Tech marketers often fret over their marketing mix, but it’s usually couched in terms of “how” – e.g., “How do customers get information about us?” or, “Do we have the right mix of web content, events, blogs and [now, of course] social media conversations?”
We know that all those “how” things are not equal. Customers utilize web content more than events, and events more than blogs. But every bit as important (if not more), and sometimes not taken into consideration, is the “who” of the “how.” In general, customers highly value tech vendors’ websites and events, industry analysts’ research reports and blogs, channel partners’ online videos, and social media conversations with peers. But customers’ go-to information source preferences vary by industry, company size, and geography. [For more information, see the Forrester report on “The Who And How of Influencing Customers’ BT Decisions.”]
With social media stacked on top of websites stacked on top of events stacked on top of collateral … well, I don’t have to tell you how complex marketing-mix allocation budgeting has come to be. But designing your mix model on a “who-what” framework simplifies the model, and goes a long way to ensuring that you’re investing in the information sources that customers are tapping.
For those of you following Forrester’s project to create industry standards for battle cards, I want to give you a glimpse into the group’s progress and remind you about Forrester’s public webinar on September 7, where I’ll touch on battle card standards in more depth.
Each member of the standards group has success stories with their battle cards, but each member also struggles to change battle cards from being “random acts of sales support” to providing consistent, reliable support that helps sales reps win more deals. The purpose of our standards initiative is to do just that – identify and repeat how battle cards help sales reps win competitive deals.
Last week, the standards group reviewed the first draft of specifications for battle cards. Getting these definitions correct is important because all the downstream work we will do depends on these specifications. Our working document defines for battle cards the:
Purpose. Battle cards help sales reps anticipate and respond to competitive obstacles in the later stages of competitive deals.
Scope. Battle cards build on a point-counterpoint structure by identifying the competitor’s claims and equipping sales reps with responses.
Intersections. Battle cards must be consistent with competitive positions established in market overviews, pitch decks, and “marketectures,” RFP responses, and other sales tools.
Design point. Battle cards fuel customer conversations by addressing competitive issues through the lens of solving the customer’s problem, focusing topics that are core to the customers purchase decision.
For months, I’ve blogged about the reasons why battle cards are important, ways to evaluate battle cards, and most recently, the need for standards to tighten their value and give battle card creators and users common ground. In an upcoming webinar, that is open to the public and free of charge. I will tie this theme together with a focus on business impact.
Join me on September 7 for a public webinar by Forrester – Register here.
On the webinar, I’ll tackle a straightforward question:
“How do sales enablement professionals work cross-functionally to optimize sales content about competitors for reps so they can improve the win rate in competitive deals?”
I’ll outline the path forward for sales enablement professionals to collaborate with their peers in marketing, product management, and competitive intelligence to build better battle cards by:
Focusing on the problems that buyers are trying to solve
Prioritizing the criteria that drive buyer choices in purchase scenarios
Shaping your content based on how buyers perceive your company and competitors
Communicating the benefits and results that buyers care about
This month, I (Peter O’Neill) have been planning for the Tech Marketing track at the Forrester Marketing & Strategy Forum to be held on November 16 and 17 near London. The forum has now been configured so that each of the eight role-focused tracks is presented as a series of three consecutive presentations, which means that each attendee can plan to attend one whole role-track in one session. However, I know that many tech marketers come to this event because many of the other track presentations are equally compelling, so I won’t be too disappointed if people walk in and out a little.
I am responsible for the content of the TM track, which is on the afternoon of the 17th, and will moderate the session, introducing each of the speakers, linking the topics to each other, and summarizing what was discussed. We have the following topics planned:
Outcome-Oriented Marketing. Peter Burris will discuss how tech marketing is moving away from a product focus to arguments more related to what business outcomes result from the promoted business technology investment. I know that he will also introduce a methodology of creating and managing marketing content that will enable this objective to be met.
The Rise Of The E-Channels.My colleague Tim Harmon is renowned for creating provocative titles and also for his out-of-the-box presentations. We work together often on channel marketing projects for clients and he will put forward some radical insights into where he see new sales (and marketing) channels arising and others expiring.
This week, Forrester finally published my (Peter O'Neill here) reports based on its Q1 2011 US And European B2B Social Technographics® Online Survey For Business Technology Buyers, which marks the third year we've conducted this survey. These are the reports promised in my blog back on July 1st and they complement my colleague Kim Celestre’s insightful review of the worldwide numbers by examining the European data in more detail, as well as investigating that common adage cited by many tech marketers: “Most of the social media behavior is due to younger buyers, and they're not involved in BT decision-making.”
The European data is clear evidence that social is now routine for European tech buyers, and this is the headline that has been passed around the twittersphere all week now. As I write in the Recommendations section:
FIRST, VENDORS MUST LISTEN……AND BE SEEN……TO BE HEARD
During the first week in August, Forrester launched the Battle Card Standards Group to address head on the challenges and opportunities that they face in creating competitive battle cards for sales teams. This group is meeting weekly to outline industry standards to help sales enablement professionals bridge the gap between what a myriad of groups create and what sales reps actually need to win in competitive deals.
Some challenges mentioned by participants include:
“Sales reps often ask for negative information about competitors - FUD (fear, uncertainty, or doubt) – but, customers usually react negatively when reps say derogatory things about competitors.”
“We struggle to map our battle cards to (1) different selling situations or engagement models (transactional vs. consultative) and (2) the levels of stakeholders that we are addressing (influencers, decision-makers, or purchasing professionals).”
“We structure battle cards in a way that reps can use directly in their conversations with customers.”
As one of Forrester’s European-based analysts, Peter O'Neill here, I like to show a little continental patriotism every now and then. I work on a worldwide basis, but it is always great fun to discover a European startup, or even established vendor, and help it out into the big wide world. I actually did this in the early 1980s in a previous work-episode – any of you know of SAP? Now to put myself into perspective e, I also championed the cause of Intershop and Softlab in those years, which were not that successful, so I am not claiming any credit for SAP’s prominence.
So I am always watching out for news about the European IT industry, and I was initially tempted to tweet or retweet a recent report by the German VC firm Earlybird that argues that although the European venture industry is a quarter of the size of the US market, proportionally speaking, it is outperforming the US VC industry in returns. But I found that I didn’t understand it well enough to attach my name so I left it untouched. The report is actually quite controversial as it twists statistics around this way and that so that it remains ambiguous at best. TechCrunch has now had a real go at it, calling it “nothing more than wishful thinking” !
Forrester’s sales enablement team is launching a collaborative effort with our clients and other experts to establish standards for competitive battle cards and I invite you to participate – send me an email to join.
If you are on the receiving end of battle cards today, you know the big challenge intimately because I hear you daily in my inquiries saying things like, “how can we standardize battle cards that come from dozens of different teams?” and “How do we equip our sales reps to anticipate and respond to competitive obstacles more effectively?” For those of you on the supply side, I hear you too, saying, “every sales rep asks for different things” and “we don’t have a way to measure the impact of our work, so we keep doing what we think is best.”
Stuck in the middle are the folks battle cards are supposed to be helping in the first place – sales reps – who tell me, “it takes too much work to find and use our battle cards” and “I need competitive insights, but I tap other sources that are more reliable.”
Consider the size of this opportunity! When we get this right, we will be able to connect battle cards with real business outcomes – like faster sales cycles and win rates against key competitors – and isn’t that why we build battle cards in the first place? Opportunities will advance through the pipeline more quickly when sales reps have tools to anticipate and effectively respond to obstacles created by competitors.
During my daily conversations with technology vendors about battle cards, I am encountering leaders that are taking a different approach. Sales leaders are taking responsibility for the portfolio of battle cards – some larger vendors have hundreds – and assigning someone to “fix the problem.”
Individuals who get assigned to fix “the battle card problem” sometimes report into sales operations and other times into corporate marketing. Sometimes this individual has a background in competitive intelligence, but other times the person is completely unacquainted with battle cards. The one trait that these individuals do share is that they have empathy for sales teams.
Battle cards come from a variety of internal groups including product managers, competitive teams, partner alliances, industry groups, or others who want to educate sales reps to handle obstacles caused by competitors. Each group packages up battle cards differently so that sales reps experience differences in the quality of content every time they use a battle card. As I talk with individuals tasked with fixing “the battle card problem,” they tell me that when they look at their current collection of battle cards, they don’t even know where to begin.
Before becoming an analyst serving technology marketers and focusing on the organization and automation of marketing processes, I (Peter O'Neill) had the more traditional orientation of covering a specific market — IT management software (ITMS) in my case. I remember being engaged with several ITMS vendors in the last months of that previous life discussing the same thing: how to address other market segments. Many of them selling in the enterprise segment tended to be tempted into what they call the "midmarket," which is companies with 500 to 999 employees and is perhaps more enterprise-like than small-business-like, so it seems like a safer bet. Forrester names this the "medium-large" segment in our data reports. Some were even ambitious enough to consider the SMB segment.
I was always pretty clear in my recommendations on how to market to the midmarket or SMB segments if you’re an established enterprise software vendor: Develop segment-specific solutions; use a different brand if possible; and know your channels well. None of these things are easy though and, to be honest, most enterprise vendors take the easy way out. They merely:
· Design some cut-down version of their enterprise products
· Tweak their pricing model but then worry obsessively about “cannibalizing” enterprise sales
· Go looking for channel partners but usually end up with the same ones from their enterprise segment
For this reason, enterprise software vendors that have failed miserably to scale down their products or sales channels litter the tech industry.