Technical Sales vs Marketing

By Rick Tatham June 11, 2007

Many would argue that recent years have marked a significant downturn in corporate America. I would have to say that the problem has existed for years and only now are we really feeling the effects. Somehow we've lost touch with marketing fundamentals and moved directly to technical sales.

It was a brisk fall day as we left the hotel to go to our first Pragmatic Institute class. I remember pondering what might lie ahead. About two hours into the class the instructor, Barbara Nelson mentioned, 'If high tech product managers were selling fried chicken, they'd talk about dead chicken parts, fried in grease, at 400 degrees. Talk about what you do for people, not the technical features in your products.' My colleagues were astonished; it's as if a light bulb had just gone on. Funny, I had been preaching this philosophy for more than a year, but few people had listened. But then again, I was not an instructor for a prominent school, just a Product Manager in the technology sector. This statement brought even more clarity to what I'd been thinking.  What had happened to the technology sector was now common place in most American corporations. The concept of Marketing had been lost and instead replaced with technical sales. Now, more than ever I could see that the problem was fundamental and therefore could easily be fixed.

 Now that I had clarity of thought I could set about the task of identifying the differentiators between marketing and technical sales.

 Technical Sales

  • Boring--can be used as a sleeping aid
  • Extensive vocabulary--great reading for PhDs, confusing to the rest of us
  • Acronyms--three of four letters that when combined mean nothing to someone outside the industry
  • Industry Specific jargon--more confusion, only using words instead of letters
  • Discusses how the product operates not the benefits to the customer
  • Professes ease of use that often isn't there
  • Does not solve any problems
Marketing
  • Simple--easy, obvious
  • Friendly--fun, relaxed
  • Enthusiastic--exciting, interesting

I'm not suggesting that you turn your current sales collateral into a hopped up drag racing commercial, but rather sweeten the message to your customers. Pretend that you're explaining your product/service to a friend in a non-related industry (like healthcare). Would you use acronyms or jargon? How about operational details? Of course not, you would have to keep things conversational, explaining the value and benefits of the product/service. That's all I'm suggesting--Simple, Friendly and Enthusiastic!

Let's digress for a moment and identify our target audience. It would appear that technical sales tend to target the person who is installing the product or using the service. It addresses issues like capacity, performance and compatibility. Whereas marketing targets the decision maker, demonstrating cost savings and benefits.

Example: Storage Area Network (SAN)

Background: A Storage Area Network is basically a network of storage devices (hard drives, disk arrays, etc.) connected to a local area network. The SAN stores all of the data from different operating systems (Windows, Netware, Unix/Linux) in one area.  Workstations on the network access data stored in the SAN as if it were stored on their computer. In large Enterprise Networks SANs offer significant advantages because all corporate data, regardless of operating system, can be managed and backed up from a central point. According to Gartner the implementation cost of the average SAN is about one million dollars. Below is a product description from a prominent SAN vendor. I've changed the details, but not the wording.

Blanko's SAN 2150 Multilayer Master Switch provides 16 to 256 ports, with 1.8 Gigabit per second performance and a high-availability design. It offers 6 to 36 Gigabit Ethernet ports for iSCSI or FCIP connectivity. It includes Virtual SAN (VSAN) capability for SAN consolidation into virtual SAN 'islands' on a single physical fabric. It provides comprehensive security for large enterprise SANs deployment. The Master Switch uses intelligent networking services to help simplify SAN management and reduce total cost of ownership.

Does this qualify as technical sales?

√ Boring
√ Acronyms
√ Industry Specific jargon
√ Discusses how the product operates

Who is the target audience?

  • Technician?
  • IT Manager?
  • CEO?
  • CFO?
  • CIO?
  • EIEIO? (old MacDonald)

Below are a couple of ideas of how you might start the same product description:

In today's economy preserving IT investments and reducing the total cost of ownership are of paramount importance. Blanko's SAN 2150 provides the perfect blend of top performance and expandability.

Blanko's SAN 2150 offers a host of features without compromising performance or security.

The goal is to give the audience a reason to keep reading. Capture their attention, then keep it.

Simplicity is the key!

Here is another example:

Problem:

Customer runs out of hard disk space

Solution--Marketing Slogan

Never Run Out of Disk Space Again!

It's that easy! The hardest part of this task is to not over think things.

It's time for a practical exercise. Visit your own corporate web site and read either a product or service description. Here are a few simple questions to answer:

  1. Is the first sentence captivating? Does it motivate you to read on?
  2. Is the writing style relaxed and friendly?
  3. After reading a short description could you explain this product/service to a teenager?
  4. Have someone else (outside of your office) read the description, then explain the product/service back to you.
  5. Do you understand how this product fixes a problem you have?
  6. Do you want to know more?

Or, have you just lapsed into a coma and your lunch hour has just passed. Remember, no one has ever been penalized for making something too easy to understand.

Here are a few tips on how to improve your marketing descriptions:

  1. Write only in a relaxed and quiet environment (often outside the office).
  2. Write down the general points you want to cover.
  3. Don't use a computer, just a pen and paper (very hard).
  4. Don't worry about grammar, punctuation or proper writing (fix it later).
  5. Write your description as if you were explaining it to a friend.
  6. On your first attempt don't use any diagrams or pictures.
  7. When you're done write a very concise summary, and then move it to your second sentence.
  8. Write an attention grabber, think bold and even unusual.  Example--Imagine never having to worry about your blank again.
  9. Rest assured that anyone can write great marketing copy if they break things down to simple steps.

One last thought, at times, creative writing can be difficult even for the most experienced writers. Some years ago I learned a technique call mind mapping or clustering that simplifies the task. Just follow these steps:

  1. Start with a blank piece of unlined paper
  2. Write your product, service or topic in the center of the paper
  3. Circle it--stimulates the creative half of the brain
  4. Next write down anything that comes to mind
  5. Circle it
  6. If two items are related draw a line connecting them
  7. Don't be afraid to write down items that are not very related, they could come in handy later
  8. When your done you should have something that looks like a complex molecule, but with words inside each circle
  9. The goal here is to get everything out of your head and on to the paper
  10. Once your head is empty it's much easier to write
  11. When your done you can review the words and number them to create an outline
  12. Simple cross off the ones you don't want
  13. Need more material? Just copy one of the circles (topics) to another piece of paper and repeat the process

I strongly recommend that you practice this technique with something simple to start.  Write a letter to a friend, make a list of things to do around the house, but don't try this, for the first time, on your Master's thesis. If you commit to practicing this style of writing at least three times you'll never go back to old school writing again.

In conclusion, I can only ask that you put what I've said to the test. Pick a flyer, brochure, presentation or advertisement that has a measurable response. Make it Simpler, Friendlier and more Enthusiastic. Now measure the results again. I'll bet they are 30% higher, and at nearly no cost. Good Luck and Happy Hunting!

Categories: Working with Sales Go-to-Market
Rick Tatham

Rick Tatham

Rick Tatham is a former Product Manager/Product Marketing Manager for Legato Systems, Inc., a company that recently sold for $1.3 billion. He is dedicated to ensuring that Marketing remains 'Simple, Friendly and Enthusiastic.' If you enjoyed this article, please send him an email at rickt@boatfun.com

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