As we move into the short Thanksgiving work week, I find myself thinking about the priorities of marketing organizations within vendors. Let’s face it, in most product oriented technology companies, the primary energy, focus, and power revolves around the products.
Is this long standing approach still appropriate? I wonder.
- We know that tech buying teams spend more, of their “buying time” engaging with peers and influencers than they spend with the vendors they are considering.
- We know that it is much harder to acquire new customers than to expand relationships with existing customers (if we are providing value).
- We know that a key to success is switching your focus from pitching products to telling stories that reflect empathy and understanding for the customer situation–which requires a deep focus on the customer.
In acknowledgement of this, it is rare to find tech providers that don’t at least have some people responsible for analyst relations and customer reference programs. Vendors know that these things matter.
But if you look deeper at these functions, they often seem to have less stature, power, and influence that the folks that “own the products.” This functions are often viewed with a focus on tracking activities and interest, coordinating requests, and recommend activities. It’s almost like they are secondary support functions. Products are the center of the universe.
Maybe it’s time to change.
Here are a few ideas that would be more in line with helping customers buy:
- Create and elevate a Customer Marketing team that is positioned to have as much power and influence as product management and marketing. The customer marketing team should lead efforts to develop and tune Ideal Customer Profiles. They should create and manage advocacy programs, not coordinate references (yes the link is from a few years back, but organizational change in this area is slow). They should work with customer success teams and product marketing teams to proactively market to existing customers to drive growth. And they should influence product strategy by being the customer champion in whole product discussions.
- Move beyond a traditional Analyst Relations approach to true Influencer Marketing. Thinking that analyst firms (yes, including Gartner) are the only influencers that matter is missing the reality of the market. Understand where your customers go for help (oh yeah, one more responsibility for Customer Marketing), and develop programs to cultivate those relationships. Think beyond briefings to creative engagement models that build trust and an effective influence ecosystem around your company and products. And yes, the Influencer Marketing should have peer level power with Customer Marketing and your product efforts. (BTW, Great analyst relations professionals are already doing some of this–whether the company they work for explicitly is focused there are not).
- With these changes, create collaborative programs between these two functions. It is hard to imagine an activity that would build more trust and credibility than making it easy for customers and influencers to engage with each other—both in structured meetings and unstructured conversations and activities. Jon Reed from diginomica shared a story recently of one example of this that blew me away But, why are these things, that make so much sense when you hear about them, the exception rather than the rule?
As you execute these programs, recognize that it won’t be all wine and roses. You’ll get lots of negative feedback, but most of that will be constructive–feedback that can improve everything that you do.
But by simply saying–and supporting–the idea that, from a marketing perspective, customers and influencers are as important as products, you may change mindsets and jump start new ideas to help you engage the way buyers really want.
They should not be secondary activities of product marketing or product management. They aren’t support functions.
They may be the most important thing you can do as a technology marketer.
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