One of the common questions I get at Gartner is “What are other companies (particularly the successful ones) like me doing?” And often, the “like me” comparison they are looking for is pretty broad -software company, services company, etc. This is often associated with trying to decide what marketing activities to invest in. When I get this question, I rarely answer it directly, for a couple reasons. First, my coverage is not focused on specific markets or technologies, so I don’t really study companies in the industry that closely (many of my colleagues do and I often suggest connecting with other analysts if the answer is really important to the client).
The second reason is I don’t think it is the right question. While there are certainly some broad based best practices (positioning, storytelling, developing deep customer insights) that you should leverage in your marketing efforts, simply copying others usually misses the boat. The results can be disappointing when you do the same things as others–particularly others that are larger and have more brand recognition than you. Me too approaches aren’t differentiating, but ultimately they fail because of one thing.
Your marketing (and sales) strategy should not be based on the what others are doing. It should be based on what your customers need.
A few months ago, I wrote a post about linking strategy, selling, and segmentation. The post referenced a great book by Frank Cespedes. This week, Frank and my colleague Tiffani Bova, wrote an article that appears on Harvard Business Review talking about reinventing sales processes (and the challenges of doing so). It is a great read. You might also want to check out the replay of Tiffani on CXOTalk, where she explored the challenges for sales in more detail with Michael Krigsman and Vala Asfar. All of this material takes us to the same fundamentals:
- Start With Strategy – Your strategy defines what your business wants to achieve and why. When you create a strategy, it must reflect who cares about your products or services–your target customers–and why. Furthermore, it should reflect your goals in terms of number of customers, share of wallet, product mix, and more. When evaluating marketing or sales investments, a simple question should be asked. Does this investment support us achieving the goals outlined in our strategy? If not, then why do it. Just because others are doing it? Not a great idea.
- Really, Really Understand your Customer’s Buying Approach – Once you are clear on strategy, then the primary focus must be on how your customer’s buy. This is why detailed customer profiles are so important. Marketing’s view needs to be a bit broader than sales—looking at characteristics and expectations for the target segment. Sales can refine this to get very specific about how their specific customer buys (check this out from Bob Apollo). This is where Me Too Marketing really breaks down. When you do what others do, and you aren’t targeting the same customers, then your programs shouldn’t be the same. Furthermore, even in the case where at a marketing level (in the broader segment) there are similarities, the things you do to reach them need to have some uniqueness to get the buyer’s attention. Your starting point, in terms of initial brand perception, will be different. Which means you need to do different things. The simple question to ask, “Does this help make it easier for my customer to buy from us (or a partner)?”
This is so fundamental to where Gartner feels that go-to-market strategies need to go that is drives our research focus. Personally, I spend a lot of time looking broadly at what technology buyers tell us drive their buying approach. We are progressively getting deeper and deeper into this analysis and will continue to expand the focus here. For one thing, what buyers say and what they actually do (and why) don’t always match up. So there is still some art to this. There are no black and white answers. But shifting your focus from “what are others doing” to “what do my customers need to make buying easier” is a great start.
From this, if you are a client, you can probably see where I will take you if you ask me “What others are doing?” Rather than answer the question, I’ll recommend that you have to understand what your buyers want and need. We have some research to help with that at a macro level and we’ll explore that. Further, I’ll talk about approaches to try to learn more from your specific buyer. Finally, we’ll talk a bit about your strategy. If your strategy doesn’t require adding a huge number of new clients, then why bother with campaigns where the key metric is volume of leads? Maybe you should do more advocacy marketing to get a few high quality referrals. Or generate thought leadership materials and do some content marketing to build trust and awareness (and not necessarily “leads”). It all depends on your strategy and your customers.
With all this in mind, here is one marketing and sales objective that every organization should have for 2015. By the end of the year, we will have developed, and shared across the organization, much deeper understanding of how our customers buy and used that information to adjust our marketing and sales approaches. Furthermore, we will use that information to refine our ongoing strategy.
I’m confident that any provider that achieves this objective will be in a great position to succeed.
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