from PRODUCT MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES
A Weekly Newsletter of Tips For Companies that Develop Software
Technology companies, since they are largely peopled by technically oriented individuals, often fall into the trap of creating marketing and sales materials that are overly focused on the technical side of the product. Product Managers usually play an indispensable role in pulling the development of marketing collateral and sales tools over towards the business perspective.
There are a number of reasons why marketing and sales efforts at technology companies tend to be too technical despite the fact that there is a great deal of specialized marketing knowledge out there in the market, with plenty of skilled marketeers. First, as with all other industries, people who start at a company due to their technical training rise through the ranks and take positions in the Marketing department. Such individuals may have a bent for marketing or sales, but lack a systematic exposure to marketing concepts and skills.
Second, formally trained but very business- oriented marketeers at technology companies find themselves dealing with a complex and inaccessible product that is a challenge for a typical non-techie to learn. Therefore they depend upon a cadre of technical people for explanations of how the product works, how it’s used, and why people use it. Their best efforts to provide clear and plain spoken explanations still reflect the strong technical bias of their sources of information.
Third, technology companies are more than happy to target prospects in IT and other technical areas because they think that is their audience of potential buyers. This is usually incorrect, since the buying power is with the business users or the executive team, but if you assume you are targeting IT departments, you craft a very technical message.
Product Managers, as individuals whose job it is to understand the business perspective on the product in order to translate it into requirements and other technical instructions, can also provide the right input to Marketing and Sales, input that focuses on the business side.
Read on below for some pointers on creating business oriented collateral and sales tools that successfully convince executives and non- technical managers to make a purchase.
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Build a Better Mousetrap …
Technology managers, frequently out of their element in marketing and sales matters, are only too happy to believe in the adage ‘Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.’ The truth is that if you believe that, you’re likely to grow old waiting for the line at the door to form.
Unfortunately for us all, customers aren’t just going to happen. So one of the very first things that a Product Manager may be called upon to do is to jar the management team out of their comfortable assumption that they won’t need to do any marketing or selling.
It’s All About the Difference
Technology companies, like technical people, usually like to be analytical and thorough, uncovering all the facts, organizing them logically, and covering them fully. The natural tendency of such companies when marketing a product is to describe its capabilities in complete and excruciating detail.
But effectively communicating the significance of a product to the market is never about explaining absolutely everything the product does. You only get access to so much attention from prospects and analysts, so you need to focus not on what you do, but on what you do that’s DIFFERENT.
This is the essence of the concept of product positioning. A product doesn’t need to just do things, it needs to do things that are different from other products for someone to choose to buy it over others.
Look for the Market Baseline
To help figure out how your product is different, take a look at the features of competing products, and look for common capabilities among them. These form a kind of baseline which potential buyers expect to find in your product. You won’t get any points for relying on these capabilities in your marketing and selling.
Determining the baseline is a fast way to eliminate features from your positioning. And remember that this baseline keeps moving as competitors catch up with one another, which means that you need to review your positioning regularly and be prepared to let go of important pieces of it and move on.
Nothing Says “Buy Me” Like Pain and Fear
Logical people have trouble understanding that most people buy due to two of the most illogical forces on the planet: pain and fear. If you really want your marketing and sales messages to hit home with prospects, you need to find those areas of their jobs where they are struggling.
Struggling could mean spending too much money, too much time, or too hard an effort on specific responsibilities. People are more than willing to buy a product if it helps them struggle less. They’re also more than willing to buy if they think they can avoid a bad outcome that threatens them, hence the reason to look at their fears.
The challenge with pain and fear is that you have to be specific to pains and fears that your product can ease or solve. Every prospect may want to save money, but if your product provides no benefits that cut costs (at least relative to the market baseline), you’re better off not emphasizing that in your marketing message.
People Love to Talk About Themselves
Your prospects love to hear about issues they live with every day. These are the major concerns and activities of their particular industry, business environment, and professional specialty. If you want to really grab their attention, formulate a description of your product that is structured around major business issues.
For example, instead of presenting a call center product in your brochure based on the screens and tabs in the software, organize your material around major issues for the call center business: Making sure a live person answers each call, tracking how many calls are coming in, assigning and routing calls efficiently, and providing service reps with access to materials that answer callers’ questions.
Your brochures and sales presentations will garner a lot more attention when they are organized around the business issues of your target market.
It’s Rare When There Isn’t a Target Market
I often hear technically minded people state that they think their product doesn’t need to aim at a specific market, that it applies to everyone. But it’s the rare product whose target is ‘all companies with employees’ or ‘all consumers who breathe.’ Inevitably, those most likely to buy your product have certain distinguishing characteristics, and a Product Manager delivers an invaluable service by finding these and making sure everyone knows about them.
Even when a product COULD apply to everyone, no company has the resources to target everyone. A Product Manager can help the team determine which market or markets will be most receptive, so that limited marketing and sales dollars can be focused there.
Pain and Fear Can Be Measured
Pain and fear, though very illogical, can in fact be measured. And it’s the measurement of that pain and fear that provides the justification for paying for your product.
If your product saves prospects money, say, by avoiding costs that they dread incurring, the challenge of selling it is estimating how much money could be saved. Customers are willing to pay that amount or less for the product.
A Product Manager can provide guidance to a technical team to help them understand which metrics are used to calculate a specific cost savings benefit, and to structure sales presentations and discussions so that those metrics are unearthed. This can be an area where having a technical bent has its advantages. Measuring fear and pain is all about investigating, analyzing, and calculating, and most technical people take naturally to that.
Talk to Those “Above the Money Line”
Technology companies love to talk to IT, the technology function within other companies. They connect on the same level and appreciate technical features and details.
But if you want to sell your product, you need to talk to people who have the budget authority to buy it. These days, that means someone who runs a department or a company executive. Such individuals often don’t have a technical background, and even if they do, their communication and thought processes at their current level of authority are very business focused. That is why it’s so important to focus on the business issues rather than the technical ones.
Demos: No More “Spray and Pray”
The tendency of technical people when presenting software in a demo is to ‘spray and pray.’ I have also heard this called ‘show up and throw up.’ It consists of presenting every screen, tab, field, button, and feature, in the hopes that somewhere in that massive jumble of information, prospects will pick out benefits that are significant to them.
But most prospects, being busy human beings like ourselves, don’t have the time or inclination to do the work themselves of figuring out a product’s benefits.
Product Managers can provide the pre-sales team with invaluable guidance on giving a much more effective demo. They do this by communicating the list of business issues, and developing presentations and demos that are organized around these topics rather that around the internal structure of the menus and screens.
People Don’t Like to Read Much
People don’t necessarily mind reading, as long as it doesn’t require too much reading. Product Managers can help focus materials, presentations, and demos by paring them down and throwing out material. This goes against the natural tendency of technical people to be thoroughly complete.
Your brochures will do you no good if nobody reads them because they’re too dense and too long. A Product Manager can work with the team to boil content down and simplify some of it into pictures, not to mention discarding overly involved explanations.
The Product Manager can also help cut overhead slides down to size. Most people, at least the non-technical ones, will be turned off by too much detail on the page. Not to mention that the salient points are often lost among too much text.
Sales Is About Bonding, Not Logic
When supporting a sales effort manned by technical team members, it’s important to point out that the sales decision basically centers around how well you connect with your prospect and how much they like and respect you. Often the kind of feature-to-feature comparison logic that you run into in RFPs is not central to whom the customer picks, though that may be what your prospect uses to justify the expense to their CFO.
So the Product Manager can help keep actions focused on smooth communication and teamwork with the prospect, rather than the painstaking and factual justifications and explanations that a technical team will tend to emphasize.
Sales Is Really, Really Hard Work
There is the tendency for technical people to see business level work as relatively easy. But sales is hard work. There may not be blood, or tears, but there sure is a lot of sweat involved. It can be very fun, but it’s almost never going to be easy. It demands much more than in-and-out demos and isolated interventions from sales support or managers.
Here’s the final place where a Product Manager can serve as the conscience of the project, reminding managers of the importance of timely follow up, keeping the team focused on the next milestone in the sales cycle that they need to reach. Many a sale has been lost simply because those involved in the sale didn’t go the distance.
You Will Not Achieve Perfection
Finally, it’s important to realize that a Product Manager can only do so much to pull a group with a technical bias over to the business side of the equation in order to improve their marketing and sales effectiveness. But what you do achieve can make the difference between sales won or lost.