A number of years ago, I achieved my Million Miler Flyer status on United Airlines. While this status provides me some perks, it more importantly represents time that I have spent actively engaged with sales executives, customers, and prospects during my 20+ year marketing career. While not everyone needs to travel a million miles, the time spent outside of the office will deliver the greatest impacts on what you can achieve in marketing...
It is the difference between Cubicle and Airplane Product Marketing.
Too many people in Product Marketing today build stories about the product or service they are selling while sitting in their cubicles. They describe every facet of the product, the technology, the interoperability, the special new features, the competition, etc. Unfortunately, they are missing the buyer and sales perspectives that move markets, humanize their offerings, and accelerate sales cycles.
Cubicle marketing will never shake up a market, energize a sales force, or help to close a deal.
I have told my product marketing teams for years that they must practice what they preach. Creating content -- data sheets, slide sets, powerpoint presentations, white papers, etc. is a one aspect of the overall responsibilities held by product marketers today. All too often, these "sales" documents are created in a cubicle without ever talking to a customer or sales rep. And all too often, the documents are thrown over the wall to sales reps that despise using them because they simply do not speak the language of the market and the customer. Customers are confused by the content because they only discuss the product, while lacking discussion on the value of these products to the customer's business.
I will throw out a challenge to all product marketing managers: practice what you preach. If you believe the marketing materials you produce enhance sales or excite customers, get yourself out on a few sales calls. Not simply a presentation in the executive briefing center, but a real sales call. Get a chance to present your creations to a real customer. It is time for airplane marketing.
When you get yourself into the deal and you are actively participating in or leading the discussion, take notice: Are lighting up or if they are falling asleep? Are you talking about your product or about how to improve the customer's business using your product? Did the sales rep tell his or her peers to invite you out to their next customer call? Is the sales rep going to close this deal sooner, or did you delay the sales cycle by talking too much about features and functionality and not enough about the customer's business?
One role of product marketing is to make the life of the sales rep easier. Measure your value by how much your work helps to (1) increase deal sizes, (2) reduce the sales cycle, and (3) speed enablement time to close new deals. If your creations are not improving either, it is time to begin not just thinking outside of -- but roaming far outside of your cubicle.
Customers want to achieve business results by utilizing what you sell to pursue their own goals and objectives. Your company's best sales reps understand these goals and objectives and position what they are selling to meet the customer's needs. If you are practicing cubical marketing, chances are that your sales reps are translating your hard work into something that makes more sense to the customer. Yes -- you guessed it -- you are now delaying the sales cycle. If it is difficult for you to understand this concept, try to get in front of your customers, by accompanying your company's best sales rep on customer calls for a few days. Listen to what business objectives they talk about, notice when the customer's eyes light up, and be attentive when competitive offerings are being discussed.
With first-hand experience in these meetings, you will also realize there is no time for the 20+ slides you developed to cover your product or portfolio. Because the first 45 minutes of the customer meeting was spend discussing the customer's situation, challenges, and needs -- little time remains for the product discussion. (If you get the chance to present, you'll need to be equipped with your best two slides, or be prepared to work without the slides, perhaps heading to the whiteboard instead.)
Put yourself in the shoes of the sales rep as well as the customer. What could you do to make the sales reps life easier? Imagine what it is like to be the customer -- how many sales reps will they see today or this week? How many are your competitors or just another piece of the wallet share for this account's budget? How will you differentiate yourself from all of the others competing for the customer's wallet share?
Then, when you see what is working in the trenches on the front lines -- create your marketing magic. Use the time in the airplane while you are heading back to the office to improve your marketing collateral, revise your marketing plans, and think about how to create repeatable, consistent, and successful results in the market.
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