There's a reason no one is listening

By Adele Revella August 30, 2007

The content published on most vendor websites and collateral ranges from useless to incomprehensible. If I had a dime for every company that describes their high tech solution as flexible, scalable, and compatible, I could retire. It's difficult to tell what the company does, and impossible to differentiate one solution or vendor from another.

Here's a data point for you. According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, the average American sees 254 commercial messages each day. You can probably double that number for your prospects, given their responsibilities and the number of vendors vying for their attention. It is easy to see why you must instantly speak to the buyer's most urgent problem. I know, your product does a lot of great stuff, but this volume of messages ensures that no one will read through a list looking for their pain point. Nor will they be impressed that you are one of many companies selling a product in a specific category. To get executives' attention and move them into the sales pipeline, you need a sniper's precision, hitting the prospect at the specific point of greatest pain.

If you think that marketing communications is the source of fluffy, empty, generic language, read on. Marcom has an important role as it transfers the messages to various mediums, and granted, there is always room for improvement. But marcom has no hope of communicating the message if no one knows--really knows--the people to whom they're talking.

The solution to the problem: product managers must have regular contact with prospects (not just customers). Just as product management reports market info to development in the form of requirements, product management must report the prospect problem and solution to marcom in the form of positioning documents.

For your marketing programs to work, you must be on the lookout for the one problem that is most pervasive and urgent among your prospects. When you build the positioning documents with your product teams, everyone must understand a tightly focused, urgent problem and its solution. Without this information, even the best marcom team will execute programs that fail.

Product managers who hope to fulfill this role must clearly understand the business context for their solution, which is usually different for each type of prospect the programs will target. The product manager must understand the way that each of these buyers relates to the problem, and build positioning documents (yes, multiple documents) that explain the solution in words that prospect would use.

Each type of buyer in each market segment has a different way of articulating their problem. So why do most companies try to 'get by' with a single positioning document? Because the marketing team hasn't understood the need to build marketing materials that articulate the answer to prospect problems. We've been too busy filling data sheets with vendor-speak to stop and find out what prospects really need to know before they choose our solution.

Joe Costello, former CEO of Cadence Design Systems, says it well. 'High-tech marketing is atrocious—the material sounds like plumbers' journals.'

You can have a single message if you sell to only one buyer persona in one market segment. Otherwise, you don't have a choice. You'll need positioning documents for each buyer persona in each target market segment. Sure, it's a lot of work. But you can't reach multiple audiences with a generic message.

The high tech industry is maturing and our marketing needs to catch up. It's impossible to differentiate solutions on features alone, and prospects are less willing than ever before to listen to technology messages. Leading high tech companies are starting to recognize what other industries have long understood: Success requires you to solve a market problem, and then clearly tell the market why yours is a significantly better answer to that problem.

There's a reason no one is listening. Most marketing programs have nothing to say.

Categories: Go-to-Market
Adele Revella

Adele Revella

Adele Revella is CEO of Buyer Persona Institute and author of Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into Your Customer’s Expectations, Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business (Wiley 2015), named a Top 5 Business Book by Fortune magazine. Adele’s unique perspective derives from decades of experience as a sales and marketing executive, trainer, researcher and entrepreneur. Learn more at, follow her on Twitter at @buyerpersona or connect with her on LinkedIn at

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