People-Pleasing Is Not a Good Messaging Strategy
To develop a solid B2B messaging framework, you need to make some tough decisions. You also need to disappoint some people while delighting others. Sadly, too few companies do this. In all cases, this inability to commit leads to poor messaging and poor marketing.
“All Things To All People” = Bad Messaging Framework
Nothing does it all. Everything has limits. But you wouldn’t know this when you read messaging from a B2B focused technology company.
Let’s take a look at the tagline that appears at the top of the page for several technology products.
- Office 365: “This is your 365”
- Google Cloud: “Build, Modernize, Scale”
- AWS: “Start Building on AWS Today”
This may sound aspirational, but from these taglines, can you tell anything about what these platforms actually do? These messages are trying to appeal to everyone and, hence, resonate with no one in specific.
How exactly do B2B marketers end up with nonsense taglines like “This is Your 365”? Who wants to work 365 days a year? Plus, who wants to live in a spreadsheet or PowerPoint presentation 365 days a year? Probably not even the people who wrote that tagline!
Or let’s take a look at Google’s “Build, Modernize, Scale.” Those are three key reasons you go to any cloud platform.
AWS is much the same with its use of “Start Building with AWS Today.” So, the pitch is “use us?”
Trying to Be It All Is a Recipe for B2B Brand Failure
We’ve made the same mistakes with messaging in the past- albeit on a smaller scale. During the first two years of Cascade Insights, we decided that it made sense to work both in and outside of the tech sector. At the same time, I was getting the opportunity to speak internationally, and that was exposing us to an even broader range of potential clients in different sectors and geographies.
So, we started to dabble. We added a pharmaceutical company as a client (Merck), then Oil and Gas (Exxon), followed by others. At first, this seemed safer. But we were wrong.
We couldn’t gain the knowledge to specialize in all industries at once. We couldn’t hire employees who knew everything about everything. That’s an unrealistic thing to train for too.
It wasn’t a good plan, and our lack of customer focus drove us toward bad messaging.
Narrow The Audience for Strong B2B Messaging Frameworks
Safety isn’t in numbers, it’s in focus.
I had forgotten that. It rapidly became apparent that our website was going to be a spaghetti bowl of messaging with no single thread to tie it all together.
We were on the road to becoming a common “jack of all trades” type of consultant. We didn’t want to become that indistinct kind of consultant who works for whoever can pay the bills.
This consultant tells you that their experience with a gold mining company combined with that of a cloud services company gives them a “breadth of knowledge.” But that sort of breadth lacks specialization. You get watered down advice as a result. Without the right context, what’s being communicated is always meaningless.
So, it was time to stop. Since 2008, the only client we accept is a technology company (software, hardware, cloud) that has a B2B focus. Period.
Focusing on a specific area allowed us to bring a great deal of context and expertise to our messaging efforts. Now, everyone who works at Cascade Insights is already an expert in the B2B tech sector or is in training to be one. All of our messaging is crafted with deep knowledge of the market and the buyers.
Typically, B2B Tech Messaging… Isn’t Great
Through our brand research and message testing services, we see tech companies make messaging mistakes time and time again.
Try this experiment right now. Go to your favorite B2B tech vendor’s website or even your own company’s website. While you are visiting, ask yourself a few questions.
- Is this site written for anyone in specific? Can you tell who the intended buyers are?
- Does it focus on the needs of a certain type of business? Is it clear what size company their solution is most relevant to?
- Does it explain how the product helps a given industry?
- Who in the target company would actually use the product or service? IT pros? Marketing directors? Financial officers? Is it clear from the website?
- Does the website explain which types of customers, organizations, or personas would not be a good fit for the solution?
Now that you are back, what did you find? More likely than not, messaging that’s not specific.
Fantastic messaging should act as a filter on an audience. It makes it obvious who is in and who is out.
Sit Marketing Down With the Sales & Product Teams For a Messaging Workshop
So what can B2B marketers do to address weak messaging?
The first step is to have a focused messaging meeting where trade-offs happen. This should not be an off-site that lasts two days at a nice hotel where everyone is inclined to take their time.
Limit the messaging workshop to 2-3 hours with a small group of stakeholders. A limited amount of time forces people to make hard choices, and that’s good.
Every time we take executives, marketers, salespeople, and product teams through a workshop, they recognize what they know and what they don’t know. B2B marketers in attendance are then able to identify holes in their messaging strategy and plan accordingly.
Press The Product Team on Who They’re Building Solutions For
Bizarrely, many organizations end up with messaging that applies to nearly every market segment. Usually, the product team is the culprit.
The sales team knows you can’t sell something to everyone, and marketing knows that you have to write to a persona. The product team, unfortunately, wants everyone to love their baby.
So here are some questions marketers need to ask their product leading peers. Don’t give up until they give you an answer.
- Which market segment would this solution be a poor fit for?
- Which market segment is this solution going to the most successful with?
- If there is no primary target segment, pick the one that has the highest ROI potential. This may be the segment that is the most straightforward to sell to or has the largest potential revenue or product size. Or, it may be the segment with the best chance for cross-selling other products/services, etc.
- For prioritized segments, does your company have a track record when it comes to selling to this vertical, company size, etc.? It’s okay if you don’t, but this helps you recognize how little you and your peers objectively know about who you are targeting.
Convince Sales It’s Not Just About the C-Suite
Your next line of questioning should be about personas. Buyer personas are the detailed outline of who you are talking to when you craft your messaging. Of course, this can be several personas at the same time, as it’s common for a B2B sale to involve multiple individuals. The typical buying group for a B2B sale includes as few as six and as many as ten buyers and influencers.
Your troublemaker here is going to be sales. Typically, they are going to think that the most important person is the last person they talked to in the sales process. The person who’s desk has a plaque that reads “the buck stops here.” A good example would be a CIO, VP of Technology, CFO, CMO, CHRO, etc.
Here is the problem: most of the time, the c-suite isn’t who B2B marketing should target. Especially when it’s vital for your marketing to generate new leads.
Who’s out there searching for your solution? The CIO? The CFO? No. They aren’t cruising the internet looking for new SaaS solutions to buy. That’s the job of the people below them. Sometimes several steps below them in the organizational chart.
Learn Which Personas Really Drive the Decision to Purchase
So, the next time sales leaders argue for C-Level messaging, marketers should ask them:
- Who was the first person the sales team talked to in the X, Y, and Z account? Why?
- How long did it take for you to get the meeting with the big cheese?
- As a percentage of the overall sales cycle, how much time was spent meeting, emailing, and engaging with the c-level executive? How much time was spent meeting, emailing, and engaging with his or her lieutenants?
- When the deal was won, who called to tell you?
During this interaction, you are guaranteed to figure out who was driving most of the sales process on the customer side. It’s hardly ever the C-Level or VP.
Also, be sure to get sales to clarify who was more of an influencer and who was a critical decision-maker.
After this conversation with sales, you’ll know which personas should receive the focus of your messaging.
Don’t Be A People Pleaser. Make The Tough Decisions for Strong B2B Messaging Frameworks.
The temptation to avoid disappointment is strong in large companies. So much so that it chokes out true creativity and world-class messaging efforts. The unfortunate trend of B2B marketing strategy for the tech sector is just people-pleasing.
In closing, when you’re tempted to be all things to all people, just remember what poet John Lydgate said, which was also popularized by Abraham Lincoln: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
Need help with research-backed messaging for your B2B buyers? Check out our marketing services.
This article is brought to you by Cascade Insights, a market research & marketing agency, specializing in the B2B tech sector.
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