Your customers are looking for outcomes not products

Having spent most of my career in product marketing and development I know how easy it is to become too focused on your product. The fact is your customers really don’t care about the class-leading specifications or ground-breaking technology; they want an outcome.

For sales and marketing professionals this can be a challenging lesson that requires some reprogramming on their part. After all, they’re comfortable talking about the technical stuff! Why wouldn’t any customer be impressed? In reality, customers see it as a tick in a box, not a deal-maker. Any sale decided on specifications is ultimately won by the lowest price. In the absence of a compelling value proposition the customer will always choose price to decide; it’s normal consumer behaviour.

This may seem simple, but for some companies the transition from product-centric to outcome-centric is painful. It often requires a rethink of the systems, processes and practices that have evolved to achieve internal objectives rather than meet customer outcomes. If you’re in a mature market that has become commoditised, the inertia against change can be substantial. And then there’s the human element. The fact is some employees will make the transition and some won’t so you need to be prepared for that outcome.

So how do you start the transition? I think the best place to start is by dusting off your GTM (go-to-market) plan and giving it a makeover. Start by reviewing the ‘Why, Who, What and How’ questions relating to your offer.

Why do you do what you do?

This is where you document your mission and vision. I know this feels a bit ‘touchy-feely’ but it’s a crucial part of your offer. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. If you need convincing checkout Simon Sinek’s video, which is still one of the most viewed TED talks in history.

Who are your customers?

When I ask this question some companies include ‘everyone with a pulse’ but that’s not going to work. Be specific; profile your ideal customers not only according to their demographic but also their particular challenges, business issues and pain points. Otherwise, you’re just using the time-honored yet ineffective ‘spray & pray’ approach.

What’s your offer?

Don’t just think about the product. Consider the whole customer journey – think about all the ways you interact with your customers and how your product or services help them overcome their challenges. You’d be surprised how many times this exercise has uncovered hidden gems that customers value about their supplier interactions. The sum of all these things represents the value your customers derive from doing business with you.

How does the market work and how are you different?

You need to look at the market from your customer’s perspective. The key to this exercise is finding your point of difference by focusing on how customers interact with the market. What do they like and dislike? The more information you gather, the more opportunities that will present themselves. For example, is there an opportunity to add value by addressing an unmet customer need? Even if your industry is heavily commoditised, customers need a reason to choose you apart from price and specifications.

Get a fresh perspective

What I’ve found is that clients almost always know this information. Not only are they experts on their own product, they’re also highly tuned into their markets and customers. They simply needed someone (with a fresh perspective) to facilitate the process of documenting the information and developing an actionable strategy. With that framework in place, you can then build a consistent set of marketing tools – develop your value proposition; create a messaging matrix for all customer-facing communications, identify your unique selling points, build your digital and social strategy or create training material for your sales teams.

In fact, with your new GTM plan, you’ll have the formula necessary to refine all your marketing activity so it’s always focused on your customers and their outcomes. You’ll have a better idea of where to focus your resources and more importantly where not to. There’s a great quote by Michael Porter, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” As marketers this is often our biggest challenge, so invest the time to build (or review) your GTM strategy, I guarantee it will pay dividends for your business.

Why marketers really can’t sell…but should

I was talking with a friend last week that works in marketing at a large organisation. The conversation came up about the latest project they were working on, which in his opinion, his sales teams didn’t “get”.

He was frustrated and venting about how the sales team was a disaster, stuck in their ways not capable of changing. In his view, they couldn’t have done anymore to make sure the sales team understood the program they were running and there was nothing that could be done.

This seemed like yet another battle in the long-running, time-honored sales vs. marketing feud. But to me, my friend was just as bad as his sales team. Is it not marketing’s job to sell in their program properly and get buy-in from the sales team, just as much as it’s the sales team’s role to understand the program and pull together behind it?

It’s a problem that I’ve seen from both sides during my career and, to be honest, one I’ve been guilty of myself. But I don’t understand why it’s still such a problem today. Ideally, in any well-performing business, your sales and marketing teams need to be in lockstep together.

I know I’m risking being attacked by my marketing brethren, but I think the bigger part of the problem lies with marketers. Sometimes we forget there are two customers: the end customer that uses our product/service, and the sales channels that sell them. Running product training, launching a new campaign, explaining why a digital program really will get leads, all of this relies on the marketing team selling in their product/service/program through the channel. At the end of the day as a marketer…you’re really a salesperson! And if selling-in your marketing program is not a part of your strategy, then you’ve failed before you’ve even begun.

In working with our clients I always ask some fundamental questions: How will you sell this in to your sales team? Do you have a strategy to get their buy-in? Have you articulated what’s in this for the salesperson? Are you giving them the information they need to execute effectively? Are you clear on the sales targets you to meet? Is your sales training plan clear and concise?

I’ve always believed that a good marketer is also a good salesperson and vice versa. Now being in my own business and having to do every role imaginable, I find the salesperson side of me becoming more and more important. We really aren’t that different, salespeople and marketers. At the end of the day, we all have to sell!

Marketers need to remember the bigger picture

Social and digital marketing is undoubtedly the flavour of the month in the blogosphere and with various business publications. Whilst as marketers we like to stay ahead of the curve, the preoccupation with digital marketing made me think about our profession and how we reach our customers.

There’s no doubt that in a number of industries, digital and social platforms have changed the way customers interact with our brands. However, everything I hear and see now is that if we don’t have a major digital presence we’ll fall behind. In B2C businesses that’s perhaps truer than in B2B markets but it made me think: shouldn’t your digital and social activities be components of an underlying strategy designed to deliver agreed business outcomes, not the “be all and end all” of 21st-century marketing?

Focusing on B2B, I believe our focus should be primarily threefold: develop a strong marketing-led strategy for the business, deliver a marketing program that builds customer preference and generates leads and lastly, ensure customer-facing teams are equipped to action all opportunities.

Many marketers I speak to tell me that they’re doing it tough with the pressure to slash budgets. Yet they’re still expected to “Do more with less”. At the same time, these same marketers are obsessed with digital strategies, even if their sales teams are not on board as they can’t see how a tweet or a “like’ will generate sales leads. In many cases it’s hard to disagree with the sales teams view: are we as marketers too focused on the “shiny bright new toy” rather than helping our company win business?

I’m not dismissing social and digital as important communications platforms, far from it. I just think digital marketing should be seen as an important part of a larger go-to-market strategy. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are effective ways to talk to our customers, however, a well-defined strategy will not only identify the right customer but also the right message and the right timing. I see too many marketing teams firing off on big digital/social projects that really forget the key principles of what we do. In fact, without a guiding strategy, they’re often no more useful than an unaddressed mailer that we hope will hit someone in the buying cycle. Our job is to set the tone strategically for the products/services our business offers and then drive that strategy across all our marketing programs. Because ultimately if we’re not generating sales, what are we doing the activity for?