Successful marketing, in any situation, requires a combination of insight, patience and execution. In today's economic conditions, these requirements are doubly important.
The right approach requires more than just cutting costs and coasting while waiting out the slump. Only good planning, prioritization and adherence to the principle that “success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration” can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, or at least from the competition.
This article illustrates how a “stick-to-the-basics” marketing program can help technology vendors thrive even in a down economy.
The marketing approach that can carry you through these difficult economic times is built on the following five essentials:
- Know your company's real value.
- Know your customer.
- Keep your salespeople well informed, well educated and well armed.
- Stay consistently visible.
- Keep it simple.
1. Know your company's real value
Every technology company must routinely question its own value proposition. Why do customers buy your product? Is it a “must have” or “nice to have”?
Because some technology purchases can fall into the category of “nice to have,” a down economy can put purchases like this on the back burner. Many prospects have developed a “wait and see” attitude, which has been a major factor in the decline and disappearance of a number of smaller technology companies.
In a booming market, poor value propositions are cushioned by the rising tide and less-stringent customer purchase criteria. Today, however, even small technology purchases face intense scrutiny.
To stand up to the acid test of moving a customer to sign that purchase order, you have to objectively look in the mirror and ask:
- Are you solving a mission-critical customer problem?
- Is there an industry event or movement that functions as a catalyst or compelling event for new sales in your market?
- Is your product clearly superior or differentiated—or are you falling victim to commoditization?
If you can't quickly and clearly answer these questions with a high level of confidence, then you may have identified why your company's sales are lagging, or you may have uncovered a source of potential future problems. Primary market research and industry analyst advice can also help you gain insight into the effectiveness of your value proposition.
2. Know your customer
The next step is making sure you are selling to the right customers. To many in this economy, the right customers are defined as “anyone with money.” This is a fatal mistake.
Toward this end, some technology companies attempt to portray themselves as all things to all people. The rationale goes something like this: “If I limit my markets, I'll miss opportunities.” However, most of the time, this approach is going to make selling harder, not easier.
In this economy, having sufficient product is not enough. Many prospects want to start the sales conversation with a simple question, “Do you understand my business?”
No matter how wonderful your product features and fanciful your technical functionality, your salespeople will be disqualified if they cannot convince the prospect that they understand his or her business well enough to be seen as a resource. And it's basically impossible for any account executive (AE) to be expert on more than one or two vertical industries. It is the credibility of your company and your AE that often makes the difference in a deal.
Additionally, without a strong organizational industry focus, you may find yourself unable to adapt your products quickly enough to the ever-evolving set of customer needs.
Lastly, knowing your customer means knowing where in the customer organization the buying decision is made. The most common assumption of technology companies is that the “C-level executive” is the decision-maker and will be able to overcome all internal obstacles to a sale. However, penetrating an organization at this level has become increasingly difficult, and often fruitless.
Often, these budget-owning executives will rely upon the advice of a director-level technology advisor or the business line manager who is actually leading the project. Turning this key influencer into your champion can often be more valuable than any “top-down” entry strategy.
3. Keep your salespeople well informed, well educated and well armed
Your company's marketing effort should be prioritized toward those actions that can make the biggest difference to your bottom line: i.e., low-cost activities that generate a strong return. The most frequently missed opportunity for a company's marketing program to help drive revenue is in the area of sales support.
The sales force is the front line for the company, so they had better be equipped with the best tools. Because the market is in a constant state of change, marketing must perform continuous research and provide updated tools and material routinely.
Tools can take many forms. The following table shows methodologies for using a variety of tools to bring high-impact results for your sales force:
|Leads||Generated via industry events, direct marketing, webcasts, telemarketing, referrals and market presence-and then qualified thoroughly before moving to sales follow-up.||It becomes the rule, not the exception, when quality leads flow into the pipeline and turn into deals.|
|Sales Presentations||Encapsulate the customer problem and the vendor's solution. Update every six months with some customization between updates.||Better movement to short list. Demonstrates industry knowledge and a credible solution. Increased deal closure rate.|
|Sales Training||Industry knowledge transfer to sales. Review of tools and their specific sales cycle uses. Conducted after hiring and once per quarter for the sales team.||Faster time to productivity for new sales hires. Better door openers. More effective in consultative selling.|
|Competitive Information||Sales force armed with the SWOT analysis on competitors in current sales engagements, updated continuously from win/loss analysis and other input.||Better positioned to fend off competitive FUD and position for kill shots at competitor vulnerabilities.|
|Industry News||Sales news alerts and information updates distributed by industry-focused sales groups.||Knowing the latest events that affect your customer's business demonstrates credibility and creates trust.|
|Collateral||Company and product brochures and fact sheets. Refreshed as products update. Usually every 8-12 months.||Enables event attendees and potential prospects to learn more about solutions to their problems. Leave-behinds are still an expected deliverable.|
|Customer References||These relationships must be cultivated. The referencing customer must have the proper coaching.||A satisfied customer is your best salesperson. Executing well, in concert with references, should increase deal closures.|
|Analyst References||Positive relationships with these important third-party experts are critical to external validation of your solution. Routine contact and regular briefings are key.||Enhanced credibility. Many larger prospects will look to independent sources to validate vendor claims and get an objective viewpoint how a vendor offering fits their strategy.|
|Proposal Templates||Configurable RFP/RFI template designed to adapt to customer requirements and multiple forms of off-the-shelf customizable content. All updated at least once per year with some customization between updates.||Many larger prospect companies use RFPs and RFIs to compare solutions. Using the proposal keeps the vendor in the conversation. When not required by the vendor, an impressive proposal can move the vendor up the list or move the discussion toward your areas of strength.|
4. Stay consistently visible
In any economic situation, being consistently visible and staying in close contact with media and the industry and technology analyst community is critical to a company's success. Not only can a company maintain a strong market presence, it can do so at minimal cost, compared with traditional advertising.
In addition, the credibility of an independent third party carrying your message strengthens its impact.
The first step toward gaining a new customer is being seen in the places they tend to be looking, including industry newsletters, magazines, Web sites, and association reports. If a prospect has never heard of your company, you're going to have a hard time getting business. While visibility programs can have the biggest impact toward this end, you cannot forget to have something newsworthy to say. The days of tossing out a press release and watching the articles roll in are long gone.
Some technology companies attempt to be visible by routinely publishing their own news via press releases. This just adds to market noise and eventually causes the media to ignore them. Reporters, like anyone else, look for value. And value to a reporter is something that readers would find interesting and useful.
Press releases with substance are worthwhile, but by themselves are not enough. Media tactics should also include individual briefings, interviews, concise background information, content-rich customer case studies and data on specific industry trends. All of this works to establish a relationship with savvy editors and reporters and positions you to be a valued resource to them, not just a press release peddler.
Depending on who your target prospects are, working with key opinion leaders at major analyst firms, including Gartner Group, AMR Research, the Meta Group, the Yankee Group, Forrester, Aberdeen, and others, may also be critical to your success in this area.
Before working with the analysts, do your homework on your market, on the players involved in it, and on the trends that influence it. Any discussion with the analysts should be a two-way sharing of information. While it is important to update your company and its merits, you should save the hype and concentrate on the facts. Substance over style matters to these key players.
A visibility program, when done right, can create a sense that a company is almost everywhere the prospect looks. It creates a sense of credibility and familiarity. No longer does the sales process have to start with your salespeople saying, “We are a company that does…” or, “Let me tell you why you should talk to us….”
With the support of a strong visibility program, the salesperson can begin the process in a stronger position. This will have a tangible and lasting benefit for generating revenue in any economic situation.
5. Keep it simple
A common failure of technology marketers is an initial assumption that the reporter or analyst or prospective customer is as informed and interested in their product as they, the marketers, are. This false assumption has major implications. It starts the communication process too far down the path, or too far into the technological weeds.
When you are doing it correctly, technology marketing helps your target audience quickly categorize your offering in the market. They can position the part your solution plays in the value chain of “supply, production and demand,” a construct that every company manages daily.
Too often, technology marketers will start to answer the question of “why their product is better” before they know “who they are” and “what they do.” Only when those questions are addressed can you differentiate your company from the rest of the pack.
Producing a crisp set of messages to your audience can only be achieved by throwing out old assumptions and getting out of the office to listen to your customers with a fresh perspective.
Once you understand, and act on, the basics of marketing, you will be able to have the greatest impact on your company's bottom line, and produce the greatest value for your customers.
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