Tech Marketers Need Friends With Benefits. No, Not That Kind

Every software product developer, and product manager, and sales rep, needs friends in marketing. And they need to be friends with benefits – benefit statements. Clear. Explicit. Specific for a particular stakeholder. Sound obvious? Based on the last month of briefings I have taken, it’s clearly not.

I’m not including Oracle in this rant, because in 3 days at Oracle Open World I heard plenty of benefits – sometimes more of them than demonstrable functions that users had attested to proved. But that’s OK: it’s my job to determine whether value is there, or not. We call that research; it’s more than listening to briefings. It’s the vendor’s job to tell me – and more important, the prospect – what the value is supposed to be. To whom. And what problem it’s solving.

So why do I feel compelled to write this post today? Because I just heard a company that does it so well (yes, Oracle) and I’ve spent so much time lately with ones who don’t. Here are a few of the statements people have gone to great lengths to deliver to me in the past couple of weeks: after booking time, coordinating calendars, securing commitments from me and their executives, creating presentations. All that effort to say:

  • “It’s important that the system you adopt is designed to respond to your organization’s needs.”
  • “XYZCorp has focused it’s [sic] efforts on the demanding needs of our client base.” (These unique needs, explained earlier, were led by reduced costs and reduced complexity.)
  • “Make better, faster decisions by empowering employees to create and share powerful analytics solutions.”

I could go on, but these should be recognizable enough as being in everyone’s pitch that they suffice to make the point: everyone is saying the same things. And none of them is specific enough, measurable in any meaningful way, descriptive of a specific problem, or addressed to a specific business role and its challenges. I called out the word “saying” above because there is no way to know if they are doing anything useful. If it were defined, perhaps we could tell. But most references in the presentations I see tell me one thing: “these companies are using our stuff.” The better presenters stand in front of these NASCAR slides (we refer to them that way because of all the logos, like a racecar) and can actually tell a story or two. That helps. But often, the benefits were not set up and just happen to be positive anecdotes. They don’t reinforce anything, or validate any messaging.

What to do? Ask yourself a couple of questions and answer them. Then tell analysts, press, and prospects. These are the questions:

  1. Who is this for?
  2. What problem will it help them with?
  3. What is solving that problem worth? How will success be measured?

    And one other thing we analysts like to hear:
  4. Why you? What makes your solution to this problem better, or at least different?

Again, obvious. And yet it is rarely what I hear. When I am given the opportunity to help clients with their messaging, it starts here. And sometimes it’s all we have time for. Too often, I’m not even called upon to critique messages – I’m simply expected to transmit them on vendors’ behalf. Leaving aside whether that’s the best use of my time, paid or not, there at least needs to be a message for that to happen. And it starts with benefits. For whom. And how measured.

About Merv Adrian
Gartner Research VP, technology analyst and consultant, 30 years of industry experience, covering software mostly, hardware sometimes.

13 Responses to Tech Marketers Need Friends With Benefits. No, Not That Kind

  1. Alan Berkson says:

    Thanks, Merv. This one is getting printed and put up on the bulletin board — a mini course in Solution Sales. Sometimes when we in marketing try to craft a message our intent is to make it general enough to appeal to a wide audience. It seems, to turn a proverb on it’s head, we are “not seeing the trees for the forest.”

  2. Merv Adrian says:

    Thanks for the kind words. As I said, it’s sad how often these basics are neglected. I wish more of my clients used me for message reviews instead of using their time poorly trotting out stuff that ought to be better.

  3. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for You Need Friends With Benefits. No, Not That Kind « Market Strategies for IT Suppliers [mervadrian.wordpress.com] on Topsy.com

  4. Merv,
    A lot of time the problem is that the people responsible for marketing and sales don’t really understand the issues themselves. This is particualrly true of companies that have been taken over. Usually they lose key people and the product ends up getting understood in terms of how it fits other products in the portfolio, not what it does for the customer.

    It can take months to really understand a product, and some companies have bought dozens.

  5. Merv Adrian says:

    Welcome, Barney! Honored to have you here. You really nail the post-merger point. Of course, if the acquired company has a clearly articulated, benefit-oriented, differentiated value positioning for its product, learning that story is easier. Solve the first problem and the second is less of a challenge.

  6. Merv
    I would add a couple of more things to an effective (focused and useful) messaging of the product’s value.

    Encouraging the customers to conduct day in a life of a customer who has implemented the product would go a long way in helping you define what your product does for them (not what you think it does). Feeding that back into your messaging would answer the critical questions you are highlighting. This also serves as a validation for your current message and a means for continuous improvement of the message.

    Subraya Mallya

  7. Merv Adrian says:

    Subraya, I think you mean the marketers should do so, and it’s a useful technique. One of the oddities about case studies when you’ve done a few of them is that the careful documentation of benefits to be received that goes into the purchase justification is usually filed the minute the deal is closed and never revisited. It’s very hard to recapture the value received for marketing if nobody is measuring it. In judging some awards submissions recently, I was reminded yet again how often this break occurs.

  8. Merv, a long overdue article in the BI space, and technology space in general. This is something we’re in the process of implementing now. I’ve learned this personally from Jim Logan at http://www.jslogan.com and Doug Hall from his book “Jumpstart your Business Brain.” Provide an explicit and meaningful benefit to your customers, a relevant differentiator, and a reason to believe you. We’re doing this by conducting interviews of our happy clients and asking them: what was it that you specifcally used our product for? What feature provided you the most benefit? What concrete numbers can you provide us that supports that statement?

    Good stuff Merv!

  9. Merv Adrian says:

    Fernando, thanks very much. Keep up the good work!

  10. Veselina Buie says:

    Thanks for this great post, Merv! I’ll be highlighting your post in future messaging presentations!

    When we at A&R Edelman counsel tech clients on messaging & positioning we always talk about the importance of putting any value discussion in the context of the customer pain.

    What we’ve found in the course of the 100+ messaging projects we’ve done, is that tech companies have spent so long focusing on getting the product ready for prime time that they go to market with this “inside out” view rather than taking stock of how customers see and talk about their problems. Switching those optics is an ongoing effort!

  11. Merv Adrian says:

    Veselina, you hit the nail on the head. But even in the most internally focused firms, the process began with a market requirements document (MRD), in which the planners talked about what customers want as a basis for what the dev team would do. Somehow, they have to learn to reach back to that when they take it to market. And if there’s a mismatch, they have an entirely different problem….

  12. Donna says:

    I loved this post. As someone who has been in marketing for ages, even I get tired of marketing inspired benefits. Everyone does say the same things! Your four points are spot on, and what makes them even more relevant is if you have a case study or two to back them up.

  13. Merv Adrian says:

    Thanks. Glad you found it resonated. Funny how often I point these things out – to deaf ears.

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