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B2B Marketing in 2018: It’s Time to Go Back to the Basics
January 5, 2018 at 12:00 PM
by Stacey Danheiser
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I love reading over everyone’s predictions for the New Year. Especially as it relates to marketing.

But most of the predictions seem to be around marketing tactics – where you should allocate your budgets to reach more customers, how to create more website traffic, etc. And while these trends are interesting, they seem to assume that the marketing basics — like understanding your ideal customer target, having a clear value proposition and an integrated communications strategy — are already being covered at 100%. Which is not the case, as hilariously pointed out by Mark Ritson in his recent blog post.

Case in point – Miller Heiman reports that only 53% of salespeople make quota, which means 47% of your salesforce is not hitting their number. And the # 1 reason, according to SiriusDecisions is the sales reps “inability to articulate value to the customer”. And value proposition development isn’t just a sales problem, it’s a marketing problem.

Focusing on the execution of your marketing plan is certainly important, but it doesn’t matter how good your execution is if you aren’t getting the basics right. As the business landscape becomes more crowded, competitive and noisier by the day, it’s time that we stop and go back to the basics by putting a focus on creating value for our customers.

Defining Value: What it Means to Your Business

Earlier this year, my co-authors and I launched our new book, Value-ology, which teaches marketing and sales professionals how to tune into what their customers care about most and ultimately create a value proposition that resonates.

So, it is no coincidence that my advice for 2018 is all about how we understand and communicate our value to prospective buyers. But first, let us delve into what value really is.

You may find it strange to dissect something as simple as ‘value.’ After all, your company may be dabbling with it for years — speaking with customers to find out what matters to them, the problems they have, and the solutions they seek. But a customer value model isn’t easy to develop and as McKinsey consultants, Ralf Leszinski and Mike Marn rightly put it:

“Value may be one of the most overused and misused terms in marketing and pricing.”

For any company attempting to define and measure value for its customers, it’s important to understand the real meaning of value.

As a term that goes back to the early days of trade, there have been numerous attempts at defining value. In what is considered one of the earliest quotes on ‘value’, the 1st Century B.C., Publilius Syrus, a Latin mime writer and contemporary of Cicero, wrote:

“Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it.”

In our book, Value-ology, we chose the following definition of value as a framework:

Value = perceived relevant and distinct benefittotal cost of ownership.

An important point to note here is that to be relevant – you must first understand and communicate from your customers’ point of view. While you may be able to call out generic benefits related to your product or service, you won’t really know what your specific customer values (and thus, what they are willing to pay for) until you engage with them.

I’m sure you can see that the definition of value changes. As we like to say, “value is in the eye of the beholder.” Therefore, it’s essential to look at it through the lens of your own business model. You should try to understand it in terms of different assumptions and perspectives of ‘value’ that exist within your organization and customer base.

How Do We Start To Communicate Our Value?

Put yourself in the shoes of your customers.

This is no small task, as you need to remove all of your assumptions about how much your customer knows. It starts with doing your research, as I’ve covered in a previous blog post – a critical but often overlooked step (Get to the Heart of what your buyers want).

Oftentimes, we see industry jargon thrown around with the basic assumption that “my customer already knows that.” But simple terms can mean different things – like the ever-prevalent “digital transformation” or “efficient supply chain” or “moving to the cloud”. Take time to define what these terms mean to your organization before you start to use them in the marketing and sales content you produce.

Stop pitching and start listening.

When was the last time you eagerly raised your hand when someone asked if you wanted to hear a sales pitch? Exactly. Never. So stop talking about your product and how great it is. Unless you can tell that your prospective buyer is genuinely interested (and you will notice by what types of questions they ask and how they interact with you), then your job is to listen and learn everything you can about your customer and what they need. Only when you understand where they are coming from can you make an accurate recommendation for a solution.

Align Marketing and Sales.

Imagine how confused your customers are when they receive different information and messages from your company. On the one hand, you may state on your website that you are “customer-focused”, but then take a week to follow-up to an inquiry. These little inconsistencies add up and end up defining your brand in the minds of buyers.

Your product, marketing and sales teams all need to be aligned with what the customer cares about and how your product can help. And this all starts with defining “value” in your organization from your customers’ point of view. [Alignment is a big topic, and something we will continue to cover in 2018. Read more about the marketing and sales disconnect here.]

With the competition getting more intense by the minute, it’s really hard to get the attention of your customers. And it’s even worse when everyone is tossing around the same words: “comprehensive”, “end-to-end”, “robust”, “world-class,” and so on. Do you want to be a part of the cacophony or do you want to cut through the noise as a brand that stands apart? That choice is yours to make — as is the task of bringing value back to the message your business is communicating.