Customers are, on average, 57% of the way through the purchase process before they meaningfully engage with Sales.”MLC Wide Angle

This one makes me think a lot harder about the enablement content we create for the sales team and the web for that matter.  Consider the buying process I’ve talked about in the past here and here

If this is true, that more than half of our customers are beyond awareness, well into evaluation, or at the start of the decision phase, do we need to cater our sales messaging and content to drive decision, purchase, and support, and stop thinking we need to rely on sales to drive awareness and evaluation?

Messaging and content may differ from one industry to the next, or from one type of customer to the next. An in-depth understanding of your target audience, accurate definition of their personas, and understanding of their specific buying process are key to any successful content marketing plan especially when it comes to enabling sales.

First and foremost, let’s consider “sales” being either an actual person, or even a website. Many companies have adopted models where sales people focus on larger customer segments, while deploying their website, or online reseller websites to act as digital self-service sales vehicles for smaller customers. In either case, content plays a pivotal role in driving customers through the buying process, in this case, beyond evaluation to decision, purchase and even support.

My key takeaways from MLC’s findings:

  • More than half of customers don’t rely on sales (people or websites) to learn about new products or services. Focus less on using the sales team or company and/or reseller websites to “tell” customers about new products.
  • Awareness and evaluation of new products and services largely occurs via other streams like social media, blogs, news articles, whitepaper syndication, or traditional online or offline advertising.  Ensure we have a solid content and communication plan for “telling customers about new products” that lives outside of the company or reseller partner web properties.
  • Leverage customer personas and buying process triggers to increase focus and investment in sales enablement content that addresses their unique decision triggers. This may include content like TCO calculators, ROI analysis, Case Studies, or Best Practices that make decisions much easier to stomach. “I’ve heard about your product (Awareness). It sounds compelling (Evaluation). Now [show me] what it mean for my business? (Decision)”
  • When it comes to content that focuses on the purchase phase, it’s more about the process. Using content that enables sales to answer questions like: “Show me how easy is it to do business with your company? Do I have to jump through hoops to purchase this product?  By answering questions like these, we move beyond the product or service, and into the customer relationship. The same can be said for Support, “Who is my point of contact if I need help? Show me how do I stay informed of product / service obstacles and improvements?”
Then again, 57% is just a little more than half of customers, so am I over thinking this a bit? Perhaps, but the thought process has been rewarding enough to consider the “show me” enablement content we do need to add to the mix.
What sales enablement content do you find most rewarding?
More stuff related to this:

Why content is key from Interest to Advocacy or Awareness to Support

Everyday, we all create content whether we are aware of it or not.  Whether it’s a photo or video, or simple Facebook and Twitter updates. Content both our own, and others’ is what inevitably shapes us as individuals. The same is true for businesses.  Companies continue to try to shape brand perception and drive brand preference (whether they have the power anymore is another story), and one thing that that they rely more and more on is content. Over the past few years, we have seen content marketing rise to the top in terms of priority for many companies. I highly recommend “The Content Rules” by Ann Handley & C.C. Chapman for great best practices on content marketing. It helped me start to answer many of the questions I had like:

  • What should I create?
  • How often?
  • How and When should I share it?
  • What do we expect to gain from it?

Click to enlarge

There are many more questions that go into an effective content strategy and plan.  At the most basic level, content should aim to address the target audiences needs at every stage of the sales or buying process.  I’ve talked about this in the past here and here.

Timing is everything…I was recently asked to put together a content plan for a social media campaign for one of my peers.  I started with searching for infographics on content and social media. I am hooked on using Infographics to do research…just search Infographic: (subject matter)  on Google Images, and you’ll see some really cool stuff.  In this case, I searched “Infographic sales process social media” and came across “Feeding the Funnel with Facebook” by getsatisfaction.com.  This infographic not only depicts the role of social media (Facebook) but the stages are very similar to the buying process I was accustomed, and what is needed at each stage.

Click to enlarge

Thanks to getsatisfaction.com’s infographic, I started doodling and charting out ideas for a content plan with a flow that met customers’ needs at each stage of the process.  The next step is to try it out with one of the company’s go-to-market strategies in planning…so far so good.  While going through this process, we found that many of us were guilty of stopping in the middle stages.  We spent a ton of time getting attention (awareness) and building interest (evaluation), but fell short when it came to providing content that drove desire (decision), or action (purchase). And virtually nothing was being done content-wise for support and advocacy.   Perhaps this is a content rut many of us have fallen into. Hopefully, this simplistic way of planning what content we will create will do the trick. Take a look at the image and let me know what you think. My next task is to start to look at the vehicles including social media and how we might measure effectiveness (metrics).

Here’s a blank slate for you to fill in… What does your version look like?

Click to enlarge

8% trust what a company says about itself…avoid becoming a "company"?

There’s plenty of research and proof that a company’s brand perception is shifting from what the company says, to what consumers, or everyday people say.

Ashley Haugen writes in a post for the MN AMA…a recent study of consumer purchase influence by Alterian and eMarketer indicates:

  • 40% trust friends and family
  • 28% trust professional reviews on web sites, newspapers or magazines
  • 19% trust reviews from people “like you” on web sites
  • 8% trust what the company says about itself
  • 5% trust advertising or promotional features

With social media and the drive to promote one’s own “personal brand” are we heading down the same path? Could we as individuals be heading down the path that only 8% of people believe what we say about ourself? Probably not, because true social media is a 2 way street, hence the term social. We engage to engage with others, to share ideas, opinions, expertise, entertainment, and enjoyment.

We all remember first starting out on Facebook and Twitter.  For many of us, it was all about building up the number of friends and followers.  The truth of the matter is that no matter how many “followers” or “friends” you have, it does not automatically equate value, importance, influence.  You could have hundreds, thousands, millions of followers or friends, and offer little to no real ideas, opinions, expertise, entertainment, and enjoyment value.

The real value, is when someone you are connected to shares what you share on FB, or retweets a tweet on Twitter, or comments on a post…that’s how at least I perceive evidence of value…that what I share resonates, informs, entertains, or invokes thought from my connections.

So no worries…you can believe what I say…I’m not a company.

Trust me 🙂