5 STEPS TO DEVELOPING B2B MARKETING PERSONAS

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF PERSONA DEVELOPMENT

Just imagine you’re writing a blog post, creating an eBook, or even a brochure. The best writing comes across as if it were an intimate conversation with you. However if you’re not Hemingway, achieving this voice can be difficult. A good first step is to create a persona. A persona helps you get into the mind of your reader and connect with their priorities and interests. More importantly, you might earn their attention and trust.

THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN B2C AND B2B PERSONA DEVELOPMENT

When I was a media planner on Procter & Gamble advertising, we used a tool called Prizm which attributes psychographic segmentations by Zip Code. There were all sorts of fun names to these segments: Country Squires, God’s Country, and Blue Blood Estates.

In the B2B space however, personas tend to fall in to role-based categories because it’s more practical to speak to CIO’s or software developers as business groups than try to separate them by their personal interests.

 

Country Squire is one of many names Prizm has for its zip code based personas.

Country Squire is one of many names Prizm has for its zip code based personas.
Source: Claritas Prizm

Step 1: Developing Persona Segments

Use Market Research to segment your most influential audience members into distinct groups. This doesn’t have to be as scientific or expensive as it sounds. You can get this information from a number of sources:

  • Easiest: go to sales. Ask a sales rep in your company, who makes the final purchase decision. What approvals does that person need? What titles are their primary leads and prospects?
  • Moderate: Customer surveys. you can distribute a short survey either through your sales team or your eMarketing database asking customers:
    • Do they have the main purchase authority?
    • Internal characteristics: Job title, company size, industry, etc.
    • Likes, dislikes
    • Sources their information about the purchase, eg. Industry publications, social media, etc.
    • What product or service attributes made a difference in their purchase?
  • More advanced: a full scale segmentation study. You probably don’t need to spend the time and the big bucks on this unless you’re P&G, so I won’t go into this one. If you’re curious about it, I recommend this guide to segmentation analysis from Ipsos, a highly reputable research firm in the space.

Step 2: Developing the Persona Profile

Now that you’ve decided on your list of personas, it’s time to gather more detailed information. Going back to your sales teams or marketing database, find a few customers willing to speak with you and schedule a quick interview to gather this information. You can use this template (courtesy of Hubspot) to provide the framework for your persona interviews.

Information you’ll need to gather from the customer interview:

Background. Basic details about persona’s role, Key information about the persona’s company, Relevant background info, like education or hobbies

Demographics. Gender, Age Range, HH Income,

Personality Characteristics. Buzz words, Mannerisms

Goals. Persona’s primary goal, Persona’s secondary goal

Challenges and Pain Points. Primary challenge to persona’s success, Secondary challenge to persona’s success

How Your Company Can Solve This Person’s Needs. Further towards the consideration stage, make the connection between their challenges and your products and services.

Best Media to Reach This Person. Everyone goes to Google, but what keywords to they use? Do they read industry pubs or the Wall Street Journal?

Step 3: Understand Where Your Person is Most Influential in the Buy Cycle

In the B2B space, usually you have multiple roles throughout the organization driving the buy cycle through the process. Understanding where your personas are most influential in the purchase cycle is critical for developing your content and marketing plan. For example, if you know that a CIO is only involved at the beginning of the purchase cycle, you should plan to target the CIO in the “assess the need” stage.

IT managers which come in further down the buy cycle would require more product information at the consideration level as they begin to research the product.

 

Where IT Decision Makers Play in the Buy Cycle
Where IT Decision Makers Play in the Buy Cycle

Syndicated Resources which provide buy cycle information:

  • Forrester Technology Marketing Navigator: this is the Cadillac of this type of information for Technology Purchasing. With 18,000 participants you can slice and dice by geography, type of technology purchase and more. However, it can be pricey.
  • Sirius Decisions has solid research on a general B2B purchase cycle.

Step 4: Plan Your Content with Each Persona in Mind

Knowing where your personas are most influential means you can invest more wisely on content when it matters to them most. You can focus your creative efforts, and most importantly your budget. For example, if you know that a CIO is only involved at the beginning of the purchase cycle, you should plan to develop thought leadership pieces which target his/her concerns, then target the IT managers with more solution evaluation content.

 

Step 5: Speaking the Right Language

Now it’s time to start writing and producing. Is your technical or business focused? Do they prefer high-level concept graphics, or detailed data? What keeps them up at night?

Getting into the heads of your audience means speaking their language. If you’re a CIO, you might be wondering whether moving to the Cloud is cost effective. If you’re an IT Director, the security of a cloud platform might be of top concern.

In order to develop the right language, read through some of the industry publications your personas value. What are the hot issues which pubs are writing about?

  • For example, in CIO Magazine, you might find articles about how to better align with your lines of business.
  • You’ll find IT managers in infoweek.com reading about network security.

Write down the top keywords. Include their top issues in your Persona Profile template.

 

I look forward to hearing your comments!

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6 Best Practices in Content Marketing

The latest buzzword these days is content marketing, the practice of creating any format of content for the purpose of driving demand. Before this was a term, I ran a program in 2006 called Change Artists in which we invited CEOs and CIOs of famous companies to join our Webcast produced by CNN.

Change Artists in Times Square

Example of a content marketing program with high production value

It was top notch. We had Nestle, Reuters, and McKesson CIO and CEO pairs as guests. From a branding perspective, it clearly demonstrated HP as a thought leader. The program won awards. And, although it generated a 3 to 1 ROI, it was held up to the same expectations that a lead gen campaign had: 15 to 1. A gorgeous campaign at the brand  and thought leadership level, which needed to also meet the standards of an email blast. In the end, the need to drive demand efficiently outweighed beauty…. and the budget was cut.

Since then, the science of content marketing has come a long was. Social Media channels and new forms of content make audience building and mass syndication much easier.

Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.

1. Target Your Audience By Persona BEFORE you Start Creating and Writing

Who are the key players who influence the decision to buy your product? In a B2B sale, it’s typically a number of individuals. For example, the CEO or CIO might make an initial request to investigate creating a mobility service, the workstream is then passed to the IT department for evaluation, then to the CFO for budget approval.Tony CIO

You can start by create a persona summary which includes:

    1. Key role responsibilities
    2. At what point they are most involved in the buy cycle
    3. Pain points / concerns 
    4. Key messages

This will ensure that your whole content creation team is literally on the same page, using the right language and addressing the right concerns. This will help you “get into your audience’s head.”

The more you can have your content reflect the needs of your buyer, the more relevant it will be.

Here’s a handy Persona Marketing template I recommend from HubSpot.

2. Resist temptation to shove messaging into your education / awareness content

When you are creating “top-of-funnel” materials – content pieces intended to build an audience – the most successful materials will be of maximum value to your reader.

What do readers mostly care about? Themselves.

What don’t they usually care about?
You.

Therefore, to earn their attention, you need to address what they care about, not what you care about. Here are some example’s of questions different B2B roles would be interested in:

    • CEO: how can I grow revenue for the business?
    • CMO: how can I attract the most customers for my product / service?
    • CFO: how can we look for more ways to improve the bottom line?

If your goal is to build an audience, pretend that you are a consultant advising them on their business WITHOUT diving straight into your product messaging.

To attract an audience, your goal is to build trust, capture names and earn the right to continue the dialogue.

3. Make your Content “Snackable”

Your content is competing for your audience’s attention with a tidal wave of distractions from your competitors, work related tasks and things your customer would rather be doing… but, there’s no more time left in the day, only more and more content.

Create different formats. If you write an eBook, this can be reused for future blog posts and eMails. You can create Webinars and Slideshare from the same content. Chunk it up. Turn your eBook into a multi-touch campaign.

4. Punch it up!

Write punchy headlines that grab attention. Headlines should clearly articulate the value proposition for the reader’s time. For example, which headline is better:

“Thoughts on Content Marketing”

or

“6 Best Practices in Content Marketing”

Why the second? Because it clearly communicates the value the reader will get from paying attention. Teasing the user with mysterious or vague titles hoping they’ll read more doesn’t usually work.

5. Make it Appear Inviting and Scannable

Do this exercise: open your latest blog post and stand two feet away from the screen so you can’re really read the words. Does the post graphically catch your eye? Does it look intimidating and arduous to read or can you pick out headlines and nuggets?

Good content should be enjoyable and entertaining for your audience to consume. This starts by using headlines to clearly communicate the purpose of the paragraph and subheaders to help the reader through. This applies not only to blogs, but eBooks, other written forms even video.

Using good headlines, subheads and formatting will also make it easier for search engines to score the context of your piece, thus giving you higher search engine ranking.

6. Set Management Expectations

Your management wants cheap, marketable leads immediately from your content. Sound familiar? However, if you have experience in content marketing, you will know that “top-of-funnel” leads are generally the coldest. According to Marketo, 98% aren’t yet marketable. Why?

Just because they downloaded your eBook doesn’t mean they’re ready to buy right then and there.results

Your eBook download is only the beginning of the conversation. The lead needs to be scored and nurtured with regular email communications about other related content, then hopefully, when your prospect is ready, you’ve earned their trust and they will think of your company first.

Content Marketing requires an understanding from management, that you are filling the funnel with new prospects which may convert later. Without this discussion, your content program will not be able to stand up to typical cost-per-lead number the sales team is used to.

I hope you found this useful. Let me know your thoughts.

More resources

Interested in a full course? Here’s a free MOOC on Content Marketing from Northwestern University:

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Analysis of Top 7 Social Media Channels for B2B

I was invited to speak at the Social Media Intelligence 2012 conference put on by the Altamont group. This is my third time speaking at this event and it’s always a rewarding experience.

Here’s a copy of my preso.

One area I often think about in Social Media Marketing is how to use each social media channel to its fullest potential. All of our resources are constrained and social media channels have a relentless hunger for content updates and time. In your social media strategy plan, it’s critical to pick the channels that are most appropriate for your audience and your communication objectives.

In the B2B space especially, not all social media channels are suitable for the type of content we publish. For example, I’ve seen B2B technology marketers post their IT whitepapers on Pinterest – a channel which features beautiful photography and reaches mostly a female consumer audience. Can you do it for extra syndication? Sure, it’s free, why not? But, it’s actually not free. It took 5 minutes of someone’s time to post it. Multiply that by the number of content pieces and the number of channels and it adds up fast. So, it’s critical to understand which channels your audiences use and how they use them.

The most useful discussion on this topic was from Dorothea Bozicolona-Volpe, Social Espionage. Below, I’ve captured some of Dorothea’s presentation and added my own colored commentary based on my own experience in social media marketing.

Top 7 Social Media Channels

 Google +

Strength: Great opportunity for follower growth, segmentation starting, creating nuanced messaging, highly search engine optimized.

Weakness (IMHO): Make sure your audience is there. There’s been a lot of hype about G+, but make sure you don’t spread yourself too thin, especially if you only have a few SoMe folks on your team. Test and compare it to your Facebook presence.

LinkedIn

Strengths: Huge audience, 161M people, 2 new members every second, Members did nearly 4.2 billion searches on the platform. There’s a lot of targeted advertising opportunities which can be highly successful. Ideal for Job openings, big announcements (at the company level). Extremely useful for appending information to your contact database.

Weakness (IMHO): Advertising opportunities are available on LinkedIn, but social media opportunities (earned) are elusive for marketers. I.e., it’s a private network; people have complete control over your ability to reach out them. Try creating a “Group” as a way to get started.

Twitter

Strengths: Also huge audience, 500 million active users, 340 M tweets daily, 55% of all Twitter users user the service to share links to new stories, 53% retweet, 182% Increase in number of mobile users, 34% of marketers have generated leads using Twitter, 20% have closed deals.

From personal experience, Twitter is a fantastic way to promote, amplify and syndicate other content such as blogs as well as build an audience. Great way to reach an audience fast.

  • Scott Monty, example of an executive who loves social media and understands the brand
    • @scottmonty

Weaknesses (IMHO): Lots of spam, sales folks and other marketers following your account which doesn’t really count as audience reach. Difficult to segment, you don’t have a lot of information about who is actually following you.

Pinterest

Strengths: Enormous growth, 1.36M daily users – grew 4733% since May 2011, 3rd most popular, April 2012 Board “Covers” were launched. If your audience is female, Pinterest is the place to be. Great opportunity if your products have a visual appeal.

Weaknesses (IMHO): Not ideal if your audience is male and /or you have non-visual products. I’ve seen marketers post whitepapers on Pinterest, but it seems a bit out of place. Consider Slideshare (the anti-Pinterest) for this.

YouTube

Strengths: 106.7M UVM – over 3B hours uploaded, 60+ hours of new videos are uploaded to the site every minute, 70% of YT traffic outside US, more than 1 trillion views in 2011. THE place to be if you have video content. Good data on metrics (thanks Google).

Weaknesses (IMHO): If you’ve got video content, it’s ideal. But don’t try to pin your hopes on creating a “viral” video. I’ve tried viral videos in the past when it was trendy. It’s really hit or miss and has the potential of going WAY off if your brand doesn’t naturally lend itself to the stuff that people like on YouTube (funny, raunchy, or entertaining). Just do what you do and make it useful.

Facebook

Strengths: Huge reach 955 M monthly active users in June. Over ½ of these users are active on a daily basis. (based on TechCrunch, 2012 stats), Facebook is ideal for engaging directly with your audience, allowing them to share their experiences, content. There is a wide range of applications including contests, customer service, and promotions. Facebook also offers strong advertising opportunities and targeting (as you may have heard in the news).

Intuit does a nice job on their Facebook page for quick books. It’s a combination of product updates, helpful tips and Q&A. They’re very responsive to customer questions as well.

http://www.facebook.com/IntuitQuickBooks

Weaknesses: In the B2B space, you may have audiences that are not inclined to share their activities (eg Governments, financial services). Therefore, isn’t ideal for every B2B use case.

Slideshare

Although this was not covered in Dorothea’s talk, I thought I’d throw it in because it’s highly effective for B2B.

Strengths: In B2B, many companies think in PowerPoint presentations. SlideShare has proven itself not only as a home for your slideware, but an effective way to drive leads.

  • You can “gate” your content so that people need to register to download your slides, thus driving leads.
  • Great way to syndicate your customer presentations.
  • In SlideShare, you can also do a voice over and slideshow mode.

Here are some more stats from Slideshare courtesy of TechCrunch.

  • Women use fewer slides on average (22 per slideshow) than men (26).
  • Popular presentations contain more images (37, on average) than other presentations (which contain 21).
  • The most popular tech companies mentioned in presentations are Facebook (39.9%), Twitter (28.6%), Google (19.1%), Microsoft (5.7%), and Apple (3.8%)
  • Only 1.7% of all presentations are done in Apple’s Keynote software, but Keynote makes up 8.2% of the most popular presentations.
  • The Japanese and Chinese use more slides on average than slideshows in any other language.

Source: “TechCrunch Readers Love Slides (And Other Stats From SlideShare)”, January 17, 2012

Weaknesses: I can’t think of any. Send me comments if you have ideas of Weaknesses.

Social media can be such a huge time investment, it’s critical that you carefully evaluate and measure effectiveness of each of these channels for your business before spreading yourself too thin.

What’s worked for you? Tell me what you think.

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Web 2.0 Summit Roundup

Vic Gundotra and Google CEO Sergey Brin interviewed by John Battelle at Web 2.0 Summit. Credit: CNet.

I was lucky enough to attend The 2011 Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco this year. This is not one of those pay-to-speak conferences in which we hear from sales reps all day. This is a who’s-who of social media. Sergey Brin, Michael Dell, Steve Ballmer, Mike McCue, Flipboard’s founder, Mary Meeker — They were all there expounding the state of the industry and predicting its direction.

The theme of the conference this year was “dataframing,” in other words everything is about data – what we mine, what we learn, what we ignore, separating the signal from the noise.

Beyond being awed by the quality and intelligence of John Battelle’s guests and their amazing technologies, I thought the most useful nuggets come during Mary Meeker’s presentation. When she got up to the stage she proceeded to machine-gun spray the audience with facts and figures so fast that the Tweeters commented they couldn’t keep up. Here are some of the key insights from her study:

  • The mega-trend of this century is that people are being empowered by mobile devices.
    • 85% percent of the world’s population has mobile coverage
    • Yet only 80 percent is on an electrical grid.
  • Social Media and the Internet are not at all just a US phenom. 81% of Internet users are outside the U.S.
  • Social media in the U.S. in terms of time spent per user is lower than others. Israel and Argentina top the chart.
  • 24% of trade is cross-geography, compared to 10 percent in 1960s.
  • We are seeing two technological breakouts, the growth of the Internet, and the mobile Internet. The growth comes despite a recession which is significant because it underscores how important the movement is.
  • The Android market is growing faster than the iPhone market
  • Mobile shopping and online commerce is changing the dynamics of consumer commerce. New applications such as Flipboard are making it possible for shoppers to get a high quality experience online.
  • Meeker was bullish on Web advertising.

My big take aways

  • Too much data, not enough intelligence: many of the new technologies being launched and in the future had to do with making sense of it all, automating, allowing scale
    • Google analytics launches new visualization graphics feature based on Sankey data flow
    • Bit.ly demonstrated how they can use patterns of activity and interest from people clicking on shortened URLs to derive intelligence about trends
    • 23andMe a genetic data analytics company is driving consumerization of genetic mapping by offering a subscription to analyze your genes
  • Big egos, big players trying to shape the industry:
    • Google+ vs Facebook
      • Google’s already past 40 million users. Some such as Napster founder Sean Parker feel that Facebook’s “Network Effect” of 800 million users is beyond reach. Other’s (like Sergey Brin), think Google+’s simple functionality and lighting fast growth rate will win.
    • Microsoft vs Google
      • Interesting that Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer still has the same desktop/app/client point of view. Everything will somehow flow through some sort of community. Vague answers about social media.
    • Visa vs. Amex
      • I had no idea what differentiated these guys, but they both agreed that data mining/analytics is a big deal.
  • Mobile devices and apps are rapidly changing the way we interact with the environment, social media and each other. Check out this Pew Research Study:
    • 28% of cell owners use phones to get directions or recommendations based on their current location—that works out to 23% of all adults.
    • A much smaller number (5% of cell owners, equaling 4% of all adults) use their phones to check in to locations using geosocial services such as Foursquare or Gowalla. Smartphone owners are especially likely to use these services on their phones.
    • 9% of internet users set up social media services such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn so that their location is automatically included in their posts on those services. That works out to 7% of all adults.

How does all this relate to B2B? I believe that all of our B2B customers live in the same world and will come to expect the same functionality from their work environment, from sales people, from marketers.

Coolest technologies launched or announced.

Storify 

Storify empowers users to combine social media, traditional media, and their own text on a powerful storytelling platform. It makes it easy to post a blog around big events where lots of Tweets and Social Media content is being produced. 

I had dinner with Xavier Damman, the Belgian founder. I wish him the best of luck and can’t wait to try his technology. 

Flipboard 

If you’ve got an iPad, then you probably know this one. Flipboard, CEO Mike McCue talked about how we’ve “engineered the soul out of the car” comparing a beautifully sculpted 1950′s Jaguar with a new Honda electric car. Mike is determined to put the soul back in our content consumption with this well-designed iPad app. 

23andMe 

This service perfectly fit into the theme of the DataFrame. For only $399, you can subscribe to have your DNA analyzed and get alerts on discoveries made about your DNA over time. 23andMe also provides free testing without subscriptions fees to individuals that qualify for certain research initiatives such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Sarcoma, Myeloproliferative Neoplasms, 

A bit creepy IMHO, but nonetheless amazing. 

Oink (wonder how much he paid for the URL) 

Kevin Rose,formerly of Digg, started a company called Milk to work on a series of small projects. Their first release is an app called Oink. Think of Google “Places” or Yelp. Those only rate actual places. But what if you wanted to rate “things” like your favorite cup of coffee in SF, or your favorite Ferris wheel. There you go. (Kevin didn’t get the Milk URL) 

Foursquare announces location-based coupons 

Foursquare allows people to use their smartphones to interact with their environment and other users. If you’ve got a smartphone, you got to try this. 

At the conference, they announced a new feature called “Radar” which notifies you when you come in proximity with something that’s on your “to-do” list or perhaps a retail coupon offer. For example, if you enter Walmart, it could start ringing or vibrating as you approach certain items. (Again, slightly creepy IMHO.) 

According to Wikipedia, the company had 10 million registered users in June 2011, 750 million check-ins, with an average of about 3 million check-ins per day. 

Best Quote 

When Steve Ballmer responded to not buying Yahoo for $44 million… 

“Times change”, the CEO said. “You ask any CEO who didn’t buy something big before the market crashed [in 2008, they'll probably say], ‘Hallelujah!’”. But, in a twist of fate, the U.S. economy dipped into one of the biggest recessions in history in 2008, and had Yahoo accepted Microsoft’s terms, perhaps ironically, the deal would have been settled right around the time that Lehman collapsed, he said. 

“Sometimes you are lucky”, Ballmer admitted, grinning. 

Biggest Surprise - M.C. Hammer Gets Into Search 

Back from selling records and ca$h4gold, MC Hammer takes on Google and Yahoo! single-handedly. He’s working a new search engine they call WireDoo, which performs “deep search” or “relationship search,”  

“The engine crawls and the algorithm is designed in a way to get all of the related information to your query and then package it consistently in one environment,” Hammer said. “Kind of thinking, right? The way you would think. If it’s a car … it’s not just about the word ‘car,’ but it’s about insurance, it’s about the specs, it’s about mileage, it’s about style, it’s about all these things. So that’s the way it works.” 

I guess…

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The Power of Storytelling in Marketing

 

IMAGINE THIS 

An avid hiker with history of heart problems is on vacation. On one unlucky day, the hiker experiences chest pain, but is not sure what’s happening. In a nanosecond, his cell phone’s ECG monitoring app detects a heart attack and triggers a chain of events…

His doctor is notified… An emergency response team is dispatched…
The hiker’s location is transmitted… Preexisting conditions are communicated…

A life is saved.

An airline passenger en route to Hong Kong gazes out the window at a brewing typhoon. In an instant, her entertainment screen notifies her that her next flight has been delayed and presents her with alternative travel reservations. She updates her itinerary and avoids lines and crowds in the airport.

A tree falls in the middle of the road; a citizen uses her smartphone to text the city’s non-emergency services. In an instant, the messages are parsed and routed to the right department. Security cameras on the road confirm the hazard, and a crew is dispatched to clear the tree.

These are a few of the lead vignettes I wrote for HP’s recent launch of the Instant-On Enterprise.

TAPPING IN TO YOUR AUDIENCE’S EMOTIONS

Getting your audience to remember your message is 95% of the battle in marketing. Most B2B marketing pitches targeting CIOs start with a benefit claim – Lower TCO by 40%, 2X faster than our competitor, etc. Many CIO customer presentations start with how the amount of data will be doubling every few years, or how many billion mobile devices there will be.

After a while, they start to sound the same.

By starting with a human story, we immediately grab a CIO’s attention; give him/her a break from the Lower TCO messaging clutter. We paint a picture of what our customer’s customer might experience in the near future based on our research of technology trends, then describe how our customer will need to take action NOW and consider our solution to prepare for the future.

It’s about breaking through the marketing noise and connecting on a personal level.

See how these futuristic vignettes came together in the final campaign video:

Here’s an article that summarizes the Instant-On Enteprise vision.

What do you think? Does the use of these vignettes create a differentiating point of view for HP?

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Value Proposition Examples: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Continuing from my last post, writing a strong value proposition is critical to communicating how your product or service is relevant to your customer segment. Now, there’s the easy way and the right way to write a value prop. The easy way is to craft one in half a day that is written well and sounds good, but that doesn’t include any specifics. The right way is to first gather quantified data which proves your value to your customer. From my experience, this is by far harder than the actual writing because you need to be able to make a claim against the competition that you can legally stand behind.

One grand example is Larry Ellison’s announcement in 2001, that Oracle saved $1 billion by implementing its own solution across the company. The easy way would have been to say “Oracle’s solution saves customers time and money.” Not very exciting. But in typical Ellison fashion, he went big. Think about how much resource and focus needed to be dedicated to be able to say four words “Oracle Saved $1 Billion”. He put the entire company behind making that claim. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Was it painful? Most probably.

Let’s take a look at an example of a weak and a strong value proposition.

From McKinsey’s Corporate Finance Site

Our value proposition rests on an unrivalled package of strategic, transactional and financial advisory services, uniquely linked with independent judgement and deep industrial/commercial insight.

Our reward is not “transaction-based”, so we can maintain genuine objectivity in our client’s long-term interest. In negotiating and carrying out an engagement for a client, we participate fully in the client’s corporate thinking, and take into account not just the immediate value and impact of the project, but its context and implications over a longer period of time.

 We work closely with management and other advisors, such as major investment banks, to leverage and complement their knowledge and ensure maximum impact. We try to foster senior management’s commitment to our recommendations and actively support implementation and skill building.

Analysis

  • Above is the type of statement I often see passed off as a value prop, but it really falls somewhere between a mission statement and a description of capabilities. It’s very difficult to write a general value proposition that is not targeted to a specific audience and does not contain examples.
  • It’s missing a quantified value. This could have been added in the form of an example or a claim such as “Our services have demonstrated an average of 20% ROI improvement.”
  • It’s also missing a competitive differentiator. How is this approach better than any other consulting company?

Result: not a value proposition. It does succeed at describing what sounds like it might be relevant to their clients, but it’s missing any quantified results or competitive advantage.

How would we make it better?

Gather the data

  • Brainstorm with the right people in the organization and list as many quantified factoids and data points as possible. (eg. saved xyz customer 20% in operations. Cut time-to-market in half from two to one year.)
  • Run all of these data points through the sieve. Are these defensible, sourced? Are they actually better than something the competitor could do?

List competitive differentiators

  • Create a list of the First, Best, Most, and Only claims your service or product could make.
  • What capabilities do you have that your competitor doesn’t?

Make sure it’s relevant

  • Talk about what you have done for customers, how you understand their industry.
  • Are the values you are citing helping them improve their business by:
    • Increasing revenue
    • Decreasing cost
    • Speeding time to market
    • Improving agility (ie time to react to market changes)
    • Making better use of resources (ie requires fewer people to accomplish something, or resources can be reapplied to more strategic areas)
    • Providing better customer service for their customers
    • Improving organizational intelligence and insight
    • Improving accuracy of forecasts, predictions, market conditions
    • Reducing the burden of compliance

Good value proposition example from VMWare

For IT organizations wrestling with the high cost and inflexibility of the old “one server, one application” model, VMWare can improve the efficiency and availability of IT resources and applications through virtualization.  About 70% of a typical IT budget in a non-virtualized datacenter goes towards just maintaining the existing infrastructure, with little left for innovation. VMWare can free your IT admins from spending so much time managing servers rather than innovating. An automated datacenter built on the production-proven VMware virtualization platform lets you respond to market dynamics faster and more efficiently than ever before. VMware customers typically save 50-70% on overall IT costs by consolidating their resource pools and delivering highly available machines with VMware vSphere.

Analysis

  • This value proposition starts by describing the target customer’s problem their product solves
  • It quantifies the problem: 70% of an IT budget spent towards maintenance
  • It describes the benefits of implementing a virtualized data center
  • It offers a range of IT cost savings from their typical customers
  • The only thing it doesn’t do is offer an advantage over the competition. However, it is using the non virtualized datacenter as the alternative in this case.

Result: This is a good value proposition. Even though it didn’t go into the competition, it called out the customer problem the product addressed, described how it addressed it and offered tangible and relevant results.

If you would like my analysis on your value prop and don’t mind public scrutiny, send it to me and I’ll take a look.

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The Three Ingredients of a Value Proposition

Value Proposition = Benefits - Cost

Frequently in marketing, I hear a product or service’s ”value proposition” confused with a product description or list of benefits… “Saves time and money,” “Do more with less,” “2x faster” are actually not value propositions.   

A value proposition needs to have three key elements in order to be a true value proposition:   

  1. Quantified Value

    I’m sure you’ve heard those packaged goods ads that claim “4 out of 5 dentists recommend Colgate” or “Twice the cleaning power of the leading brand (asterisk).” The most important ingredient of a value proposition is the quantified value of your claim compared with some other quantity. The power of the value you are claiming depends on:

    1) How relevant the metric is to your audience
    2) What you are comparing against

    For example, if you are claiming your product runs “twice as fast.” A relatively weak comparison - yet, frequently used – would be against your previous model. The strongest comparison would be against an appropriate competitor’s performance or the industry benchmark. Of course, the metric has to be relevant. If you’re talking to a CEO, s/he may care less about how fast your product goes. Instead, the CEO might be more interested in how it helps his/her company reduce operational cost, or improve return on assets.

  2. Relevance

    A value proposition is only as valuable as it is relevant to the audience you are targeting. If you have decided that your primary product or service benefit is that it lowers the cost of operation, that may be music to the ears of a airline CEO concerned with razor thin margins, but the CEO of a Telco may be more interested in deploying new mobile services to increase revenue per subscriber. Therefore, your lower cost pitch may not be as relevant or valuable to a Telco customer. Your value proposition needs to be tuned appropriately for each marketing segment.

  3. Unique Differentiation

    The final ingredient is whether your competitors can make the same claim as you. If you claim your product can reduce their operating costs by 40%, and your competitor can claim 50%, you have a weak value proposition. This is why claiming a lower price is often a weak quantified value – your competitor can easily match your price, then you’re sunk.

 

If you’ve got all three of these key ingredients, and each is strong, you’ve got yourself a solid value prop. Of course, what makes a value prop even stronger is to weave it into a customer story or elevator pitch with real live examples. 

In the next post, I’ll provide some examples of good value props and a template to help you make sure you’ve capture the key ingredients…

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What Can The World Cup Teach Us About B2B Storytelling?

Monday, I ran down to HP’s Cupertino cafeteria to grab a quick salad before my next meeting. I was surprised to see the room – normally empty -  packed with the lights dimmed. Normally, this meant an EVP was holding a quarterly update. Instead, the large projector screen was down with the Italy v Paraguay game playing. Without any sound, the room was quiet with the occasional synchronized sound of the “oh’s” and “whoa’s” of an intent audience. As I was getting my grilled chicken, there was the unmistakeable roar of the crowd reacting to a goal.

Alcaraz Header against Italy courtesy of Fifa.org

It was Antolin Alcaraz scoring his studly header against the stunned Italians. The Paraguayan players said they were playing for Salvador Cabanas who had been shot in the head in Mexico City earlier in the year.

Human stories like these stop us in our tracks. They are powerful enough to fill a normally empty cafeteria with people from all cultures. Good B2B marketing – or good marketing for that matter – will have the same stopping power. It’s all about putting it into a context that people will care about. The most tried and true formula is to tell a story.

The 5 Basic Storytelling Elements Applied to B2B Marketing

The Main Character – When you begin laying out a pitch to your customer, you may be tempted to start with an exaggerated problem, then introduce your solution to the problem. Instead, consider developing a character like you would if you were writing a screenplay for a movie. Ideally, this person should have similar qualities to your target audience. If you’re shooting a video, look for someone who looks like your target audience. Good character development will draw your potential customer in and make them care about what you’re about to say.

The Setting – Like the main character, the setting should help establish a connection with your audience. In B2B marketing this can mean choosing an industry and geography most relevant to your customers in which your story unfolds . When I present to customers, I always try to find and memorize a case study from their industry and region to earn their attention. (As I’m writing this, I’m studying about Smart Meters for a utility company presentation tomorrow).

The Plot – Your B2B plot should have a set up, a build up, and a pay off. What crisis does your character have? Was there a breaking point which gave your company an opportunity provide the solution? What were the results of the solution? And how did you help your customer “win” in the end?

The Backstory – In marketing, you need to make your point fast, fast, fast. So, the backstory in B2B marketing can be as simple as the context of your “main character’s” business, such as a big number – NYSE trades 13.3 million contracts traded per day – or a brand of which everyone will know the backstory. This helps set us the importance and drama of your story.

The Detail – This is your opportunity to embellish the story with color – make it more realistic and human. Depending on your marketing deliverable, you may or may not have an opportunity to embellish – but, this is the lowest priority element in B2B marketing.

When you put all these elements together with your B2B value proposition, you’ll have something much more powerful and impactful than 95% of what is produced today.

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Top 5 Ways Marketing Can Help Sales

 BtoB CIO PanelLast year, I went to a b@b breakfast with a panel of CIOs. When they were asked about the main way they stay in touch with their vendors, it was always through their account reps marketing and emails. Then, a marketer in the audience asked if they ever notice any of our ads, brochures, Whitepapers. The CIOs all stared blankly. It made me wonder why we even bother with advertising.

Most of the contact our B2B customers will get is through the sales force. As a B2B marketers, we should think of the sales force as our customers; therefore, it’s critical for us to regard sales enablement as a staple of our marketing mix. With that in mind here’s my top 5 list of how to help a sales person:

  1. Meet with customers. The sales team cares about what the customer cares about. In order to get on the same page as the sales force, you need to get inside your customer’s head, so that you can provide useful and credible information to the sales force. You need to proactively think of ways to get in front of customers. Listen in on a customer presentation. Go to a conference. Work a booth at an event. Present your company’s overview. The most valuable part of these engagements will be the questions the customers ask you.

 

  1. Ask how you can help. I know it sounds obvious, but so often, there is a lack of communication between marketing and sales. We like to go to our marketing offsites and create new ways to differentiate our value proposition. Equally as important though is reaching out to sales to find out what they need. The Funnelholic blog suggests that you meet regularly with sales. This may not be practical at large companies or at the end of the quarter. The next best thing is to do an informal survey, then give them what they ask for. Delivering on your promise will be the fastest way to becoming relevant to the sales team.

 

  1. Deliver a killer presentation. A staple of field marketing is the PPT. Many sales folks have told me that they usually have to cobble together a preso from a variety of sources because there’s to much fluff in what they get from marketing. I like to think of a customer presentation as a long-form value proposition which follows this structure:
    • Problem statement/issues we are addressing
    • The solution
    • Customer successes using the solution
    • Why only your company can deliver this solution
    • Take the next step/call to action

     

  2. Give answers to the ugliest questions. It’s easy for any sales rep to answer the softball questions, “why should I buy this?” “How will this product help me?” What would be more useful is if you delivered an FAQ document FOR SALES’ EYES ONLY that answers questions you are afraid customers will ask (and of course they will). 
    “Why is the product six months late?”
    “Your competitor just came out with something faster and cheaper, why should I buy yours?”
    “Your new product is a forklift upgrade, isn’t it?”Even though these questions may not have great answers, you want to give your sales force the best answers rather than letting them squirm in front of their customer.

 

  1. Use customer language. This goes back to one of my previous posts about detoxing your KoolAid. If you hang out with marketing people for too long, you won’t be able to differentiate between spin and customer language. When you talk with customers, remember the vocabulary they use and reuse it in your marketing. Nothing wrong with coining clever phrases to break through the clutter, just make sure your messaging is simple to understand (and that you understand it!)
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Web 2.0, It’s About Cloud Computing, Now Buy Our Stuff

Last week, I went to Web 2.0, a conference in San Francisco at the Moscone Center looking for B2B stories. The last time I went in 2007, I was hoping to find some B2B case studies of which I found none. It was filled with companies all promising to be the next YouTube. All their names had x’s and z’s in them. This year, the exhibitors seemed much more grounded and the mood much more muted.

Outside Web 2.0 at Moscone Center, San Francisco

I found three general categories of exhibitors:

  1. The blue chips: HP, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Adobe.
  2. The Web 2.0 platform suit vendors: Blue Kiwi Software, Tableau,  Opera Software
  3. The cloud plays: DAAS.com (datacenter as a service) specializes in ready to go Cloud Computing products. Clustrix - a brand new highly scalable database appliance.

In 2007, there were many more see-what-sticks consumer ideas, video on demand, parking space finders, widget download companies. This year, Cloud Computing was the magic word. I was impressed at how far the Web 2.0 space has developed. It seemed as though the recession cleaned out some of the never-gonna-make-it businesses (or at least limited their event sponsorship budget).

So what B2B stories did I find?

I got the pitch from the person in the Cisco booth, let’s call him Jim. This is how Jim’s story went:

  • Have you you ever heard of the human network? We’re enabling people to connect with each other in faster ways.
  • We believe that Cloud Computing will enable more possibilities for these connections.
  • Our routers, switches, and now this new blade server here (points to server) provide the backbone for businesses to create a Cloud infrastructure.

Being a marketing person myself, I felt that if I closed my eyes I could visualize the different departments’ and organizations’ messaging paragraphs as Jim told me the Cisco story… The first about about the human network comes from corporate, the Cloud comes from the worldwide marketing team and the last section comes from the product manager. The transition between the Cloud Computing story and the point about the blade server was so jarring, Jim seemd to have trouble connecting the two.

Just to show that I’m an equal opportunity critic, the HP story at Web 2.0 also went from Cloud Computing very quickly to the gear that we had on display at the conference. With hardware products, it’s often difficult for marketers to get from the customer problem and solution, to why they should by our gear. Since I’ve been working in HP Enterprise Services (formerly EDS), I find that they are very good at understanding the customer point of view, as mentioned in previous blog posts. Maybe a mashup or the two approaches could yield an effective story which combines the relevant points for the customer with the value proposition of the gear.

What is your experience?

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