A few months ago, I had a chance to connect with the team at Forepoint – one of my awesome agency partners, to talk all things marketing in a series of interviews titled ‘Ahead in the Cloud’. I’ve republished the article here in full, so happy reading.
In your current or previous position as a marketer, what experience do you have in communication and explaining a complex business, subject, product or service?
FM: My background is almost entirely in technology marketing, covering a really broad spectrum of industries, products and services. When you’re responsible for marketing a technology product, while it’s imperative you understand the motivations of who you’re targeting, you also need to have a keen sense of the changing market dynamics within that industry. Given the pace of technology change and the speed in which trends can shift, it can sometimes make it hard to keep up. Especially when you’re in a role where a large part of what you do necessitates pre-empting pain points and creating a direct correlation with how a specific technology can be leveraged to alleviate those pressures.
When dealing with technologies at different maturity levels, customers will often be looking to better understand how market consumption is evolving. They’ll be looking at the rate of adoption and how a specific vendor’s products and services fit into their technology roadmap. They’ll want to know how it impacts organisational productivity, what efficiencies can be achieved and the relevance to the everyday business realities they’re facing. Technology products – particularly those in the B2B space, are often complex. Therefore as a marketer, it becomes really important to start with building confidence and trust in the message, making it meaningful, and focusing on helping the customer understand what’s in it for them.
One of the projects we collaborated together with Forepoint involved reintroducing a Managed IT Services portfolio for a technology company operating within the data centre and hosting space. The proposition consisted of a suite of services designed around the core message of; as an organisation, if you don’t have the expertise, if you don’t have the bandwidth or the budgets to manage your technology infrastructure in-house, we’ve put together an offering we can personalise to take all of that pain away. Through the market research we’d conducted, we knew most organisations just wanted to concentrate on doing what they know how to do best and let the technology become almost secondary. This anchor was used heavily within our overall go-to-market messaging.
A managed IT service isn’t the right solution for every organization, so it was critical we worked hard at outlining the foundational benefits associated with outsourcing IT. One of the ways we attempted to capture mindshare was simply to explain the services and which business requirements they addressed, then bridging the messaging to what outcomes the customer could expect following deployment. You not only want to give people a really good understanding of the proposition by breaking down complex technical concepts, but you also need to explain the steps necessary to deploy or adopt a technically challenging solution. Approaching it from this angle helps remove some of the immediate question marks around “is this the right thing for my business?” And finally, marrying together the expectations with the outcomes a business can achieve helps to put into perspective what returns they can expect to see off the back of that.
Putting the key proposition points into a similar kind of framework has the additional advantage of providing an externally consistent message populated throughout the organisation. By breaking things down into easy to digest building blocks, you can message effectively to your sales team, to your solution architects, and to the rest of your marketing teams materials they can use to connect with audiences in a much more meaningful way.
Can you give an example of a project where you have successfully communicated a complex subject in a simple way to your primary audience? Tell us about the approach you took and your successes?
FM: In the example I mentioned, the Managed IT Services portfolio was the company’s best kept secret. It had good traction within existing customer accounts, and really healthy margins from a revenue perspective. Yet it seemed to be buried under other product lines the sales organisation felt more comfortable selling. While the whole idea of the refresh was how do we elevate the services portfolio to drive demand, there was still a huge learning curve we needed to overcome to be successful. Ultimately, the goal was to drive more business both from within our existing customer base, but also grow the business through new logos.
One of the benchmarks of success was always going to be whether there was a discernible uplift we could point to in hard, quantifiable numbers? At the end of the day the numbers don’t lie. Over the course of a 3-month period post relaunch, we saw a 25% increase in enquiries and associated opportunities. That to me shows we were able to achieve all of the things I spoke about above, validating the point that when messaged right, you can create real demand in the market for even the most complex product offering.
There’s a lot of sophistication that exists within technology buyers, and it would be really naive to assume the old way of doing marketing where we put a product out there and talk about how great it is will actually have any impact. Rather than making it a navel-gazing exercise, you absolutely have to reverse engineer the process to start with the customer outlook. Taking a customer-centric view, approaching problem-solving with the customer’s day-to-day reality in mind and creating a bridge between desired outcomes and how my product or service fits into that picture is the right engagement model.
When working in a particularly complex industry, how have you gained insight to your audience’s knowledge and understanding of your business, subject, product or service? What approach have you found most effective?
FM: Large, complex organisations and even smaller companies who are more agile and nimble, can just as easily get caught up in their own universe. When you’re bringing a solution to market, it’s not unusual to have all your energies focused on hitting your milestones. What can sometimes get lost in that product to market effort is the customer voice. There should always be a viewpoint from the customer as the common thread which answers: what is it that’s driving your businesses technology needs? What are some of the problems you’re trying to solve? In the context of technology adoption, is this solution the right thing for your business at this specific moment in time?
Because when you don’t do that, you create a self-fulfilling echo chamber. You can come up with the world’s greatest technology solution, but if there’s no market demand, it doesn’t solve a problem or you pitch it at the wrong time within the evolution of the market, then it just doesn’t matter.
So one of the best ways to validate your product development is through customer data. Do your focus groups, do your customer surveys, book in some meetings with some of your key customer advocates and have a conversation with them. Present the idea, explain what it is you’re trying to do and see what the feedback is. There’s no substitute for that real advisory insight that comes from within your target audience.
And don’t just stop with the customer base. Pay attention to what the market is doing, talk to the experts in your field, talk to the analysts; there’s a whole world of information out there. You owe it to the business to make sure what you’re releasing into the market has real demand. It’s the right thing to do by your future customer, but you also owe that validation to the teams who are putting all this time and energy into developing propositions.
Again, when thinking about working in a particularly complex industry, how have you tailored communications to multiple stakeholders? How did you tackle this, what techniques did you apply and what did you find most effective?
FM: There are a few parts to this. First, it’s really important to understand what the motivations are. Hopefully you’ve done your homework, segmented your audience, figured out your buyer personas and completed all of that prep work ahead of time. Alongside this is doing a mapping exercise to determine how these people consume their information, where they get their data from, and where they congregate en masse so you can participate in those conversations. By really understanding the underlying motivations of your buyers, you can then tailor your messaging in a way that’s going to resonate.
The classic model a lot of marketing organisations default to when targeting technology buyers is to try and go after this functional business decision maker and the IT decision maker audience. I think that model has moved on quite a bit, especially when you consider most technology investments these days typically involve a cross-organisational task force. Figure out where these people go for their information; it could be online, it could be by consuming white papers, seeking recommendations from influencers or the likes of. If you don’t take part in those conversations, they’re still going to be happening anyway, so it’s in your interest to be present and active.
What does that look like from a practical perspective? Well it’s doing things like versioning your communications and making sure you’re using all of the channels to great effect. Make sure you’re present on social, you’re using your blog to demonstrate a specific point of view, and get your sales teams to evangelise the message to their connections. If you’re looking at account-based marketing tactics, it’s a very specific type of conversation you’ll be trying to have with your existing customer base, so make it contextual to their usage behaviours.
One of the most effective ways you can make your message connect is to always remember these are professionals in their field. They have a lot of existing knowledge on their specialist topic, and so don’t treat them like children, don’t go in with the lowest common denominator messaging. Make the content interesting. Make it meaningful to what their motivations are and make it about what’s in it for them.
How have you measured the success of your communications? What measurement methods have you found most effective?
FM: It comes down to what your objectives are as a marketeer. It’s not always just about lead generation. Sometimes it might be elevating brand awareness within a specific market, therefore the measurement criteria becomes different. Sometimes, it’s about looking at your brand health index, and whether a prospect or customer would choose or recommend your services over those of your competitors? Your methodology may be dictated by something like the Net Promoter Score, particularly if the goals are to increase customer satisfaction levels among your customer service teams for instance.
As part of the measurement process, figure out what’s really important for your organisation and how much you’re committed to driving change based on what the data tells you. Doing things like polling your audience at least once a year to determine the value they’re getting from your marketing activities should be built into your marketing plan. How useful did they find the content on your blog? Or the effectiveness of your social media channels? The value they find in taking time out of the office to attend a live event? Measurement doesn’t have to be a one-off. When you get to the point of building up enough data points and can start comparing year over year or quarter over quarter data, hopefully you’ll start to get a much clearer idea on some of the progress made as part of a continual improvement process.
What’s the one piece of advice you would give to a fellow marketer working in a complex industry?
FM: Don’t underestimate or take your audience for granted. There’s no excuse for dumbing down or producing bad content. Keep in mind: something like 70% of discovery work around product research has already been done before anyone actually puts their hand up and says they’re interested. Be present, make sure your content has a point-of-view and create meaningful engagement so customers connect with your proposition. And always remember customer centricity is the beginning and ending point, regardless of what industry or sector you operate in.