Archive for March, 2009

The Right Time(s) for Positioning

March 24, 2009

This post is for you product marketing types and entrepreneurs who are busy positioning your solutions. Once you have solidified your positioning and launched your product, now you are ready to kick back with your feet on your desk. Right? Wrong! There are going to points in time when you will need to revisit your positioning.

The obvious time that we focus on positioning is when a new product is in development and as we are getting it ready for launch. I can recount many a time gathering VoC, creating a positioning matrix, testing it with customers, debating it with engineering, staying up late worrying about it…. But I digress. Back to the topic at hand.

If done well positioning should “stick.” In other words, it is not something that should change with the weather. It should be in place for the many seasons. Your message (and evidence supporting your position) may and will change periodically, but your positioning should be on fairly firm ground for the long haul. However, there are catalysts that prompt a review of positioning along the way.

Here are four catalysts to look for:

When a new competitor enters the market
Any time a competitor of significance enters the market you need to revisit your positioning. Be careful to not underestimate a small, less established entrant who may be more nimble than an established player.

You must also beware of substitutes who may not look like competitors but can be the toughest competitors of all. An example, email vendors have noticed the use of email declining while social networks are picking up some of the volume. Not a direct competitor, but one that is undoubtedly prompting email vendors to revisit their positioning.

When a major market trend emerges or shifts
The second catalyst for reevaluating your positioning occurs when there is a change in dynamics in your market. This could include a new technology trend, a shift in the way customers use a product or an alliance of several related technology suppliers. When this occurs it’s time to review your positioning and evaluate whether this trend makes your current position stronger, weaker or has no impact.

When significant pricing moves are made in your market
The third catalyst, pricing moves, are fairly easy to spot. While working in technology companies the closest I came to a “price war” was in the consumer marketplace. But in lower tech industries I’ve seen pricing moves have dramatic affect on market dynamics and to a product’s positioning.

Additionally, in our struggling economy we must keep an eye out for short-term pricing incentives. I recently noticed a small technology company who is offering free implementation services for a specified period of time. Be mindful of how pricing moves can impact your position.

When your current strategy isn’t working
This is a tricky one. You can’t give up too quickly but if your current positioning isn’t working you need to take a close look at understanding why. Do not take this close look from the comfort of your office or conference room. You must engage with customers to get the type of insight you need. This fourth catalyst is perhaps the toughest catalyst to spot, and a critical one to not ignore.

Keep an eye out for the positioning catalysts! They are out there lurking in your markets more often that you might notice.

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What Ingredients Make Up a B2B Brand?

March 18, 2009

For those of you out there thinking about brand strategy, what are you focusing on? If it’s logo design, naming, colors and fonts… I would counter with an opinion that those thoughts are necessary but not sufficient.

Why? Because a brand is so much more than those basic elements. In a B2B technology company a brand is being formed with every encounter your customer has with your company – in any shape or form. Your brand is the sum of all the information communicated about your company, your products, your services and your people.

I’ve started a list of “ingredients” that contribute to the brand in your B2B company. This list is not exhaustive and I invite you to comment on this post with additional ideas you would like to see added to the list.

ingredients

The B2B Brand Ingredients:

  • the way your receptionist greets people as they walk in the door
  • your phone system. How easy or difficult is it to reach a human being? 
  • the interactions of your sales team, whether they are by phone or in person 
  • your pre-sales engineers (I once worked for a start-up where we discovered that pre-sales engagement and the initial professional services team had a direct and strong correlation to long term customer satisfaction)
  • your website
  • your PR people and the way they treat key (and not so key) journalists
  • the ease of parking at your offices
  • the cleanliness of your bathrooms (I’m not joking)
  • the reading material in your lobby
  • your ads, whether they are in print, on radio, online.  They all contribute to your brand.
  • your tech support personnel – their proficiency and their attitude
  • your naming architecture
  • tradeshow booths (and the people who staff them)
  • job descriptions, ads on career boards and the process your prospective employees go through when interviewing with your company
  • profiles on LinkedIn (both company-level and employee-level) and other social networks
  • your invoicing system and accounts receivable personnel
  • your purchasing agents and supply chain teams
  • and certainly not least in importance – your CEO and other key figureheads

The take-away from this post is to remember that every interaction your company has with customers contributes to the meaning of your brand. Every communication contributes to it too. Publishing a brand style guide is absolutely critical. I wouldn’t run a marketing organization without one. But while you’re thinking about that, also be thinking about all the other ingredients that help make up your brand!

Image: Scott Liddell

B2B Social Media: Looking for People Like Us

March 10, 2009

Wow! Have I zoomed (okay, I admit sometimes I crawled) up the learning curve of social media in the past couple of months. This all started one day when a friend and I had a long conversation about why and how social networks matter in B2B marketing. Although both of us have been in B2B marketing for 20+ years, the benefits from and need for social media had not quite solidifed in our brains.

So I set off to get smarter, and have shared a lot of my new found knowledge with my friend. Now I share it with you.

Why should we care?

First, why does social media matter to B2B companies? A hard lesson to learn was that it’s not about marketing. What? Not about marketing? Isn’t everything about marketing in some way? Yes, but social media is really about dialogue, it’s about starting and participating in conversations about topics we care about. It’s about finding PLUs (people like us) who have interesting opinions, ideas and questions to share. It’s about being a good listener.

But there are certainly marketing implications. Marketing is all about being tuned into customers, and here are some reasons that B2B customers are drawn to social media:

  • Customers want to have easy and convenient ways to stay in contact with the companies who supply them with technology solutions.
  • Customers want to be part of a community with PLUs who have common interests – products, problems, job function, etc.
  • Customers want an easy way to learn from others, exchange ideas and information. They want to share ways they are overcoming technical challenges with their deployments.
  • Customers want an easy way to share their ideas, suggestions and critiques with peer customers and with their technology solution providers.

Are social networks and social media one and the same?

No, they are not. Social networks are Websites that enable computer users to create online networks and communicate with friends and colleagues (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace). Social media encompasses social networks as well as other online tools (blogs, podcasts, wikis, newsreaders, bookmarking services) that enable people to share content (posts, videos, photos, etc.)

The three social networks B2B companies should consider focusing their attention on first are LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. More on this in a later post. Until then, if you too are climbing the learning curve on social media for B2B companies here are some resources I found helpful:

Marketing is a Team Sport

March 4, 2009

Guest post: Susan Andrews, a Silicon Valley marketing executive, provides us with her perspective on why Marketing is a Team Sport. Susan has worked for companies big and small, and in capacities such as channel marketing, marketing programs and sales.

Q. What do you mean by Marketing is a Team Sport?
A. To execute outstanding marketing programs you need to leverage the expertise across the organization. You must work with a cross-functional team involved from inception of the idea, as you develop the plan and all the way through execution and results. It is important to share results with the cross-functional team.

Q. How do you go about sharing the results?
A. It is vitally important to recognize each individuals’ contribution. In tech, everything moves at such a fast pace I often use an email to share results. Later we may do a post mortem to go through the program – what worked, what didn’t, how it can be better next time.

Q. On these cross-functional teams what functions have you found are most critical to include?
A. Sales strategy, finance, marketing communications or brand management and people who are on the front line dealing with customers (e.g. sales or call center).

Q. How is this concept of “team sport” different in small and big companies?
A. It’s equally important in both environments.

In a small company individuals wear many hats. A cross-functional team may be smaller and some people may represent multiple points of view. Team members may be from outside the company, like an agency. And you may want to open up the team and include executives in the brainstorming.

In a larger company it’s important to get and keep the team focused. Your team may be an extended team and it could be more difficult to get something done. It’s important to identify your advocates who will move the ball forward. You can also have status meetings with the boundary group. A boundary group may include people interested in the program and the outcome, but who are involved on the periphery. As an example, a boundary group may include representatives from legal or call center operations.

Thank you Susan Andrews for sharing your views, experiences and perspective!

Make it Easy for Prospects to Ask for your Attention

March 2, 2009

This is a quick topic and post. Something all of us should be doing. But something, in our rush to get the job done, we can sometimes overlook.

What is it we occasionally overlook or forget? We forget to make it extremely easy for our prospects to ask for some attention. This post is a reminder to make it abundantly clear to an interested prospect how they can request a call back from your company.

Some of our highest quality leads come from our Website. I use the analogy of a house. If someone comes knocking on the door (visits our Website) and wants to meet with us we should be polite, invite them in and tell them we would like them to stay a while. In fact, if they want to spend some 1:1 time with us, we need to make it easy for them to make this request.

Here are some examples of how three companies do this:

Symantec has a big yellow Talk to Symantec button on many of their pages. It really stands out and is easy to find.

Salesforce.com has a more subtle Contact Me on their left nav bar. The thing I like is that it’s always in the same place no matter what page you are on.

The one I actually like the best is an example from Oracle. They use a Have Oracle Call You button and when you click on it, up pops a very simple form where you enter your name, phone number and country. That’s it. Very easy!

No matter what approach you take, here are some best practices to keep in mind

  • Include a link to the request form on every page of your Website where it’s practical
  • Use color to help these links stand out on the page
  • When possible, put the link in the same spot on all pages so it is easy to find
  • Keep the request form as simple as possible

In summary, take the time to invite your prospects into your house and tell them you would like them to stay a while. You might find they take you up on the offer.