If you ask the CEO of any company—it doesn’t matter how profitable it is—they’ll tell you that just about anything can go wrong when you scale a product. You may have the world’s best marketing and sales team, a built-in market and an amazing product, and still not achieve your revenue targets.
It’s a constant process to troubleshoot your marketing and sales methodology. When businesses underperform, some companies make excuses and claim that the market isn’t big enough, the distribution plan doesn’t scale or the competition pivoted too quickly. Other companies try to outrun the problem with temporary Band-Aids such as heavy discounts. But while these strategies may momentarily mask the problem, over time they will inhibit future growth and profits.
If you have trouble increasing sales—and know the problem isn’t the product or audience—there’s only one other thing to consider: the connection between your product and customers. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to evaluate your current positioning and reorient yourself to what your customers actually need. Here are three steps to help you get there.
Understand Customer Context
Marketing, sales and product problems rarely pop up out of nowhere. If you pay attention, you’ll often see a problem develop throughout the course of a standard launch and sales process. While you start out expecting to identify customer needs, build and launch the product, and ring the cash register, it rarely goes that smoothly. And if you spend the majority of your time optimizing tactics—including checklists that codify how you will go to market—you may fail to spend enough time thinking about customer context.
When you lose sight of customer context, you rely on default marketing copy such as “industry-leading solution for …” Your sales pitch becomes less compelling, and you begin to lose your unique positioning. And when customers hear about your product, it can feel like it was built in a vacuum, a generic, impersonal solution to a problem that they may not recognize as their own.
This is the moment to reorient marketing and sales efforts to focus on customer context. Because unless you incorporate this knowledge into your marketing and sales presentation, you’ll quickly turn into an interchangeable commodity that will be negotiated on price, encouraging heavy discounts and falling margins. The only way to get back on track is to analyze each customer’s individual context, ensuring your product truly meets their needs.
Orient Your Product Toward Customer Context
Fortunately, the process of reviving customer context is completely within your control. Start by identifying your customer’s context down to the tiniest detail. Large and small companies are different, and use cases differ across verticals. Companies also have different objectives, perspectives and annoyances. You can tap into analyst reports for some answers, but you also need to dig deeper to identify differences that you can’t quickly uncover.
For example, if you sell product life-cycle management (PLM) software, you’ll want to consider how a supply chain vice president perceives new tools, how they run their department and how PLM fits within that firm’s processes. Understanding context means taking a wide-angle view of the customer.
When you draw a connection between each customer and how your product solves their problems, you’ll create an emotional and logical connection. There won’t be any question about how the customer can use your product to achieve success because you will already have outlined it for them. This will help take pressure off of your marketing and sales teams by creating a differentiated message and product.
Ask Five Questions to Identify Customer Context
The following questions will help define customer context: why customers need your product and how that product will help them achieve their goals. The case study of TrueVoice—an innovative firm that helps Fortune 100 companies understand, visualize and activate social data—illustrates how to apply those questions in the real world.
Who is my target market?
The first step in identifying customer context is to define the demographics and motivations of your target market. Outline who the customers are, including job title, company and personal factors, and what matters for that audience on the job.
“As we began this process, we knew that every business’s social presence has incredible potential for social data intelligence,” said Brock Pernice, co-founder of TrueVoice. “But it took time to realize that our customers often don’t understand how to tap into those insights and listen to the right data because they are distracted by industry regulations that heap requirements on their social media communications.”
Working through this line of thought, TrueVoice realigned positioning to meet their customer needs. In particular, TrueVoice focused on CMOs and VPs of marketing who risked regulatory fines if they didn’t listen to and act on online customer commentary, particularly in company-owned social channels.
Dig into what you know about the other solutions in this space. What frustrates customers and what excites them? Evaluate every source of data you have, from industry reports to customer feedback. Learn about the nuances that set one product apart from another.
TrueVoice realized that customers were interested in using social monitoring tools, but rarely understood how they fit into the bigger picture. Customers invested in data and dashboards only to realize they had created an incomplete solution, as they lacked the people and processes to extract meaningful insight from social media chatter. TrueValue realized it had an opportunity to provide more education, specialized talent and support for products that companies had already invested in.
How does my product or service advance objectives of the buyer’s key stakeholder?
Consider how that target market’s decisions will play out for them in their current role. How is your buyer measured or rewarded on the job? What do they need to do to receive recognition from their boss’s boss?
By talking out these questions, TrueVoice realized that customers needed to leverage the reduced cost and increased efficiency of social media and digital marketing to create qualified leads. TrueValue also realized that its product could help achieve those goals by filtering, translating and analyzing social data. In addition, the product packaged results into easy-to-read scorecards for executive decision-making that offered clear, directional recommendations to deliver measurable stakeholder value.
How do prospects determine they need to change what they’re doing?
Where do customers get their information? When they learn something new, how long does it take them to research and find a solution? These questions help you understand the context of a prospect’s journey and create a sales presentation that resonates as it reflects your customers’ actual experience.
“We knew that our customers are highly educated and strategic, but we did not expect that so many would be unaware of the challenges and lack of value that comes with depending on social monitoring platforms as a solution,” Pernice said. “Supported by industry-leading resources like McKinsey and Forrester, we needed to educate our executive prospects about the state of the industry and why these platforms are not enough to remain competitive.”
Wouldn’t it be great if sales were as simple as impressing customers? But the truth is we not only need to catch the interest of customers but also of their key decision-makers. It’s important to understand what takes precedence when a company decides to finance and deploy new solutions. Otherwise, you could outline the perfect case only to discover that the investment never had senior management’s support.
TrueVoice used the insight it gained from studying prospect companies to clear any obstacles an eager prospect might have in convincing management of their need for TrueVoice’s services. To create buy-in, TrueVoice addressed all the questions that senior management might ask throughout the sales presentation and positioned its product as a way to translate social data intelligence into actionable data
If your latest product struggles to meet sales goals, don’t settle for excuses or discount tactics that may threaten the future of your business. Instead, dig deep into your customer context to understand the obstacles those customers face, then remove those obstacles.