For any of the teams that I’ve worked closely with over the past few years, they may already know where I’m headed with this blog entry. For several years now, I have held tightly to the belief that there are five questions that the sales and marketing efforts of every B2B technology company must address in order to attract, land and retain customers. For each of these questions, where customers find deficiencies, companies should apply greater marketing effort. In fact, in many cases they may find their sales efforts stall until they can successfully answer each of the five questions. The first three are easily more important to the customer’s vendor selection process, but firms that overlook the last two may not see the results they would otherwise anticipate.
You may have never thought about it, but when selecting B2B technology, most prospects will evaluate your offering by asking:
1. Do You Know My Business?
This may seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked. A quick look at the website of a handful of B2B technology providers will give you an idea of how many firms still define the world from a very product-centric mindset. At its most basic, customers don’t care that you think your product is great, or that your mother thinks the article in the Wall Street Journal was nice. They want to know that you know their business. That you speak their language. Not in terms of knowing every buzzword or acronym – do you know the space in which they live? Do you know their competition? Their customers? Do you understand how they make money and how they make profit? If you do, it needs to show:
a. In the events you choose to host or participate in
b. In the messaging in all of your marketing vehicles
c. In the manner of your outreach and how you make information available to them
d. In how your sales team communicates and in the ROI models you use to support product selection.
You have to understand who makes the purchase decision inside your target firms. Who or what influences that decision? Are you talking to end-users, C-Level, IT? Even in the same industry or company, they define their “business” differently than their own co-workers.
2. Do You Know My Pain?
Not to steal a line from President Clinton, but it’s critical that companies demonstrate to prospects that you “feel their pain.” Rather than empathy, this is actually a natural extension – or continued conversation – from the first question. Firms want to know that not only do you know their business, but that you know their pain. Pain is the leading cause of technology selection. Firms rarely replace systems that are functioning well. If you think your prospect doesn’t have a pain they are trying to solve, you don’t know enough about them.
Tapping into customer’s pain and demonstrating a solution to that pain is the driving force behind the best thought-leadership programs. Unfortunately, many thought-leadership campaigns are built around “the problem we solve” rather than the “problems our customers face.” It’s important to understand the difference between these two viewpoints and to act accordingly.
3. Can You Solve It?
As much as your product marketer wants to jump right to the product “speeds and feeds,” this isn’t the time. Sales and marketing need to demonstrate that a) yes, a solution to your pain point exists; b) we have that solution; c) you should expect to see these types of returns on your investment; and d) here are the names and case studies of customers that have already benefited from our solution.
The more that marketing campaigns and messages can tie together the first three questions – and deliver the payoff to solving the problem, the greater a company’s chances are of moving the needle with demand generation programs.
4. Can I Afford It?
Price is always going to be a factor, and it behooves companies to understand where their pricing fits relative to both the competition and the cost of doing nothing. With a nod to Mr. Brown, my high school physics teacher, keep in mind that an object at rest will remain at rest unless it is acted upon. You may have lowest-priced offering, but you need to show prospects how your cost compares to doing nothing. Likewise, you may have the “Cadillac” of the available solutions and your marketing needs to address the how and why customers should pay more for your offering.
5. Will You Be Here a Year From Now?
This last question has both an institutional and personal connection. Customers want to know that the vendor they select has the financial wherewithal to stay in business and to provide them with service over an indefinite period of time. B2B selling is more like a marriage than a date. Companies want a vendor who will stick with them over the long haul.
At the personal level, decision-makers, internal coaches and advocates, etc. want to know that the person they work the deal with will be picking up the phone when things go wrong. And customers all know that things often go wrong with B2B technology. Make sure you stress customer service during the sales process and not as an after-thought to the implementation plan.
Viewed individually, these five questions may seem fairly easy to address, but the real challenge is to review the full customer life-cycle across your entire enterprise. Do your demand generation campaigns talk about the business and its drivers? Do your sales people sell the solution to the customers pain, or do they sell the products you make and shoehorn them to fit a customer’s pain point? Do your implementation teams understand the customers’ business and how to apply your product to the nuances of real-world use? Do your customer service teams recognize the emotional connection they make with customers and how that leads to future revenue?
It’s five questions. Ask.