We are currently witnessing the emergence of a phenomenon called the “consumerization of IT,” where consumer technologies that deliver a superior customer experience are forcing their way into the world of corporate information technology. Today‘s consumers are buying products in different ways. And they are engaging in social media at an accelerated rate. Consider these stats in a blog post from the Sales 2.0 conference. In the next 30 minutes, 700,000 apps will be downloaded from the AppStore, users will spend 146 man-days on Facebook and 21,000 Twitter accounts will be created.
“Consumer behavior is always a good indicator of what will happen in the business world,” adds the blog’s author Donal Daly. “Not all consumers are B2B buyers, but all B2B buyers are consumers. Consumers are conditioned to new ways of thinking, and begin to expect similar capability or convenience from business connections.”
Consider the case of Amazon.com. The company delivers what most consider a superior consumer buying experience, with third-party affiliates even paying Amazon a commission to leverage that experience.
But Amazon is not just a great B2C company. With its Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) solution, it is already a major player in providing cloud-based IT infrastructure for businesses. Amazon delivers a smooth (if not perfect) buying experience with EC2, where a server can be provisioned in minutes for a few dollars per month.
And it’s not far-fetched to imagine the company creating a rating system, similar to the one on its consumer sites, for B2B products and services. Combined with B2B-related social networks and media, this would be an extremely powerful peer-recommendation platform.
This spillover of the consumer buying and using experience into what people will expect in business experiences is a looming phenomenon that will affect product marketers—as well as sales, marketing and product management. To prepare for this “consumerization effect,” product marketers should develop personal plans to analyze and adapt, while also leading strategic initiatives that will help their companies to adapt.
How Product Marketing Can Adapt
One of the most important responsibilities of product marketers is telling the story to the marketplace and managing product positioning and messaging. B2C marketers already understand that with the advent of the Internet and the explosion of social networks and media, they no longer have complete control over the product brand. “Xbox” was originally an internal project code name for Microsoft’s gaming system. When the name leaked to the public and it stuck, Microsoft’s marketing adapted.
The same will soon be true for B2B products and services. Rather than trying to control the messaging and narrative in the market, product marketers should aim to manage and adapt to it by listening to conversations on relevant social media and social networks. Those who don’t do this will be viewed as being out of touch with the market.
Effective B2B product marketers today are already leveraging social media and networks like Twitter and LinkedIn to meaningfully engage the market. (By this, I mean substantial discussions and conversations, not just tweeting a press release). This experience can be invaluable in helping others in the organization strategize and plan for leveraging social media concepts and dynamic marketing content already leveraged in the B2C world.
Helping Marketing, Sales and Product Management Adapt
Product marketers are in a unique position to lead strategic initiatives to adapt the company to the consumerization effect. They already collaborate with different parts of the company in an intermediary role:
- They gather market requirements for product management to help them build products.
- They develop messaging and content to help marketing demand centers generate interest in the product.
- They enable sales with tools, presentations and demos to talk about and sell the product.
This makes product marketers natural candidates to lead or orchestrate strategic initiatives to study, plan and adapt the company to the consumerization effect.
Help marketing adapt. Product marketers at best-in-class marketing organizations realize that the market’s attention span is shorter than ever. You need dynamic, engaging and shareable content–delivered in a variety of formats and targeted to the right personas–for effective lead generation and nurturing campaigns. If your demand generation teams haven’t adapted already, ask them questions like these:
- We are now in our third generation of computer gamers. Does this mean we should be offering more dynamic content?
- If you’re under 35, when was the last time you read printed collateral from a trade show? Should we reconsider our print/digital offerings?
- With people viewing content on iPads and wide-screen monitors, should we still be producing only vertically oriented materials?
Help sales adapt. In the past, the rainmaker sales rep was king. But in the future B2B buying environment, buyers will want the same transparency and control that they get in the consumer environment. Sales reps will feel less in control, and they won’t like it. So how can product marketers help?
In his eBook The New Rules of Sales Enablement, Jeff Ernst says, “It’s not about posting more collateral to a sales portal. It is about enabling salespeople to have conversations that help customers advance through their buying process.”
Relevant and current B2B conversations already are going on in various social media outlets. By analyzing this information, product marketers can glean invaluable market and competitive intelligence and help increase the relevancy of the sales conversation with prospects.
Help product management adapt. In the last five years, most technology companies adopted agile development approaches where the time between big product launches is not quiet, but filled with continuous product improvements and innovation. This is true in both B2C and B2B markets alike.
This means that the periodic creation of marketing requirements documents and product requirements documents is no longer sufficient. Agile development requires continuous feedback to product management from the customer base on how product enhancements are being received and accepted. And increasingly, social networks are a model for that feedback.
Product marketers knowledgeable in collaborative, public social network platforms can help product management leverage them for continuous product feedback following major and incremental product releases.
Get Tactical and Strategic
Product marketers who are leveraging social media to engage the market in a meaningful fashion are already ahead of the game in adapting their roles to be more effective five years from now.
They can take a tactical step by collaborating with lead generation centers in marketing to leverage new, more dynamic types of content that are more effective for targeted personas. But a strategic opportunity also exists for product marketing to lead initiatives to help different organizations in the company adapt to the consumeratization effect.
The product marketers who adapt their roles tactically to the consumerization effect can remain relevant in five years—but those who lead strategic initiatives to help the company adapt will get the promotion.