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Shirman Group

If individual employees have more power to select products and technologies, then should we market to them the same way we market to consumers?

Consumerization of corporate buying decisions is leaving B2B marketers asking if and how to use B2C techniques in B2B sales.    I like to break the question up into pieces, starting with messaging, then sales strategy, and finally marketing tactics.

What’s really different between messaging in B2B vs. B2C environments?

First, consider the similarities:

Everyone develops initial preference based on emotional response, whether they are making personal or business purchases.   So you must appeal to the individual and their personal priorities in both settings.

In B2B, recognize that business people often have unstated personal interests and decide how your sales strategy is going to address these.  To make this a repeatable sales practice, include an assessment of personal objectives for key stakeholders in your account planning process.  (Assumes you have one, but that’s a whole other topic.)

Now the big difference:

While the consumer might or might not bother to rationalize their decision, the business buyer almost always MUST demonstrate tangible (not just perceived) value to the company.  While you can rely exclusively on brand image and emotional response with consumers, you have to message to BOTH the emotional and rational considerations for business buyers.

If you’ve used B2C-style messaging for a B2B product, tell us how that worked.
More on this topic in our next post.

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The “As a Service” business model is spreading like wildfire – in the tech sector and beyond.   This is the first of a series of observations about this old, but new again approach to business, and what it implies for both the providers and consumers of services.
For the first in this series, my own attempt at a basic definition:
“As a service” (AAS) refers to businesses that sell their goods on a subscription basis.  The more traditional alternative  is to sell once, and upon that sale, transition ownership from the seller to the buyer.  The change in ownership is perhaps the core differentiator between “traditional” and service-based businesses.   In the AAS model, the change in ownership either:
  1. Happens slowly over time, as in the case of businesses whose services is to deliver information or products over time – think “Cheese of the Month club” or magazine subscription.
  2. Never takes place at all.  In this pure service model, the seller retains ownership, and in essence sells access to use the goods.   This is of course the model being implemented by Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and  Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) vendors that make up the hot “cloud provider” market.
That’s my attempt at defining  AAS in the broadest possible terms.  All comments and better definitions welcome and encouraged!
Next time –  Why switch?
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Banish the “M” Word!

by Lilia Shirman on March 9, 2011

in Marketing

I think we should banish the term “Marketing.”

Here’s why. I gave a presentation recently on Marketing 101 for entrepreneurs, and had listed a dozen types of marketing. We had a long discussion of which marketer does what, when to hire, what to outsource, and how it all fits together. At the end one new CEO asked, “So, why do people say they do Marketing?”

Good question. Even back when my job title had Marketing in it, I was never comfortable telling people, “I’m in marketing.” My answer was always more complicated. I realized why when I read April Dunford’s insightful recent post, in which April describes the complexity and diversity of “Marketing” and how these lead to bad hiring decisions, unmet expectations, and marketing failures. Then I knew what to do. The way to simplify marketing is to abolish it! Not the activity, but the word.

Here’s April’s list of what falls into Marketing:

The first step to hiring a great marketer (and for marketers to hird a job they won’t suck at) is to clearly understand what you mean by “marketing”. It’s a multi-faceted job that can include (but doesn’t always!):
1. Advertising
2. Branding
3. Product Management
4. Lead Generation
5. Install base/Customer engagement strategy and tactics
6. Inbound Marketing and/or SEO
7. Sales Support
8. Market Strategy
9. Messaging/Positioning
10. Channel strategy/management/marketing
11. Partnerships and partner marketing
12. Media and Analyst Relations
13. Content strategy and creation
14. Other stuff that I don’t even know about

It overlaps but does not duplicate my list, which included Event Management, Solutions Marketing, Industry / Vertical Marketing, Customer Intelligence, etc. Marketing is an umbrella for so many different skill sets and functions. Calling them all one thing is akin to calling anyone who works at a product company but outside R&D as being a “business person.” It’s meaningless.

Try it out for a day – see if you can avoid using the “M” word, at least by itself. Then let me know if you spent less time clarifying and explaining what you meant.

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Many of my clients are neck deep in preparations for their annual sales meetings. They  are creating presentations and content to get Sales jazzed about the year, and to educate them about new products, pricing, initiatives, etc.

Unfortunately after the dust settles and everyone has flown back to their patch, Marketing will moan about Sales not using all the tools they worked so hard to create.  Sales will complain that they don’t have the right tools.   How, after all this work, is that possible?

Part of the problem is that while marketers think about the content of sales and marketing tools, they often ignore usability.  Just as with a complex product, great features (content) are only as useful as the user’s ability to access and exploit them.

To improve the usability of sales and marketing tools for your sales channel(s) and for customers, ask these questions BEFORE your create the assets.

Internal Usability Questions

  1. How is the offering (product/service/solution) marketed and sold, exactly?
  2. Who will use the sales/marketing assets and how?
  3. Which form or medium is appropriate for each type of marketing and sales activity?
  4. How much customization will be required with each use?
  5. How will the users obtain the asset when the need for it arises?
  6. What kinds of responses or questions are sales or marketing people likely to encounter when they use this asset?
  7. How will we know whether the asset is useful and effective?

Usability Questions for Customers

  1. At which points in their decision-making process does each audience need this information?
  2. Where and how do customers find this information?
  3. What medium is easiest for customers to access and use?
  4. Under what conditions will they most likely use this asset?  (In a meeting? On the phone? At a computer? At a dusty job site? On a plane?)
  5. How much time will they have to interact with this asset?
  6. Will they want to share it? (If yes, how do we make that easy?)
  7. How will we know whether the asset is useful and valuable to customers?

Please share additional usability considerations when developing content and tools for us in sales and marketing.

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Looking into the future of cloud computingI’ve spent a lot of time this year with clients including VMWare, Grid Dynamics, SymbioWare and others who are thinking about (and betting on) the future of cloud computing.    To figure out what’s real and what’s hype, we’ve also talked to dozens of VPs of Engineering and IT about their priorities and plans.

Here are a few predictions for the challenges and opportunities that will be floating around in the cloud in 2011.

  1. Enterprises are going to continue to combine traditional IT with private and public clouds – picking the best and most appropriate of these models for each application or business process.
  2. The different stacks will still need to interoperate, so IT organizations will be looking for tools that were designed to operate and manage these hybrid environments.
  3. These mixed environments will spawn a new generation of applications that are deployable anywhere.
  4. Though cloud is a hot topic among IT execs, ultimately it’s a means to an end – and that end will decidedly be flexibility in 2011, marking a change from the laser beam focus on cost reduction of past years.
  5. Security is the #1 reason companies don’t do more in the cloud. 2011 should be a big year for vendors who can address their concerns.
  6. Greater cloud adoption will place more strain on the network, and network infrastructure vendors will be scrambling to support the growing demand for speed and bandwidth.
  7. With so many productivity and business tools now available in the cloud, small and medium businesses (SMBs) are able to draw on much more sophisticated and powerful IT resources.  But making sense of the options and how they all work together will be a big challenge. That makes for a big opportunity to help SMBs assemble the right SaaS portfolios.
  8. SaaS for mobile will take off in 2011, likely outpacing new SaaS offerings for desktops.  Lots of factors conspire here: HTML5 adoption, IaaS providers catering to mobile – witness Amazon’s recent release of Software Development Kits (SDKs) for Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS),  and the fact that computing power and storage space are more scarce on mobile devices than the desktop.
  9. As usual with a hot IT trend, there will be plenty of companies throwing “cloud” into their marketing spiels long before they have made any substantive changes to their product offerings.  Buyers will have to spend some extra due diligence cycles weeding out the pretenders.
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Earlier this week I had the pleasure of presenting, together with my friend and colleague Ken Goldberg, to a group of technology entrepreneurs brought together by CRDF and TEC.  We talked about establishing alliances with much larger companies – a topic that’s often daunting for new ventures. Its a subject that’s near and dear to our hearts because we’ve spent lots of time on both sides of those relationships.  Some do’s and dont’s that Ken and I discussed:

Do

  1. Have a Plan – Develop an approach, time line and road-map. It will focus your efforts and help you assess progress.
  2. Be Relevant – Understand what’s in it for the partner and the partner’s customers
  3. Be Aggressive – Attack top down and bottom up, be creative, be persistent.
  4. Behave Like a Mature Company – Have policies, approval processes, multi-level teams.  Don’t send in your CEO until you have a meeting with a key decision maker.
  5. Be Unique – Articulate what you can offer that others in your category can’t.
  6. Think Big Dollars – Demonstrate that you can have a big impact on revenue and help the partner win big deals.
  7. Prove It – Be ready to show integration, value add, or joint customers.
  8. Find a Sponsor – Use your network to find an internal cheerleader (or 2)
  9. Negotiate Smart – Share the risk and get mutual commitments
Don’t
  1. Bet on one partner -We’ve seen multi-million dollar companies disappear because the one big partner changed course.
  2. Be vague – Vague, unsupportable claims about your products or capabilities create doubt, not progress.
  3. Lie – Exaggerating the number of people on your team? Claiming a few extra deployments?   Savvy bus dev professionals will notice, and likely drop you from consideration.
  4. Over-promise – Either you’ll fail and lose the one opportunity at a critical alliance, or you’ll be forced to commit too many resources, distracting from your company’s other important priorities, and risking too much on a single relationship.  (see #1)
  5. Expect or make 1-sided investments – Expect some skin in the game from the partner.  It shows you have confidence in the value of your own investment.
  6. Forget it’s a relationship – Focusing too much on the deal and ignoring that you’re building a long-term relationship is a mistake.  Signing the agreement is when the real work starts.  Even if you never sign an agreement, the people you worked with may change their minds next year, or next month when they switch jobs.
  7. Give up – If not today, tomorrow. If not this decision maker, call another one. If not this company, talk to all their competitors.
Have a few of your own? Please share.
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fallen 3 legged stoolLots of companies are diving into their annual planning process.  Many will find that time and resources are wasted on seemingly useless high-level discussions that don’t lead to specific actions, that some stakeholders participate but later don’t follow through on key portions of the plan, and that there is little consistency or coordination around how groups make decisions and set priorities.

That’s because they’re  focusing on the content of the plan, while ignoring the other pieces that are absolutely fundamental to its success.   Whether you’re creating a 5 year strategic plan for an entire company, or an annual operating plan for a department, consider all 3 parts of the planning process:

1.       Structure :  HOW you will arrive at your plan

  • Outcomes – What is the scope of the plan, and what are the key decisions to be made? What should happen once the plan is completed?
  • Process – How much time do you have? Which parts of the company need to be involved? How often will you meet, and what work must happen between meetings?
  • Decision frameworks – What will be the criteria for the key decisions?  What inputs are needed ans what will be your sources of information?  What analysis will be required, will it be bottoms-up or top-down?
  • Action – How will you structure and communicate the final plan to the various stakeholders? How will you make sure that everyone understands the decisions and aligns their actions towards the goals in the plan?

2.       People – WHO will create, approve, own, and execute the plan?

  • Stakeholders – Who are the key stakeholders for this plan, and what form of participation and communication is appropriate for each?
  • Ownership – How will you ensure that key process participants take ownership for the quality of the entire plan and look beyond their own functional areas?
  • Collaboration – What will you do elicit relevant expertise in your organization, enable open-minded idea creation, and reach decisions in a timely manner?
  • Communication – How, when, and what will you communicate to whom in order to keep the organization informed about the progress  and outcomes of the planning process?
  • Commitment – How will you gain the commitment of the management team to align resources to plan objectives? Will there need to be any changes in responsibility, authority, or incentives in order to ensure commitment and ability to execute?
  • Change management – How will you need to prepare and guide the organization though any changes that the plan requires?

3.       Content – WHAT will the contents of the plan be?

  • Financial or market objectives
  • Operational execution goals
  • Market, competitive, or supply chain analysis
  • Strategies and tactics for reaching objectives
  • Prioritization of key initiatives
  • Action plans and time lines
  • Budgets

I’m always looking for examples of organization who do all three components of planning well.  If your company does, please comment or email me to share your experience.

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When you are promoting something to clients because its been proven to work, its healthy to keep a lookout for exceptions.

Industry-targeted initiatives are a big theme in my work. I tend to promote specialization (of marketing, solutions, sales, etc.) as a path to B2B sales growth, a fact backed up by experience and extensive primary research.   But I’m a contrarian by nature, so I’ve been looking for situations where it just ain’t so.

I found one in the clouds.  Computing clouds.

The core value of cloud computing is that a utility model aggregates demand for computing resources across many users, creating a smoother demand curve than any single user can have alone.  Which in turn allows cloud and managed services vendors to provide the resources more efficiently, with better utilization, and (so the claim goes), greater reliability.   This concept is as old as Edison’s first electrical plant.  Supply electricity to the cable cars with strong usage in the morning, the factories that run during the day, and the homes that need power at night, and you get a uniform demand throughout the day, despite fact that each segment individually creates a peak.

That’s why, if you’re offering resources in the cloud, your value is in having a diverse and balanced customer base.  A service provider with too many retail customers, for example, is going to find themselves in a heap of trouble come November.

So how do cloud providers get a deep understanding of their customers without focusing in on target industries?  A few initial thoughts:

  1. Understanding customers’ industries is still important for defining value to customers
  2. Providers acting as utilities must pick multiple segments at once – specifically ones they have very different usage profiles
  3. If a cloud operator doesn’t have the resources to dive into multiple industries at once, it should keep to horizontal marketing and sales

This is probably the most difficult for those at the top of the cloud stack – the SaaS vendors.  Apps are less generic by definition than infrastructure and platforms.  So I’m very curious to know what strategies SaaS vendors use to keep their demand smoothed out.

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Giving employees motivating purpose

by Lilia Shirman on June 15, 2010

in People and Leadership

In a previous post, I noted that traditional sales rewards may be insufficient to inspire stellar performance in the complex task of enterprise sales.  I suggested that companies evaluate and increase the autonomy, mastery, and purpose – all critical to high performance on complex tasks – that their sales reps have.

My suggestions on increasing purpose related to the company and its customers.  I’m happy to report that Matt Bertuzzi has responded to my request to share alternative sales incentives and practices.

Here is a thought-provoking interview by Matt with Linda Flanagan, COO of Green Leads, on creating purpose through external social and philanthropic programs.

Of course, many companies engage in philanthropic giving and projects. What I love about this idea is how directly the employees are involved.

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I was thrilled to be a guest speaker on Linda Popky‘s Marketing Thought Leadership podcast series.

Pinda Popke The podcast topics include:
– The definition of customer context
– How to use every aspect of context in messaging
– The customer use case as a tool for articulating credible and provable value

Listen to the entire podcast, “Customer Relevance: Why Use Case-Driven Value™ Matters to Marketing”

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