There is a famous scene in Bull Durham when Crash Davis (played by Kevin Costner) tells Nuke Laloosh (played by Tim Robbins) “you don’t need a quadraphonic Blaupunkt, you need a curveball!” (Thanks Julie Hopkins for inspiring me to use Bull Durham in a blog post!) It was 25 years ago, but the point still remains valid. What one person values (or more specifically believes someone else values) is not the same as what that other person values.
This is never more true when it comes to the world of selling technology, especially to other businesses. Selling to consumers often requires appealing to emotion and impulse and large B2C marketers spend a lot of time learning about buying behavior, what segments of customers value and targeting offers to meet those values. But B2B companies don’t typically have that luxury and their messaging is usually reflective of what they think buyers value based on anecdotal experience and gut feel. We often work with startups and emerging technology vendors to make their value proposition more compelling and messaging clearer (see this post for examples).
Larger and more well-known technology providers usually have strong value propositions and clear messages. But their brand image seeps into messaging and the result is often a mismatch between what the company is saying and the prospect wants to hear. A new report from McKinsey and Company highlights this mismatch. They researched 90 of the largest public B2B companies (many of which were technology or telecom providers) and 700 executives who buy solutions offered by those types of companies and found a pretty strong divergence between what the companies communicate about their brands and the characteristics their customers value most. See this graphic below.
While large providers might be incredibly innovative or setting the direction of the market, that isn’t often the reason they win deals. Aggressive buyers of technology are willing to take risks in order to get first-mover status and gain a competitive advantage. They are more willing to buy from unproven startups that demonstrate innovation and don’t always want to follow the leader. But many of the providers highlighted innovation and market vision as key to their value proposition. The providers also highlighted corporate social responsibility and sustainability in their messaging. While these are things that employees and the local communities value, they don’t add to the strength of the brand in the eyes of the buyers.
According to the study, the values that are most responsible for driving brand strength for large providers are related to how they act with customers and partners. The buyers are often willing to sacrifice innovation to work a provider that enables an open and honest dialogue, acts responsible with partners and shares similar values and beliefs. But these messages are nowhere to be found.
Typically, the most successful salespeople working for large technology providers are the ones that talk about how their companies can be a strategic partner for their customers, a statement that embodies many of the values that customers care about most in this survey. But that message isn’t always reflected across marketing and communications efforts or the entire sales force. To ensure the messaging mismatch doesn’t occur, providers should take three simple actions:
- Survey customers and the highest-performing salespeople to understand why they chose your company (or why they believe your company was chosen) and why they continue to do business with you
- If needed, adjust your messaging to be more reflective of those values
- Ensure that marketing materials include this messaging and that the field and partners know how to deliver that message
If you’ve managed to be a large, publicly-traded company, you have obviously done some things very well and there is a lot of equity in your brand. Capitalizing on that brand strength requires aligning your messaging with the value of the brand from the perspective of the customer.
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Todd, Gartner’s research really confirms the old saying that “buyers don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Especially in technology, it’s so easy to get caught up in the complexity and miss out on the human connections that really matter.
Your article inspired me to write a more detailed response: http://www.techmarketingteam.com/getting-buyers-pick-it-services-company/.
Clarke- That saying still holds true. I think a lot of companies have started to move away from signing the deal and walking away, but just having a “farmer” manage the account isn’t enough and we’ll be writing a lot about how marketing needs to take a leading role in helping to drive this relationship.