The Obliteration of B2B Tech’s Product Marketing Playbook

Tony Compton, Managing Director
GettingPresence

Quick, somebody sell me a pen! There’s a phone number on my TV screen. It’s in a commercial – RIGHT NOW – and I need to write down the number before the 60 second spot is over. I need a pen!

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch the film The Wolf of Wall Street and pay attention to the diner scene about 30-40 minutes into the movie. Stick around to the end as the “pen selling” subject pops up for a second time when Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) leads a sales seminar. DiCaprio’s character patiently uses the “sell me this pen” line and holds a pen upright as a prop. After the movie, dig up the handful of articles on this subject circulating on LinkedIn and read about the various perspectives on the subject.

As you’ve noticed, I added a little twist to the “sell me this pen” line. Nothing major, I’m still sticking with the original premise which challenges somebody to sell me a pen. Except I’ve admitted the urgent need for a pen. I need one, and want one, now. Yes, for that cheesy, ridiculous reason of writing down that telephone number on my TV. I don’t care the color of the ink. I don’t care if it’s a plastic or metal pen. Don’t care which company made it, or who their competitors are. Don’t care how big or small the pen is. Heck, I don’t care if the ink-filled instrument from inside the shell of a pen has a case. As long it works. Now. A pencil won’t do, I need ink. I don’t have a piece of paper. Just try writing a phone number on the palm of your hand in pencil.

And I’ll pay.

This article’s for those in sales, marketing, and the executive ranks from the ~ 4,900 companies listed in the latest the Martech 5000. (There are 4,891 companies represented in the graphic, with a total of 5,381 marketing solutions.) I’ve seen the graphic in my LinkedIn feed these past several days, along with a number of innocuous comments from my network about the sheer number of companies and solutions represented in the grouping. It’s truly impressive work to gather and produce that visual.

But now, for those in the Martech 5000 mix, try standing out in that crowd. Yes, the graphic is segmented. But even the individual segments are crowded. So, try standing out in your segmented crowd. And competing in it. And selling your software and services. And winning.

The new Martech 5000 graphic was released on May 10, 2017.

For those among the 5000, your current product marketing playbook became obsoletethat very same day.

Here’s why:

1. Yesterday’s Product Marketing Strategic Requirements Are Now Table Stakes

In the arena of B2B marketing technology, the product marketing function behind selling those technologies has become commoditized. Almost something that could be automated. (I wrote an article about it here.) Job description to job description, all those in search of product marketers use the same language to list the standard requirements of the position: technical aptitude, market experience, competitive knowledge, content creation, industry fluency, sales enabler, analyst whisperer, etc. Cookie-cutter product marketing career listings, all. That’s great, except who has time to spend on activities reminiscent of an academic think-tank than an active, aggressive, product marketing effort supporting a daily revenue-generating machine?

In a former product marketing life, I led a global market assessment for my business unit to support strategic marketing plans for an upcoming fiscal year. It was co-managed with an outstanding colleague in product management. Together, we dug into the business unit with our worldwide team from every possible angle, then presented our work and strategic recommendations to executive leadership. When we undertook the effort, we took a year’s worth of fiscal due diligence and made it happen in 90 days. Today, the business of product marketing in B2B technology is moving too fast, too quickly to wait a year. Or 90 days. Instead of a 12-month effort, I’m suggesting that the effort of knowing everything about the marketing technology arena – and the part your company plays in it – is a day-in and day-out ruthless business effort. Not 12 months, not 90-days, but every single day. For those first time product marketers new to a company, I’d allow three months of market and business orientation to get up and running. To fluently know everything that’s required from product marketing to checkoff that commoditized list. Then it’s time to move on to more pressing matters…

2. Launching, Getting to Market, and Differentiating

These performance areas are now squarely on the shoulders of product marketing. It must take the leadership role of setting the strategic direction for marketing, sales support and enablement, possibly the entire company. These deliverables won’t come out of marketing communication. They’re too busy designing websites, printing brochures, and making sure the corporate logo is being used properly. Digital marketing won’t do it. They’re too busy worrying about search engines, keywords, and social media. And the Corporate Marketing VP is knee-deep organizing a customer conference which looks, sounds, tastes, smells, and feels like every other industry gathering since before Ridley Scott’s original Alien movie burst onto the scene in 1979.

Time and again, yesterday’s B2B tech product marketers have notoriously limped across the go-to-market/product launch finish line. The result is that they find themselves adrift – anonymously lost in an expanding ocean of technology vendors. In the same way I can close my eyes and envision the repetitive product marketing job descriptions, and I can close my eyes and replay the countless number of product marketing-led launches and by-the-numbers offerings that bleed together and fade into the background noise of the industry landscape. It’s unfortunate. Product marketers who know they have good technology, who are well-versed in the feature/functionality of their products, who can provide a roadmap in the blink of an eye and relay stories about the delivery models at their disposal, but – when the time comes to go-to-market – the routine falls flat. The ability to crush the last mile to the market escapes them. Yesterday’s product marketers all employ the same set of activities: boring launch decks, text-heavy webpages, routine road shows, run-of-the-mill webinars, overview demos, predictable content, minimal sales enablement… It’s all driven by the outdated product marketing playbook and its strategy of May 9, 2017. That leads us to…

3. When Marketing Leads are in Stage 31a of the Pipeline, Sales Couldn’t Care Less.

I hope that section title captures the spirit of this section. Because while product marketing obsesses over which marketing lead is in which pipeline stage, and whether or not the lead is being subjected to the correct piece of product marketing-generated content, and if that content is being delivered by the mandatory piece of non-integrated CRM or marketing automation technology… By the time you try to explain all that to sales, they’ve disconnected. Long ago.

Forget that. Sales has to sell. It wants Product Marketing to get to work and do something to help. Anything, meaningful, that helps beat the competition — today.

Experienced inside sales people and external business developers have heard it all before from product marketing. Sales is grinding it out every hour of every day trying to hit their numbers and product marketing continues to preach of enablement, content, and technology from the ivory think tank. Yet after a decade of listening to the promises of all of the above, the song does remain the same. Content goes unused. Enablement sometimes can be nothing more than a stack of electronic stuff uploaded to an internal server. And while bought and paid for technology goes unintegrated, more and more and more vendors try to sell more and more software and services to an uninterested audience of skeptical buyers. Meanwhile, we see the competitive landscape growing.

Yesterday’s commoditized product marketing is in over its head. Sales knows this.

May 9th’s playbook is merely the opening chapter to May 10th’s revision.

Which means…

4. Yesterday’s Product Marketer Can’t Sell Me that Pen

Or software. Or professional services. Or managed services.

Even with an immediate need. Even with money on the table.

The creativity just isn’t there. It’s not there in mediocre presentations. It’s not there in road shows, events, and trade show booths that are long in the tooth with outdated messaging. It’s not there in illegible and outdated websites. In widespread poorly produced sales enablement content. In lackluster market launches lost in a congested world. In siloed, unused technology.

The sales grinder mentality isn’t there. When product marketing never accompanies sales to visit customers or prospects, the grinder mentality isn’t there. When product marketing is missing at the end of the quarter when contracts are due and revenue is counted, it’s not there. And when product marketing doesn’t participate in weekly sales meetings and doesn’t earn the immediate respect of the sales unit, it’s certainly not there.

The true enablers aren’t there. Content is only a modest piece of the sales enablement puzzle. Today’s overwhelming focus is on content, and the technology to delver that content. But can somebody tell me who is responsible for ensuring that the sales people who use the content are able to use the content? To communicate it effectively? To stand and deliver value props – without technology? To have and share a Point of View? To influence, motivate, and generate new business in front of a crowd? Or an executive boardroom?

The executive oversight isn’t there. I see too many corporate representatives (sales, marketing, executives) fumble their way onto the industry scene: poor stage presence at events, sleep-inducing webinars, mundane interviews, bad public speaking efforts. The other day I saw a video from a random trade show booth at a recent event. It was an interview. At least I think it was. Only I don’t think the interviewer or the person who was interviewed had ever done anything like that before. Product marketing should be on top of that before that ever happens. And so should executive management. It should be in the new playbook. Instead, the company will have to live with the filler-language filled interview with head-scratching content – forever.

I don’t remember the exhibitor’s name. I turned off the video after about 10 seconds. The participants didn’t appear as if they were happy to be there. Or really wanted to be there. Or knew what they were doing. Yet it was on-camera for all the world to see.

Why would anybody want to watch that? How was this acceptable to broadcast?

Yesterday’s product marketers could never sell me that pen. By the time they would finish showing me slides about the different colors of the pen and its various inks, and the comparison charts contrasting competing pens, they’d turn over the conversation to a salesperson enabled with case study content from 2013. Meanwhile, my TV commercial is over. Revenue lost.

Make no mistake about it, product marketing is responsible from breaking through and standing out in the sea of the Martech 5000. They, too, are also in sales whether they want to admit it or not.

The product marketer seeking to compete and win in all facets of the B2B tech game can’t be successful working off a playbook designed for a by-gone era. The new playbook must incorporate the old, while adding new game plans for true enablement, breakthrough product launches, sales toughness, revenue partnership, creative and effective personal communication, distinguished go-to-market efforts, and effective measurement.

Not only will today’s product marketers need to know how to effectively market and sell me that pen, they’ll also need to know how to cross-sell me on a blank sheet of paper. To do so, they’ll have to learn how to sit and interact with customers. And that’s not happening in the office.

The opportunity is outside, and so are those other 4,900 companies looking to put you out of business.

Get after it.

Movie Spoiler: Leonardo DiCaprio’s character doesn’t use any PowerPoint slides in The Wolf of Wall Street to help teach people how to sell that pen. At least not right away. Maybe he used some slides after the credits roll, but my guess he didn’t try to cram 100 proudly-developed, officially-sanctioned product marketing slides into a one-hour presentation.

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