Sales Enablement

Five Ways to Market Your Tech When You're the Underdog

We were recently challenged by a client to re-position a mature product, a table-stakes part of a suite of B2B services.  The company’s sales and marketing teams believed the product was falling (or had fallen) behind the competition. Great development plans were in the works, but with delays and shifts, it didn’t appear there’d be much new to talk about in the coming six to nine months. That got our team to talking.  What’s the best way to market a technology when you know you’re the underdog in the marketplace? We shortlisted five of our favorite ideas, all of which we’ve tested with success in the course of our marketing careers.

1. Confirm, don’t assume. If you suspect you’re behind, confirm it with customers and prospects before you believe it as truth. Avoid the inferiority complex trap that can be very common, especially among weary and overwhelmed sales forces. Even when your product is terrific, sometimes all it takes is one competitor trumpeting boldly about their newest bell or whistle—however strategically unimportant it may be—to put your marketing and sales teams on the defensive. A non-confrontational way to learn what your customers and prospects truly think is to ask them these four simple questions when you talk to them next:

  • What are the features/functionalities of your current solution that you couldn’t live without?
  • What is your favorite feature/functionality of your current solution?
  • If you could change one thing about your current solution, what would it be?
  • Knowing what you know about our solution, would you recommend it today to a colleague?

These questions will give you insight into not just how you’re perceived, but also why people might think you’re behind, and what they most value in a solution.  If you find you are in fact competitive, a dose of sales training about your product’s strengths and differentiators could go a long way.

2. Change the product, or change the target market. It’s a beautiful thing about human beings: We don’t all want or need the same things.  What is “must-have” to one customer may be overkill to another. If you’ve confirmed your product has fallen behind in the eyes of your target market, then it’s time to change the product – or change the target. First, identify your product’s strengths. Perhaps it’s the price leader. Perhaps its differentiated by strong personal service and relationships.  Perhaps its more customizable. Then look at a gap analysis of what you’d have to build to re-emerge as a fierce competitor, and where.

  • Can you build a strong business case to invest in changing the product to close the gap and compete for your existing target market?
  • Is it more effective to shift target markets?  Consider if there is a different market segment that might rank your product highest based on your particiular strengths, at the product and company level.

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 4.28.44 PM3. Forecast your strategy to customers—boldly, rationally and transparently.  Develop a crisp point of view about what must be true about solutions in the future to meet your target market’s needs.  Then find ways to elevate the conversation to that strategic point of view, and to your intention to make all those things true.  Also, show them, don’t just tell them, what the future state might look like. If you have a concept in development that’s a year or less out, consider investing at least a small amount in conceptual user experience mockups or other visualizations. (Frankly, these could double as an aligning force for your development and product teams.) If something is more than a year out, conceptual artwork and thought leadership pieces, such as white papers, might do the trick. WARNING: Don’t be irrationally exuberant! If you promise something at a specific time, and you don’t deliver, you’ll do more to harm your credibility than any marketing may be able to repair.

4. Focus on your strengths.  Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge that your company is not all things to all people, and that your product cannot immediately be made to do all things.  Own up to your shortcomings when challenged by a customer. Then emphasize what does differentiate you—either with the product or with the way you deliver it: your people, your service, your processes, your accuracy, your consistency, your price, your geographic scope, whatever it may be.   Talk about your priorities, and discuss how they serve your customer’s needs best.

5. Play the Co-Opetition game. Ready to get really strategic and brainy about this?  Check out the classic ideas behind Co-Opetition, the game theory approach that Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff (of Harvard and Yale respectively) brought to the market in the mid 1990s.  You can shape the game, not just play the game, by using what they call the PARTS framework, which is explained pretty succinctly here.  This one takes some study and discipline, but it’s a great holistic exercise that could help align your executive team on the strategic priorities in front of you.

Five Truths About Marketing to Millennials (From a Millennial)

fotolia_bridgebuzzcollegestudents1 This is my first blog post for SeriesC. I am a second-stint intern at SeriesC, and also a 21-year-old senior business major concentrating on marketing and management at Trinity University, a small liberal arts school in San Antonio, Texas.

I want to share some insights on marketing to millennials, based on my perspective both as a marketing professional and a millennial consumer. Countless articles and guides are floating around on the Internet about how to market to millennials. From my experience, I assure you that not all of them are steering you in the right direction and not every company knows what they are doing. So how do you navigate the clutter and get to the realistic and useful guides? Here are a few tips and insights:

  1.  Use social right- Everyone will tell you that you need to use social media to reach millennials. Brands can see huge benefits from an effective social media presence, but this advice often neglects to emphasize that first you need to grow your user base and do it in the right target market. If you fail to do this you are wasting your social media investment. Campaigns that create natural buzz and drive traffic to your social pages are the best way to do this quickly. And you don’t have to break the bank to create them. See Louisville Slugger for a great case study on jump-starting organic buzz through social media.
  2. Don’t forget to be lean – A common mistake companies make is jumping to develop a mobile app too early because studies tell them that millennials are using apps. If you are considering doing this, stop and think about lean principles (see another SeriesC blog post on more about this).  All it takes is asking your customers if they want that mobile app that you are building, and just as important, whether there are enough of them who will use it. Yes, millennials are mobile and we do use apps frequently, but for companies that plan to launch their app as a secondary customer destination, it is important to first have enough demand on your primary selling point to support it. Just like any other piece of building a lean company, telling yourself, “If [we] build it, they will come” is not enough.
  3. Help us convince our parents- For products that are expensive and require consumers to go through all the preliminary stages of the buying process (need recognition, information search, and evaluation of alternatives) before making a purchase younger millennials are probably going to need to consult their parents for advice or money. It is not enough to just market to your target customer; you must also have messaging for their key influencer. More often than you might realize, those influencers are Mom and Dad.
  4. Give us a discount- Millennials, especially college students, do not have much disposable income at this point. We love discounts! Companies like Amazon (Student Prime membership with free two day shipping) have done this effectively and seen a huge growth in millennial customers. Do this now and we’ll stay with you when we do have money.
  5. Be authentic – I can’t emphasize this one enough! Just because we are younger than you, it doesn’t mean we were born yesterday. We can see through false claims or attempts to be funny in ways that don’t relate to your brand or product. It’s ok, and in fact encouraged to be creative in marketing to millennials. However, you cannot forget your key messages and brand pillars. Add nuance to your messages; but don’t try to be someone you aren’t.

Our team at SeriesC creates positioning and jumpstarts innovation for established and emerging tech companies daily. If we can help you find your true authentic voice and the ideal messages for millennials, you know where to find us!

The Part About Product Launches that Isn't About Launching

Hey product managers and engineers: Do your customers complain about your product releases? Does sales suck up your time trying to deal with how to explain the point of the announcement? Does customer support dread new releases? Is the marketing department failing to get you the "buzz" you know you deserve for the great new stuff you've launched? If it's yes to one or more of the above, it might be your product launch process that's broken.

When you think of product launch, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

  • What the press release will say and where you want to see coverage?
  • Updating your Facebook page?
  • Previewing your app with "influencers" who you hope will write about it?

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 2.22.38 PMThat's all great, but it scratches the surface of what needs to be canvassed in a well-executed product launch. The most successful launches are executed when the people in charge ensure that:

  1. The launch meets the product/feature goals of the release
  2. The company is ready to market, sell and support the release
  3. The market is properly "primed" or ready to receive the product
  4. The current customers are ready to understand and use the product.

Too often, product launches focus just on # 1 and #2 above. Product management takes item #1. Product marketing is pulled in like a tactical partner to tackle #2, viewed as the department in charge of putting a nice bow on the pretty release and generating the "buzz" about it. When that happens, service and sales tends to get sent into reactive mode, having to scramble to try to manage through #3 and #4 as best as they can.

To be successful, product launches must be planned like a symphony, with marketing, account management, and sales involved and engaged.

So, how can you best build a holistic preparedness launch process?

1. Begin at the beginning. Collaborate with product marketing at the earliest planning stage to craft a go-to-market plan, rather than waiting to do so when the release is being put into production. Incorporate the goals of the launch in that early plan -- get precise on metrics.

2. As deliverables and milestones are scheduled and tracked to completion in engineering, so should they be in marketing. In fact, in the meeting that product management and engineering decides on a go/no-go decision, marketing's progress on its plan should be a part of the evaluation criteria.

3. Work as a team. In the end, what matters most is that putting these activities together facilitates collaboration between marketing and R&D. Marketing cannot be effective without being a part of the process, especially in high tech. If you treat marketing as a facade for your product, that's probably all you're going to get.

Bring Your Innovation to Market in 2013 - Let's Talk

After decades of running PR and marketing communications firms and helping to bring some of today's most household-name innovations to market, Andy Cunningham had a vision.  She was seeing too many brilliant engineers, scientists, and finance leaders struggling to reach their deserved tipping points because they were misdiagnosing their marketing problems as "PR problems" or "Web site problems," when in fact they faced fundamental strategi marketing problems. She knew there was a better way to scale these promising CEOs with the right strategic marketing focus. In 2012 she transformed her vision into a new kind of marketing consultancy -- one that marries the rigor and leadership of management consulting with the strategic marketing function of technology companies.  Meet SeriesC.  Our team of veteran technology marketing strategists helps companies bring their innovations to market through experienced leadership in business strategy, positioning, product strategy, customer development, market segmentation, go-to-market planning, and more.

Get in touch with us to talk about how SeriesC can help get your innovation to its deserved tipping point.

SeriesC in 2012

For a Fortune 500 company, we reorganized the worldwide marketing department, helped hire the right CMO, simplified a large and diverse brand naming architecture, and helped build a market feedback loop into the product development process.

For a growing multinational consumer internet company, we crafted new positioning to prepare for international expansion, and led misaligned executives into alignment around a new strategy for international growth.

For a start-up technology platform, we led development and launch of a critical developer program, educating leadership on best practices for building the program and developer community.

For a start-up consumer software application company with four years and four products launching, we counseled on product launch and made introductions to right-fit launch partners to fuel growth.

For an early start-up, we authored a business plan that resulted in $5M in venture capital financing.

For a stealth start-up with a disruptive big-data technology, we developed detailed product use cases, and crafted a simplified positioning architecture and a relatable narrative of the value proposition.

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Dogs are Colorblind, Executives Are Busy - Communicating Effectively to Stakeholders

Are you communicating to your stakeholders the way you should be, to ensure they know what they need to know? Doing so is critical in taking your innovation to market. Here are two stories that illustrate why it matters: 63964_10150099790541756_4217314_nMy husband and I recently moved from our apartment into a home with a giant backyard covered in lush green ivy. Our dogs are in heaven. Hugo, the playful one, is all about chasing his favorite toy, a bright red bouncy bear named “Bear.”

I’ve heard before that dogs are colorblind, but it didn’t really register until I started tossing Bear in the yard, and noticing that when it bounced into the green ivy, Hugo couldn’t find it. Bright red Bear stood out so obviously to me, but Hugo would scan it from inches away and still miss it.

I Googled dogs and colorblind, and confirmed that indeed dogs see a much more limited color spectrum than humans, and cannot distinguish red from green the way humans can. Yellow and Blue do stand out for dogs from other colors. So why is Bear red?

It’s because red stands out most for humans.  Humans buy dog toys, not dogs! But humans will also only buy a red dog toy once. Bear was the last red toy we bought; now we look for yellow and blue ones.

Now, consider a team of PR leaders I know, working for a C-level executive who was dissatisfied with the amount of earned media coverage he was seeing, and hired consultants to turn the situation around.  The PR team was perplexed; they had been doing significant good work garnering global media attention, and they had been sending him their coverage updates by email weekly like clockwork. What wasn’t he seeing?

They were throwing a red bear into a patch of green ivy for a colorblind dog.

When under the guidance of the CEO’s hired consultant the PR team shifted its reporting to be more brief, more visual, more selective, grouped by key message theme, and delivered in person rather than by email, the executive said he was seeing a lot more momentum from the group. Their work hadn’t changed. The way they communicated to their intended audience had.

To a savvy dog owner and loyal dog toy buyer, yellow and blue matter. To an employee who wants an executive to be informed and a communicator to executives? What matters is what the executive wants to see, how they want to see it, and how often.

Do your stakeholder communications meet the goal? Or is it time to ask some smart questions?

PS, The omniscient master question answerer Cecil Adams wrote a great “The Straight Dope” column on cats’ and dogs’ colorblindness. Worth a read, for the omnicurious.