Value is Not Benefits

August 20, 2015

I was recently reviewing some content that a product marketing manager had created and we were discussing it in light of an upcoming product launch. The discussion that ensued reminded me that for junior product marketing managers it sometimes can be too easy to fall into the product features trap and lose sight of what a product marketer brings to the table as it relates to messaging and positioning.

What I told that product marketer at the time, and something I still believe in, is that anyone can write. Creating a piece of product collateral is easy. Just take whatever the product team gives you, do some formatting, work on the grammar and style and you’re done. Look at most product data sheets, solution briefs and the like from the multitude of software vendors out there and you know what I’m talking about. A ton of feeds and speeds, how we are “leaders” in the market and why our “world class solution” is faster/better/nicer than everyone’s else.

Here’s where the product marketing comes in, to take all of the tech talk, all of the features, and translate them. Good marketers can translate features into benefits, but truly great marketers and excellent product marketers don’t stop at benefits, they go all the way to understand the value to the customer.

But wait, you say, aren’t both the same? Not so fast.

While a feature related to, let’s say, faster data synchronization might be translated into a benefit for the customer like “more accurate data”, the true value looks at what it means for the business and makes that connection obvious, like “up to the minute customer information when your support team most need it”.

Sounds easy, but in reality is anything but. It requires time, experience, and critical thinking. And the best way to get better at doing it is by getting brutally honest feedback that can point you in the right direction.

Here are a few guiding questions you can ask yourself as you are writing or reviewing copy related to product announcement, press release, data sheet or other piece of content:
– Can someone that has no knowledge of our company or product simply read this and understand why it is important or how it solves a key problem?
– Is it making a clear connection between a problem and a solution?
– Would someone having the problem or pain you are solving be truly interested after reading it?
– Are you using too many acronyms or industry-specific terms that only few people understand?
– Can you say it in a more direct, simpler way? Can you cut out adjectives and still make it sound interesting?
– Ask yourself “so what”.

Creating content with the value in mind is not easy and requires a lot of effort and discipline. Get others to review and criticize what you wrote, see how others are doing it, and put yourself in the end user or buyer’s shoes. With time you’ll get to do it without noticing it.


The Big Myth About Buyer’s Journey in the Digital Age

July 28, 2015

CommunicationLast week I attended a webinar presented by SiriusDecisions and Alinean titled “ SiriusDecisions Interview: Death of the B2B Sales Rep?”. It basically reinforced some concepts I already knew and presented some new interesting stats from the research that SiriusDecisions has done recently.

If you know anything about SiriusDecisions these guys are the top analysts when it comes to B2B sales and marketing. Here’s what you need to know about the content they presented:

  1. Don’t believe the 67% stat quoted everywhere
  2. Sales people matter more than your digital assets
  3. Your sales enablement and content marketing plans need adjustment
  4. Train sales reps on value, not on product features

OK, let’s dive into each one.

Don’t believe the 67% stat quoted everywhere

You’ve seen and heard this multiple times. I sure am guilty of mysquoting it once or twice and I have recently heard a VP say it like it was the new gospel. “67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally” is the actual quote from SiriusDecisions from back in 2013 that people misuse thinking you should focus your marketing on creating digital assets, leveraging marketing automation, inbound marketing and that by the time the prospect engages with your sales team they have done most of the research, diminishing the role of the sales rep to a mere order taker.

SiriusDecisions published a must-read blog post dispelling the myth and setting the record straight noting that:

a) The 67% statistic doesn’t say that buyers don’t engage with sales people in the early stages of the buying journey, it simply says buyers are spending more time online (note it also doesn’t say that the 67% is related to the early stages, in fact it is spread throughout the sales cycle);

b) Just because buyers are doing research online it doesn’t mean you have to wait for them before you engage;

c) You need to understand what’s really happening online and tailor your inbound strategy accordingly.

Sales people matter more than your digital assets

According to SiriusDecisions 2015 Buyer Study, buyers classify “sales presentations” more meaningful or impactful than the traditional marketing assets like whitepapers, infographics, eBooks and Webinars during their buying process. In fact, sales presentations were ranked top next to analyst reports and followed closedly by case studies and articles/publications.

How do you get to see ‘sales presentations’? By engaging a sales rep. The top three contents ranked by the companies answering the survey have the same thing in common: they all answer “what value am I going to get from the solution?” question.

Your sales enablement and content marketing plans need adjustment

The key takeaway from the research is that you may have to review your sales enablement and content marketing plans. How much time are you spending creating truly captivating sales presentations? Is your content focused on promoting the product features or in showing value?

Also important is the notion of risk. Every purchase decision involves risk analysis and if you are able to minimize the perceived risk in the eyes of the buyer, you get ahead of the competition. Risk is shown in many forms, like technology risk, financial risk, user acceptance, and more. Depending on what you are selling you need to adjust the messaging to focus on the types of risks more important to the buyer.

Train sales reps on value, not on product features

According to the research presented, most sales reps have trouble selling the value of their solutions. Just listen to a few sales calls and you will listen to a variety of messages from different sales reps. Some will pitch the technology, others will go strong on pricing, some will focus on dissing competitors… it never changes. The problem is not just with the sales team, is with how you are training them.

I know this first hand. Tell someone in sales how to pitch the product and it almost guarantees they will do a different way. But you have to insist and enlist the help of the senior sales reps and execs to make sure they support the key messaging and value proposition you are creating in marketing and why the sales decks were created this way.

When a new product or new product release is being announced to the team, pay special attention to how you can translate the technical features in customer value and announce it that way. Retraining the sales team, making them shift their approach is one of the hardest things, but it gotta be done.

The Shift In Sales

The fact that buyers are doing research on their own doesn’t diminish the value of the sales rep, it actually makes the sales person way more important and doing an extremely difficult job. But by arming the sales team with the right messaging, the right tools and catering the tools to different stages in the sales cycle you will be increasing the value the sales person in your organization delivers to the prospect at each step of the way.


Marketers Need to Get Their Stories Straight

April 9, 2014

As marketing professionals we all know the importance of storytelling, and with the current hyper-focus on all things content marketing, being able to tell stories is not just a requirement for modern marketers,  but is magnified by the different ways in which your stories can be disseminated.

The interesting thing is that according to a recent survey by the Content Marketing Institute (B2B Content Marketing – 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends–North America), although 93% of B2B marketers report using content marketing as part of their marketing strategy, only 42% of B2B marketers say they are effective at content marketing.

When you look at the challenges marketers face when creating content, the same survey shows the top three as being:

  • Lack of time
  • Producing enough content
  • Producing the kind of content that engages

Content Ahoy!

The way I see it, most marketers are pressed for creating more content then ever before and they struggle to create content that resonates with their buyers. Unfortunately, this is not surprising. Just take a look at the myriad of emails you get from different vendors, all with bland messaging and tons of weak content.

Infographics, to cite an example, got traction around 2010/11 as a great marketing tool and quickly became overused. Everything got dumped into a vertically-oriented PDF or JPG that had tons of data with no clear message. It doesn’t matter, as marketers report increasing the use of infographics (51% over 38% last year) as a key tactic, showing that getting your infographic noticed has become more difficult.

But back to the point. The problem marketers face also has to do with a key missing ingredient: storytelling.

Get the Story Straight

I was glad to see I’m not the only one feeling this lack of storytelling is plaguing many marketers, as Ardath Albee explains in her post, the product is not the hero of the story.

How many times have you read a new ebook or whitepaper and thought, “meh”? The story that focuses on the product is the wrong kind. I know, we are all tempted to showcase our product as the savior, the great dragon-slaying knight that came right on time to save the customer and for a small fee you too can take advantage of this awesome new version that now comes with flaming sword and shield.

Why do we do it? Because it’s easy. We just name the features, benefits, and churn a few whitepapers and webinars, throw an infographic there and it’s all set. Then, when is time to review the results we are pressured for more content, with less budget and not enough time.

My own attempts at storytelling falls into this trap now and then, as the pressures for more content faster mount. But as I read Ardath’s post and have been rethinking how to tell stories in a way that will resonate with our buyers, I am trying to get better. If you are reading this, so should you! Block two hours (at least!) tomorrow to stop everything you are doing and refocus your storytelling efforts. It will be well worth it.


2013 B2B Content Marketing Awards

November 19, 2013

In the October edition of the BtoB Online Magazine, a series of companies were showcased in what they call the 2013 Content Marketing Awards. Yes, for you to be considered you have to submit (or your agency submit for you) a nomination form which means not all companies that have great content are actually considered but it is nevertheless an interesting lineup of companies and content assets they produced. It is worth going down the list to get some inspiration for your own content marketing efforts. I’ve summarized below the list for you:

2013 Content Marketing Awards

Category: Integrated
Xerox HealthBiz DecodedWinner: Xerox Corp., for Healthcare thought leadership
HealthBiz Decoded  (http://healthbizdecoded.com/)
The website features articles by freelance journalists and Xerox’s healthcare expert, as well as aggregated healthcare news from the Web. Includes infographics, videos and resource links in an engaging design. The Xerox logo is a small image at the top and bottom ofthe page. They also sponsored TedMed 2013, a conference focusing on innovation in healthcare and sent a journalist to cover it and blog about the event as well as host a Google+ post-conference chat.

Runner-Up: Makino Inc., for captivating audiences with customer stories (www.makino.com)

Category: Blog
Cisco Life Connected BlogWinner: Cisco Systems, with Connected Life Exchange blog. (http://blogs.cisco.com/cle/)
The focus of the blog is in how networks and technology are changing the world. Some posts also include videos from their documentary-style video series on “Network Effect”.

Runner-Up: General Electric Co. – GE Intelligent Platforms blog

Category: Microsite
NYSE MicroSiteWinner: New York Stock Exchange, for NYSEBigStage.com
It was built to showcase companies in its electronic stock exchange and to attract new ones to list. Part of an integrated marketing campaign called “Welcome to the Biggest Stage in Business”, the microsite is at the core of the campaign.

 

Runner-Up: FedEx Corp (fedex.com/access)

Category: Online Video
FedEx Darn Good Yarn VideoWinner: FedEx Corp – Darn Good Yarn (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWw6ghPbfAg)
The video profiles a fiber-importer and retailer that hires local women in Nepal and India to recycle fabrics into yarn. Was selected for its good storytelling showing how Darn Good Yarn came to be a success and how FedEx helped the company save money and grow.

 

Runner-Up: Cartus Corp – Cartus on the Ground video series

Category: Email Newsletter
Informatica NewsletterWinner: Informatica Corp, for “Potential at Work” e-newsletter. (http://www.informatica.com/potential-at-work/)
The newsletter combines a ton of content with precise targeting, using six separate newsletter content for different types of IT decision-makers: architects and developers, leaders in applications, information, IT, sales, and marketing. The email newsletter is created and sent every six weeks, and each newsletter has original feature articles translated into nine languages.

Runner-Up: Verizon Wireless, Verizon B2B SMB Digital Lifecycle Series

Category: Digital Publication
STIR Tablet EditionWinner: Sherwin-Williams Co, STIR tablet edition (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/stir-magazine/id470966707?mt=8)
STIR is a custom magazine that is published three times a year, aimed at residential and commercial interior designers and architects. The tablet edition takes the print magazine into the digital realm of iPads and other tablets allowing users to browse all the articles and interact with with videos and the many color palettes.

Runner-Up: ARM Holdings, for ARM Signum

Category: Branded Content
NetApp BrandVoiceWinner: NetApp, for NetApp BrandVoice (http://www.forbes.com/sites/netapp/)
NetApp has a presence at Forbes.com BrandVoice site where it places content coming from contributors on a variety of topics including security challenges of BYOD to a personal column from NetApp Vice Chariman Tom Mendoza. Informative, well written content is strong and because it is features on Forbes.com is gains even more credibility and authority.

 

For the list of all winners and original article from BtoB Online, go to http://www.btobonline.com/section/contentmarketing01.


A Content Framework for Sales Enablement

September 11, 2013

With all the hype around content marketing, all the attention is typically on the front-end, customer-facing content materials. That involves emails, eBooks, whitepapers, videos, and the myriad of other content deliverables that are focused on lead nurturing and demand generation.

This is all well and good, but how about the “other” side of content marketing, the internal-facing content that marketers and especially product marketers have to create? Although not as glamorous, internal content like sales enablement materials are an important component of making sure all that nurturing given to your leads actually convert into deals.

Sales Enablement Content

Materials such as industry playbooks, competitive battlecards, demo scripts, technical product FAQ’s and more are some of the elements found in any sales enablement program. But how do you know what content to create and how to prioritize? More importantly, how to make sure the sales team is aligned with marketing’s priorities for content creation?

The best way I found to get the conversation started is to follow a simple framework that looks at the buyer’s journey, the sales person’s needs, and matches that up with different types of content that helps sales take the prospect through the sales cycle up to closing the deal.

Content Framework

First, define which are the stages of your buyer’s journey. You can use the traditional simplified version that goes “consideration”, “evaluation”, and “decision”, or the more detailed approach from SiriusDecisions that talks about “loosening the status quo”, “committing to change”, “exploring possible solutions”, etc…

Then, I like to have right below it the buyer’s questions and goals at each stage. This helps solidify our understanding of the buyer’s needs at each stage. Right after that, I put in the sales rep goals. You see, buyers will have certain issues, goals, etc. as they walk through the buying journey and the sales rep will have his or her own goals to achieve. Understanding these different perspectives will help focus on types of content that not only help the buyer but assist the sales person as well. This also makes for interesting discussion when validating the framework with the sales leadership.

Finally, I then have the sales enablement materials aligned with each of the stages and in different categories, like “playbooks”, “messaging and positioning”, “competitive”, etc. I even separate the content into two separate areas, called “internal facing” and “external facing” content. This way we have a full picture of content needs throughout the buying cycle.

Below is a snapshot of what this framework looks like in Excel.

Sales Enablement Framework

 

I found this is an effective way to brainstorm sales enablement content, get sales teams to give feedback, and help prioritize content creation and build a content calendar.

I hope this helps in your own content creation and sales enablement efforts and welcome feedback and suggestions!

 


Content Marketing is the New PR

April 4, 2013

That is the title of a recent Aberdeen Group report, Publish or Perish: Content Marketing is the New PR, which you can download for free (registration required) here.

Content Marketing Leaders and Followers

According to Aberdeen’s report, the companies it considers leaders in PR and Brand Management achieve greater performance metrics than followers, such as:

  • 23% of their marketing-generated leads are sourced through inbound or content marketing (vs 10% for followers)
  • 12% growth in year-over-year company revenue (vs 3.5% for followers)
  • 20% year-over-year increase in media mentions (v 2.7% for followers)
  • 15% year-over-year increase in social media mentions (vs 2% for followers)

The Changing Role of PR

One of the key insights from the research has to do with how PR has changed in the past few years. While the key mission for Public Relations in most B2B companies is still related to brand recognition and market credibility, the increasing role of content marketing in assisting PR with such efforts is now being seen as critical at most leading companies. The research points to 63% of respondents indicating that content marketing is being used as part of an overall PR strategy at their companies.

Companies considered “leaders” are the first ones to understand the importance of integrating content marketing into a broader PR effort, as their report points to 94% of leading companies stating that their PR function is now a component of their integrated marketing communications efforts and showing also that leaders are 50% more likely than followers to indicate that PR has evolved into a content marketing role.

Recommended Actions

Aberdeen recommends the following actions as you develop or reconsider the role of PR and your PR strategy:

  1. Align PR and Marketing: this involves a shared editorial calendar and unified web strategy
  2. Content Rules: you have to change how external PR firms and agencies are hired and evaluated, and also pay special consideration for SEO
  3. Search Engine Optimization: having PR work closely with the SEO team to navigate the new waters of content marketing, like correlating inbound website traffic with PR activity
  4. Measure what Matters: new measures for PR (inbound site traffic, web analytics, etc.) should be carefully considered in combination with more traditional ones (media mentions, advertising equivalents, etc.)

If you have been adopting content marketing strategies at your own company, the research results are probably not surprising but rather reinforce the notion that content marketing is here to stay. If your company has a traditional PR department or agency, now is a good time to start re-thinking your public relations strategy and how you approach it with content marketing.

To access the report click the image below.

Aberdeen Group Content Marketing Is the New PR


Your Content Focus: Narrow vs Wide

February 19, 2013

After getting your first content marketing pieces out there, the question usually revolves around “what’s next?”. Startups who are strapped for cash and resources want to know if they should go wide, trying to reach more industries or segments, or if they should narrow their focus and create additional content materials to go deeper into the segment they have already started to work with. In established companies the question is similar, but it often is a question of where to focus their resources to get the best results.

When asked about the narrow vs wide focus in content marketing, my first question is always “what is your goal?”. Do you want to generate leads to the top of the funnel or do you need to close deals that are being worked on right now? Do you need to test whether your message is on target (based on your buyer personas) or do you need to get prospects through the marketing funnel and further qualify them?

These are simple, but important questions. I’ve seen lengthy discussions arise because the marketing team is not in sync. Some want to go after additional industries so that the message can be spread out and the company name (or product) can become known elsewhere. Others don’t want to “abandon” leads they have already generated and argue for more nurturing campaigns with content that will guide those leads down to eventually close a sale.

So how do you solve this? I believe it is a matter of understanding a few important things before making a decision, such as:

  1. How long is your sales cycle?
  2. Who are the decision makers and all the personas involved?
  3. What content has already been created?
  4. Which content pieces were successful in the past and why?
  5. What is the profile of your ideal customer?

Number 5, although the last one, is typically the first thing your company should know. This sounds obvious but for startups it might take them a while until they figure out who exactly is their ideal customer, which can change from the day they set out to actually sell the product until they close their first few deals.

If you have a relatively short sales cycle, then developing content focused on driving leads down the marketing funnel to help close deals might be the best bet. If, on the other hand, you don’t expect deals to close within the next 6 months, then you can afford to verge off track for a bit and create content for other industries/personas/segments and come back later with additional content for existing leads.

Whatever your decision, make sure you understand what and why you are doing it and have some metrics in place to tell you what is working and why.


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