RULE 9：The building is full of product experts. Your company needs market expert
There’s nothing worse than a marketing person who knows little about the product they’re marketing. Matters not whether you’re “just” in Marcom; minimal fluency is required. The bar gets raised for Product Marketing and Product Management, of course.
But as the rule says: If you’re in technology marketing: The building is full of product experts. Developers. Services folks. Sales engineers.
Nice if you can demonstrate your understanding of SOA, your appreciation of MDM, your giga-intimacy with bits, bytes, and all assortments of hertzes. What the company also (and really) needs from Marketing is insight on what’s happening in the market.
What’s the competition up to? What trends—both technical and business—do you need to watch? What’s up with the wonderful world of compliance and regulation? (Eek! It’s everywhere.) What’s going on in your verticals?
Not to mention what’s lurking out there that might have an impact on your customers and prospects—and how they might benefit from your product at this particular time. And just how do those customers use your product? What connections are they making between the features and benefits? What are they asking for? What do they need that they aren’t requesting?
Sure, it’s great if you can read binary, but in the long run, your product is better off if you can read The Wall Street Journal.
RULE 10：Find market segments that value your distinctive competence
I suspect that all marketers have, at some point, attempted to broaden their market to extend beyond whatever segment in which they find themselves. Sometimes this makes absolute sense. The problem occurs when you start convincing yourself that your offering—as is—will work for everybody.
At the macro level of “distinctive competence,” you’re not going to sell bleeding-edge technology into an industry where companies typically adopt new-fangled “stuff” with a five-year lag. You’re not going to sell a costly, hands-on services model to a company that prides itself on do-it-yourself. You’re not going to sell costly bells and whistles to a company that runs on shoestring margins.
At the less-grand, micro level, “distinctive competence” may translate into a feature set (or singular feature) that is ideal for one market. So it’s tempting to think that should at least be somewhat useful for other markets, as well.
But unless that shiny new market really needs and wants what you have, heading down this path will only get you: more expense to attract fewer customers, longer sales cycles, more price resistance, and less satisfied customers. You name it; you’ll find it when you drift into territory that doesn’t value your distinctive competence.
So before loping down the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, you owe your product a critical examination of just how and why someone wants and needs what you’ve got. Plain and simple, if you can’t come up with an answer, those potential customers won’t be able to either. Sure, you’ll convince some of them to buy your wares by sheer force of will. But that’s not the recipe for market success.
You may, of course, be able to create that market success by altering, or perhaps even just tweaking, your product. Just make sure that this is something you really want to do (i.e., something that fits your strategy).
Yes, focusing on your distinctive competence—or even on your simple, technical differentiation—may mean that you find yourself in a niche. This is fine, if being a niche player is what you really want to be. If not, find yourself a distinctive competence or means of differentiation that won’t relegate you to a niche.
Easier said than done, I know. But whoever said that product management was easy?
RULE 11：Don’t expect your sales channel to conduct win/loss analysis
I wish I had a Euro for every time I sat through a pipeline review meeting and, as last month’s hot prospects transitioned into the “L” column, asked the question “Why’d we lose?”
I should have saved my breath. After all, just as the answer to “Why’d we win?” always turns out to be “superior salesmanship,” the “Why’d we lose?” answer is invariably “Our price was too high,” or “Our product stinks,” or “They went with somebody else,” or “They did nothing.”
Let’s face it, it’s just not in the nature of most salespeople to analyze why a sale did or did not happen. Plus, you want and need your salespeople to look forward, not backward.
So who does win/loss analysis—and how do you go about it?
Ideally, your product marketing or product management team should conduct win/loss analysis. Alternatively, if you really think people are reluctant to be candid when talking with someone in-house, you should hire a third party.
Analysis should begin with a mini-debrief with the salesperson and (better yet) the sales engineer. An initial impression by those closest to the deal may yield a useful avenue for your questioning.
Prepare a specific list of questions—about your product, pricing, and process—to review with every prospect. If you have a complex sales process that involves many different people on the buying side—influencers, decision-makers, purchasers—try to talk to several of them. Realistically, this isn’t always feasible—especially after a loss. And remember that a good, candid conversation with your prime sponsor is worth plenty; so don’t get greedy.
Beyond specific questions about product, pricing, and process, try to flat out ask lost customers the following questions: What we could have done better? What would it have taken to win? Where did the competition outshine us? For a win, ask those same questions about the competitor.
Win/loss conversations should be brief (no more than 10-15 minutes), and they should take place within a week or two after the decision is made. Conversations are ideal, but email response works just fine.
It goes without saying that the information should be kept in some sort of a system—and in a systematic fashion—so that you can make some sense of it as a whole and not just look at disparate information points. This analysis is not all that easy to do when you’re looking at subjective information, but there’s no point in collecting win/ loss data unless you’re planning to draw general inferences.
Here are some ways your win/loss analysis can help you:
- Determining which features you need to add to your product
- Refining your pricing
- Shaping your marketing message
- Homing in on a more sharply defined target market
- Improving your sales and marketing processes
Yes, lots of good things can and will come from win/loss analysis. Just don’t ask your sales folks to do the heavy lifting for you.
RULE 12：The answer to most of your questions is not in the building
During the dot.com era, I worked for a large Internet Services Provider (ISP) where rank-and-file marketing people rarely had access to customers and prospects. I had come there from a small software company, where I went regularly on sales calls and frequently spoke with customers, so I knew I was missing something.
In my three years with the ISP, I went on a handful of calls. Our sales model was multi-layered, and there were often three or four folks just from Sales on every call. No room in that clown car for another body! If Sales brought another body along, it was typically a technical expert or a product manager.
During those years when I was starved for the outside perspective, I did participate in many events, speaking on behalf of the company, so I was able to have some interaction with customers and prospects. But it was way too limited. I also met often with industry analysts—another good source of insight and information. But I really missed customer and prospect interaction.
Several times I created customer surveys, but was not allowed to speak with customers directly; I had to go through multiple layers of the customer support organization.
All in all, it made for a very high frustration level, in which I always felt I had my nose pressed up against the window glass—able to see, but not communicate with the world outside.
Fortunately, I developed good relationships with enough of the technical sales folks and sales engineers to get my questions answered. But it was not really the same as building good relationships with customers or hearing first-hand what prospects were saying.
You really do need to get out of the building to truly understand how people use your products and services and to appreciate the benefits they derive. You need to get out there to see which parts of your message customers respond to and which parts draw blanks—or leave them cold.
Obviously, you also need to stick your head out to get a sense of what’s happening in the economy and technology—both in general and with your industry, your market, and your competition, in particular. (Thankfully, the Internet gives us all the chance to get our heads a bit out there.)
None of this is to say that there’s not important “stuff” that you can and should find out within your own four walls. There are definitely people who know things, and you should know who they are and how to tap them. But, when it comes right down to it, there’s really just one question that can only be answered inside the building, and that’s “How does it work?” For everything else, you need to look outside.