Speak My Language: Why B2B Marketing and Sales Professionals Need to Communicate Value Beyond the IT Function
For my sins, I consider myself to be a ‘pracademic’, a word I use to describe myself because I had a long and reasonably successful career in corporate life. For the past few years I’ve been a University Lecturer and in addition been involved in a couple of marketing consultancies that help organisations grow by connecting to what customers value.
One of the benefits of being a pracademic is that you can take a mixture of both academic and commercial research into both the classroom, and to clients, and you don’t need to be a snob, or an inverted snob about either. Good research is good research.
The downside, especially if your starting point was the commercial world, is that you end up reading academic articles that at times you struggle to understand, even though the topic in the title suggests it’s something you might have had good commercial experience in.
It happened to me just this morning, I was reading an academic article on Key Account Management (KAM) in preparation for a master’s degree lecture for our Sales Management module at York University. It started off OK, then the language just killed me stone dead…. EXPLANANDA AND EXPLANANTIA…. wtf…what the hell do you mean? Are you deliberately using that kind of language to stop people like me from reading your articles? Is it to perpetuate the divide between academia and commercial practice? Or is it just to show off how brainy you are to your academic club?
Why am I telling you this…well …because as B2B marketing and sales professionals you are doing this too…
My commercial career has been as a marketer, almost entirely in Telecoms and IT. I seem to have spent my life suggesting to colleagues to focus less on the complicated technology and more on what it does for the people that might benefit from using it – customers I think they’re called. But, turn your back for a minute and the same old stuff happens. This is what one of the godfathers of marketing, Ted Levitt, called “Marketing Myopia” …focusing on what you sell is, rather than what it does for the customer.
THE SEA OF SAMENESS…BLAH, BLAH, BLAH
Over the last few months my colleagues and I at Shake Marketing have been researching the ‘marketing channels’ of major companies to see how differentiated their value propositions and messages are. To date we have looked at two global sectors: Telecommunications, and Datacentres. In both cases we evaluated the web sites, Twitter feeds, and other social media channels of the top 30 companies in each industry to see how differentiated their messaging was from one another. We’ve summarized our findings in the Sea of Sameness whitepaper(telecommunications industry) and Caught in the Calms of Complacency whitepaper (data center whitepapers). And guess what we found? Companies are basically telling customers that they are the same as their competitors!
They all focus way too much on themselves. The language used is often very technical and inside-out aiming, if at anyone, the technical buyer in the IT function. So, here’s the parallel with the academic – practitioner divide. When you use overly technical language in your communications, you are totally alienating the business decision maker – those less IT literate, but nevertheless important, which is the equivalent …of using “EXPLANANDA” AND “EXPLANANTIA”.
SEEK TO ADD VALUE BEYOND THE IT FUNCTION
So, what’s the problem…well here’s a few. Given that customers are now 60% of the way through the sales cycle before they contact an organisation, it’s the website and other marketing material they use to help form their buying preferences. So, make it clear what it is that you do differently and better than your competitors, that’s relevant to business customers.
Given that the number of people needed to sign off on a major deal is now up to 6.8 people Harvard Business Review, it’s highly likely that at least a couple of them will be from outside the technical department you usually deal with. In fact, 58% of IT purchase decisions are now being made outside the IT function. Strangely that’s the same percentage of B2b deals that end in no deal because value had not been proved to the customer 58% Qvidian Sales Execution Trends. Oh, and guess what, in the absence of difference and value, it is bound to come down to price.
So, drop the EXPLANADA and EXPLANANTIA, and just EXPLAIN to me what it is you do for me that’s better than your competitors. Use technical terms for the IT guys and straight forward business language for the business leaders who are spending or responsible for spending most of the money that could go in the coffers of Telco and Datacenter companies. I don’t want to hear about your hybrid cloud, please get off of my cloud, and talk about my business.
TUNE IN TO CUSTOMERS TO WIN
Speaking your customer’s language starts with understanding who your customers are, what problems they’re facing, and obstacles that may be getting in their way.
Saying something different from your competitors requires ongoing research into what your competitors are saying and doing, and not just copying them.
Developing Value propositions that resonate beyond the IT function involves choosing relevant business themes that capture concerns and aspirations of business function leaders.
We encourage you to read our latest research ….and let me know what you think.
Sea of Sameness whitepaper (telecommunications industry)
Caught in the Calms of Complacency whitepaper (data center whitepaper)