Many B2B technology and service providers approach go-to-market strategy in silos. First, they develop the product and identify the market segmentation, then they create sales and marketing strategies. But buyers increasingly expect more. They seek providers that offer the product they want through their desired purchase experience.
To understand and meet these needs, sales, product marketing and product management must work together to take a more complete view of their go-to-market strategies. Product marketing is in the right spot to take the lead on this process.
“Greater integration places a premium on internal collaboration, customer experience and data-driven decision making,” says Mark Stanyer, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “These are all disciplines that play to the strengths of experienced product marketers.”
Yet, according to Stanyer, many providers take baby steps when it comes to taking a unified approach. What’s getting in the way?
Understand the role of product marketing in technology-centric and sales-centric cultures
Culture is often the single biggest factor in determining the actual roles and responsibilities of product marketing, which can vary widely between providers. This makes it difficult to align sales, marketing and product management and execute a common go-to-market strategy, especially when company culture favors a specific role.
Here, the center of power is the product development organization. Product marketers are often viewed as tactical rather than strategic, mandated to focus on creating collateral, presentations, and sales enablement tools, and staffing booths at tradeshows. They have limited input into enhancements, roadmaps, creating new solutions and launches.
Sales models are often product-led, where positioning and differentiation are based on technological superiority. This approach tends to work better when selling to IT as opposed to line-of-business buyers because the requirements are generally much more technical.
Product marketing may have an even more limited role in a sales-centric culture. In this model, product marketing focuses on demand and lead generation, and creates some sales enablement tools. Because salespeople are the primary interface to the market, customer needs drive the product strategy. However, the market-led sales model often fails to be truly customer-centric, delivering what customers ask for rather than what they need.
As product marketing roles center on generating demand, they end up being filled by individuals without critical product marketing skills like storytelling, market analysis and customer engagement. There also tends to be a fairly frequent pivoting of storyline and product developments as sales chases big deals with specific requirements, thus confusing the message to the market.
Gartner has observed that this lack of expertise around messaging and positioning causes significant issues. Buyers can easily look elsewhere for alternatives more clearly targeted to their specific needs.
To tackle these issues, make product marketing more strategic and expand its responsibility. Here are four actions product marketers can take to coordinate across teams and facilitate buyer-centricity into the go-to-market strategy.
1. Create consistent, compelling stories to drive high-performing content
It takes more than writing expertise or intimate knowledge of the product to develop effective messaging.
“The most compelling marketing stories are often the ones that are driven by product marketers, particularly those practitioners who have access to customers, prospects and salespeople,” Stanyer says.
Leverage your acute understanding of the market, the products, the customers and the competition to create a clear marketing story and a unique value proposition.
2. Focus on down-the-funnel conversions
Do more than drive activity at the top of the sales funnel. Ensure that leads are likely to convert into revenue and happy customers. By handing off responsibility for demand and lead generation, you can focus your expertise and knowledge on driving conversions.
3. Become a key contributor to product strategy
Get more involved in gathering and prioritizing feature and enhancement requests. But don’t simply provide a laundry list of feedback to product management and product development. Frame the argument in terms of how it advances market leadership, offers competitive advantage and provides significant revenue opportunity.
4. Coordinate cross-team participation in key activities
Sales, marketing and product management should all be involved in segmentation, win/loss analysis and sales enablement.
For example, although product marketing might have direct responsibility for win/loss analysis, sales has to be involved in the design and implementation of the process, and product management has to be committed to using the data to inform roadmap decisions.
It’s very tempting to revert to cultural norms. Product marketing can use data to drive consensus and smart decision making, but cannot impose itself on others. It must demonstrate how it will create value across teams by, for example, becoming a “trusted” advisor to product management. Additionally, clear organizational ownership of specific objectives must be defined so each team knows each other’s responsibilities.