content, context, and conversations

May 25, 2017

To become market leaders, you say, organizations should exert influence on the context of market conversations…
Markets are at their core conversations between buyers and sellers. The topic of the conversation is the exchange of value. As a buyer, I am exchanging my time and money to obtain the benefits of the sellers’ product or solution. However, value is a very subjective judgment that the buyer makes. That judgment is made in the buyer’s context, not the seller’s. If we can first tap into that context in a way that is meaningful to the buyer, we can then influence the context and ultimately connect our value to that context influencing what the customer values in our favor.

You urge companies to resist the temptation to customize the solution. Why? Sellers must realize that today’s buyers are highly educated and fiercely independent. The days of showing up and questioning and qualifying a prospect before presenting your solution are over. They want sales representatives to teach them something, not question them.

If most companies follow similar strategies, how will they differentiate their communication?
Organizations who better connect to the customer’s world and make it better are the ones who are seen as differentiating. Your solution still matters, but it takes second, as it should to your customer’s success.

How can companies break the quantity vs quality trade-off?
Marketing organizations invest in automation and programs and can get a quantity of leads, but the quality suffers. They are efficient, but because they are still messaging for the old world of solution selling, they are not effective. They have built a great race car, but are putting bad gas in the engine. Instead, they must take a focused approach on breakthrough messaging, which starts with context and ends with unique value. Then the high test fuel will get them not only quantity, but quality results.

How has marketing changed and what are its implications?
Firstly, we have gone from information being closely held, hard to find, and metered out by sellers to being readily available to buyers on the internet, on social media and everywhere. Secondly, buyers are now independent and lastly, we are competing with more available alternatives than ever. In short, we now live in a buyer-driven world.

Why is content commodity?
Anyone can copy your words. Talk is cheap. What you say today will be copied. Also, there is more content generated now than ever. We not only have fake news, we have a lot of fake marketing!

Why is context the new king?
Tapping into the customer’s context, so you become strategic is how you win. Context first, content second.

What should companies do to build a strong and unique message?
Any great message starts and ends with the customer’s story. Customers have problems and want to solve them. They have opportunities they want to capture. Strong messages tell the customer’s story, not their own. Their product or solution plays a supporting role in transforming the customer’s world. But the customer is the hero. It is their story, not ours!

Given that information is now commoditized and buyers are independent, what skill sets should sales reps build to stay relevant?
Research says time and again that buyers want sellers to understand the buyer’s business and teach them something they do not know. Great sales reps are business people, teachers, and most of all storytellers. Yesterday’s best reps were recital musicians, focusing on the score that marketing provided. Today’s are jazz improvisers, tailoring the notes to the customer’s world.

What is the relevance of scaling in B2B sales and marketing campaigns?
We live in a short-attention-span world. We must be able to communicate quickly with a sound bite or a few sentences. At the same time, buyers still need details and more complete information to both qualify and justify their purchases. If a message does not scale from a sound bite, to a video, to a blog post and to a keynote, it probably is not a meaningful one. Marketing and sales must scale messages to match the channel of delivery, the phase of the buying cycle, and the audience. They must use their own and other voices to repeat and reinforce their own message, influencers, analysts, customers, partners.

What are the challenges marketers face in today’s information-filled and connected world?
The biggest challenge all marketers face is both standing out and fitting in. They must fit into the buyers’ world, but stand out above the competitors. Personally, though marketers face a huge challenge as they must be master technicians, amazing teachers, and influential evangelical leaders. They must be part Yoda, part Michelangelo, and part Martin Luther King!

How is the AIM approach different from the ‘features, benefit, and product approach’?
AIM describes my uniqueness on three dimensions— approach, innovation, and mindset. Great companies start with a mindset, then take a new approach and that drives innovation. However, a lot of time they forget to talk about their mindset and approach, and focus all on their innovation, leaving the all important ‘why’ out of the conversation. Salesforce.com took the mindset that enterprise software was just too hard, took an approach of taking on the hard work and standardizing it, and then innovated by delivering the solution on the cloud. Many of their competitors did not understand this, and just replicated the cloud part, without a different approach. By the time they figured it out, Salesforce was the unabashed leader of the market.

Must-dos to create a Viewpoint story…
First, you have to deeply understand your customer’s world. Once you do that and identify a problem, you solve. Second, you must articulate the pain gain gaps left when trying to solve that problem with the expected solutions available. Lastly, you describe how your new approach, innovation, and mindset solve the problem better and take the customer to a new and improved reality.

The three phases a leader goes through on the path to success…
The ‘flashmob’ is the first phase of the market leadership journey. In this phase, our goal is to find and capture a small group of passionate customers who will form the basis of our success. These are customers highly attuned to our unique value and willing to go against the flow of accepted solutions. Flashmobs take us from launching to participating in our market. The second phase of market leadership is the ‘parade’. By tapping into our customer’s context, we step in front of the market parade and lead it. We become the de facto expert in the intersection between our customer’s problem and the available solutions. We are unique, recognized, and take this momentum from merely being a participant in the market to breaking through and leading. The last phase is the ‘movement,’ when we become bigger than our market and change the world or the industry. Our leadership is a given assumption and our ecosystem and influence grow dramatically.
Success at each of these stages has great rewards and challenges, but the common thread is our Viewpoint, continuing to connect our value to our customer’s world, influencing their view of their problems and opportunities, and transforming their reality into a more successful one.

(As told to Poornima Subramanian)