The product is launched – the press release is out, the website updated, the fact sheets distributed, the presentation deck is polished. “My work is done here,” says the product marketing manager. “Now, it’s up to sales.”
The history of business is littered with great products that somehow never found success in the marketplace. The excuse is often that “sales couldn’t figure out how to sell it.” The truth is that marketing has little accountability to ensure their messaging is used in the field; the compelling needs and value that drove the creation of the offering in the first place are lost on the way from development to distribution. So, long after the high-fives and the congratulatory notes are forgotten, the sales reps are often out selling the solution with no real feel for the specific uses and business value of the product.
Building a Great Product is Half the Answer
One of the greatest challenges facing B2B product marketers is that true success relies on a successful ‘final-mile’ – the sales conversation. The way a sales rep wins a deal is to “translate” the value of the offering into a specific and compelling value proposition for each prospect– including why and how they will succeed.
Yet the traditional process of product marketing creates a significant communication gap between the rep and customer. The abundance of collateral created to support the product is often targeted at the prospect – not for the rep.
The fact sheets, brochures and web content are distilled summaries that have been successfully routed through and approved by product, brand and legal, a process that usually yields abstract and generic documents. The tangible elements of product development have been diluted into one-size-fits-all marketing copy. The materials look nice and sound nice, but they don’t move the sales process forward like relevant, compelling memorable stories do.
Facilitating Sales Conversations is the Final Mile
Sales knows that the best content is raw – like real-life stories about how product management developed the product in the first place. The problems product management saw when they spoke with customers in focus groups or on-site observations; the dialog they shared with users about what they really need and why one feature or capability is more important to them than dozens of others.
But too often, these real stories are transformed into generic collateral that serves neither customers nor sales reps with anything to facilitate compelling conversations.
Surprisingly, the product development and product marketing process yields incredibly compelling stories that should be shared with front-line sales reps so can have meaty conversations with prospects. Yet, unfortunately, these tales never make it the last mile; never make it into the arms of the reps.
Story Programs for Increased Sales Success
Perhaps the most direct solution is to pull front-line sales reps into the product development process – give them an opportunity to see and hear first hand, how end-users benefit from the new solution. Then let them evangelize the product. Unfortunately, that is impractical for many reasons.
Another common approach is to have product managers and marketers train sales reps, but company-wide training is infrequent and usually focused on explaining the features and functions of the product or promoting the use of prepared collateral and tools. In other words, the training is diluted, product-centric and over-simplified.
The best answer is to create a story program – a platform where unfiltered, real industry, company and customer stories are produced and shared across the organization. Here’s where an internal video system such as SharperAx helps create a library of valuable stories that the entire organization can draw upon for their interactions with fellow employees, partners and customers. Most importantly, it arms sales reps with the basic ingredients for substantive discussions.
Such a storytelling enterprise is one in which stories are used to enable customers to understand how the offering can make them successful company.
Stories facilitate meaty conversations. They enable prospects to see their peers in other companies facing the same issues and can turn a 1-year hard-luck learning curve into a 3-minute lesson learned. They can also help reps better appreciate the specific challenges the prospects face. In essence, a story program gives product marketing the ability to shape and be accountable for final mile messaging and drive company success.
To learn how a story program could work for you, please contact us.
Mark Heisten is a seasoned marketing and business development executive with more than 20 years of experience at Fortune 100 firms and start-ups.