Bits o' Brian

Continuing the quest to align Marketing and Sales

The Evolution of Personas

I’ve taken a short blogging hiatus to work on some career opportunities (stay tuned for more on that), however, a recent article by Corporate Visions caught my eye in which they’ve proposed that “Personas Can Lead Your Messaging Astray.” Being a big fan of personas and being well aligned with CVI’s approach to messaging, this post got my attention.

What this really entails is an evolution of personas from attitudinal and behavioral personality profiles (born in the B2C world) to profiles which articulate the B2B prospect’s reasons to either stay with their current situation/solution (Status Quo) or to move away from their current solution (preferably to yours). CVI calles these evolved personas “Status Quo Profiles” and goes on to articulate the information these profiles need to provide about your prospect:

  • How are decision makers solving the challenges your product or service offer to solve today?
  • Why do they think it’s great?
  • What issues, challenges, threats, risks or missed opportunities have arisen since they likely purchased their current solution or implemented their existing approach?
  • What gaps exist in the current approach that will keep them from avoiding these potential problems, or capitalizing on new opportunities?

So, I agree that personas need to evolve and become more effective guide posts for messaging that leads a prospect from his status quo to my solution. The provocative post by CVI go my attention and helps me put some stakes in the ground around our personas or “Staus Quo Profiles.” Properly designed, as articulated above by CVI, these profiles become a critical True North in the development and operationalization of our messaging. Especially in large, complex organizations where multiple product leaders vie or attention from the Marketing department and for customers mind share, these profiles remain a critical tool to keep us honest internally. In their evolved state, they put a rationale around the messaging that gets developed.

Traditional persona elements such as how the prospect gets his information, industry trends he follows, etc. will continue to be important for B2B marketers as we make decisions about channels and tactical execution of our messaging. But, the core of what drives purchase preference for the target needs to evolve as we seek to understand what, exactly, is the status quo that we must loosen before we can lead the prospect toward our unique solution to his problem.

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Fat Tuesday: What Bad Marketing Habits Will You Give Up Tomorrow?

Today is Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). It’s a day for many to celebrate in advance of the Christian tradition of giving up something meaningful for the season of Lent. So marketers, if you’re still holding on to some of those practices which compromise Marketing and Sales alignment, what better time than now to plan to give one (or more) of them up.

In case you’re focused on what you will wear to the Mardi Gras parade today, I’ve taken the liberty of cataloging some items for you. Take your pick. Giving up any of these (and replacing with better practices) will move you down the path of better Marketing and Sales alignment:

  1. Stories and messages about you. Or “Why your story should not be YOUR story.” If you look at your messaging, your company overview presentation, etc. and you find that most of the content is about you, consider giving it up. Rather, make your stories and messages about your customer and the obstacles he faces in meeting his business objectives. You’ll sound different than everyone else and have a better chance of moving him away from status quo.
  2. Lead nurturing that fails to move prospects. You need lead nurturing content that gets prospects moving away from their status quo, feeling the potential pain of staying where they are, and toward your unique solution to their problem. If your lead nurturing content is not setting Sales up for a differentiated conversation that matters to the prospect, then you should consider giving this “just like everybody else” approach up and replacing it with engaging content that loosens status quo and begins to move the prospect your way. The content should be provocative to the degree that prospects take notice.
  3. Assuming that Sales knows what to say when they get there. When you build tools for your Sales team to use, do they actually get used or does Sales have to tweak them or, worse yet, make their own? You need to invest the time and resources necessary to help Sales nail the message when they get that hard-earned first meeting. Make sure that customer-facing collateral supports the differentiated conversation about the customer’s challenges and your unique solution (see #1 above). Also, make sure you provide Sales with their own toolkit of materials to get smart on the message before the conversation. If you have product-focused collateral that your sellers don’t find particularly useful, take it to the shredder and use it for confetti at the parade today.
  4. Failing to connect Marketing metrics to business metrics. 77% of CEOs believe that Marketing is not well aligned to measurable business objectives. If you have this problem with your CEO, then you need to tackle three things: learn a new language that naturally connects Marketing metrics to business goals; seek to improve your operations such that you can directly link higher level marketing success to more granular revenue, sales acceleration or other targets; and work on your marketing and sales ecosystem to improve overall alignment so that all the great work you do to build a strong brand can translate into the selling process.

These and other factors reduce Marketing and Sales alignment and, thus, put pressure on your firm’s commercial effectiveness. Try giving up some bad habits (or at least begin to shine the light of truth on some of them) and you’re next parade can be to celebrate new wins in the market.

(Image Mardis Gras used under Creative Commons License)

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Lead Nurturing Content That Gets Prospects Moving

I’m participating in a discussion on LinkedIn about the challenges associated with lead generation campaigns. There are many challenges, but I submit that the first thing we need to get right is the content.

To be compelling, the content we use in our nurturing programs needs to get prospects to take notice, think differently, and move away from their status quo and toward your unique solution. If the content does not initiate and continue this movement toward your solution, then lead nurturing will not be effective. As I wrote recently, it’s time to get lead nurturing content in shape. If the content is not compelling…if it cannot get the prospect moving in your direction, then the rest of the program won’t matter. In the recently released report from Corporate Visions, only 59% of companies believe their lead nurturing content is impactful enough to lead to a sales appointment. If that’s the case, you need to update your metrics with the “content factor:”

[campaign ROI] X 0.59 = Actual ROI

The message map that drives truly compelling content…that makes prospects uncomfortable with their current situation and gets them moving toward your solution is at the core of the fix. Recognize also, that getting prospects moving, and accelerating their movement toward your solution…shortening the buying decision cycle…should also be your goal.


Be inspired by the idea of getting your lead nurturing content in shape here at the beginning of the year. While travel budgets are at their most robust, plan a workshop with your engineering, product, sales, and marketing folks to get on the other side of the 59%. You’ll need detailed messaging that is compelling to your prospects. I am a fan of the Corporate Visions Power Positioning™ engagement to deliver this. It’s a purposeful approach that provides expert facilitation and delivers the kind of differentiated messaging content you need to get your commercial conversations back in shape.

Regardless of which approach you choose, make sure that you are tearing apart your current messaging and starting with a fresh eye. You can take the good parts of the old messaging and plug them back into the narrative, but you must first make sure that you are starting from a position that will make you sound different in the market. A position that will get your prospects to take notice, move away from their status quo, and move (rapidly) toward your solution.

(Image Hiroshima Bullet Train used under Creative Commons License)

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Ouch…Marketing Thrown Under The Bus

Of course, I’m not the only person in the world thinking about (and worrying about) marketing and sales alignment. In a white paper by Silverpop called Why Sales Throws Marketing Under the Bus (and how to avoid fatalities), this provider of email and marketing automation solutions opens with this painfully realistic position:

Sales asks: How many marketers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Sales answers: 15.
One to ignore the request from sales for more light,
One to develop a creative brief on why light is important,
Seven to shoot the YouTube video about screwing in light bulbs,
One to evaluate the amount of light offered by competitors and draft a competitive analysis,
Two to create the product slick,
One to determine competitive pricing for the service and set the cost well above that,
One to buy a 150-watt bulb for a 60-watt lamp,
And one to put just the right “spin” on the process.

Ouch! But, ok…I get it. And Silverpop is spot on when it comes to this reality. I’ve demonstrated laudable self-awareness as I’ve written about how Marketing can sabotage Sales if they don’t deliver leads that loosen a prospect’s status quo and prepare Sales to have a differentiated conversation with the qualified prospect.

As it happens, Silverpop positions this as the #1 Sales frustration in this white paper (Marketing hands off weak leads). The go on to posit five additional Sales frustrations:

  • Sales frustration #2: Marketing doesn’t provide what sales needs to succeed
  • Sales frustration #3: Marketing doesn’t involve sales in its planning
  • Sales frustration #4: Marketing doesn’t work to—or know how to—move leads down the pipeline
  • Sales frustration #5: Marketing doesn’t know the customer
  • Sales frustration #6: Marketing doesn’t measure the right data

Clearly, effective lead generation and nurturing programs enabled by technologies like Silverpop are critical, but it’s the content, the story, and the messaging that matters. The narrative must move prospects away from the status quo, must sound different than the competition, and must make for a consistent commercial conversation from lead generation through deal closure (and beyond). Content starts with an effective message map and a solid connection to the firm’s business objectives so that Marketing doesn’t fix Sales up with blind dates.

(Image Light Bulb used under Creative Commons License)

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Time To Get Lead Nurturing Content In Shape

It’s a new year and many of us are looking to undo some of the holiday excess. Getting back in shape for the coming warmer months and some encouragement from my doctor is a motivator for me. We Marketers need to do our lead nurturing programs a favor and get them into a fitness program as well.

I recently wrote about how we marketers need to have a serious look at the health of our value propositions. And, a post about a recent study by Corporate Visions that found only 59% of those surveyed felt their lead nurturing content is impactful enough to lead to a sales appointment tells me it’s time to whip our value stories into shape and get them into our nurturing programs.

One place to start is with the content you use to fulfill online inquiries such as white papers and webcasts. So often, these tend to be product feature or technology focused and don’t do much to help us sound different in the marketplace. As with any getting-back-in-shape program, it starts with small steps. Try implementing one new lead capture/nurture campaign that uses assets that provide your unique point-of-view regarding a particular challenge your target prospects are having. Don’t be tempted to include product or brand features. Let the content tell the prospect’s story, not yours. Check the results of this campaign versus others that are not quite as “fit” and let me know your results.

(Image Lenzie Jog used under Creative Commons License)

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Marketing Resolution: Stop Selling Products and Services

As I go into the new year, I resolve to help my organizations stop selling their products and services. That’s right, crazy talk…and a really effective way to get an organization to take notice of its own insanity as defined by “repeating the same thing and expecting different results.”

One of the keys to starting the journey toward a differentiated company story that matters to customers and sets the company apart from all the other market noise is the recognition that customers are not buying your products and services. Sure, you transact business with products and services, they end up on an invoice at some point, you get paid, and you make money. However, what customers need from you is to set the vision for moving their business to a different place. They want solutions to their challenges (both the ones they know about and those they don’t).

Marketing has to put its foot down and insist on a fundamental change in the way we approach the market. I recall a conversation a few years back with a group of product managers who were passionately arguing with me that, if I did not put a picture of their industrial product on the cover of a brochure, customers would not know what we were selling. My response, “Exactly, because we are not selling this product.” elicited the expected reaction. I made the following points:

  • We are selling a differentiated position and a differentiated experience. Our products are not differentiated.
  • Customers are not interested in buying products, they are interested in achieving their business results and overcoming the challenges that prevent them from doing so.
  • We have to create a narrative that positions us as the only viable firm that understands, has the capability to, and can help solve those challenges.
  • Then, we enable the solution through a commercial deal that ultimately includes your products

It’s a logical, but difficult transition for most companies. What we “sell” is generally not what we put on customer invoices. There’s a significant point where Marketing must flip the focus from the items a firm makes and delivers to a focus on what the firm means to customers’ success. The focus and the investment must reverse, else Marketing resources will continue to be diluted across a series of disconnected promotions for invoice-able items.

(Image Stop Sign used under Creative Commons License)

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Story? …Yeah, Yeah Just Gimme My Brochure

I sometimes find myself in a meeting with engineers, product types, and others trying to explain how we need to craft the story around this product launch, or that growth initiative. I’m usually met with tight-lipped smiles and slight (polite) head nodding. I don’t read minds, but I’ve come to know that this response means they’re thinking “Oh great, here he goes with that story line again. I just want a brochure. How LONG is this going to take?”

They’re not getting their brochure unless it helps tell a story I have fully mapped out, so to avoid the inevitable stand-off, at this point I usually grab a marker, go to the white board and start writing:

  • SELL … We’re here to sell your product (that always causes a visible relaxing of the shoulders and reduced foot tapping);
  • NOT PRODUCTS … It’s not about your products (head scratching, confusion)
  • STORY … Plot: customer has problem, we can help solve the problem, how we do it (more interest now)
  • CHARACTERS … Your product is a character in the story that actually does the heavy lifting to solve the problem. New products are new characters in the story but not a new story, necessarily.

I wrap-up by saying we have to tell the story to set the stage for the characters (products) in the story. If an author just listed the physical features of the characters, he wouldn’t have a story.  At this point, usually the light bulbs go on and I can then steer the conversation away from the product to how we are going to map a story into which our products can fit (or better yet, include the product in a story we’re already telling). Sometimes, as described in a past post about mapping from your products to your story, I hear these guys using the story/character analogy later on and that’s music to my ears.

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Building story-based lead generation content

I’m continuing my series on the critical role Marketing has in developing content that doesn’t sabotage the sales process by handing over leads that are ready for a competitive “bake-off.” Here, I want to explore some practical ways that the Marketing department can build content that opens a conversation with prospects that purposefully leads to effective sales hand-offs.

Customer Narrative Example (MarketingProfs)

A recent article in MarketingProfs discussed the fact that, today, marketing is less of a funnel and more of a narrative with multiple touch points, in a predictable but somewhat random order. I love this model. It is a more complex model in which to integrate Marketing content, but one that is a more accurate representation of today’s early suspect/prospect interactions.

If one considers such a model, then it becomes Marketing’s task to build content that initiates and continues the conversation with the prospect until that prospect has been qualified based on the organization’s business rules. At that point, sales can take over the conversation with a predictable and consistent set of content.

Developing story-based content for the early prospect conversation

The challenge for Marketers to develop differentiated, story-based content for this narrative isn’t trivial, but it’s certainly possible with a bit of discipline and organizational education. Here are some tips on steps to take to transform your content plan from the usual suspects to differentiated, story-based content:

  1. Develop a message map. Not just any message map, but one which provides a framework for the company story. It should start from a problem the target customer is trying to solve, articulate the company’s unique point-of-view regarding the problem, and explain what this means for the prospect’s business.
  2. Build content for lead generation channels. Content “nuggets” that are designed for the channel and for the place in the narrative will create a consistent progression through the process toward a prospect who is qualified based on interest in the company’s ability to address his business problem…not it’s products.
  3. Use product/service details to build the story. In many organizations, there is a rich source of content but it has been built over time by product managers, engineers, etc. so it isn’t positioned in story form. Marketing won’t get much traction on “new” content for storytelling, so you have to use this rich storehouse of knowledge to build your content. Consider your products as proof points to your story and work your way back up the message map with each product that figures into your growth plans. You’ll find this gets easier over time once product managers and engineering see the methodology and become more adept at helping to find the story in their technology.

So, make sure you understand the narrative for your targets and build content that introduces the prospect to your story. Then, when Marketing introduces qualified prospects to Sales, the story will continue to flow and Sales will be set up to win on differentiated value.

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Getting from there to here – map from your products to your story

I was pleased the other day to hear a colleague repeat one of my analogies that I use to help folks understand how products, their details, and a higher level company story all fit together.  In a meeting, he said:

“These products are like characters in a story, but they are not the story. If we can help our Sales team learn how to tell the story, then we simply introduce new products as new characters in the story. But, a story is bigger than the individual characters and our story is bigger than the individual products.”

I use a lot of analogies. This helps me acknowledge that our Marketing efforts include our products and services, but are not “about” our products and services.  Companies make large investments in R&D and product development capability. And, they put in place excellent processes for measuring the return for those investments. Often, however, the path from the products or services to the company story, the unique point-of-view, isn’t clear. I’ve written about the risks of overwhelming customers with product details when they may not even know they need to do something different. But, this is the natural behavior by many organizations. After a significant investment in developing a new product, the internal machine wants to tell the market (and the Sales team) all the great new features. Momentum wants it to be about what the product “is.”

Multiply this phenomenon by multiple product development groups, and passionate product managers in most organizations, and you quickly have a situation where the natural momentum is pushing many products and many more features into the marketplace with no context, no story, no unique point-of-view.

The Marketing and Communications teams need to help the C-suite and the individual product groups see the roadmap between the investment required to tell a differentiated narrative in the market and the impact that has on the sale of individual products and services. Corporate Visions, with whom I’ve worked on many messaging projects delivers a Conversation Roadmap as part of the output from their Power Positioning product. It’s structure helps show the connection between the product details and the differentiated value that those products can bring to a prospect. It’s a good tool to be armed with when advocating for a Marketing program that positions a company’s story and not just it’s individual products. Message maps, campaign flows, and other map-like visuals are helpful tools.

Use a roadmap to help colleagues see the connection between high level brand messaging and the individual products for which they must drive revenue and earnings metrics. It supports the “products are only characters in the story” analogy. You need a map to show how you get from there…a world of disconnected product details, to here…a cohesive and differentiated story with a supporting cast of product characters.

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A bit about Brian…

Brian McGuire is a senior Marketing and Sales alignment leader (read bio here). He blogs from his experience, research and observations about the challenges B2B firms face as they connect their brand, their product innovations, and their capability to the needs and objectives of their customers. All views and opinions expressed are his alone.

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