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The Biggest Content Gap in Technology Marketing

by Hank Barnes  |  December 16, 2014  |  8 Comments

A few weeks ago, Jon Reed (of diginomica), and I had an interesting (at least we thought so!) dialog via twitter and blog comments about case studies.  We both were lamenting the lack of great case studies in the technology industry.  But we had a disagreement about what needs to be in them.  Jon, who is a savvy businessman and strong technologist, is a big believer that case studies should almost always have information on implementation, training, and support.  I, on the other hand, believe in fit for purpose.  If you are using a case study to illustrate why someone should consider doing something different, you don’t need to talk about implementation details.  Save that for later.  For me, it’s all about where you see the case study helping the reader in their buying process.

That being said, within this dialog was something that I may have unintentionally implied was not important.   That is the necessity to provide potential buyers with details on implementation, training, and support.   The lack of good content in this area is, for me, the biggest gap in technology marketing.

mind_the_gap

There are a couple of research data points that illustrate the importance of this.

First, in our survey about differentiation early in 2014, the respondents told us that Service and Support was the strongest differentiator.  This was for people that felt providers did a good job of differentiating themselves.  Conversely, those that said providers were not good at communicating differentiation–the majority–cited the inability to understand the details of service and support as one of the major issues.

Second,  in our more recent research on buying cycles and influential marketing activities, two of  the top three reasons for buyers stopping a buying process–the dreaded “no decision”–were concerns that buyers developed about achieving the targeted ROI and the risk of the project.   Effectively, we interpret that to being an issue where buyers initially think the project makes sense and they get some evidence of this during the evaluation process.  But at some point, they are unable to embrace how they specifically can achieve value and minimize risk.

This disconnect is often driven by the lack of information to help buyers understand the steps that need to be taken to get value.  I believe that if providers developed content that described “the first 90 days with our product” (or any other relevant time frame), that these concerns would diminish.  In that content, you would outline the steps that have to be taken by project teams to be successful.  Implementation steps. training.  How to engage support.  What the customer needs to do and what you as the service provider will do.

And not just a description of your training options or support programs.   But an authentic story about how to take those things apply in specific scenarios.  Jon is definitely right here.  Case studies that share how other customers achieved success are fantastic for this purpose.  (Here is a good example I came across recently from Minitab.  While the story does not explain the exact details of implementation, it does provide a lot of detail on how their product was used to come up with a solution that had a big impact for their customer, Ford.)

I’d be shocked in anyone questioned whether this makes sense.  But the reason for the issues is that this is easier said than done.   This type of information lies at  a bit of a tipping point (not in the “innovation sense” of the phrase).  It is the bridge that moves from more traditional marketing materials toward what we think of as documentation or help.    Marketing can’t (or shouldn’t) develop this material alone.  They need to work with the services, support and product teams.  At the same time, if you leave this purely to the services or product teams, you run the risk of it being overrun with minutia that, while important at some point, derail the story and the sales effort.  It is a tricky balance.

Navigating this “content bridge” and then going deeper along thispath with all the other content that actual customers need  (online help, user guides, etc.) is a critical, often forgotten element of delivering a great customer experience.   The stories aren’t the same, and the depth of coverage is different, but the storyline and narrative needs to be consistent.   Inconsistencies confuse customers and can halt them in their tracks.

What does this all mean?  I’d suggest you do a content audit to assess if you have the information potential customers need to help them understand, quite specifically, how they will actually be successful with your solution.   Then make sure that the additional customer documentation extends the storyline.  Ideally, use some of your case studies (does not have to be all of them) to help tell these stories.  Done right, you’ll be better positioned to deliver on the expectations that you set in your marketing and sales efforts, without confusing the customer with different stories and themes.

If you have this content gap, fill it and let me know if it helps you progress deals faster.   If you’ve already filled it, I’d love to hear how (and if it is working) you use this content to accelerate deals and build customer confidence.

 

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Category: future-of-sales  go-to-market  

Tags: buying-cycle  case-studies  content  implementation  support  training  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on The Biggest Content Gap in Technology Marketing


  1. Jon Reed says:

    Hank thanks for continuing this important discussion. For whatever reason, many companies have not put in the due diligence documenting their project wins and getting customers to sign off on it for a published story.

    But as you point out, for buyers who are seriously kicking tires, that kind of content is very important. As per our argument about including that detail in the case study, the discussion is more important to me than who is right, because it raises the right questions.

    Not all case studies must be the same format, but what I would say is that if you talk about a great go-live without providing details, you’ve missed a great chance to be more transparent and earn customer trust.

    Enterprise managers are aware that even the best projects have some glitches. If you include detail and the challenges faced and overcome, that matters. I shine a spotlight on support and training because user adoption is becoming an even more crucial factor in evaluating project success. How users embraced the product, what the impact on the help desk was – it all gives authority and if it wasn’t perfect, who cares? Nothing is.

    But what DOES make an impression are projects that users love and where the problems were ruthlessly addressed by the vendor until they were resolved. That’s the kind of partner customer want.

    So, in conclusion:

    1. I agree that case study and post-go-live content is essential and underestimated

    2. I agree that the details of the service/support go-live process matter.

    3. The overall tone of the case study, openly acknowledging challenges and how they were addressed, is a great chance to win trust through transparency and realism.

    • Hank Barnes says:

      Jon, I love the continuing dialog. Fantastic points. Nothing builds trust more than stories that acknowledge challenges and how they were overcome. That being said, it is important for providers to know this is not just about case studies and go-live reports. You can, and should, augment those with other materials that help buyers understand what needs to be done to get value from your solutions. Case studies are critical to add credibility to that foundation.

    • Mike says:

      Great post, Hank. (Still.)
      And great point, Jon.
      You wrote that “Enterprise managers are aware that even the best projects have some glitches. …it all gives authority and if it wasn’t perfect, who cares? Nothing is.”
      In this time when authenticity is in high demand, technology marketers have an opportunity. If their case studies can make an authentic nod to a problem during implementation, the subsequent summary of support and resolution -and the case study’s outcomes, ultimately- will be that much more credible.
      But there’s fear of giving competitors ammunition for criticism later. How do you suggest changing the fear of telling the whole story, warts and all? Have you seen any business case studies that succeed at sharing candid details?
      I’m digging into that question for an upcoming post at my site http://www.convertwithcasestudies.com
      Thanks.

      • Hank Barnes says:

        Good point, I think the thing to remember is with the rise of user reviews and social networking, the ability to get the sordid details is easier than ever. Would you rather be able to provide the narrative of how issues were addressed or just leave that to chance? For me, its having the right mix of case study style and focus areas to address different type of questions from buyers.

  2. Jon Reed says:

    Hank – one final clartification. Yes, the content that can help buyers is certainly not limited to case studies as you point out.

    The case study should be a key part, but there is much more you can do to walk through the process. One that I recommend is to shoot a video where you answer frequent questions from customer that come up during the implementation/go-live process (or ramping up a new user). Then, post that video along with highlights or a transcript. Take almost a talk show type format, breezy with good questions and honest answers.

    • Hank Barnes says:

      Thanks Jon, love that suggestion…particularly the addition of highlights and a transcript. Video is a wonderful medium, but we don’t always have time or the right place to watch and listen. Transcripts and highlights provide the flexibility for the buyer to build interest, then consume the information whatever way they choose.

  3. Girish Bhat says:

    Hank:

    I prefer that case studies emphasize value to prospects/customers. Case studies help initiate a conversation or add credibility to ongoing conversations. I find that implementation and support details are best conveyed directly as a follow-up; unless all value is centered around support and implementation.

    Girish

    • Hank Barnes says:

      Thank you for the comment, Girish. As I’ve said, I think you need different stories for different phases of the buying process. And agree that different buyers want different types of stories. That being said, if you only go into implementation and support details as a followup, you may be missing buyers that want to hear that before they will talk to you. Also, it is important to link everything you do to customer examples to provide validation that builds trust. Buyers don’t trust providers as a default behavior.



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