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. 

A lot less hype and a lot more humanity-please.

 

Three principles that are just good practice when it comes to the buyer experience:
Be compassionate, be succinct, be helpful. This have never been more true, more relevant, more needed.

Compassion not Fear:

Buyers no matter the industry don’t need more fear – especially security buyers (the industry we operate in). Think about the security industry and the security buyer. Their work is rooted in risk, threat and vulnerability, so by nature, they operate in fear 24 x 7 x 365.  Today, arguably this is true for all buyers.  Security leaders often say say they are “always on”  and feel personally responsible when something goes awry. So, why in the heck would messaging rooted in fear ever work with these buyers? Until we as marketers walk in their shoes, we have no right fear mongering.  Show some damn compassion for what they are dealing with on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis.  In the end, they really don’t have time for us which brings we to our second principle.

Succinct not Sermon:

This is nothing new, yet we in marketing are guilty of this all of the time.  We have all sent those 3 to 4 paragraph emails and pushed the 1500 word blog posts and content pieces that we are so proud of and want to believe buyers have the time to read ( guilty as charged – I promise to keep this post to less than 500 words). Cut to the chase people – please. Stop spending 2 paragraphs (or 2  minutes) selling the problem and loading buyers up with shocking stats and another 2 paragraphs (or minutes) on the pitch. Buyers are thinking “why are you calling” me and “what can you do to help me right now?” This brings me to our third point.

Help not Hype:

This one is should be a no brainer.  Stop the marketing hype and just talk about what you are doing to help your buyer.  It doesn’t even have to be rooted in the product or service you deliver.  Simple tweaks to the buying process and the customer experience are helpful.  It’s less about how great we feel about ourselves and more about how our buyers feel about themselves. Be compassionate about where they need help, be succinct in how we can help them, and then just help them.  There’s no hype in that.  It’s called humanity.

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:

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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.